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How Celebrity Image-Makers Capitalise on the Red Carpet

Behind every carefully cultivated look, there is a series of deals that net stylists and their agents thousands of dollars.
Actress Dakota Fanning at the 73rd Venice Film Festival on September 3, 2016 in Venice, Italy | Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Hayley Phelan

LOS ANGELES, United States"Who are you wearing?"

It’s a question destined to be volleyed dozens of times on the red carpet at the 74th Golden Globe Awards, set to take place this Sunday, January 8. The answer, it turns out, is often determined by a series of backdoor deals that can net celebrities — as well as their increasingly influential image-makers — significant sums of money. For years, Hollywood A-listers have collected hefty fees for wearing a designer’s garment at a big red carpet appearance. But now, stylists, hairstylists and makeup artists are increasingly getting a cut as well.

"Whenever a brand says, 'We don't pay stylists,' most of the time that's just a load of B.S.," says stylist Elizabeth Saltzman, whose client roster includes Saoirse Ronan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman. "Somebody pays somewhere." For Saltzman, the number one priority will always be to serve the client. "I would never go after just-a-money thing," she says. "I have done tons and tons of work where there were no deals involved because it didn't feel right. I want my girls to look different. I want them to wear the best dress for them. I'm not going to sell out. No brilliant stylist would want to unless there was a reason for the talent."

But when deals do happen, it’s a way, says Saltzman, to “help everyone” in an industry that’s currently in a state of flux. As big-name Hollywood studios contend with shrinking audiences, and indie films operate on shoestrings, budgets to pay stylists fees — which can range from $5,000 to $50,000 and are usually paid by the studio, and not the actresses — are often lacking.

“Sometimes, if there’s no [studio] budget for my girl, I’ll approach a brand I have a relationship with and say, ‘Hey I have this person in this film and it’s tiny but it’s got a big nomination but no money — are you interested in being part of it?’” Saltzman explains. Money might change hands between the brand and the celebrity, as well as Saltzman. “I would always try to get most for the client,” she says. “And then just make sure that all my bases were covered with some income.”

"Stylists have become the middlemen between the designers and the actresses," says Micaela Erlanger, who works with Lupita Nyong'o, Meryl Streep and John Boyega. "We are able to put talent on a designer's map and vice versa. Oftentimes designers look to stylists to tell them who should be on their radar and whatnot and if you have great relationships with the brands they really do value your opinion."

Whenever a brand says, 'We don't pay stylists,' most of the time that's just a load of B.S.

Sometimes, those endorsements can lead to lucrative deals and campaigns between the brand and the celebrity. Though Erlanger said financially sponsored red carpet looks are “not her focus,” the stylist did recently sign on with intimates brand Maidenform as a “brand ambassador.” While she would not disclose whether she was financially compensated for the partnership, she did posit that roles such as these offer a new avenue of monetisation for stylists, particularly as their own social media audiences grow.

Oftentimes, a stylist’s agent is the one brokering these deals. If an agent knows one of their talents has a gig booked for awards season, he or she will shop the opportunity around to jewellery, fashion and beauty brands that might be interested in sponsoring, looking for the brand that delivers “the best fit aesthetically but also the best financial offer,” according to one source. Sometimes a bidding war ensues. For instance, if a mass-market or less desirable jewellery or beauty brand offers top dollar, an agent might go back to a brand more aesthetically in line with their client and see if the brand will match the offer or go a little higher.

“Studios used to pay top dollar for hair and makeup and styling. Now those rates have decreased so agents and artists have to look for other ways to compensate,” says one agency insider who wishes to remain anonymous. “These kinds of deals are a big part of how agents make money nowadays. Especially when a celebrity is paying out of pocket, the artist will usually agree to a lower rate and the agents can offset the lower rate with a sponsorship, just to help round out payment for that job.”

“Obviously the brand needs to be a good fit as well, but sometimes the money does talk,” says the agency insider. “Sadly, in this industry somebody might choose to take more money over a more authentic brand partnership.”

The money is not insubstantial. Several industry sources revealed that for a major red carpet event like the Oscars or the Golden Globes, a designer may pay a top celebrity stylist between $25,000 and $50,000, plus a 20 percent agency fee and hotel and airfare expenses, to ensure that the dress winds up on the right bronzed and toned back. (The celebrity may net anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000).

But a celebrity’s back isn’t the only thing that’s for sale: Everything from the eyelashes to the neck has a price on it. Jewellery sponsors often pay stylists between $5,000 and $10,000, while makeup artists can be paid up to $45,000 for agreeing to use and credit product from any one given brand. For these piecemeal deals, oftentimes the image-makers are cashing in more than the talent. “Quite a bit the stylist is getting paid and the celebrity isn’t,” says one source. “Especially with beauty deals.”

Quite a bit the stylist is getting paid and the celebrity isn't.

This can sometimes lead to tension between client and stylist. “If a stylist makes a deal with a jewellery company, she has no choice but to convince her client to wear it without looking like she’s trying to convince her,” says the insider. “Sometimes there’s a clause in the agreement, where if the celebrity doesn’t choose to wear the brand, the stylist won’t get the money.”

Certain celebrities — particularly male ones — and their publicists try to bar deals such as these by putting a clause in the stylist’s or makeup artist’s contract that limits the amount they can speak to press. Most of the time, however, agents and stylists keep the deals hush-hush enough to avoid such issues.

“Some of the time it’s done secretly so that the celebrities and the publicist don’t know,” says the agency source. “You never want to lose a client who’s mad knowing you made money off of them. The cool celebrities are like, ‘Whatever, make an extra buck or two.’”

Usually, however, these deals are a win-win for all involved, including the brand that’s shilling out. “In theory it is excellent branding,” says Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People Make Money. “A celebrity wears your dress on a red carpet and pictures of that dress end up in celebrity magazines, on television and all over the internet. It's better than advertising because it feels more authentic. An ad in a magazine can cost between $10,000 and $25,000. A television commercial starts at $100,000. Web ads are cheap but relatively ineffective. So spending $50,000 to $100,000 just makes financial sense from an ad standpoint.”

Yet, while stylists, agents, celebrities and brands are certainly benefitting financially, not everyone is a fan of this growing trend. “It definitely takes away some of the authenticity of the industry,” said one insider at an agency. “Before, the matchups and pairings used to be a lot more organic. Money is the number one prerogative now. That’s the disappointing aspect to it.”

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