Sofia Coppola on Why Hollywood Stylists Are Killing Red Carpet Style

Sofia Coppola - In Praise of Choosing Your Own Clothes
Photo illustration by Sara Cwynar

Looking at some photos from a recent red-carpet event the other night with a friend, I couldn’t help but think what a bummer it has all become. You can’t tell the women apart—there’s a stream of bland red-carpet editions of them. That same night, after my friend had browsed through these images, showing me the highlights, we watched some old episodes of Cher together. Dressed in Bob Mackie, Cher moved in a golden hue of dazzling, formfitting style unique to her.

I miss the days before actresses hired stylists, when women dressed themselves for formal events. There was personality, style—and mistakes. I loved Cannes in the ’70s, when there was a mix of European glamour, Hollywood, and hippies: Nastassja Kinski in a cotton dress with flowers in her hair. Wearing a kimono jacket could pass as black tie.

Now everyone looks the same, with perfect grooming, gowns, and brand-new jewelry, as they parade a catalog of luxury items. It’s disappointing that actresses are expected to hire a stylist along with an agent and manager. Not only do they have to be good actresses, they are also all expected to be fashion icons.

When Anjelica Huston needed a dress for the 1986 Academy Awards, she enlisted the costume designer Tzetzi Ganev to make her one. Ganev agreed on the condition that Huston bring her the fabric. In her memoir, Watch Me, Huston writes about going shopping at International Silks & ­Woolens, and settling on the perfect kelly green silk jersey. Today, that would be unheard of.

Ever since people started to worry about the reviews their outfits might receive, stylists have become a necessity, and you rarely see personality come through. And, of course, with the endless, faceless critics on social media, where anyone can comment on how you look, the situation has only gotten worse. Failed fashion editors from New York moved to Los Angeles and invented the culture of the celebrity ­stylist. And Giorgio Armani started the business of dressing celebrities that has become the standard today.

There are no Björks in swan dresses, Chers in beads, or even Cybill Shepherds in evening dresses and Reeboks. These days, many stylists are being paid by the brands they push, and some actresses regularly decide on a dress based on the fee they will receive to wear it. (Not that everyone does this, but it seems to have become the norm.)

There are still some women out there with personal style. Chloë Sevigny always looks like she picked out her clothes. Some, like Tracee Ellis Ross and Solange Knowles, engage stylists merely to help with logistics. And then there are those who seem to be having fun with fashion, like Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning. (I know, I’m partial to them!)

I love when you see an actress who looks like herself, even if her look isn’t perfect. But for the most part, stars are done up in a glamorously generic uniform—a look so professionally executed that real women could never come close to achieving it for a formal event in their lives.

I wish we lived in a culture where the actresses who aren’t afraid to take daring roles in films could also take some chances and dress like themselves. I wish the business of fashion wouldn’t get in the way of personal style and self-expression, and would give us ­something to dream about.