The red carpet would be a boring place without risk-taking stars
Over the years, the American Music Awards have given us Jennifer Lopez in a tattoo print catsuit, Christina Aguilera in full Marilyn Monroe costume and — lest we forget — Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake in full, matching denim, a look which will no doubt go down as the most celebrated couple dressing moment of all time. What’s the common thread? An unashamed celebration of bold individuality which has helped to cement music’s status as the industry bringing us style moments which are not just memorable, but often gloriously nonconformist.
The AMAs, which took place on Nov 20, are an annual opportunity to remind ourselves that while pared-back sophistication might be the status quo of glamour, there should still be room for a little experimental styling and expression of personality.
“Griping about unimaginative Oscar dresses has become an annual ritual among fashion watchers,” wrote The Telegraph’s Fashion Director Lisa Armstrong last year of the perfect politeness which now rules the red carpets of The Academy Awards, the BAFTAS, the Golden Globes etc.
But the antidote to that safe elegance, a result of the high stakes casting decisions which red carpet popularity now prompts in the acting industry, can be found in the music world where fashion is not about looking as unoffensively pretty as possible, but making a personal branding statement. While actors must present themselves as a possibility for all manner of roles, musicians have only one part to play — themselves.
Take Halsey, the singer with 3.4 million Instagram followers who has made her ever-changing style a trademark. On Sunday night, she worked with stylist Maeve Reilly for the first time, masterminding a leather jumpsuit look by Ermanno Scervino which was chosen, after much deliberation and angst, to align the singer more closely with the spirit of her music. “We had a lot of options which were all very different, I felt like this jumpsuit really separated from what she doing before and felt more authentic to her as an artist, more punk, a little edgier, more of a risk,” explains Reilly.
She emphasises that the most successful stars’ looks are rooted in the image they’re creating via the music they are currently promoting, but that in itself is an extension of themselves. “Hearing the music helps us figure out the direction we want to go in moving forward. I think the music really dictates what somebody wants to look like, what you’re singing about is represented in what people see when they look at you.”
Choosing a style which is both different to how others usually dress for an event, as well as something new yet appropriate for the star herself isn’t an easy decision when the stakes are so high. Getting onto best-dressed lists and making headlines in the right places is still the end game here.
“I don’t want to do what’s expected. For the AMAs, people tend to go glitzy, sequins- a kind of cliché look. I didn’t want her to fit in last night, I didn’t want her look like everybody else,” says Reilly. “We definitely went back and forth about it and thankfully decided to go with it and it went well. American Vogue immediately wrote an article about how it was a risk which worked out and it was really well received.”
For Ariana Grande, one of the most followed stars in the world with an Instagram audience of 89.4 million, the latest styling focus is all about creating a ‘professional’, grown-up image says her friend and stylist, Timothy Chernyaev.
“She wears a lot of menswear in her day to day life. She shops as much in the men’s department as she does in the women’s and she is always wearing her male friend’s clothes or her boyfriend’s clothes. Whenever we do a red carpet, we try to translate who she is in her daily life and make it special to the red carpet,” he says, referring to the 23 year-old’s AMAs look, which consisted of pair of tailored Alexander McQueen trousers (”I found them at the McQueeen shop so they‘re a real commercial piece which any woman could go into the store and buy and wear all the time”) and a cus- tom-made lace crop top by French lingerie label I.D Sarrieri.
Chernyaev explains that this menswear/womenswear mash-up enhances Grande’s identity as an artist: “I think it’s practical and functional. It’s weird in your day-today life if you have all these promotional things you have to do, it’s a business. And then to be like ‘Now I’m on the red carpet, I’m going to put on a sheer dress, even though I would never wear that on any other occassion.’ I think the thing about using menswear is that she’s there to promote her single and her album, promote herself and show her fans who she is as a person and it’s a smart way to dress. It’s how most women dress from the age of 16. It’s not like it’s unusual for women to wear pants anymore so I love that that’s what she gravitates towards.”
Bringing authenticity to the red carpet is vital to the likes of Grande and Halsey for another reason, too. Loyal legions of fans monitoring their every outing adds a complicated extra element to the task of red carpet dressing — because it’s as much about the public reaction as the professional one.
Halsey’s change of direction upset some of her followers. “We walked down the carpet last night and there were some fans who didn’t like it and some were sh*t talking on Twitter,” says Reilly, breezily adding “but I looked at her and said ‘give Vogue an hour, don’t worry we’re fine’ and within 1 hour 20 minutes there was an article written about how she took a risk and pulled it off so I’m not out here to appease everyone’s fans. You can’t make everyone happy. The people who matter get it.”
Where taking a risk is worth the short term upset when chameleonic styling is the name of your game, Chernyaev and Grande know that her followers will immediately spot a look which isn’t right for her. “She’s the most honest, transparent, authentic self with her fans — she direct messages them, she tweets them, she gets her input from them on her tour, her look. She really values their opinion. I try a lot of things with her and we think ‘let’s try this or this’ but we always end up coming back to who she really is,” says Chernyaev.
Taylor Swift attends a press event for breaking The Staples Center’s record of most sold-out shows for a solo artist; Halsey in Ermanno Scervino and Ariana Grande at the American Music Awards.