It’s often hard to pinpoint the exact moment that someone becomes a fashion icon. After all, the title is one that’s usually earned over years of street style candids and front row frolicking. But for Lupita Nyong’o, all it took was one gown and the world was captivated.
The red Ralph Lauren creation that the then up-and-coming actress wore to the 2014 Golden Globes landed her at the top of virtually every best-dressed list and instantly cemented her as a major player in the fashion world.
“We had no idea the dress was going to get such a huge reaction,” recalls Nyong’o’s stylist Micaela Erlanger. “You can’t really predict those things. But at the same time, I had goosebumps when she put it on. My gut was telling me it was going to be extraordinary on camera. I wanted it to be her big moment.”
Erlanger says the dress was a win because it had everything that Nyong’o seeks out in a look. “It was understated, sophisticated, and feminine, but also just really cool,” she says.
Since then, Nyong’o has gone on to win an Oscar, make her Broadway debut in Eclipsed, and front a little-known movie franchise called Star Wars, all while thrilling us with every sartorial turn.
So just how does she do it? “Lupita has a way of bringing fashion to life,” says Erlanger. “When she wears something from the runway, she always makes it her own. For the Prada dress she wore to the Oscars in 2014, she picked a shade of blue that reminded her of her home in Nairobi. And to go with each look she wore to her Queen of Katwe premières, we made a different head wrap to represent her African heritage. Her style is colorful, experimental, and authentic to who she is. When those elements mix, magic happens.”
Keep reading to see Nyong’o’s 10 best looks of all-time. And for more stories like this, pick up the April issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download now.
1. In Gucci at the Cannes Film Festival, 2015
“This was a one-of-a-kind piece and we knew it would be perfect as soon as we saw the sketch,” says Lupita Nyong’o’s stylist Micaela Erlanger. “When she finally tried it on, it was flawless. The way that the pleated chiffon floated and danced on the red carpet was incredible.”
2. In Rosie Assoulin at a London screening of Queen of Katwe, 2016
“This look was so playful. It perfectly fit the feeling of the press tour. And Lupita doesn’t wear pants often, so for me, this was a memorable one.”
3. In Suno at the CFDA Fashion Awards in N.Y.C., 2014
“Color reads so beautifully against Lupita’s skin, so we always gravitate towards bold shades. We try not to repeat the same ones over and over either—it’s more fun that way!”
4. In Calvin Klein Collection at the Critics’ Choice Awards in L.A., 2014
“She is very open-minded when it comes to fashion. There's always a sense of whimsy in her choices, but she isn't afraid to go for something daring either. She has this natural confidence to pull off pretty much anything.”
5. In Stella McCartney at the Film Independent Spirit Awards in L.A., 2014
“Lupita and I speak the same fashion language. For us, the red carpet is always about self-expression.”
6. In Prada at the Academy Awards in L.A., 2014
“This was such a special moment because she won the Oscar. The dress was everything we dreamt it to be. We collaborated very closely with Prada. And the color was a nod to her home in Nairobi, so it was personal too. The Fred Leighton jewelry brought everything together beautifully.”
7. In Chanel at the MTV Movie Awards in L.A., 2014
“The MTV Movie Awards felt like the perfect occasion to wear such a colorful, unusual design. Even when we push the fashion envelope, it is with something that is still feminine and true to her sense of self.”
8. In Ralph Lauren at the Golden Globes in L.A., 2014
“We both felt very confident in this choice because it was just so exceptional. It didn't need a lot of accessories. It wasn’t fussy. It was about her.”
9. In Chanel Haute Couture at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in N.Y.C., 2014
“There's always a mood or a feeling that we talk about before we decide on a look. And over the years, we've gotten into a really good groove. She has tons of ideas and so do I.”
10. In Elie Saab at the L.A. premiere of Queen of Katwe, 2016
“We knew that we were going to incorporate head wraps throughout this press tour because it was really important to her and to myself to represent her heritage. For each look, I would either get matching fabric from the designer for the wrap or I would go to the African fabric shops in Manhattan to find a print or color that would compliment her dress.”