Celebrity Stylists Karla Welch & Kemal Harris Tell Us Their Red Carpet Secrets
This bi-coastal styling duo boasts a client roster that reads like a best-dressed list, and they're giving us a behind-the-scenes look at how they prep Hollywood's A-listers for the red carpet. Here, Karla Welch and Kemal Harris, who have styled Olivia Wilde, Elisabeth Moss, and Hailee Steinfeld (not to mention Harris's costume design gig on House of Cards, creating custom looks for longtime client Robin Wright) tell all.
What inspires your own style?
Harris: I always loved Joan Jett growing up. She's someone who really owned her look. She found her niche, and she stayed with it. She didn’t play into the mainstream requirements from women of the time and always kept true to silhouettes that worked for her body and that she felt comfortable in. It showed so clearly through her smile and her attitude.
Do you think style can be cultivated?
Welch: First of all, you don’t have to be born with it. Many of my clients have cultivated their style over time. Find someone who inspires you, then put that to work. If you like Diane Kruger, collect photos of her looks, then pull pieces from your own closet that can be worn in similar ways. My sister gave me a card that says, "Big clothes open doors." When you present yourself well, you’ll get treated better.
What should every woman have in her closet?
Harris: Definitely a black leather motorcycle jacket. I have a Burberry one I’ve had for years and years. Obviously Balenciaga makes an amazing one. Karla would probably say the same, and that’s why we’re a styling team.
Welch: I always think your life will be better if you have a great leather motorcycle jacket. And I have had my Balenciaga one since their third collection and then I bought another one so in case I ever lose mine, I’ll have a back up.
Harris: Honestly, you can wear it with your jeans. You can wear that out to dinner. I love a motorcycle jacket on the shoulders of a cocktail dress. My tailor adds inside pockets to all my coats so I can fit in a few essentials and not need a purse.
What's your signature accessory?
Welch: I like to wear jewelry that has meaning behind it, like my Jennifer Meyer charm necklace with my daughter's initial.
Harris: I bought a Hermès Kelly watch ($2,925; usa.hermes.com) the first time I went to Paris Fashion Week. It’s got an amazing rock and roll vibe.
Do you have a favorite source for inexpensive finds?
Welch: I love a little H&M action. I love Olivia Wilde’s Conscious Commerce collection for H&M. I think Zara is a great place to go for a great blazer. That’s something I also invest in yearly, a great tux blazer. I also like a Hanes T-shirt from Target ($15; target.com) and then I wash the heck out of them to really wear them in.
Harris: Vans sneakers are the best shoes you can buy for less than $60. A major bonus? No laces, which makes them easy to slip on and off.
What’s in your red carpet emergency kits?
Harris: We give every client a little Shout Wipe ($3; walgreens.com) to put in her clutch when she walks out the door. There's nothing like getting makeup on yourself right before you’re walking on the red carpet. One thing that happens is that our clients are on the red carpet and they’re looking amazing, but they’re giving little hugs and kisses to other people who have body makeup on their arms. The Shout Wipe will definitely take makeup out. But if it’s white deodorant that stains a piece of clothing, you’re better off to dry brush it away.
Do you have any quick tricks for if a hem is just too long or something tears?
Harris: No, I would sew it. I’m a stylist who knows how to sew. I always have a sewing kit with me. I’ve had to sew people into dresses before with a needle and thread. Of course you can make things work with safety pins, but I wouldn’t rely on that to hold up for an entire night. It’s a little risky.
What the key to a figure-flattering look?
Harris: I always look for a defined waist. You don’t want extra fabric in that area. We never want anyone to look wider than they actually are. We always focus on the fit of the waist and also the underarms. If a piece is strapless or has spaghetti straps, we're always conscious of that area. Right in the underarm, that skin is always sort of tricky. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a normal part of the body. It’s a fold. But I always do check on that to make sure that it’s not getting pinched.
How does makeup factor into the red carpet looks you create?
Welch: As stylists, we discuss the full look before we even get into that fitting room. I love collaboration, and I really feel like the best looks always come out of being very thoughtful beforehand. We always make sure to talk about nails. I’m really into Chinchilly by Essie ($9; ulta.com) right now for red carpet. I think it’s great. I used to wear a red all winter long, then go to an orange in the summer but lately I’ve found that that this putty gray is really a great neutral.
What's always in your personal makeup bags?
Welch: Nars lipstick in Heat Wave ($27; sephora.com). I wear a lot of black, so my lips are my one pop of color.
Harris: Lancôme eye pencils ($26; sephora.com) feel like felt, which makes it easy to master a quick cat eye, even if you’re not a makeup pro.
How do you keep your personal closet organized?
Harris: I separate a lot of my work clothes and my play clothes, so to speak. I keep high end designer pieces—things that I would wear to an event or to sit-ins with clients or during fashion week—on one side. On the other side is my everyday weekend wear, like vintage rock T-shirts and jeans and hoodies. Also, in my own closet, as I would for a fitting, I keep all the pants together, all the blouses together, and all the jackets together. So, for example, if you’re sitting in a great top and a bottom you’re like, "Alright, let’s find a jacket," you just think, "Let’s look in the jacket section. Here’s where they all are."