Catherine Collins: Simplicity Is the Core of Elegance

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Catherine Collins

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Catherine The Constant Expectations of Glamour

The expectations of glamour and seemingly effortless style and elegance placed upon celebrities – forever an occupational hazard – have, as a result of the onslaught of social media and the attendant loss of privacy, grown exponentially over the past few years. Gone forever are the days where actors, musicians, and the like can throw on a pair of grubby sweatpants and pick up a latte and some diapers at the mall without worrying that their bed-headed, sans make-up appearance will set them up as objects of derisively viral internet memes and gleefully catty Facebook threads.

Celebs Need Help, too

But the truth is, like many of us, when it comes to style, celebs need help, not only on a daily, casual basis, but when the red carpet pressure is really on. The Hollywood Elite have access to professional stylists like Catherine Collins, and now, as a result of our interview, so do 1AM readers. Catherine’s advice and philosophy, which she generously shared, are surprisingly simple. Her tips can even help a fashion schlub like your faithful reporter look…better.

Catherine, a half-English/half-Greek New York City native, graduated from New York University with a BFA in Drama and Film Production. A lifelong, self-professed fashion addict, during her time at NYU she began working on the other side of the camera/footlights in costume design. While still a student, Catherine quickly built a solid reputation, working with such esteemed off-Broadway venues as The Atlantic Theater Company, The Ensemble Studio Theatre, and the NYC Fringe Festival.

Catherine Relocates to Los Angeles

Eager to segue into celebrity styling, Catherine relocated several years ago to Los Angeles, where her ever-expanding client list of actors includes Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, Naomi Watts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, Emily Mortimer, Ethan Hawke, and Minnie Driver, as well as Best Picture Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow.

One of the most in-demand stylists in the industry, over the past year Catherine has worked on major award shows including the Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, and SAG Awards. Catherine high-profile advertising clients include legendary designer Vivienne Westwood, British Airways, Merrill Lynch, and Butterfingers (with Jason Jones and Samantha Bee). She has also contributed to such notable publications as Harper’s Bazaar, The Hollywood Reporter, and Fashionisto Magazine.

Returning to her storytelling roots, Catherine made her debut as head costume designer in the 2014 feature film The Remake, starring screen legends Sally Kellerman and June Lockhart.

What Catherine Wears to Lunch

1AM sat down for coffee with Catherine – an articulate, charming, and strikingly attractive young woman with a flowing mane of red hair and a mega-watt smile – at the tres chic Hotel Standard poolside patio in West Hollywood. Given the LA summer heat, Catherine wore ­­­a black ATM tank-top, a green/black striped Juan Carlos Obando long skirt, and black Alaia sandals. (Full disclosure: I know all this not because of my keen eye for fashion, but because I asked.) She also carried a black Gucci bag, and her make-up and jewelry were, as per her style ethos, minimal, accenting the meticulously applied, yet natural-looking red lipstick. She looked, in the parlance of the trade, fabulous.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this reporter wore a pair of black motorcycle boots, a black Old Navy V-neck long sleeve T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans that he now realizes, as a result of his conversation with Catherine, are way too baggy and in desperate need of tailoring. (Catherine was far too polite to mention this.)

What a Celebrity Fashion Stylist Does

Lee Michael Cohn: Explain to the uninitiated exactly what you do.

Catherine Collins: I’m a celebrity fashion stylist, which essentially means I dress well-known actors for public events: award shows, press junkets, personal life, i.e., everyday clothes that they’ll likely get pap’ed in. It’s an incredibly collaborative job, both with the designers – specifically fashion publicists – the actors themselves, and frequently their team, particularly for a press junket.

Depending on where an actor is in his/her career, we either help them facilitate their style or build their brand so that their sartorial choices are in alignment with the public persona they want to create and the work they want to beget. All the looks you see on the red carpet are actually very strategic. As a stylist, I handle everything that consummates a complete look: from the actual clothes, of course, to the jewelry, handbags, clutches, undergarments, and shoes.

As a stylist your goal is to not only make your client look and feel great, but to make the entire process of getting dressed as seamless as possible for them.

LMC: What constitutes great style?

Catherine
Hollywood Reporter Cover Shoot. Jenny Ricker, Head Stylist; Catherine Collins, Assistant Head Stylist

Catherine Collins: That’s so subjective, and obviously depending on who you ask you will invariably get a different response – even from fashion stylists! But in my book, great style reflects the wearer’s individual personality and tends to highlights their favorite body part. In other words, the wearers know what they like, and subsequently wear well-fitted clothes confidently. Tailoring is KEY. They often wear something surprising – something that you wouldn’t typically think of to pair with another, but it somehow works – like a red lip with a pink top. Very stylish people are often very well groomed as well. In other words, it’s obvious they take good care of themselves; hair, skin, nails. Great style isn’t solely contingent on clothes; it’s the WHOLE overall appearance. So beauty upkeep is key. Fried hair will ruin a couture gown!

LMC:What constitutes bad style?

Catherine Collins: Again, highly subjective, but to me, it largely boils down to ill-fitting clothes and poor – or often complete lack of – tailoring. Clothes that do nothing to flatter the wearer’s body or body type. And personally, I tend to dislike anything overtly gaudy, ostentatious, and skimpy.

LMC: Who are your fashion and design icons?

Catherine Collins: I have so many, but my three all-time favorites probably boil down to Tom Ford, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and the late Alexander McQueen. NO ONE makes a tux like Tom Ford. His menswear is, without doubt, my absolute favorite and number one go-to for men’s black tie. Tom is a tailoring fanatic as well, and his attention to detail is bar none. He’s just an incredible visionary and creator, and I have the utmost respect for him as a designer and human being. In short, he has a very clear vision and he executes it flawlessly.

