Celebrity stylists are often unsung heroes—we spotlight three names to know.
Celebrity stylists are often unsung heroes. The work they do for star clients is frequently photographed and disseminated out to the world—through red carpet appearances, magazine spreads, concerts, etc.—but rarely are their names. They remain, somewhat, a league of invisible hands. Because, sure, a lot of folks can remember Timothée Chalamet’s shirtless moment at the 2022 Oscars or Doja Cat’s exhilarating bevy of experimental looks at Paris Couture Week. But how many can name the stylists partly responsible for the viral ensembles? (For the record, it’s Erin Walsh and Brett Alan Watson, respectively.) This paradox can feel particularly odd when, thanks to social media, celebrity style is seen and picked over manyfold—and, most of the time, it sparks culture-dominating trends. (See: the recent rise of opera gloves as casualwear.)
In fact, the tension caused by doing such high-profile work from a low-profile public position was at the root of the news-making retirement announcement of renowned “image architect” Law Roach. During an interview with The Cut’s Lindsey Peoples Wagner, the 44-year-old stylist cited a slew of reasons for his retirement, including burnout, demanding clients, and gatekeeping. A notable throughline of feeling overworked and underappreciated emerged from the hour-long interview. “I just feel like I should sometimes be a little bit more taken care of,” the in-demand creative said at one point. Roach is not alone. Speaking with GQ, stylists across Hollywood recently regaled tales about the increasingly crushing demands and stressors of their gigs; stylist Kara Welch expanded, “I think the biggest challenge is so many people, so few looks.”
It appears that celebrity stylists—both well-established and upcoming— are long overdue for their roses. To shine a light on the critical contributions stylists are making to the modern fashion landscape, Vogue has gathered three fast-emerging names—Felicity Kay, Marissa Pelly, Enrique Melendez**— from within the industry to learn more about their approach.
Kay, who works with It Boy actors like Kit Connor and Paul Mescal, cites an interest in “moving towards postgenderism in fashion.” This endeavor is clearly illustrated by Mescal’s turns in womenswear-first brands, such as Simone Rocha. Pelly, stylist to rapper Ice Spice, has trained her eye, in part, on a fresh mix of “iconic luxury brands” and “trendy, niche brands.”
Below, three undeniably buzzy celebrity stylists of 2023 you should know.
Although this British creative has been working in fashion for over a decade now, she cut her teeth on the editorial side of the industry. Only recently did she make the switch to styling celebrities—thanks to a fortuitous experience on the set of a photoshoot. “My first actor client was Ncuti Gatwa [who previously starred in Netflix’s Sex Education], who I met in 2019 on an editorial shoot,” Kay, 34, said. “Ncuti and I just clicked. I really loved his energy and his enthusiasm for clothes, so I offered to dress him if he had press coming up, not really understanding at the time what that really entailed. A few weeks later, his agent got in contact. That first fitting we did together for Sex Education press and it was so much fun. From there, I totally fell in love with the process of talent styling.”
Kay says a pivotal moment in her career pivot specifically came through dressing Gatwa for his appearance at the 2022 BAFTA TV Awards. “For Ncuti, who is Rwandan-Scottish, it was important to him that he wear an African designer for such an important moment in his career,” Kay recalls. We went with Nigerian designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s Orange Culture.” The outfit specifically referenced protests that were happening in Nigeria at the time, around freedom of expression, a message that resonated with Gatwa. The look was a hit and helped Kay realize “the potential of what can be achieved through celebrity styling.” She committed herself to the career “more intentionally.”
These days, in addition to Gatwa, Kay now regularly styles actors Kit Connor, Paul Mescal, Meg Bellamy, Ben Aldridge, and Archie Madekwe. She says she is excited by “the idea that we’re hopefully moving towards postgenderism in fashion.” In the clothing she pulls for her clients, she hopes to focus less on gender and sexuality and more on their personalities. “That’s why I place so much emphasis on including in my client’s voice and values in what we do together, so that when we do take risks or push boundaries it’s authentic to them and doesn’t feel performative.”
“How can lose if I’m already chose?” This is the highly-quoted rap line that capitulated rapper Ice Spice to undeniable It girl status earlier this year, sung on the viral hit “Bikini Bottom.” Since then, Ice Spice has become a powerful beacon of Brooklyn-inflected style; the artist has donned a variety of aughts-inspired velour tracksuits and high-slit dresses—she even sat front row with Lil Nas X at Coach’s Fall 2023 show. The rapper’s style has even become so ubiquitous that both Lil Nas X and North West have dressed up as her for fun, lighthearted social media posts.
A chief architect behind Ice Spice’s oft-replicated look is Marissa Pelly, who first began working with the rapper in January. The 29-year-old FIT graduate says she is all about leaning into Ice Spice’s budding star power. “She’ll wear iconic luxury brands like Alaia or Jean Paul Gaultier one day, and more trendy, niche brands the next,” Pelly says. Elevating her looks while maintaining her authenticity is the most important to me. The girls that get it, get it.”
Her biggest advice to people who want to enter the field? “Gain as much experience as you can, no matter how big or small,” she says. “Intern, assist, and shadow other stylists. Most importantly, build your community! This industry can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Stylist to this generation’s Scream Queen star Jenna Ortega, Enrique Melendez, who has over a decade of experience, has a unique approach to styling. “I’m a storyteller,” says Melendez, whose clients also include WILL.I.AM. and Marvel actor Xochitl Gomez. Together, Melendez and Ortega have surely delivered on powerful tales of fashion—the actor provided a powerful array of vampy, goth-leaning outfits while promoting her hit Netflix show Wednesday, donning a veiled runway Versace number, a Grace Jones-esque hooded Saint Laurent look, and corsets galore. In fact, the looks have proven so popular, a league of fans has leaned into Ortega’s glam-goth style through the social media trend, #WednesdayCore.
Despite the virality of his styling work, Melendez says it is important for stylists to manage their expectations. “Let your work speak for yourself, don’t wait for compliments. Being hired again and again by your clients is feedback in itself that what you’re doing is working.”
In fact, the stylist advises up-and-coming professionals to nurture and nourish their industry contacts—which are a bedrock of the profession, he says. “Relationships with clients, designers, and showrooms are everything in this industry, and maintaining them is ultra important,” he says. “And being humble! There are hundreds of stylists who can do the job you’re doing, so a positive client-facing attitude is everything.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.