Rachel Zoe: "The Whole Business of Fashion Has Changed" (Guest Column)

Rachel Zoe - Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of Christopher Patey

The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural Power Stylists cover subject reminisces on the transformative decade that also saw her segueing from red carpet trailblazer to reality star to fashion designer and entrepreneur.

Ten years ago, when I was with a star, I was never the star — ever. But today, I don't believe that holds true for stylists. A stylist used to be a very behind-the-scenes job, not really talked about. Now celebrities are advocates for their team. They post pictures of their stylist, hair and makeup people nearly every time they get ready and credit them on Instagram. That was unheard of a decade ago. I wouldn't even do an interview about my clients without permission from them. It was much more secretive. If we took pictures on Oscar night or premiere day, it was for our eyes only.

Now if a stylist is working with a talent who has 30 million followers, most likely the stylist is going to gain some followers from that. Instagram has made it significantly more possible for stylists to start brands of their own. To be honest, I liked that in pre-Instagram days there was privacy for the client — it was our own little world, our own relationship.

These days, actors form relationships with brands and become faces of brands — and it's pretty transparent when they do. We're seeing a lot of actors on the red carpet wearing only one designer all the time. Some brands believe in that consistency and like to have someone constantly representing them. And a lot of actors love the consistency of having the relationship directly with a design house and knowing that they are wearing that brand. It's reminiscent of old Hollywood, when certain actors wore only Bob Mackie or Halston or Givenchy, most famously Audrey Hepburn.

To me, it's a bit less creative. I love to pull from multiple places and give clients multiple options. You'd have 40 designers that the actresses are trying on, and the best dress wins. There's something to be said for both approaches, but for me, it's fun to play with everything.

The whole business of fashion has changed. In the past, there were several designers who may not have been amenable or flexible at all in the way that they design things. If a stylist wanted a change, they would say absolutely not and then tell them not to wear it. In 2009, I asked Chanel to alter a pink satin couture dress that Cameron Diaz wore to the Golden Globes — sort of unheard then. Many designers have become more yielding now.

Celebrities are real people, of course, and you do have to design for that, which involves custom fittings and modifications. On the flip side, it's a very expensive practice, which is why a lot of design houses formally partner with certain celebrities — because, in a sense, that creates commitment on both sides. I've seen designers spend countless hours and money to make the most beautiful dresses you've ever seen, and at the last minute the actresses don't wear them.

Stylists now have endless opportunities, and while I'd love to say that there was an "a-ha" moment when I realized this job could be so much more than just the red carpet, there wasn't. I don't plan like that. My No. 1 goal was to try to be the best stylist that I could be. I loved styling so much that it woke me up in the morning and it put me to sleep at night, and then it woke me up in the middle of the night with a crazy full-on panic about Cameron Diaz and the right shoe. I look back on it and laugh now: In some ways, it was so silly, and in other ways, I realize how much it meant to me.

The red carpet has become much more safe. Of course, no one wants to spend five hours getting ready and then get destroyed by critics, but the red carpet is about the risk-takers and those moments when Nicole Kidman walked in wearing John Galliano or Cate Blanchett wore her Jean-Paul Gaultier. I definitely ache for those amazing, big, over-the-top moments that we sometimes see at the Cannes Film Festival. I used to say to my clients — once we'd have it narrowed down to two looks — "OK, this is what I would die for you to wear, but there is a caveat. Not everyone may get this. This is a world where you can't please everybody. You just have to please yourself." Most of them would say, "OK, well, that's the one I want to wear then." And I'd be like, "Then let's do it. Fashion should be fun."

This story first appeared in the March 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.