Through her Oscar-nominated role of Jobu Tupaki, Stephanie Hsu was able to explore an array of aesthetics: Goth Victorian, preppy golfer, Moschino enthusiast, and Elvis impersonator among them. When the Everything Everwhere All At Once actress hit the awards season circuit this year, though, she stepped away from the sculpted hair and over-the-top makeup that made Tupaki a go-to Halloween costume last fall. Instead, she arrived on the red carpet for the Palm Springs Film Festival in January Hsu-forward, wearing a tiered tulle Valentino haute couture dress—a piece that would set her on a style path for the next two and a half months.
“It unleashed my femme era,” Hsu told W over email. “There was something about that first Valentino dress I put on that just unlocked an ease and power within me, while still leaving room for play and fun.” The gown was followed by an orange-capped moment at the Critics Choice Awards a few weeks later, and the deal was sealed: Hsu would embrace romantic, classic Hollywood for her first award season in contention.
Of course, all of those award shows came to a culmination on Sunday, when the first-time Academy Award nominee was set to take on the red carpet of Hollywood’s biggest night. For her, Valentino was the “seamless and exciting decision,” for the event, and Hsu’s stylists, Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald, had their eyes on the prize as they took in Valentino’s spring 2023 couture show in late January. “Legend has it, four dresses came straight off the runway to me for a fitting for the Oscars,” Hsu said.
The vision for the evening was “Old Hollywood Meets New Hollywood/Reimagining the Hollywood Starlet,” and when Hsu tried on look 84 from the collection—a neon pink taffeta bustier dress with a huge skirt—her reaction was simple: “WOW.” But the gown was more than a beautiful work of art, it was a challenge in confidence and accepting one’s self-worth. “It took me a while to be fully ready and confident in myself, to arrive that evening in such a statement dress,” Hsu said.
“For me, it was an immense practice in how to stand tall, stand proud, and take up space,” something that didn’t come easy to the actress. “I was trying to get to the carpet in a narrow walkway and I found myself endlessly going, ‘Sorry sorry sorry.’” Finally, she caught herself. “Mid-sorry, I said out loud: ‘Actually, I’m not going to apologize for taking up space in this dress!’” From then on, it was “pardon me,” as opposed to an apology. “Saying sorry would’ve defeated the whole purpose of the vision of the dress,” she said.
It was a good realization, because Hsu would have likely become fatigued from all the apologizing—especially when her dress change mid-show resulted in another all-eyes-on-me moment. Partway through the broadcast, Hsu took the stage alongside David Bryne to perform “This Is a Life,” the Oscar-nominated song from EEAAO. Again, Hsu, Bannerman, and McDonald looked toward that recent Valentino couture collection for the moment, choosing a belted white gown with a feather-and-tulle skirt.
“It was my ode to Bjork,” Hsu said—and upon further consideration, the dress does feel reminiscent of a plucked, ballgown version of the Icleandic singer’s Marjan Pejoski swan dress from the same event in 2001.
After completing her performance, which Hsu called “one of the greatest honors of my life,” the actress slipped back into her pink gown and returned to her seat in the audience. It was an emotional ride for the actress, as EEAAO was the film on everyone’s lips, winning award after award (including the big one of the evening—Best Picture). Hsu took the stage with the film’s directors, Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Jamie Lee Curtis—all newly appointed Oscar winners—and the group behind the most-awarded film ever got to celebrate their success once and for all.
“[Composer] Ryan Lott of Son Lux said to me at the Oscars luncheon, ‘You know what’s so wild? We got to make that movie exactly how we wanted to make it, and look where it got us,’” Hsu recalled. “And it’s true. We birthed that with complete collaboration and artistic integrity to who we are as makers, and how that story was asking to be told.” All you have to do is take up space—and most definitely not apologize for it.