An Audience With Tom Ford and Tarantino’s Favorite Costume Designer

With her red carpet philanthropy, Arianne Phillips is changing the look of Hollywood for good

Photography by FRANK OCKENFELS 3


For years, Arianne Phillips has been Hollywood’s not-so-secret style weapon, working with the industry’s A-list, including directors Milos Forman, James Mangold and Tom Ford, and actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. Her resume reads like, well, an Oscar ballot. And so it came as little surprise when she recently scored her third Academy Award nomination for costume design with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood.


“Costumes set the tone and emotion, time and place of the story”

Arianne Phillips


“The greatest thing about this movie is that, for the first time ever, everybody has been acknowledged,” she says, referencing the movie’s nominations across 10 different categories. “Rather than a ‘me situation,’ it’s a ‘we situation,’ which is more fun and less stressful.”

Phillips has also been nominated for an Oscar for W.E., a Tony for Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a BAFTA for Tom Ford’s A Single Man. And as both a nominee and a stylist who works nonstop, Phillips is a red carpet staple, albeit one who prefers to stay on the sidelines, away from all the hoopla. “Costumes create character,” she explains. “They are the visual clues that set the tone and emotion and time and place of the story. They are the nonverbal underscore for who that character is and what the story is about.”

She’s done the opera Marnie at The Met with Michael Mayer. She’s directed a short film called “Passages” and reimagined the merchandising at the Bond Street store in London for Prada. She’s made five movies with James Mangold (and hopes that his Bob Dylan project, starring Timothée Chalamet as Dylan, will soon get the green light) and two Kingsman pictures with director Matthew Vaughn, each time inspiring a concurrent fashion collection for Mr Porter based on the film’s wardrobe. And if it all doesn’t sound dizzying enough, these projects are on top of her work as the sartorial mastermind behind Madonna’s wardrobe for over two decades.

In the late 1980s, Phillips moved to New York, where she began working as a fashion assistant. She got an early break styling Lenny Kravitz (her then neighbor) for his debut album, Let Love Rule, in 1989. Many of her jobs since have come about organically, bolstered by her reputation as a tireless worker and uniquely creative mind. She met Tom Ford socially through Madonna and then designed the costumes for Ford’s films A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals.


“I was a massive fan of his work as an allover creative genius,” she says of Ford. “One day he called me and said, ‘I have a script [A Single Man], will you read it?’ I was beyond excited. I felt like whatever film Tom was going to make was a window into him.” She met director Mark Romanek while working on a Lenny Kravitz video in the mid-’90s and then later did the costumes for his film One Hour Photo, which starred Robin Williams. She was introduced to Matthew Vaughn at Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s wedding.

Phillips’ collaboration with Madonna started after Courtney Love, a friend and client, appeared on the November 1997 “Women in Rock” cover of Rolling Stone with the singer and suggested Phillips be her new stylist. “Unfortunately for Courtney, that kind of phased out my working relationship with her,” Phillips explains with a laugh. “Madonna is so scheduled and organized, and she was just about to release [her 1998 album] Ray of Light. She booked me on the first video from Ray of Light, and then I just continued on with her.”

Over the years, the pair has worked on films, a play in the West End of London, photo shoots, music videos and concert tours. “I early on realized the power of Madonna. I already had my own film and fashion career, and I just worked harder to keep relevant and not just be defined by [her],” Phillips says. She adds, “I hold her in the highest esteem with not only her artistry and who she is as a woman. It’s been the ride of a lifetime. But her philanthropy — I don’t think people even know … the depths of how she changes lives globally.”

Phillips’ first major film project was Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, which she campaigned hard for. “Milos Forman was probably the first director I knew about because my parents used to take me as a kid to all kinds of art house films, and I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Firemen’s Ball,” says Phillips, who grew up in Northern California in the ’70s as the daughter of social activist parents. “That was a huge break for me, considering I didn’t have the resume to support it. I was in the right time and the right place.” She adds: “That’s the thing — get me the meeting, and then it’s my job to express how I am the best person for the job.”


After wrapping Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, Phillips decided to take a year off from costume design to play a more active role in philanthropy — something she has wanted to be a part of her life for a long time. “The truth is, I don’t make the kind of money that I can write a check to really move the needle,” she admits. “[But] I wanted to do something deeper and more fulfilling. This is what was lacking from my life.”

Where activism is concerned, Phillips’ light bulb moment came when her friend Reese Witherspoon asked her to design the Time’s Up pin that actors wore to the 2018 Golden Globes (and which became the organization’s logo), when the Harvey Weinstein case ignited the #MeToo movement. Phillips was awed by how the actors were able to change the conversation on the red carpet — speaking about issues rather than designer dresses — with many even bringing activists as their dates. “The women of Hollywood became the face of Time’s Up and #MeToo and were able to create this cultural conversation,” Phillips says. “So for me, being on the periphery of that and being a small part of it all really inspired me.”

From her home in Los Angeles (which she shares with her partner, photographer Mike Monzingo) she conceived a simple mission: to build partnerships with talent and brands to raise money and awareness for charities. She and friend Carineh Martin (who formerly ran the global VIP relations department at Prada) began working on a passion project, called RAD (Red Carpet Advocacy), and the two women launched the concept at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards. RAD has since worked with a number of celebrity clients and friends to promote their causes: Tracee Ellis Ross and the Essie Justice Group; Elisabeth Moss and the ACLU; Camila Cabello and Save the Children; Margot Robbie and Youngcare (an Australian grassroots organization that supports young people with disabilities); and Patricia Arquette’s GiveLove foundation, which works to improve sanitation in high-risk communities.


At last year’s Emmy Awards, RAD partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, encouraging talent to wear pins to the event as well as creating the messaging for said talent to deliver on the red carpet and through their own social media channels. Yet highly publicized awards shows are not the only venues where RAD makes an impact. “Our wheel of opportunities for advocacy, raising awareness and donations for charities has been at events throughout the year,” Phillips says, mentioning recent partnerships with Gucci, Armani and Tamara Mellon, among others.

After her much needed hiatus, Phillips is ready to get back to work. In addition to Mangold’s Bob Dylan flick, she is prepping for The Devil Wears Prada musical, which will debut on Broadway in 2021 with music by Elton John. “I am super excited about it,” she gushes.

By virtue of launching RAD, Phillips has, in effect, extended her own career. “RAD is what is going to sustain me staying in the entertainment business,” she reasons. “We are at a time now where there is a huge shift. … Everybody has to do something. There is just really no way around it.”


Hair by JANINE THOMPSON using Olaplex
Makeup by HEBA THORISDOTTIR at The Rex Agency using Arcona


Feature image: ARIANNE PHILLIPS wears a THE WAY WE WORE dress, her own.


This story originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of C Magazine.

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