From powerful runway shows to red-carpet movie glitz, Nicolas Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton collections have always celebrated expressive individuality. And at the recent awards season, he upped the ante, taking things to the next level.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Clockwise from top: Charlize Theron at the 2020 Costume Designers Guild Awards. Sequins and glass beads being embroidered onto Theron’s dress. Michelle Williams at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Williams’s dress was a reimagining of a spring/summer 2020 runway look. Lupita Nyong’o at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. A close-up of Nyong’o’s dress, which was embroidered with 20,000 sequins and 12,000 glass beads. Florence Pugh at the 92nd Academy Awards. A sketch of Pugh’s gown

Throughout his Louis Vuitton tenure, Nicolas Ghesquière’s deft hand at colliding the codes of different eras and subcultures to create new alluring forms has been his calling card. His vision might be rooted in a multitude of references—from Blade Runner to Belle Époque—but his women never look like anyone else’s. It explains why stars flock to him when it comes to cutting a singular figure on Hollywood’s most valuable real estate: the red carpet during awards season. Ghesquière tailors each ensemble to the individual’s persona as carefully as she crafts her on- and off-screen roles.

Florence Pugh, the ingénue who has had a momentous year with breakout roles in Midsommar and Little Women (the latter led to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress), headed to the 2020 Academy Awards dressed in a fairy-tale-worthy frock cascading in tiers of ruffles—70m in all, which took six seamstresses 250 hours to complete. The unusual shade of brilliant teal ensured that the actress was unmissable on the red carpet.

While Charlize Theron was doing the promotional rounds for her Oscar-nominated role in Bombshell, the Vuitton team played up the movie’s title and her glamazon identity. One of her most memorable outfits this awards season was the glittering number she wore to the Costume Designers Guild Awards—a feat of dressmaking that required more than 2,800 hours of labour for the embroidery of 30,000 sequins and golden glass beads.

Lupita Nyong’o was also given the glamour treatment at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards, though hers evoked the screen sirens of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Seeing a woman of colour in the mould of a classical movie star was a powerful image, made all the more urgent with Nyong’o’s exclusion from several of the key award shows despite her phenomenal double performance in Jordan Peele’s hit movie Us. She may be a former Oscar winner, but Nyong’o hasn’t exactly been inundated with movie offers the way a blonde, blue-eyed actress might have been. Her recent roles, snubs and red-carpet appearances have renewed much-needed conversation about who gets to be a star in a system that is still overwhelmingly white and male.

That conversation has been powerfully amplified by Michelle Williams, who racked up awards all season long for her role in the miniseries Fosse/ Verdon. The actress consistently used her victory speeches as platforms to advocate for issues close to her heart, from pay equality (at the Emmys) to reproductive rights and the importance of voting (at the Golden Globes).

For the latter ceremony, Ghesquière designed for Williams a gown in a daring, dazzling tangerine—a fitting match for her fearlessness. The high-octane look highlighted her bold nature, but did not distract from the woman in the dress. Empowering, not overpowering—it’s a role Ghesquière plays to perfection.