Celeb Stylist Sophia Banks on Red Carpet Trends and THAT Oscar Dress

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Actress Priyanka Chopra attends the 88th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Priyanka Chopra slaying at the 2016 Oscars in Zuhair Murad Haute Couture; Image: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images

If you were watching last year’s Oscars telecast, you were treated to a wide array of top-tier designer fashions, from Charlize Theron’s red hot Christian Dior to Lady Gaga’s creamy Brandon Maxwell split personality jumpsuit/dress. But even in the midst of all this high-end eye candy, Priyanka Chopra’s ivory Zuhair Murad Haute Couture lace gown managed to stand out. Just how much of an impact did the relative Hollywood newcomer’s look have? Well, it became one of the most-googled Oscar dresses of 2016 (an impressive feat given the other fashion-forward attendees).

You can thank stylist Sophia Banks for masterminding that internet-conquering ensemble. This wasn’t the Aussie native’s first go-round at the big show, either. Sophia also curated Kristin Chenoweth’s golden Roberto Cavalli Oscars moment back in 2014 and helped Amber Heard turn heads at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in 2013 via a slinky black Atelier Versace creation. Sophia is a tried-and-true red carpet veteran, outfitting stars like Thandie Newton, Shay Mitchell and Ashley Madekwe. So, just how did Sophia hone her red carpet skills?

Back in 2004, Sophia partnered with Los Angeles fixture Satine Boutique and helped expand the brand exponentially by introducing the outfit to Roland Mouret, Acne Studios, Isabel Marant, Pierre Hardy and Rodarte. She basically became a certified trend psychic, able to predict what was about to be in or out and which designers were on the cusp of greatness. (It’s no wonder she was named a Harper’s Bazaar Style Leader and a top fashion export by none other than Vogue Australia.)

But Sophia wasn’t content to merely predict trends, she decided to set a few herself. She launched her own label Whitley Kros in 2008 and earned spots in Vogue, ELLE, Nylon and Vogue Japan, among others. She also branched out to lend her stylish know-how to celebs by working with stars not just on what they’ll sport to the next award show, but their overall image. (Under her expert tutelage, Priyanka has become one of the most fashion-praised actresses in the world.)

With the Grammys and Oscars still on tap for this season, we hooked up with Sophia to break down the latest red carpet trends, her all-time favorite celebrity looks and the stars she thinks are really bringing it big time. We also just had to find out how one of the most memorable dresses of 2016 came to be (hint: it had to beat out a slew of other contenders).

theFashionSpot: We’re hitting the home stretch of award season. What are the top trends you’ve noticed so far? 

Sophia Banks: Yellow and pink have been the big colors and I think we will continue to see more of that for the events. Also glitter and sequins, which I think will also be a big part of the Oscars and Grammys — think Emma Stone in her Valentino. Also, gold has played a big part with details of embellishment or embroidery. Long sleeves have also been more of a trend this year with stars opting to cover up on the arms and instead have a deep plunging V neckline. Sheer black dresses were also big at the SAG Awards and we will continue to see this. Even stripes made it onto the red carpet this season.

Here’s my cheat sheet of spring trends for 2017:

  • Pink/yellow are huge colors for spring
  • All things sheer
  • Stripes every which way for evening or day
  • One-shoulder exposed tops or dresses
  • Florals, florals and more florals, day or evening
  • Off-the-shoulder dresses
  • 70s Halston lady — major comeback of all things 70s
  • Sequins day or night…especially gold

tFS: What’s your favorite event to outfit celebs for?

SB: My favorite event to outfit clients for is definitely the Oscars, especially if they are nominated, performing or presenting. It’s the most fun and the most pressure. You have amazing gown options to choose from as designers recognize the power of someone in their gown at these events. Last year, dressing Priyanka in Zuhair Murad, those pictures went everywhere.

tFS: How do you decide which gowns to pull for your clients?

SB: It’s a very detailed process before I start with every client. I have a full questionnaire of everything they like and don’t, looks they have loved, looks they have hated. I also spend a lot of time talking with the actor/musician about what career they want, how they want to be perceived to the public, what type of image we are trying to build.

I always make it about the actor or actress and how to make them shine. I look at what colors look good on them, their body shape and then look at what dresses will gain international attention and run across the world in all the magazines and papers. It’s a very detailed process and one that I spend a lot of time on to ensure that we get results like the Priyanka Oscar dress that was seen by billions of people.

tFS: How far in advance do you start prepping a star before an award show?

SB: Priyanka was going to be presenting at the Oscars. It was a big moment in front of so many people. We all wanted something amazing, Priyanka, Dana her publicist, her mum and her manager. I started looking before Christmas for the perfect dress. I was in love with Zuhair’s designs and was waiting to see his couture show… When I saw that white one, I loved it.

We, of course, requested many gowns and flew to Montreal where Priyanka was filming to do a fitting with about 40 gowns in tow. We then did the fitting and the white was a top option along with many others, but it needed alterations. In case the alterations were not correct, we did them and flew back for a second fitting and also some more dress options. Priyanka arrived in L.A. on Saturday morning before the Oscars [and] we had to do another fitting as well to make sure it worked. Then came choosing all the diamonds, we were so happy to work with Lorraine Schwartz, she chose $8 million worth — they were amazing. We were doing final touch-ups right before Priyanka walked out the door and then we sat and waited while we saw her show up on the red carpet…we were so excited.

tFS: What’s your favorite red carpet look of all time? 

SB: I have created some fun ones along the way, obviously getting most-googled dress with Priyanka is amazing and I was super excited to create that look. There is another Versace look we did for Priyanka, which I really love. There is a gold Carolina Herrera dress that Kristin Chenoweth wore for her Oscar performance, which I love. I also love the Versace Couture dress I did for Amber Heard for the Vanity Fair party a few years ago. Also, I costume designed a movie called Syrup and I am obsessed with all the fashion looks we created for Amber Heard in that film.


Amber Heard at the 2013 Vanity Fair Oscar Party, Thandie Newton at the 2013 Golden Globes, Kristin Chenoweth at the 2014 Oscars; Images: David Livingston/Getty Images, George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images, Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images

tFS: How much inspiration do you get from the runways? 

SB: I always look at every runway and there are a lot of amazing collections out there right now. Gucci is doing an amazing job and I love the new Chanel Couture show. I am also a big fan of Preen, Cushnie et Ochs.

tFS: Who is your go-to designer?

SB: I love a lot of designers, but for me it’s about dressing the individual, so I have different go-to dresses for different clients. It’s really important.

tFS: Which star is killing it this award season?

SB: I love a lot of looks that Emma Stone has worn and also Thandie Newton, who I had the pleasure of working with.

tFS: If you could dress anyone in history, who would it be?

SB: Hmm, can I talk to them while I am dressing them? Then it would have to be Leonardo da Vinci. For fashion, it would be Princess Diana or Katharine Hepburn and, of course, who wouldn’t want to dress Coco Chanel even if it ended up going the other way with her giving me advice or clothes.

tFS: Favorite item in your wardrobe?

SB: I have lots of favorites — I love bags right now. I have a new red Gucci bag, a couple of Valentino bags. I have also been collecting Chanel for a while, so an amazing 80s Chanel vintage belt, Chanel coat and jacket and a few bags. I also love Balmain and have splurged on two jackets. And then I love jumpsuits and have a big collection of them — McQueen and Stella [McCartney] are my favorites.

tFS: Any exciting projects coming up?

SB: I have also been directing fashion films, music videos and commercials lately. I will be directing my first short film project and lots of fashion films and commercials as well as working with some amazing new talent.