It all started with a haircut. During the manic months of awards season a million factors come into play to influence what a nominee ultimately chooses to wear on the red carpet (weather, politics, contracts, to name a few), but for Michelle Williams, what set things in motion this year was a pixie cut.
“She’s quite feminine and delicate, and we wanted that to come across,” says Williams’s stylist, Kate Young. “So we had to make sure the clothes would work with short hair.”
It’s a daunting process to assemble what amounts to an entire new wardrobe for a dozen major events, in addition to Hollywood’s Big Three: the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Oscars. Williams has the advantage of a long-standing relationship with the house of Louis Vuitton, which dressed her exclusively this year, creating several looks inspired by the spring 2017 collection of its artistic director, Nicolas Ghesquière. In fact, it was back in October, just days after the spring runway show, that the designer, the stylist, and the star began to consider looks for Williams, who has appeared in Louis Vuitton advertising campaigns since 2013.
VIDEO: Michelle Williams's Red Carpet Style Flashback
Dressing celebrities is a subject that especially fascinates Ghesquière, who met Williams after he joined the house three years ago. “It was like an arranged marriage that turned into a love story,” he says. “She always dresses with a sense of the architecture of a silhouette.” Williams’s Oscars dress, which combined a low-cut velvet halter with a textured tulle skirt, required 800 hours of labor by a dozen dressmakers. And yet in Williams’s and Young’s recounting of how they approached dressing for the season, there was very little drama involved from beginning to end.
“I’m actually really boring, because I plan far out in advance,” says Young. “There’s not a lot of hysteria around me.”
There were, however, lots of surprises, like the decidedly anti-ball-gown vibe of the Oscars dress, designed to show Williams “as naked as possible without looking vulgar,” Young says. Her Golden Globes dress had people talking as well–less about its fantastic techno lace fabrication than about the black velvet ribbon Williams wore in place of a necklace. Likewise, the scarf that dangled from the silver-and-gold dress she wore to the SAG Awards was an invention that came about spontaneously during the fitting.
“For me, it’s like designing a wedding dress,” says Ghesquière. “The same intensity is in the design, and the intention to please or to surprise, and to be appropriate or not.”
Young has a more personal goal in mind. She wants the rest of the world to see Williams the way she does—as one of the best-dressed.
“She has beautiful taste, and she really appreciates good design,” Young says. “It makes it more challenging because I can’t be lazy for a second.”
Not that her client is so demanding.
Says Williams, “All I ask for are comfortable shoes.”
Composed of alternating stripes of silver and gold sequins, this dress evolved out of a black-and-white top from Louis Vuitton’s spring 2017 collection. “The scarf looked much cooler than jewelry,” Young says. Each of Williams’s awards-show dresses featured an innovative treatment at the neck. “I have been so happy with how the dresses have related to each other,” says Williams. “They have looked like sisters–unique yet bonded.”
The flocked lace of this bustier dress created a deceptively substantial appearance, but in person the fabric was nearly transparent. As for the black velvet ribbon, that idea came late in the process. “If I had put diamonds with that, it was just going to look so Hollywood and predictable,” says Young. “I wanted it to look fresh and different. When I told the Louis Vuitton people, they were not into it, but when we put on the ribbon, everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we love it!’”
For the showstopper, Ghesquière says, “we liked the combination of velvet, which I think of as a masculine fabric, mixed with the femininity of the tulle embroidered with crystals and pearls.” And that embroidery was quite an achievement–the fabric was first covered in gold studs, then ruched to add texture, and then re-embroidered with crystals and pearls. “It looks very couture, while at the same time it has a simplicity that is very Parisian,” says the designer. Williams opted to keep jewelry to a minimum, with a bracelet and earrings made of white gold and diamonds. “Something about those big diamond necklaces looks aging,” says Young. “I like the idea of a dress looking real, like there’s not some security guard waiting in the background to take it right back.”