 Catherine
Actress Blair Bomar – From Dusk Til Dawn Styled by CCollins

As far as CBK, I’m consistently amazed at how nearly twenty years after her death, 99% of the outfits she wore would STILL be chic today. Like Tom, she was just in a league all of her own. When she came on the scene, no one had a look like hers. Incredibly minimal make up, minimal jewelry – even to black-tie events she typically only wore her wedding ring, which was a very understated band – and monochromatic pieces.

Her Timeless Sense of Style

She favored designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Narciso Rodriguez, long before they were household names, at least in fashion circles. She was consistently conservative, yet sexy. For example, she wore a long-sleeved, floor-length, high-cut white Versace gown to the Fire and Ice Ball in the ’90s. Virtually every other woman there was showing skin – cleavage, legs, the usual. She was always restrained and had this air of sophistication and confidence inherently her own. Her style was and is truly timeless.

Catherine’s All Time Favorite Designers

My all time favorite designer is Alexander McQueen. His clothes truly epitomized “wearable art.” I – and many others – had a visceral, emotional reaction to his clothes in a way that’s really unprecedented. He and his clothes were audacious. His shows, which really veered more towards performance art, always had very thought-provoking, and often unsettling themes. For example, his fall 2002 runway show was set in the former Parisian jail that housed Marie Antoinette. There were guards everywhere. The models walked with two wolves on either side, with leashes, and wore very tight harnesses. To quote one viewer, “Half the audience was terrified.”

Or his 2006 show that ended with a ghost-like image of Kate Moss virtually floating in a pyramid in an ethereal white gown to the backdrop of the theme song from Schindler’s List – one of the most haunting things I’ve seen to this day. Every show was different. Every collection inherently unique. McQueen’s clothes may not have been the most commercially wearable to the average consumer, but I’ve never been so inspired by a designer’s work and overall ethos towards fashion.

LMC: What contemporary/up and coming designers do you like? Why?

Catherine Collins: He’s not so up-and-coming anymore, but Juan Carlos Obando is a consistent favorite of mine. I love his use of color and the quality – both fabric and tailoring-wise – of his clothes is topnotch. In short, his pieces are gorgeous, move beautifully, and reflect a real “joie de vivre.”

Other contemporary designers I love, who tend to create more simplistic, classic pieces, are Celine, Victoria Beckham, and Alaia. Also Proenza Schouler who tends to be more funky and unexpected, which I love for a moment where I’m feeling more bold and want to be “seen.” But for everyday wear, I favor well-tailored, monochromatic pieces with minimal embellishment and clean lines. And no one fits said criteria more aptly than Celine and Victoria. Their quality is also to-die-for.

For men, John Varvatos is my consistent contemporary go-to, and often the first designer request I get from a male client.

LMC: You’ve worked with numerous celebrities. Any memorable encounters?

Catherine Collins: Many. Unfortunately I can’t share specifics because of NDA agreements, sadly. But one of my favorite parts of this job is the incredibly creative people I get to meet. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have met and worked with many of my favorite actors already. I’d say the biggest standouts have been Naomi Watts, who I’ve worked with the most consistently, and Eddie Redmayne. They are as lovely and humble and surprisingly ego-less, given their huge success, as you could dream of them being. It’s just a delight to be in their company, let alone work with them.

LMC: What are some of the unique issues that crop up with celebrities?

Catherine Collins: As far as issues go, as a stylist you always have to be prepared for ANYTHING. That’s one of many reasons we carry a styling kit on us at all times, which is essentially an emergency fix-it bag that holds anything imaginable for a wardrobe malfunction: sewing kit, a plethora of Spanx options, seamless thongs, nipple covers, double stick tape, shoe insoles, you name it. Anything you can imagine that will go wrong does at some point.

Catherine
Collins styling actress and singer Claudia Lee

The biggest issues that crop up generally veer either towards tailoring conundrums – mainly a race against the clock to get things completed on time and ensure the fit is IMPECCABLE – and body insecurities. Interestingly, I’ve found the more objectively beautiful someone is, the more insecure they are. So ensuring the fitting process is always a positive body experience and being very clear what body parts they love and want to hide – and selecting clothes accordingly – is crucial.

LMC: What advice do you have for the average Joe/Jane about creating their own personal style, particularly those on a budget?

Look for women and men with a similar body type and age range to you whose style you admire. Correlate images and make a “vision board” of sorts. Notice the commonalities in what you’re specifically drawn to in their style.  Then look to incorporate those elements into your own look, but more as inspiration, not in an attempt to look like a carbon copy. High-street stores like Zara, Madewell, and H&M are all great options for anyone on a stricter budget.

My biggest piece of advice, particularly if you’re going to buy less expensive clothes, is TAILOR EVERYTHING. It’s an annoying hassle to get it done, I know, but you’ll be SO thankful you did. It’s also the easiest way to make something look more expensive that it actually is. Generally monochromatic pieces with fewer embellishments also tend to look more sophisticated – if that’s a look you’re aiming for – and will stand the test of time over some, say, trendy floral romper that you might be really into this summer but want to ditch by next.

LMC: Any final words of wisdom?

Catherine Collins: Yes: dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman. Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.

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You can find out more about Catherine at catherinecollins.net. You can also follow her on Instagram @cathcolls

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Lee Michael Cohn is an award-winning screenwriter, director, producer, journalist, and teacher. His acting book, A Practical Handbook for the Actor, has sold over 300,000 copies. It’s the best-selling acting textbook of the last 25 years. The former editor of The Santa Monica Mirror, Lee resides in Los Angeles and is currently producing a feature film for RiverRock Films.

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