This week, Nicole Kidman arrives on the Promenade de la Croisette as the belle (and busiest star) of the Cannes Film Festival, with four projects to premiere: Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties. Kidman’s packed schedule requires the Oscar-winning actress to walk the famous Palais red carpet four times, appear at four press conferences and photo calls, and attend countless other events. That means Kidman needs over a dozen high-fashion looks flown to the French Riviera that meet the star’s unrivaled red-carpet record. How in the sartorial hell will she pull it off?
Enter Julia von Boehm, Kidman’s stylist who has been working for two months now to assemble Kidman’s Cannes closet, crisscrossing the country for fittings, Facetiming the star, and plotting with military precision how to get the couture gowns, heels, clutches, and jewels from their countless locations around the world to the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, the luxe hotel where Kidman will be resting her tired head at night. The stress for von Boehm isn’t the insane logistics but the pressure on Kidman to keep topping her own looks. “Because she has so many different events, one dress has to blow the other one away,” von Boehm explains. “You really can’t go up and down [in terms of wow factor]. You have to always keep or build on that same level.”
To prepare, von Boehm has assembled binders full of meticulous “look” sheets, each page featuring a photo of Kidman in the look taken during the fitting, along with the shoes, the jewelry, and clutch. Neither von Boehm, her assistant, nor Kidman’s assistant go anywhere in the weeks leading up to Cannes without it.
“I travel with this binder everywhere I go in case she calls me out of the blue,” says von Boehm. “You’ve got to be prepared, and I have to have in mind which outfit or event she is talking about. I have an assistant who helps me with all of that as well, and she’s in constant touch with Nicole’s assistant.”
Von Boehm does not travel to Cannes with Kidman, but she tries to avoid flying during the festival so that she is always reachable in case of a last-minute mishap. Considering Boehm’s precise planning, though—which entails up to four looks per day, with backups for each—that should not be a problem.
Ahead, von Boehm reveals her Cannes-styling secrets, Kidman’s fashion preferences, and a few hints about the surprising styles the duo have concocted for the week.
How Cannes Is Different from Other Red Carpets
“I think about the Cannes red carpet as being more than the dress or the carpet itself,” says von Boehm. “I imagine the Croisette and the backdrop. The festival is in the summer too, so I love to see great colors.”
To honor the location, von Boehm favors European designers and takes advantage of the festival’s whimsy—dressing the star in a completely different way for each event on Kidman’s non-stop schedule. Von Boehm says that this year she pulled two designer gowns for each premiere—“I try to be overprepared,” she says—and is choreographing looks so that Kidman will be constantly alternating silhouettes, colors, and sparkling elements to keep each fashion moment exciting and surprising.
Kidman’s Own Preferences
“She can really wear anything,” says von Boehm. “She gets a little chilly easily and likes to be covered, so I really like her in long sleeves. So we go a lot for that. A very deep, plunging neckline works perfectly on her because she has a beautiful chest. We also lean toward silhouettes that are tight on her shape. We like to accentuate the waist usually, because she has a tiny waist. Lengthwise, a lot of different lengths work on her.
“Nicole actually understands and knows about fashion, and knows what works on her,” von Boehm says of her client, who sends her stylist photos whenever she sees a look that grabs her eye. “But at the same time there’s a big trust level as well. When I get really excited about a dress she is hesitant about—like, ‘Oh really, are you sure?’—she lets me convince her, which is great. (Von Boehm points to Kidman’s dazzling silver-sequined Alexander McQueen gown, which she wore to this year’s Golden Globes, as a look Kidman wasn’t sold on at first.)
Neither von Boehm nor Kidman account for what her co-stars might be wearing on the red carpet, but height is another question, considering that Kidman is 5 feet 11 inches in flats.
“It’s not easy to find heels that are not too high but still elegant,” von Boehm explains. “But I do have have my to-go people and I know which brands she’s comfortable with. You know, if she is standing next to Reese Witherspoon, I am not going to put her in a huge heel because that would look odd.”
