When Natasha Lyonne debuted her smash Netflix series “Russian Doll” earlier this year, she wanted a new look, too — but not too new.
“She had a very, very specific vision in mind,” stylist Cristina Ehrlich tells The Post. During their first meeting, Lyonne explained that she wanted a little more red-carpet polish — but not at the cost of her real-world vibe and tough ’tude.
“She’s a legitimate boss lady and full-fledged Hollywood woman, and I feel that the way she likes to dress reflects that,” says Ehrlich. “She loves the strong shoulder, she loves the plunging V [neckline], she loves anything that’s sort of high-waisted . . . She really loves the energy and the vibe behind suiting.”
Her wardrobe, the two agreed, should tell the story of Lyonne as an actress turned high-powered director, producer, writer and all-around badass. For inspiration, they watched dozens of old film clips featuring femme fatales like Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich.
Now, when Lyonne steps out on the red carpet, it’s with sharp shoulders, swaggering trousers, big blouses and her signature unruly curls. As Ehrlich puts it, “She’s not out there trying to emulate anybody other than herself.”
For a long time, dressing like yourself — or at least, distinctly unlike the other stars at an awards ceremony — would land you on the worst-dressed list. But that’s changing, and TV is leading the charge. An explosion of female-led, women-driven and more-diverse shows is innovating the clothes we see on-screen and on the red carpet.
This year’s Emmy nominees feature some singularly stylish women who also play stylish characters on TV. Lyonne is joined by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the innately chic star of “Fleabag”; the 6-foot-3 Gwendoline Christie, who slays in fantastical get-ups on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and on the step-and-repeat; and Jodie Comer, whose sweet-yet-sinister off-screen vibe echoes the style of the fashion-obsessed assassin she plays in “Killing Eve.” These stars, along with other small-screen fashionistas, including “Grown-ish’s” Yara Shahidi and “Insecure’s” Issa Rae, favor self-expression over traditional glamour.
“There are so many quirky, strange, complex women characters on TV now, and I think that allows actors to be more adventurous on the red carpet,” says celebrity stylist Tracy Taylor.
“We’re in a golden age of red-carpet dressing,” says historian Bronwyn Cosgrave, host of the fashion podcast “A Different Tweed.”
To explain the longtime suppression of personal style in Hollywood, Cosgrave points to another star-style heyday: the first half of the 20th century, when stars like Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Dietrich all played versions of themselves onscreen.
Off set, they dressed in cool, offbeat garb that still suited their various “types.” In fact, actors were so firmly aligned with their characters that the studios regularly offered in-house costume designers to deck them out for high-profile events like the Oscars.
“They say that when Audrey Hepburn was nominated for ‘Roman Holiday,’ she wore jewelry that she wore [in the film] to the Oscars,” says Cosgrave. “And she wore a dress by Edith Head,” who had dressed her in the 1953 movie.
But when the studio system collapsed in the late 1960s, so did those costumer-star relationships. Suddenly, actors were dressing themselves for events — “for better or for worse,” says Cosgrave. Results varied from crazy (Cher in beaded Bob Mackie) to hideous (Demi Moore in bike shorts) to controversial (Jane Fonda in a Mao-style jacket).
Giorgio Armani was the first designer who saw an opportunity to help these fashion-challenged starlets — and win some publicity for his brand. He reached out to Jodie Foster, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange to dress them for the 1990 Oscars ceremony. Other design houses followed. “Armani, Versace, Michael Kors, even, came in and took over where the studios left off, dealing directly with stars,” says Cosgrave.
Then in the late ‘90s, stylists swooped in to help stars manage the flood of free gowns and to commission custom ones.
Everyone looked beautiful — if a little one-note.
“Back in 2009, you would see basically two styles on the red carpet,” says Tom Fitzgerald, of the fashion blog Tom & Lorenzo. There were “big Hollywood gowns” (Anne Hathaway in a tasteful, sequinned Armani column) “or princess gowns” (Sienna Miller in a froofy organza Marchesa dress).
But that’s finally changing.
“I think the dividing line was #MeToo and Time’s Up,” says Fitzgerald. “The Golden Globes ceremony, when all the women dressed in black gowns, was a watershed moment. People started toning down the formality . . . but also began expressing themselves through fashion.”
Since then, he says, awards shows have hosted a wide range of styles.
“It’s all about establishing your personal brand and presenting your truest self,” Fitzgerald says, commending actors like Tracee Ellis Ross and Taraji P. Henson — who became a style star for playing the flamboyant Cookie Lyon on Fox’s “Empire” — for their sartorial successes.
Instead of just looking pretty for the cameras, celebrities want their wardrobes to speak to their other achievements, says Ehrlich.
“Most of the women we dress are not just actresses: They’re producers, they’re writers, they’re directors,” says the stylist, who also works with Greta Gerwig and Laura Dern. “They want us to make them push the envelope.”
And fans are starting to expect it, especially from TV stars. The new class of female-led shows features powerful, complicated characters — often with covetable, idiosyncratic wardrobes.
“I definitely think there is a symbiotic relationship between the characters these actresses are portraying and their red-carpet and personal appearances,” says stylist Taylor. “For one, they’re used to playing these characters, so there’s a familiarity and comfort level there, and two, people are used to seeing them as trendsetters on the show.”
That also means the stakes are higher, especially for someone like Comer, whose oversize pink Molly Goddard frock caused a sensation when she wore it in the first season of “Killing Eve.”
“Can you imagine if she came out looking really dowdy?” says Taylor. “We’d all be disappointed.”
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