Blake Lively, the tall, shapely, 21-year-old actress, wore a white, backless Roberto Cavalli dress to the opening of the Swarovski Crystallized store last week; a neon-pink strapless Michael Kors dress to the CFDA awards; and a fitted turtleneck dress to the Ralph Lauren show in February. These, everyone agreed, were good choices.
Her baby-blue, low-cut romper at the CW upfronts in May; the backless, one-sleeve, high-slit teal Versace number at the Met Costume gala; and the unflattering, eggplant Burberry Prorsum dress at the New Yorkers for Children benefit were not so well received.
Ms. Lively does not employ a stylist. Or so she says, anyway. (A rep for Ms. Lively did not return the Transom’s calls.)
“She’s the one that looked like a mess in that Nina Ricci dress at the Golden Globes!” sniped celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who has worked with Halle Berry and Salma Hayek. “This is why you need a stylist. If you go to a designer, their goal is to get you out the door and on the red carpet in their gown come hell or high water. They’re never going to say, ‘This just might not be right for you.’”
And yet, Ms. Lively and other actresses, including her Gossip Girl co-star Taylor Momsen, Chloë Sevigny, MTV newbie Alexa Chung, and, sometimes, Kirsten Dunst, Natalie Portman, Tilda Swinton and Sarah Jessica Parker, are increasingly going directly to designers, visiting showrooms and runway shows, borrowing clothes and thereby cutting out the people who used to broker such deals.
“It used to be that none of the designers even knew the celebrities. The only real designers that had a presence in Hollywood were Versace and Armani,” said Mr. Bloch, who began working in the early ’90s. “We became the liaisons. Then as time progressed and everyone got greedier, they want to cut out the middle person.”
Perhaps this has something to do with stylists like Mr. Bloch, the name-dropping Rachel Zoe, and TLC’s Stacey London, who once worked with Kate Winslet and Liv Tyler, becoming themselves the stars of shows about their industry—at times gaining more publicity than their clients—and, in a sense, destroying the mystery of how the stars’ looks were constructed.
“I worked with Jennifer Lopez years ago, and her publicist came to me once and said, ‘Jennifer doesn’t like you talking about other people you work with. Jennifer wants it about her,’” recalled Mr. Bloch. Actress Debra Messing reportedly parted ways with Ms. Zoe after feeling ignored by the fame-grasping stylist. “When you’re shooting your own show and have all that shit going on that Rachel does, it’s hard to be there for clients,” Mr. Bloch said. (Ms. Zoe could not be reached for comment.)
Meanwhile, design houses are becoming more aggressive about the process, hiring “celebrity services” reps (Lauryn Flynn at Burberry; Nicole Snoep at Calvin Klein) and courting clients directly instead of going through their stylists. “There are dedicated VIP-relations people at virtually every major house that make outreach to actresses and their publicists before premieres and major award shows,” said Annabel Tollman, stylist to Scarlett Johansson and the Olsen twins and the former fashion director of Interview.
Personal stylists are an easy line item to cut in the dwindling budgets of movie studios and major networks. (’Member when Ms. Johansson reportedly missed the Cannes premiere of Vicky Cristina Barcelona after the studio wouldn’t pay for her $4,000-a-day makeup artist?) “Ellen Pompeo and I had lunch a couple of weeks ago,” said Mr. Bloch. “And she said ABC gave her $500 for hair, makeup and stylist to go on Letterman to promote the next season of Grey’s Anatomy—that ain’t gonna cut it!” (An ABC spokesperson said they do not comment on hair and makeup budget for its actors.)
But sacrificing these hardworking fashion advisers, as Mr. Bloch pointed out in Ms. Lively’s case, is not always a good idea.
“I think people who have worked with stylists believe they have learned enough that they can step out on their own,” said Robert Verdi, who’s made a career of critiquing celebrity style. “But it’s like having some legal issue pending and going to court and defending yourself because you took a few legal classes versus going with a lawyer. Which one do you think will have a better outcome?”
View a slideshow of Ms. Lively’s best and worst looks here.