Nicole Chavez

The celebrity stylist on how she selects an Oscar dress for an A-list client

As told to Emma Rosenblum

“In terms of which actresses get to claim which dresses, there’s a game to be played”


I started out working in the costume department for the TV show The O.C. There I met the actress Rachel Bilson, and I began helping her with red carpet appearances. She introduced me to Kristen Bell, who became my second client, and that led to me starting my own business. Now I work with actresses like Reese Witherspoon (above, left), Katherine Heigl, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (above, right), who I’m styling for the Oscars, and who is presenting an award this year.

About three weeks ago I began reaching out to designers I thought would be right to create a custom gown for Catherine. There’s a small subset — Armani, Alberta Ferretti — who focus on gowns and create collections just for red carpet season. Other designers are showing at New York Fashion Week, and as stylists we already have looks from the shows pulled and held for our clients. In terms of which actresses get to claim which dresses, there’s a game to be played. The designers’ publicists make the decision based on exposure, relationships, and — I don’t like to say this — but who’s the bigger star. A nominee probably trumps a presenter.

I’ve been gathering sketches, fabrics, and images, and a few days ago I compiled everything into a PDF for Catherine, so she could get an overall view of what’s out there. At this point we have three custom options, and one’s very strong. Short of a disaster, I think that’s the one we’re going to go with. At the first fitting with Catherine, it’ll be a kind of gut feeling, like, which one do we love? What fits best? I equate it to the wedding dress moment. The client just knows it when they see it — their face lights up, the whole room feels it. There are things you have to take into consideration: White can end up looking bridal. Black is chic but won’t get much press. Velvet reflects light in a weird way. Shiny satin ends up looking wrinkly in photographs. Head-to-toe sequins add weight to even the smallest frame.

I’ll have one last fitting the day before, to finalize the look and the accessories. On Oscar Sunday, Catherine will spend time in hair and makeup, and then she’ll just glide into the dress in the last five minutes. This year I’ll be backstage, so I can make any final adjustments she needs before presenting. There are so many beautiful gowns — we’re talking about the top designers in the world. It’s hard to choose from all those options, so we end up going with what we feel. This business is about going with your gut and sticking with it.


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