When it comes to style, Cate Blanchett is in a class by herself. She can hold her own in boldly detailed gowns by some of fashion’s bravest auteurs (think John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier) or channel Katharine Hepburn in a pantsuit like the Gucci cream jacquard style she wore at CinemaCon. As this year’s Cannes jury president, Blanchett is choosing her wardrobe carefully to address several issues that are top of mind in Hollywood and the fashion industry, including female representation and sustainability.
“It’s an opportunity to tell a story,” says stylist Elizabeth Stewart, whose first time working with Blanchett on the actress's Cannes wardrobe was in 2006, when she wore two memorable Alexander McQueen looks, one a black-and-white kimono-style gown, the other a short dress with a raffia fringe hem. “Back then it was just, ‘I love this dress!’ Now, I know how to strategize,” explains Stewart, who had a trial run dressing Jessica Chastain for the Cannes jury last year. “Jessica was photographed every minute of every day, so for Cate we’re working on day looks, looks for jury photo calls, dinners and red carpet events, probably about 20 looks in all.”
Blanchett, who next appears in Ocean’s 8, has been wearing a lot of pantsuits in recent months, and we can expect more at Cannes. On Tuesday at a jury photo call, she chose a pastel pink suit by Stella McCartney, a designer who has made environmental and animal welfare the foundation of her luxury business. “You don’t have to dress like a man to be powerful, she just happens to like suits and they are a great staple,” notes Stewart.
As for evening looks, the two are gravitating toward “classic shapes with a lot of interest.” The jury president stepped out for the festival’s opening fete Tuesday night wearing an intricately detailed, black-lace look that keen style watchers may have recognized: It’s the same Armani Prive gown Blanchett wore to the 2014 Golden Globes.
"From couture to T-shirts, landfills are filled with garments that have been unnecessarily discarded," Blanchett says. "Particularly in today’s climate, it seems willful and ridiculous that such beautiful garments are not cherished and reworn for a lifetime."
With its international reach, the festival is the perfect platform to make a statement on issues of substance and style. “I feel free and much happier about the context in which fashion appears at Cannes,” says Stewart, who also works with Gal Gadot, Viola Davis, Sandra Bullock and Rebel Wilson. “You can do a crazy, full-skirted ball gown and it’s not going to look ridiculous standing up against a backdrop with an American Express logo on it. There are no branded step-and-repeats, which are my pet peeve. The stairs have a sense of place and history, and these dresses look like they belong there.”
Blanchett is confident about what she likes and makes decisions quickly. “She is much more concerned about her jury duties, but she also has this incredible taste level,” says Stewart. The actress is the face of Giorgio Armani’s Si fragrance, so there could be more Armani Prive. “We’re also supporting a lot of young talent, and it’s fun to give them a chance in a super-crowded field.”
Blanchett and Stewart have spent time thinking about the growing call for sustainability in fashion. (In 2014, the actress accepted her Oscar for Blue Jasmine wearing Cannes sponsor Chopard’s eco-friendly Green Carpet Challenge laurel earrings made from fair-mined gold and responsibly sourced diamonds.) “I recently had lunch with the young designer Esteban Cortazar, who is using mushroom leather and looking at how to get silk from spiderwebs. Designers are thinking about this stuff now and it matters to them. Our choices are reflective of things people are talking about,” says Stewart.
Although Stewart often sends her star clients to Cannes solo, but armed with detailed PDFs of each look, including jewelry and shoes, and everything packed in clear garment bags to guide them, this year she is on the scene to help Blanchett in person, and coordinate with local tailors and representatives of designer ateliers. “It’s not that people can’t get dressed for themselves, it’s just that they have so much going on, it takes one thing off their plate,” the stylist says.
As to whether or not fashion will turn political on the Cannes red carpet, as it did at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Stewart hopes not. “I hope women are expressing themselves exactly the way they want to. The point is women should have the freedom to dress like they want,” she says.
Stewart also thinks the festival’s selfie ban is tres estrange. “Remember when they tried to ban flats? That was insane,” she says. “They want to legislate taste.” In 2018, not even the French can do that.