If you believe everything you see on reality TV, working as a celebrity stylist is a dawn-to-dusk whirlwind of venti coffee cups and designer shoes. In reality-reality, though, the journey to the red carpet starts weeks or months in advance, with atelier visits and hours of fittings. Celebrity stylist Christina Pacelli reveals what it takes to make one perfect red-carpet moment.
A MONTH BEFORE THE RED CARPET:
“I’ll organize what I call marathon fittings where we try on a bunch of clothes,” Pacelli, who’s worked with Laverne Cox and Maria Menounos, tells ELLE.com. “Sometime’s we’ll fit for eight looks that a client will wear for various events in a week’s time or a month’s time.” With a gown as a starting point, Pacelli will create a jewelry storyboard—culling pieces from jewelry brands like Hearts On Fire weeks in advance of a red carpet event to prepare for the big night.
Typically each look takes at least half an hour to fit, and for busy celebs, it’s hard to carve out that much time in their already-packed schedules. “Sometimes we’ll do fittings at my studio in the East Village, or at a client’s hotel or home,” Pacelli says. “I’ll often schedule fittings with designers in staggered blocks—say I have four hours with my client to fit five different looks. I’ll have one the first hour, another the second hour, a custom tux maker the third, and so on. We’ll also travel to the designers. One awards season we carved out a day in December where, for eight hours, we went from atelier to atelier to fit with designers individually.”
A WEEK BEFORE THE RED CARPET:
While Pacelli is usually based in New York, she decamps to southern California for the entirety of awards season. “If New York is a stylist’s boot camp, Los Angeles is a vacation,” she jokes. “In L.A. I have a car, and that makes all the difference. If I have a heavy pull day, I can drive from showroom to showroom. In Manhattan, I don’t have that, and the logistical planning can be a nightmare, especially when the weather is bad.”
11 HOURS BEFORE THE RED CARPET:
Once she’s on the west coast, the pressure is on—especially on show days. “On the day of an awards show, I probably wake up at 6 a.m.,” she says. “We’ll have been fitting until 1 a.m. the night before and I’m already back up at six because I have to pick up the dress from the seamstress who’s been working on it through the night.”
Pacelli will only have a couple of hours to herself before she starts prepping her first client. “I’ll try to fit a workout in, like an indoor run along with a circuit training session,” she says. “Then I’ll grab an iced coffee with skim milk, along with a banana and granola bar or an oatmeal. I’m really hungry first thing in the morning, and you have to eat because you’re on your feet all day long. If I don’t eat, I’ll pass out.”
9 HOURS BEFORE THE RED CARPET:
By 8 a.m., she’s with her first client of the day, trying on the final look to make sure everything fits perfectly. “Once she’s happy, and we’ve decided on all her underpinnings and jewelry—say, which Hearts On Fire diamond ring she’s wearing on what finger—I can leave,” Pacelli says. “I’ll have an assistant stay to do final steamings and touches, and I’ll head off to see my second client by 10 a.m.”
Dressing more than one celebrity for a big televised event can turn Pacelli’s workday into a carefully choreographed military maneuver. “To be a stylist, you have to be really well-planned and organized,” she says. “Clients’ schedules are dictated by publicists who want them in the car at a certain time and on the red carpet at a certain time. I dressed four people for the Emmys this year, and on the day of, you always prepare for it go as smoothly as possible, but there’s always something. For example, they might change their mind on the shoes—it’s why I bring 20 or 30 pairs to each fitting. I also put in requests for jewelry up to a month in advance” because couture diamond pieces like the Hearts On Fire Illa Midnight Diamond Necklace are one-of-a-kind and incredibly high in demand. “It’s very competitive,” Pacelli says. “You have to compete with other stylists for the most coveted pieces.”
Getting four clients ready and out the door is no easy feat, and schedules are etched in stone, with the biggest star at the top of the assembly line. “Normally the person who’s going to the carpet the last is the highest-profile person I’m dressing for the event. At the Emmys, for example, it’ll be the actress with a hit show,” Pacelli says.
“YOU HAVE TO COMPETE WITH OTHER STYLISTS FOR THE MOST COVETED PIECES.”
1 HOUR BEFORE THE RED CARPET:
Whenever she can, she’ll see her work all the way through. “I’ll ride in the car with my client, especially if they’re wearing a dress that’s prone to wrinkling,” Pacelli says. “If I get credentialed for the red carpet, I’ll go to hold the train or help her walk in a way that minimizes wrinkling. If we have a chance, we’ll even steam the dress again before stepping out of the car!” Sometimes, it’s the jewelry that can make or break a red carpet walk, Pacelli says, citing one A-lister’s Golden Globes look—”The placement of the necklace was off-center a little bit,” she says. “I walked with her the entire way, making sure it was perfect.”
And when she’s not able to be on the red carpet, she makes sure her clients are well-prepared in advance. “I’ll stay in contact and send along reminders throughout the day,” she says. “You want the client to remember to straighten out their jacket or pull their pants flat when they’re transitioning from car to carpet.”
Also, every single Pacelli client gets a bonus masterclass in red-carpet posing. “We’ll take a lot of photos to decide how she should stand, where to put her hand on her hip, where she should shift her weight, and what her most photogenic hero poses will be.”
DURING THE RED CARPET:
Once the star is successfully delivered to the front door of the venue and all red carpet hurdles have been cleared, Pacelli still isn’t off the hook. “I’ll go back to the hotel, turn on the awards show, and we’ll pack for three hours,” she says. “Everything that didn’t make the cut—and it’s a lot—gets prepped for returns, all of which are split between New York, L.A., and Europe. It’s quite time-consuming to make sure every single item goes back to the correct showroom.”
3 HOURS AFTER THE RED CARPET:
After the awards show wraps, there’s always an after party, and Pacelli and her team will be prepped for a quick change. “My client will text me when they’re on their way back, and I’ll be ready to get her into a new look,” she says. “The dress is steamed and the jewelry edits and shoe selection will be out and ready.”
The clock’s typically struck midnight at this point, and Pacelli and her team have put in more than a 12-hour workday. “Usually by the end of the night, you’re pretty dead,” she says. “But if I’m able to go to one of the after parties, I like to because by that time of night, you’re usually starving and you want a drink. That’s the best way to unwind.”
Sometimes, though, she’ll head straight home to bed. “A lot of times you’re too exhausted, and you know that the next day, you might have to be up at six to do it all over again.”