Catering to large personalities and fostering key designer partnerships are part of the job of any Hollywood stylist, but rosters that include style stars under the age of 17 come with an extra batch of challenges.
The quest for sophisticated, of-the-moment pieces that fit smaller frames, while still looking relatable and youthful, is no easy feat. Then add opinionated parents and nannies to the posse of publicists and managers, all weighing in on style choices and how they align with a carefully planned career trajectory.
Stylist Enrique Melendez began working with Jenna Ortega when she was 14 years old. (She’s now 20.) “After that, I became the kid whisperer; all these children and publicists or studios reached out,” Melendez tells THR. Other clients include 14-year-olds Julia Butters and Chloe Coleman and 18-year-old Maxwell Jenkins.
“I ran with it because there was a niche and I somehow came to master it in a way that worked. Not only was Jenna young, but she’s 5-foot-1,” says Melendez. To dress her early on, he continues, “I researched high-end brands and landed on Red Valentino, which was geared toward a younger demographic. Then I had to get creative and find pieces from adult collections that could be tailored to fit someone that petite but were age-appropriate as well as fashion-forward and stylistically exciting. Thom Browne is one.”
The duo moved from “kind of following a formula from what previous Disney girls were doing, very feminine and flirty and frilly, to figuring out more and more that she likes things streamlined,” says Melendez, who says another highlight was when Coleman (in a Burberry tuxedo) and Butters (in a sequined Dsquared2 suit) both made Page Six Style headlines at the 2020 SAG Awards. Both were then 11 years old.
“Julia was 9 when I started with her, and she had a very specific classic, Old Hollywood aesthetic,” he says of the teenage star, most recently seen in The Fabelmans. “She was in love with Audrey Hepburn, so we stay in that lane. These kids spend so much time with adults on set that they automatically take an ultra-mature approach to everything, but they’re still children, so I always try to support their youth, what they like, whose style they think is cool. I’ve been in fittings where I sideline parents, like, ‘Hey, I know you think this looks better, but we have to support what your child is thinking.’ When the kids aren’t happy with the outfits, I see it on the carpet.”
In the kids fashion arena, growth spurts can create challenges. Darby Camp (now 15) was 12 years old in 2019 while filming Clifford the Big Red Dog, but the pandemic pushed the release date a year to 2021. “She was a literal child in that movie, but then, when we did press, she was a young teenager,” says her stylist, Britt Theodora. “Children grow so fast, and that’s a pivotal age for growing, so she almost looked like two different people.”
Theodora describes the Clifford press circuit looks (including a red Carolina Herrera cocktail dress with platform heels) as “young and playful.” By contrast, Camp’s style promoting the 2022 drama Gaslit hit “that perfect in-between of age-appropriate but a bit more serious” to appeal to an adult audience. At the Gaslit premiere, Camp played mini-me to onscreen mom Julia Roberts, both in tailored shorts suits (with Camp wearing Markarian). “Sizing is very tricky — I often work with sample sets that might not fit someone who is 14 or 15 — and tailoring is very tricky, so we have to create a budget for that,” says Theodora.
Demonstrating to luxury fashion houses that young clients are “serious about fashion” is strategic, adds Theodora, who tends to add “bigger brands” to a teenage star’s red carpet looks as a client’s “résumé expands.” (The going rate for styling a kid client for a studio or streamer premiere is $1,000 to $1,500.)
Melendez started working with a 14-year-old Jenkins when the actor began his lead role in the Netflix series Lost in Space. “He was literally 4-foot-10 when I started with him and now he’s 6-foot-1!” says Melendez. “I remember our first shoot; he didn’t really know what to do with his arms and stuff like that. He wasn’t a model, he was an actor. But by the second or third shoot, we were like, ‘Whoa, where did this guy come from?’ He studied magazine shoots or something and came ready to work.” Now, says the stylist, brands like Celine and Dolce & Gabbana want to dress Jenkins. “I really think that he’s going to be the next wave of style guys,” says Melendez.
During the circuit for her breakout role as a young Serena Williams in 2021’s King Richard, Demi Singleton, now 16, partnered with stylist Jason Bolden, who has worked with Storm Reid and Yara Shahidi since they were each 14 years old. With Bolden’s pull, Singleton landed a 2022 Miu Miu ad campaign, as Reid likewise did in 2020. Yet Bolden admits that securing designer campaigns so early is “rare” and stresses how imperative it is to manage expectations. He schools “crawl, walk, run” pacing while finding a footing in the “very fickle” fashion world.
“It’s a fresh approach when brands gravitate to the youth,” Bolden tells THR, noting that Singleton stepped out in Chanel for the 2021 premiere of the buzzy film. “I’ve been really lucky that most of the talent I work with have been pretty high up on the call sheet. It also depends on the relationship that your stylist has, and I think that’s why a lot of the younger talent are reaching out to stylists, because they see the fashion trajectory. It’s this idea of starting early and creating long-lasting relationships with the houses.”