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Jeanne Yang and her daughters donated to a Los Angeles food bank. Law Roach founded a charity devoted to assisting Black-owned businesses. And Chloe Hartstein put on her sneakers and started marching.
Celebrity stylists accustomed to nonstop schedules say they were shocked by how quickly their work halted when lockdown orders in mid-March caused widespread cancellations of photoshoots, film premieres and press junkets. “As independent contractors, I think we all get a little nervous about whether a job has been confirmed for next week or next month,” says Yang, whose clients include Jason Momoa and Robert Downey Jr. “The longer it went on, I definitely thought, ‘Am I ever going to work again?’ ”
Recalls Apuje Kalu, who styled Insecure’s Yvonne Orji for this year’s Emmy Awards, “My agent emailed me about a canceled job the day after Gov. Newsom put the lockdown in place.” Adds Kalu, who also works with Top Gun: Maverick’s Jay Ellis. “Jay and I were just starting to get ready for events connected to Top Gun, and everything was canceled. It got very serious very quickly.”
Stylists agree that mid-March through mid-May remained bleak as cancellations continued. For some, George Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis, an act that ignited Black Lives Matter protests across the United States, was a turning point.
“It was a shock to the system,” says Hartstein, whose client list includes GLOW’s Betty Gilpin. “At the beginning of New York’s lockdown, I think I was so concerned about getting sick. But there came a point when I couldn’t sit still anymore. On May 29, I put on my sneakers and joined a march, and I’ve been marching ever since. I’ve been arrested a couple of times, but it doesn’t matter. I had to get out and be with other people who felt the same about what was going on in the world.”
Kalu agrees: “I used to be nervous about being too outspoken on social media, for fear of alienating someone, but not anymore,” he says. “This world that we were used to working in had stopped, and we were forced to look at things that have been going on for years, and I knew I had to use my voice.”
Yang notes that, early on, she embraced the extra time she could spend with her twin daughters, both of whom were set to leave for college this fall. “We were baking, knitting, watching TV together,” she says. “But in the midst of worrying about myself, I had this epiphany of wondering how we could help.” That’s when she grabbed her daughters and visited Los Angeles food banks with donations. “I can’t believe we live in a first-world country and there are kids here who are food-insecure,” she adds.
With clients who include Kerry Washington and Zendaya, Roach has channeled his activism into the fLAWless Fundraiser, which he founded in June with community revitalization group Rebuild the Hood to assist uninsured Black-owned fashion and beauty businesses that were damaged during protests in Chicago.
As work began to pick up in July and August, the raised consciousness remained. “We knew this would be an opportunity to create something special,” says Jordan Johnson, who partners with Jill Lincoln to style clients who include 2020 Emmy nominee Rachel Brosnahan. When the Emmys announced its playful “Come as You Are, But Make an Effort” dress code for its virtual ceremony, a pair of pajamas seemed like a fun idea, but the duo knew they could add a thoughtful layer to the look.
Enter Christy Rilling, a New York-based tailor whose clients include Michelle Obama. Rilling launched an eponymous collection of made-to-order designs 2019 and this year debuted a capsule collection of luxury robes crafted of leftover fabrics from previous jobs (including remnants from a gown Obama wore to a state dinner). Proceeds from the sale of her robes, as well as masks, benefit the group When We All Vote.
“That seemed like a perfect partnership,” Lincoln says. Brosnahan’s head-to-toe look will be donated to the RAD (Red Carpet Advocacy) Auction organized by stylist Elizabeth Stewart, also to benefit When We All Vote.
The project has created not only a sense of normalcy, but also a feeling of simple fun in an unprecedented time, Johnson says. “It’s been a mental roller coaster these past months,” she says. “And you know, we still don’t know what our business is going to look like down the road. But too much of the world is negative right now, so our goal is to keep everything light and positive.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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