Ariana DeBose has quickly become one-to-watch on the red carpet style scene within the past year. Whether out promoting her film, West Side Story or picking up every major win throughout awards season, she’s been decked in designer creations wearing the likes of Valentino Haute Couture, Zuhair Murad and Oscar de la Renta — and each and every best dressed ensemble was thanks to her dream team styling duo, dubbed “Zadrian and Sarah,” Zadrian Smith and Sarah Edmiston.
Smith and Edmiston have put together over 30 looks within the past six months alone for the actress, and the confidence and joy one sees DeBose emitting on the carpet has a lot to do with the love the whole team has in putting together the look behind the scenes. Ahead of DeBose’s big night at the Oscars (she’s up for Best Supporting Actress), GRAZIA USA caught up with the pair to hear how they revived their love of styling in the middle of the pandemic, what it’s like to dress the Oscar frontrunner, and what’s next for them.
After 10 years spent styling separately, both Smith and Edmiston were about to call it quits in the industry when fate intervened and the two were connected through a mutual friend. The met in the midst of the pandemic, around the time of George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020. With the tragedy stirring a much-need public reckoning within the fashion community, spotlighting the systemic mistreatment of people of color, the pair shared a disenchantment with the fashion industry.
“We came back because we still love it and there’s still work to be done in this space,” explains Edmiston. “Fashion has been very recklessly responsible for perpetuating one idea of beauty for a very long time. If, on our way out, Zadrian and I get to tilt that on its head a bit, and make everyone see beauty differently, as it should be seen, then we’re going to do our best to shift that narrative in any way that we can.”
After deciding to partner within three days of meeting, Smith describes their evolution has happening “quite organically.” After their official announcement, DeBose was one of the first clients to call and voice her support. “From the beginning of the partnership, she’s been almost shockingly supportive of us,” says Smith.
Smith actually first met DeBose, 31, in 2019 through mutual friend, actor Ephraim Sykes. After reading the news that she would star in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 classic West Side Story, Smith was determined to sit down with DeBose. “If you’re clued up on what’s happening in Hollywood, then you know that this is a film that you want to be a part of.”
After a few referrals and unanswered DM’s, DeBose finally agreed to take a meeting with Smith. “She made me work for it in the beginning,” Smith laughingly recalls. “It was proper Bridgerton courting.”
Explaining that she had previously felt unseen and underrepresented within the fashion industry, DeBose made it clear that she wanted to do things on her own terms.
“I met Ariana right before I partnered with Sarah,” Smith says. “I met her when I was going through a critical period in my life where I was starting to do some intense therapy and just working on myself as an individual and working on myself as a professional. Me and Ariana joke because she, genuinely is the female version of me. If I were a female, I would be Ariana DeBose. And I’m not just saying that. We’ll just look at each other in a fitting and be like, Can you please get out of my head right now? Why are you in my head?” he laughs. “We’re cut from very similar cloths.”
Echoing Smith’s love of DeBose, Edmiston says, “She has the most generous spirit. She’s worked for 17 years. She’s more than earned her space at these awards, and at these podiums, and the first thing she does is make it about other people.”
Expressing the feeling of watching DeBose scoop up awards, Edmiston muses, “It’s like watching love meet love. It’s like watching a full-circle moment. And it continues to move me to tears every single time. Zadrian will tell you, I’m a massive crier. But it does.”
Helping DeBose feel her best through the awards show circuit has provided Smith with an influx of confidence — and he’s giving himself permission to applaud himself. “For me, personally, watching her journey is of course, emotional, but it has instilled so much confidence in me. I know my stuff. And that’s not being arrogant or pompous, that’s just saying I’ve done the work and now I’m going to bathe and soak in all the accolades that come from that.”
Adding, “What Sarah and I are doing is not just taking a pretty dress off a runway and putting it on the client. With every single look, there’s thought to it. Why is this person wearing this designer? What is this going to say?”
Meticulously curating DeBose’s wardrobe, Zadrian and Sarah have crafted a poised sartorial journey for the Hollywood star. The team nods to 1950’s silhouettes through tailored, classic looks while infusing a vibrant and lively spin with the use of bright colors.
“I think Ariana’s style is a fusion of who she is as a human being, as an individual. It’s a hybrid of classic American feminine elements, but also classic masculine elements as well,” Smith says. “There’s always this constant duality. When you look back on her carpets, the looks are not wearing her, she’s wearing the looks. Sarah and I are constantly trying to take that template of American classicism and add a twist to it.”
With inspo including the likes of Rita Hayworth, the styling pair was able to bring out DeBose’s true essence through her clothes. “I think her style really is, quintessentially a representation of who she is as a woman, who she is as an artist, and what she stands for as well, with regards to her morals and values,” Smith says.
“We’re focused on telling the individual stories of the people we dress, as nuanced and complex as all of those stories are.” Edmiston explains. While Smith adds, “Sarah and I don’t intend to be stylists for the rest of our lives, so while we are stylists, we’re going to go hard or go home. We have to.”
While they built up an impressive client list (that also includes Taye Diggs, Ted Lasso‘s Phil Dunster, Nana Mensah to name a few) and employ a team of 15, they don’t see themselves in Hollywood forever. Edmiston has dreams of buying land in Oxford, with an animal sanctuary and providing a temporary home for foster children, while she jokes that Smith should be the “next Oprah” and host a talk show (to which Smith shook his head in response).
Edmiston explains that by having long-term ambitions, it brings something special to their partnership. “This isn’t our be all, end all. We completely support each other’s goals outside of the business. We support each other as business partners, but also as friends and humans.”
As for details regarding DeBose’s upcoming Oscars gown, Smith offered a three-word hint. “Expect the unexpected.”
So how does it feel watching DeBose scoop up award after award ahead of film’s biggest night? (For the record, DeBose won at the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTA Awards, the SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes.)
“We’re both so moved by watching her journey and so thrilled for her,” says Edmiston. “There’s also there’s this wonderful sense — it’s not a feeling that she’s peaking right now. It’s a feeling that this is the beginning. This is just the trailer to years and years of greatness, and years and years of contributions to the arts, and bringing more people up with her as she goes. It’s amazing to watch. It’s amazing to be part of.”