Dressed for success
Stylist to the stars Lana Wilkinson talks to Stellar about red carpets, royals and why some things will always go wrong
Stylist to the stars Lana Wilkinson has encountered the odd wardrobe malfunction. She takes us behind the seams of the red carpet – even when things go wrong.
If her Instagram page is anything to go by, Lana Wilkinson’s life is spent breezing between glamorous events, rubbing shoulders with Australia’s fashion elite and styling the influential, beautiful and wealthy. But behind the glossy façade – some have called her Australia’s answer to US mega-stylist Rachel Zoe – Wilkinson argues that she’s “average”, and still working out how to juggle motherhood with the chaos of running her own demanding business, and keeping her A-list clients happy in the face of wardrobe malfunctions.
“People only see a smidgeon of who you are,” Wilkinson tells Stellar. “They’re not seeing me with a topknot and kids crying in the background while I’m packing my car, getting things ready for the Spring Carnival. But that’s what’s going on. I’ve been at race days where dresses have come apart. So I’ve had to literally run over, stand there and sew it up, away from prying eyes and the media. You kind of become a walking, talking emergency kit. But for every moment I’m like, ‘Wow, this is hard,’ there are 50 amazing moments.”
Like a real-life fairy godmother, 36-year-old Wilkinson has made a career out of waving her magic wand and transforming her clients into the chic, polished personalities we see gracing Australia’s red carpets and media walls. Elyse Knowles, Megan Gale, Rebecca Judd and Anna Heinrich have all lined up to work with Wilkinson – not surprising given the frequency with which her “looks” appear on best-dressed lists. “I’m not qualified in any way to be a therapist, but a lot of my job is being a bit of a coach, pumping people up,” she says. “I’ll kill myself to get it done. I’ve been known to lie on the floor at red carpets and take photos [of dresses] in daylight to see if they’re see-through. But you can only control the controllable and sometimes you can’t be there to hold their hands.”
When Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, stepped out in a slightly sheer blue skirt – creating the unfortunate optical illusion of a glimpse of her underwear through the pleats – on her recent visit to New Zealand, the internet went crazy. And Wilkinson cringed for her. On another occasion from the royal trip, the Duchess was photographed in a dress that had the price tag still attached. “It is absolutely heartbreaking,” Wilkinson says of the fashion faux pas.
“But there’s a story behind everything. Nobody walks out wanting to show the tag, least of all Meghan Markle, and least of all her stylist! But Meghan has 50,000 things to worry about. The tag doesn’t matter. Did she look and feel great? Did it do good things for the brand? Yes, yes. So that’s a big tick. Isn’t that what it’s about?”
Wilkinson was working in marketing and PR seven years ago when she was talent-spotted for her style nous – friends working in reality TV asked if she’d lend a hand. While continuing to work her full-time job, she gradually built up a following as a stylist.
But it was a shoot with then-up-andcoming actor Ruby Rose that brought Wilkinson her breakthrough moment. “I was doing some freelance styling – I say ‘freelance’ as it was literally free.i put Ruby in this particular Nicholas The Label dress and when the photos came out, the dress sold out. That was the first time I thought, ‘I’m onto something here.’”
She quit her job and four years later is now in the midst of a good dilemma: Wilkinson admits the time may have come for her to learn to say no. For Spring Carnival this year, she produced 40 different looks on Oaks Day alone. At this year’s Logies, she dressed five people, some in custom-made gowns.
And when she is not styling celebrities, she’s becoming famous for her own fashion sense. “It didn’t happen purposefully,” Wilkinson says. “And every time, I dress myself last. But it’s weird because now I’m not just worrying about the talent, but also worrying about me.” Alongside her work commitments, she also wrangles two small children, Ava, five, and Elle, two, alongside her husband Liam in the Melbourne suburb of Niddrie. And despite her frenzied schedule, Wilkinson makes sure she finds time to sift through her inbox, chock-a-block with messages from her 118,000 Instagram followers.“[they] ask how they should style something to wear to their Year 12 formal,” Wilkinson says. “And that’s amazing – I get chills. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the masses. So you’ve got to reply, because without those people supporting me, I wouldn’t be where I am. And I like to bring the average person a little bit of sparkle.”
“Nobody wants to show the tag, least of all Meghan Markle”
(from top) Lana Wilkinson styling Elyse Knowles for this year’s Logie Awards on the Gold Coast; with celebrity client Anna Heinrich at Derby Day at Flemington racecourse last month.
LANA WEARS (opposite) Bianca Spender jacket and skirt, biancaspender.com