Von Boehm also tries to give Kidman one or two choices for footwear, in case the actress is not comfortable in a particular shoe that day.
Going from Day to Night
Movie stars promoting films usually have two major photo moments on the Croisette for a film: the premiere and, several hours earlier, a daytime photo call that precedes each press conference.
“It’s a more casual look,” von Boehm says of the wardrobe required for these daytime obligations, “but these looks are just as important because they are very photographed—sometimes even more than the red-carpet look. Even though it’s during the day, I like to surprise.”
For these, von Boehm pulls two options per event, accounting for different weather scenarios. Because Kidman will be seated in a car for the 30-minute scenic drive from the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc to the Palais, von Boehm is also careful to choose practical fabrics that won’t immediately crinkle.
Depending on Kidman’s obligations—between premieres, press conferences, dinners, and after-parties—von Boehm has prepared two to four looks per day, each with a backup.
Fit for a French Premiere
For movie stars, choosing a gown isn’t as simple as finding one at a runway show—stylists also have to reserve said gown weeks in advance. To prepare for unforeseen disaster, though, von Boehm pulls two gowns for each premiere—which, while a safe move strategically, is also tedious considering that the designer gowns typically require two fitting sessions, sometimes with a tailor dispatched from the designer to ensure an immaculate fit. (Kidman and von Boehm, meanwhile, rely on one tailor to perfect all of the day looks.)
“Fortunately, Nicole is incredibly fit and fits into every piece of clothing right off the runway, which is a big advantage for me,” says von Boehm.
Because Kidman’s hotel is so far away from the Palais, where premieres are held, and the close-by after-parties, von Boehm says that Kidman will not change after a premiere for an after-party.
Around the World in . . . a Couple Days
“I prepare everything up to the tiniest little detail in advance, and then it requires an enormous amount of logistics to assure everything arrives,” says von Boehm. “Because gowns have been shot in ad campaigns, or used in a photo shoot, they often trickle in from all over the world. Sometimes I have to travel to Nashville [where Kidman lives] before, and then Nicole travels to Cannes with the dresses. Sometimes the dresses are flown straight to Cannes, but I always like to have a little bit more wiggle room just in case something goes wrong. Depending on the designer and the dress, sometimes a designer or a designer’s tailor will personally accompany the dress to Cannes.”
Von Boehm ensures that Kidman’s team is sent off with a little toolkit with double tape, pins, and other emergency tools—as well as special undergarments for sheer designs.
Von Boehm has an inventory of every heel, jewelry piece, and clutch that Kidman owns so that she can pick and pull accent pieces accordingly, or know when to outsource accessories.
Because Kidman tends to get cold, von Boehm tries to provide layers for any looks sans sleeves.
“When she wears an Armani dress, I like to put a men’s jacket on top of her shoulders or something like that,” explains von Boehm. “It’s a bit more stylish than a shrug. But with gowns, or the day looks, we try to have some kind of sleeve because a jacket doesn’t normally look great over a gown.”
Jewels are usually the last piece of the equation—unless von Boehm has stopped first at Harry Winston or Fred Leighton, Kidman’s preferred jewelers, and has completely fallen in love with a piece she wants to base a look around. Logistics for expensive jewels especially are tricky, considering insurance, shipping, and the security guards required for big-ticket items.
Because each look is so carefully prepared, Kidman may not reach out to von Boehm while in Cannes at all, unless there is a last-minute question. “But Nicole has such a great understanding of fashion that she knows the right thing to do. And I have given her options so if she is not feeling in the mood for one dress, there is a backup. But she is so busy once she is there. We might text each other for a minute and say, ‘What do you think tonight, should I wear this or should I wear that?’ Sometimes we talk about hair—should it be up, down—or what kind of makeup would go best. But by then we just text.”
Let the Social Media Critique Begin . . .
Once Kidman is dressed, von Boehm then turns on Instagram to see how Kidman looks on the carpet, and watches the feedback pour in, good or bad. “I’m always proud,” says von Boehm. “But it’s especially great to see when we take a risk and people respond well to it.”