Stylist Kate Young on Embracing Opulence & Dressing Her Clients for the Met Gala

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Courtesy of Kate Young

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Celebrity stylist Kate Young is responsible for some of the biggest fashion moments we've seen on the red carpet, and her illustrious list of clientele includes Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie, and Jennifer Lawrence. Before she became one of Hollywood's most in-demand wardrobe stylists, she worked in magazines, including a stint as Anna Wintour's assistant in 1997. Cut to 25 years later, and her career has come full circle. Now, Young frequently dresses her famous clients for one of the biggest nights in fashion—the Met Gala. 

In our latest episode, we chat with Young as she gets ready to style Dakota Johnson, Sophie Turner, and Julianne Moore for the big day. We learn about the inspiration behind all of their looks, the hardest lessons she had to learn from Met Galas past, and why she's on a big opulence kick as of late. Keep reading for a sneak peek of our conversation, then tune in to the Who What Wear podcast to hear the entire episode. 

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Let's talk about this theme, which is the second of a two-part series celebrating American fashion.  Last year, we had In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. This year, we have In America: An Anthology of Fashion. How are you interpreting that theme?

I'm not someone who does really insane, over-the-top looks for the Met. It's not really my thing. I don't do costume. And I like a certain kind of ease. So I always approached the Met Ball with what's appropriate, what would look cool in this space. I worked at Vogue for a long time. So I went to Met Balls and worked at them for years and years and years. And in my mind, I'm always thinking about what the image is going to look like of the client and the dress. And I still want it to look like them. I still want it to be part of the story that we're creating together. I've been on a real opulence tear of late, like I just want to see opulence. I think we've spent two years at home, and the world's kind of falling apart. You read the news, and it's really hard to feel happy or to feel excited about life, but the truth is life goes on, and if I'm gonna live, I want to see some sparkle and diamonds and glamour. I am really happy for a moment of escape, and I think that's what the Met is about. This is a night of frivolity. It's an extravaganza, so I already was thinking about that. 

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For part one last year, you dressed Lili Reinhart and Sienna Miller, but to keep things interesting, you are dressing three different women this year—Sophie Turner, Julianne Moore, and Dakota Johnson. How did you arrive at their looks? 

So with Julianne Moore, she's going with Tom Ford. And the inspiration for that was Jackie Kennedy. We have this picture of Jackie Kennedy at an event, and she's wearing opera-length gloves and diamonds. I think she really symbolizes the lexicon of American fashion in a way although she wore a lot of French designers. She was a great American clotheshorse and the epitome of elegance, and [there are] lots of pictures of her in white-tie too. So that was the inspiration with Julianne. It's quite a classic, timeless, elegant evening look. Then Dakota is going with Gucci, so you know, opulence extravaganza is what we're dealing with. So that was fairly straightforward, and that look isn't entirely set yet, so it could go one of two ways, but the whole thing is spangled. Any way it goes, there's going to be spangles everywhere. That's our take on gilded glamour. It's just like, cover it in crystals. And then for Sophie Turner… Sophie's super pregnant, and she's wearing Louis Vuitton, and Louis Vuitton has a whole concept this Met Ball, which is that they're not making anything new as an eco move. So people are rewearing dresses they've worn before. They're wearing dresses other people have worn. The idea was the dress needed to exist. It was really fun going through all the Louis Vuitton archives and seeing what would look good on Sophie and what would suit her body right now. So she's wearing an older Louis Vuitton dress that's fully studded, and we're really going for the theme more in her hair and makeup than in her dress.

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The [styling] process is a little bit different for the Met, where it's almost designer-led in that sense, correct?

One-hundred percent. So unless you're invited by Vogue—and then you can kind of wear whatever you want—you are going with a designer who bought your ticket, and you are there to embody their vision for this Met Gala. And so there is always a collaboration. I think it's why designers and actresses work well together, because everybody's an artist, and they like collaboration, and they get inspired by each other. But for me as a stylist, when a designer is taking an actress, I have a lot less control than I do when it's like the Oscars, where I have a rail of dresses, and I'm saying "This is the dress." For the Met, it's the designer saying, "This is the dress," and I'm going, "How are we making this look like her?" So it's funny. Like you said in the intro, it's the Super Bowl of fashion, and I'm like, "Meh, not really." For me, Cannes is the Super Bowl of fashion.

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We've heard stories over the years of people having to stand the whole time so that there aren't wrinkles or something breaking at the last second and somebody having to sew their client in. I'm curious about any of your tips or tricks for massive moments like this.

My number one tip that I learned the hard way—and I think it's the best piece of advice I could give to any celebrity stylist—is that when you get to the room where they're going to have the hair and makeup done at the beginning, try the dress on them. That way, you accomplish a number of things: You know that the zipper works. You know that it fits, because a woman's measurements change three times a day. If they ate sushi last night, the zipper might be tight. So just to check everything. You usually have two or three hours, so you can solve things in that much time. And also just creatively for the hair and makeup, I think it's really good for them to see the dress in person. To look at it and look at her in the dress, they know what they're dealing with in a way. One time, we went to put on the dress, and the alterations were off, and I had to sew it, and it was a disaster. That was like 15 years ago, but I will never forget it was awful. I also had Nina Dobrev wear a 3D-printed dress one year, and she went in a sprinter, and Vogue had to be alerted because she couldn't sit in a chair. She had a little stool to sit in because her dress was hard. She literally couldn't sit back on anything. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next up, check out our previous episode featuring actor Zoey Deutch. 

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