On the (Press) Trail with Jessica Chastain

Behind the scenes of a multi-city, multi-country, multi-designer press tour. Welcome to the big leagues.

Jessica Chastain

Squeezed in just before a photo shoot on the Sunday of the Academy Awards, it was 7 a.m. when Jessica Chastain showed up for her first fitting with her stylist, Elizabeth Stewart, for the press tour of her new film The Huntsman: Winter’s War. A celebrity stylist with clients like Cate Blanchett, Amanda Seyfried, and Julia Roberts, she’s no stranger to the circus of an international press tour. (She and Chastain have worked together for about six years, nearly since the start of Chastain’s stardom.) Her client would soon be jetting off to Singapore and Beijing to promote *T*he Huntsman, and she needed to find suitably dramatic looks for the blockbuster dark fantasy on a pretty tight schedule.

“We had much less time to plan this time due to Jessica’s shooting schedule,” Stewart wrote in an email. Having wrapped work on The Zookeeper’s Wife in November, Chastain almost immediately embarked on shooting Miss Sloane, the upcoming film in which she co-stars with Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Michael Stuhlbarg. And in the midst of it all, The Huntsman press tour spanned continents — moving from the Asian premiere to Los Angeles for the MTV Movie Awards and circling around for the American premiere — and featured designers ranging from the big leagues, like Givenchy and Altuzarra, to lesser-known labels like Giles Deacon.

“It’s always easy to choose Givenchy,” Stewart continued. Stewart also noted that their strong relationships with Givenchy and Elie Saab often lead them to select those designers’ gowns; Saab has cropped up at the European premiere of The Martian and at the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2016-2017 season, while Givenchy has been the label of choice for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 Costume Institute gala, the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of The Martian, and, of course, the show-stopping gown Chastain wore to the 2015 Oscars — which Stewart has cited as one of the top styling moments of her career.

At the same time, though, Stewart and Chastain often consider new designers. (There’s the occasional appearance by Prada, Atelier Versace, and Alexander McQueen for good measure.) Deacon had never previously appeared in the canon, but Stewart “loved that rawness mixed with the couture structure.” The gown made the cut for the Huntsman tour.

Though the thread uniting each of the designs didn’t emerge until planning was well under way, Stewart explained that eventually, “a theme emerged of luxurious ease.” It’s the common denominator across a beaded Elie Saab gown, a dark, romantic Givenchy ensemble, a sculptural Giles Deacon, and a fairytale Altuzarra.

She admitted that The Huntsman subliminally influenced her styling choices, citing the Giles Deacon gown by way of example. Indeed, that gown seems almost supernatural, at once sleek and jagged, worthy of the high tower of a fairytale.

And, though she didn’t say it herself, Stewart’s styling choices seem to unfold in a narrative much like a film. The Elie Saab set a dramatic tone (“simple and bare,” Stewart wrote, practical in the southeast Asian heat yet oozing glamour) at the Singapore premiere. Then, a conservative Jonathan Simkhai sheath toned it down for a photocall in Beijing. Then came Giles Deacon and Givenchy in rapid succession — both daring, dramatic, eye-catching — and finally, the Altuzarra, a look that practically demands red carpet attention, simultaneously “effortless ‘hippie chic’” and “full-on sequined,” Stewart wrote.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War premiered Monday, but the job isn’t yet complete. Chastain’s next destination, and Stewart’s next challenge? Cannes.