The Struggles Of Styling Non-Sample Size Celebrities

The red carpet may only be an prelude to the main event at any given awards show or screening, but a lot of planning goes into it — weeks, even months of conversations, planning, and work between brands and stylists. The latter play an integral role: Using their market prowess, stylists help find (or create) outfit options for their celebrity clients...and make it all look effortless, of course.

Christina Pacelli
, who's responsible for the stellar red-carpet getups of Orange Is the New Black's Laverne Cox and Jackie Cruz, has spent years cultivating relationships with designers in New York. Over time, Pacelli has become familiar with a problem that's received quite a bit of attention lately: the lack of options for her celebrity clients who aren't a size 2.
Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images.
Christina Pacelli (left) with Laverne Cox (right) at the Georgine spring '16 fashion show at New York Fashion Week in September 2015.
Celeb red-carpet dressing has become slightly more transparent in recent years: the true cost (and the payout, for both celebrity and stylist) is out in the open and "Who are you wearing?" has become such a loaded question. Then, there's the problem with samples: Since most looks on the step-and-repeat are borrowed from designers' showrooms, the sizing is limited to size 2.

If a starlet is particularly in demand at a given moment, she'll have her choice of custom creations from a designer. Still, many non-sample-sized celebrities have opened up about the frustrations — and lack of options — that exist for red-carpet dressing . Melissa McCarthy famously spoke about not being able to find a designer to make her a gown for the Oscars (a feeling Dascha Polanco later echoed).

More recently, Bryce Dallas Howard basically owned the red carpet by confessing that she bought her Jenny Packham gown. Her simple rationale: She's a size 6 and she likes having more than one option for those types of events. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom got frank about the topic to Elle: "Curvier ladies can't just throw on the runway look. It just isn't made for boobies and butts and stuff like that."

Pacelli filled us in on how a red-carpet moment comes together and why it's challenging (but, sometimes, empowering) when you have to look beyond sample sizes to do your job.
Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images.
Laverne Cox at the 2016 Golden Globes in a custom Elizabeth Kennedy gown.
Styling a celeb who isn’t sample-sized can be tough.
“It’s a different process; there’s definitely a learning curve. You have to be very explorative and constantly communicate with designers, every single day. The turnaround process is a lot longer than just pulling readily available samples.

"You have to be very keen on the latest collections and to be able to see how certain samples could be altered with additional fabric to fit your client. Sometimes, it can take up to six months for a designer to make a single piece for a client who is not sample-sized."

Custom work is demanding, regardless of your client’s size.
“Most everything you see on A-list celebrities — whether or not they’re sample-sized — it’s usually custom. But does the designer have time to create a vision, sit down with a stylist, create a few sketches, decide on the final look, and do at least three fittings? And do they have a patternmaker and sewer, too?

“The turnaround time also depends on if a designer is in the middle of preparing their new collection. They might not have time to create a custom look, simply because they’re getting ready for their runway show, and that takes precedence."

Sometimes, you have to dress a client sans custom options.
“Your options are severely limited when you aren't sample sized. You have to be very clever — that’s the challenge. You can go a store like Saks; Bryce Dallas Howard said she went to Neiman Marcus [for the Golden Globes] — that’s a great place to go, because they have amazing sizing [ranges] there. Not all department stores have a lot of sizes in gowns. You’d be surprised. Or you can go to your archive: If I have some other gowns that haven’t been worn, you can wear those.”
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Pacelli.
Lauren Adams at the 2015 Emmys in a custom Christian Siriano gown.
Yes, certain designers do, indeed, dress non-sample-sized celebs.
“I want to shed a little light on Marc Bouwer: he is an exceptional person and fashion genius who makes incredible beautiful, one-of-a-kind couture pieces. Marc has been supporting Laverne since Day One, and she will always be wearing Marc Bouwer. She’s worn a lot of Marc. He will literally drape designs right on her body, it’s that one-on-one.

"There are also designers, like Christian Siriano, for example, who tend to have a range of sample sizes, which is so lovely. Calvin Klein asked [to dress] Laverne for the Emmys — that in itself is a big deal. Working with [Creative Director] Francisco Costa and his amazing team was an immense pleasure and privilege. Designers like Marchesa working with Laverne? Again, that’s a big deal.”

Oh, and working with Laverne Cox is pretty damn great.
“Laverne has a very intimate, admirable, and confident sense of her natural style. She always has been hands-on, since the first conversation we ever had. She’s also a collaborator, and not a lot of clients either really care to or have time. Laverne always gives input on anything custom she’s going to wear, like changing the neckline or the color.

“You can pull a bunch of options and the designer might not know if someone’s going to wear it until the moment they step out onto the red carpet. But Laverne and I are an exception in the industry: If a designer is kind and generous enough to share their talents and resources with us, to make a beautiful, couture, hand-beaded gown in Italy, Laverne is going to wear it. They’ve custom-tailored it to her body; there’s no possibility that she’s going to choose ‘Option 2’ right before she goes onto the red carpet. It’s just not how we work.

"Laverne is a pioneer in every way. I cannot exaggerate how important she is to humankind. She’s not only the one of the loveliest, most caring, special people I’ve ever come across, but her message is also really important to the trans conversation and the acceptance of all people. There’s a certain responsibility that comes with working with Laverne Cox; I don’t take it lightly. We want Laverne to look pretty; we want Laverne to slay. I can’t tell you how privileged and blessed I feel to work alongside my friend, someone who’s become a very close person in my life.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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