[“][I] have CRAFT – Can’t Remember A Fucking Thing,” confesses Elizabeth Saltzman. The London-based super stylist is a hoot to talk to. And while fairytale dresses examined to a CSI degree could add a layer of stress factor come awards season, she appears totally unaffected by the sartorial circus. Ahead of the Academy Awards on Sunday, we caught up with the fast-talking fashionista dressing three-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (tipped to win Best Actress for her performance in the coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird this year), to talk style secrets, finding her tribe in 80s NYC and how Insta-hysteria has changed the face of fashion…
“I started as a sales person,” the former American Vogue fashion editor says – whose masterminded iconic looks for the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow to Uma Thurman. “I worked in a very cool store in New York called Parachute. A lot of people talk about the Fiorucci gang but no-one’s ever documented Parachute, I think it’s about time. Really cool people started there – like James Jebbia (founder of Supreme). Of course we were just kids working in a store, but it was very fashion forward.”
While growing up in a creative household (her father was an interior designer; mother a fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue) she was all for making a bold statement in the big apple. “Truly, crazy dressing,” she laughs. “Plastic, see-through dresses; duck tape on my tits! I wasn’t dressing for anybody else. I was just having fun on my own door step.”
This was before the glare of social media, too, something that has undeniably changed the fashion game. There’s an immediate hyper-visibility that, up until a decade ago, never really existed on the red carpet. Saltzman herself has a 36k Instagram following, usually posting behind-the-scenes snaps of her handiwork and congratulating her A-list clientele. “I think stylists that do Instagram well are really great,” she says. “Karla Welch makes me happy – her posts are poignant. I suck at social media, I literally don’t do anything. I was with Karl Lagerfeld in Paris for a whole day, I styled a show, I was with every famous person you could imagine. You’d never know it!” Saoirse Ronan, whose worked with Saltzman for two years, bucks the social media trend of her generation altogether (“[she] isn’t into the whole thing”) although.
"I wasn’t dressing for anybody else. I was just having fun on my own door step."
That’s not to suggest Saltzman is immune to the annual “Best VS. Worst” dressed post-mortems that inevitably ensue. “I once had an all-night panic with Gwyneth [Paltrow] at the 2012 Oscars wearing a Tom Ford white dress and cape,” she says. “I was absolutely like ‘what have I done?’ The risk paid off, and is often cited as one of Paltrow’s most prized looks. Of course there’s an SOS styling kit she packs for months of awards, premieres and parties “the size of carry-on luggage”, which hold everything from seamless underwear, a range of nipple covers, electrolytes, flip flops, Panadol, static guard, Spanx and makeup sponges.
Second best is not an option on the big O-day, Saltzman says. “I try not to have a back up dress. I don’t want to keep my options open – Brides get married everyday and they don’t have backup dresses! On the day the Oscars are announced I have thoughts. I know what I’m going for [and] I try to lock in whoever I’m working with.”
"I worked in a very cool store in New York called Parachute. A lot of people talk about the Fiorucci gang but no-one’s ever documented Parachute, I think it’s about time."
Since the onset of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, we’ve also entered a new age in power dressing on the red carpet; using fashion as a form of protest. “There is a message [there],” Saltzman says. “You need to think about your story. Saoirse’s style is classic with a major hit of power. Debbie Harry was a big influence on my mood board. She’s just trying to be individual and not follow the rules.” Empowering women to look at themselves in a new light is very important to Saltzman. “The first thing Saoirse said to me was: ‘I’m not really into pink and I don’t do sparkles.’ I was like, ‘Good, try this Chanel sweater on.’ It was a pink, sequinned top. That’s the same with Gwyneth saying ‘ I don’t wear red.’ Usually people don’t like what suits them because it’s that ‘opposites attract’ thing on the skin.
“I want the person I’m dressing to feel like the best versions of themselves,” Saltzman states. “I don’t ‘do’ fashion. I think what I do is I give people style, I figure out who they are and play to their strengths. I’m so flipping lucky to do what I do [but I] also recognise we’re not dealing with brain surgery here. We’re trying to make the world a better place, in the slightest way.”