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Art of Style

What it’s really like to dress for the Oscars, by stylist Petra Flannery

L-R: Reese Witherspoon, Jodie Turner-Smith, Renée Zellweger

As a pioneer in the art of celebrity styling, Petra Flannery’s ability to create elegant red-carpet looks for A-list clients – including Reese Witherspoon, Emma Stone and Jodie Turner-Smith – has made her one of the most powerful names in fashion. This is how she dressed Best Actress nominee Renée Zellweger for the biggest night of awards season. By MEGAN LOGUE

Fashion

A career in fashion wasn’t the obvious choice for Petra Flannery. She left suburban San Francisco at 18 to attend the University of Southern California, majoring in political science. In 1995, she joined Elite Models as an agent, her entrée into the fashion industry. After five years in the role, Flannery was itching to explore her own creativity, and was soon working on set assisting for producer Yasuko Austin and designer Andrea Lieberman – who, at the time, was creating looks for Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez. It was in 2006 that Flannery made the decision to strike out on her own, quickly amassing an enviable client list, including Avatar star Zoe Saldana, who she still styles today. Almost 15 year later, Flannery’s elegant yet experimental aesthetic has made her Hollywood’s most in-demand stylist. Here, she reveals the work that really goes into creating the perfect Oscars look…

THE RED CARPET IS A STAGE FOR FASHION

“The red carpet is a different realm; there’s so much room for creativity – you can go really experimental or keep things very chic and classic. It’s important to dress for the occasion but you also want the outfit to have a little bit of magic. If I’ve done my job right, a look should appear as if it all came together effortlessly – but really, there’s a lot of preparation and research that goes into each and every outfit. The secret is to find a piece that captures someone’s personality. The red carpet is a big responsibility, but the payoff is amazing.”

Petra Flannery
Emma Stone wearing Givenchy Couture at the 2017 Oscars

I LOVE INPUT FROM MY CLIENTS

“I’ve worked with a lot of my clients for a long time and one of the upshots of that is that you get to really understand someone, so you know what they want – and how to push the envelope. Like with Emma Stone and Zoe Saldana – we basically grew up together. I’ve been there as their careers have exploded. Zoe has always been this action hero, so I tend to put her in unexpected pieces because she can carry them off. With Emma, when she was promoting La La Land, her looks paid homage to the movie and Old Hollywood.”

THERE’S A DISTINCT SILHOUETTE THAT RENÉE ZELLWEGER GRAVITATES TOWARDS

“It’s usually a column-shaped dress that is chic but understated and complements her elegant figure. Renée Zellweger and Reese Witherspoon have been working in the industry for a long time so they know what they want. I started working with Renée in 2016 but I had been watching her style evolve for years before that. She’s always been extremely chic and had a timeless aesthetic. It’s simple, but it speaks volumes. When I started working with her, I just took that class and added a modern twist.”

MULTIPLE FITTINGS ARE THE KEY TO LOOKING GOOD ON THE RED CARPET

“When we fit a gown, I take loads of pictures. Sometimes an outfit can look amazing in real life but then when you take a picture it just doesn’t translate – the lens reveals a lot. It’s often during this process that a client will find their pose and figure out how to accentuate the extraordinary details of each dress. Being on the carpet, with cameras flashing and people calling your name, can be really overwhelming, so it’s nice to be familiar with what you’re wearing ahead of time. Ultimately it all comes down to confidence, knowing your body and feeling comfortable in what you’re wearing.”

SOMETIMES A DRESS WILL SPEAK TO A CLIENT

“That’s what happened when Renée saw the initial sketches of the Armani Privé gowns she wore to this year’s Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The brand is so precise about fit, so they were wonderful to work with. For the Oscars we had 12 fittings. The Globes dress was all about finding the perfect shade of blue, we went back and forth with so many swatches – but we got there it in the end – while the Oscars dress literally took hundreds of hours to embroider.”

BY THE TIME OSCARS DAY ARRIVES, MOST OF MY WORK IS DONE

“I have an incredible team – it really does take a village. Usually by the day of a big event, we’ve already done the hard work; running around for weeks to ensure that we’ve got enough shoe and handbag options, and that all our ducks are in a row. My big styling trick is moleskin – you can cut out precise pieces to layer under uncomfortable sandals and heavy jewels or to pad out rings that risk slipping off. Of course, we make sure to have secondary dress options in case a seam bursts or something goes really wrong, God forbid. In those moments, I just think, ‘this too shall pass’. I’ve been doing this for so long that I know, no matter what happens, it will all come together in the end.”

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Renée Zellweger wearing Armani Privé at the 2020 Golden Globes

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