A guide to Elle Fanning's style evolution
From Rodarte gladiator dresses to Loewe egg shoes, the star of 'The Great' has always had an unexpectedly avant-garde red carpet style.
Photos by Gisela Schober/Getty Images; Stephane Cardinale - Corbis via Getty Images; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Elle Fanning has always been a red carpet risk-taker. Since making her Hollywood breakthrough in 2010’s Sofia Coppola-helmed Somewhere, the actress has graced the red carpets of Cannes, the Berlinale and beyond with some of their most exciting, experimental and haute looks. Think head-to-toe runway and custom couture gowns. Rodarte gladiator dresses, Miu Miu suiting, Vivienne Westwood corsetry, Loewe egg heels and Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’, to name just a few.
Elle admits to being a fashion fan since she was a kid and, together with stylist Samantha McMillen, the actress explores this reverence for design with an exacting eye and a playfulness. Above all, Elle’s sense of style is fun: a breath of fresh air. Here, we look back at a decade of Elle’s best looks to chart her style evolution from teen star to red-carpet tastemaker.
At the New York premiere of Somewhere, 2010
Elle Fanning began acting when she was only two years old, taking her first role alongside sister Dakota in 2001 drama I Am Sam. Nearly a decade later, Elle made her cinematic breakthrough with a starring role in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. Dressed very much the part of a Coppola heroine, Elle attended the film’s New York premiere wearing a directional runway look from Rodarte’s SS11 collection.
In a 2019 interview with Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Elle reminisced about the formative fit, saying, “I think I had just turned 13 and it was my first time that I really wore a full look. I remember I sketched myself wearing that dress and I gave it to you. I had a very quirky sense of style growing up and at school I got made fun of for my outfits. But then with Rodarte, specifically, I felt so at home in your clothes.” Since then, Rodarte has become one of the actresses’ red carpet stalwarts. In 2012, she wore one of the label’s Van Gogh dresses to the Critic’s Choice Awards and, most recently, wore one of the label’s floral frocks to 2020’s Berlinale.
At the Ginger & Rosa premiere, 2012
Elle is also the ultimate Miu Miu girl. Since the early 2010s, the actress has collaborated with Prada’s quirky little sister label on everything from collection campaigns to runway forays and stunning red carpet looks. She’s worn icy blue Miu Miu to the Met Gala, bedazzled Miu Miu to Deauville Film Festival and even a Miu Miu muumuu in Cannes! Here, two years before fronting her very first Miu Miu campaign, the actress wears the look that started it all: a 70s-inspired pantsuit from the label’s AW12 collection.
At a reception for Maleficent, 2014
In 2014, Elle starred opposite Angelina Jolie in Sleeping Beauty prequel, Maleficent. The film’s press tour saw the actress pay homage to her character, Aurora, in a series of Disney princess gowns, including chiffon confections by Alexander McQueen and this embroidered number by Georges Hobeika. Since her Maleficent days, the ethereal ballgown — and flower crown — have become Elle’s signature red carpet look. Think corseted Zuhair Murad at Cannes or filigreed Elie Saab at the premiere of Neon Demon.
At the Neon Demon Cannes photocall, 2016
Two years after Maleficent, Elle went conceptual with her press tour wardrobe, once again, while promoting The Neon Demon. The Nicolas Winding Refn-helmed fashion horror film charts the descent of Elle’s Jesse, a small town aspiring model, as she is slowly consumed by Los Angeles’ unforgiving fashion industry. Across premieres and photocalls in Rome, Paris and Cannes, Elle oscillated between a series of flouncy minidresses and severe sequinned looks that spoke to the duality of her Neon Demon heroine.
At the Instyle Awards, 2017
Did Elle Fanning have a hand in the vintage Versace crazy of the late 2010s? Years before Kim Kardashian and Dua Lipa were sporting looks from the Italian label’s back catalogue, Elle pulled up to the InStyle Awards wearing a vintage-inspired dress from the brand’s SS18 collection. While the look wasn’t technically archival, it was a recreation of one of Gianni Versace’s original SS91 designs, reproduced by Donatella to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her brother’s death.
At the Berlinale International Film Festival, 2018
From frothy tulle frocks to dainty A-line minidresses, Elle’s formative Valentino looks swayed sweet and pretty — perfectly suited for a teen star. In 2018, however, the actress opted for a much more refined, directional look from the Italian label. Out with the delicate lace and embroidery, and in with sculptural silhouettes, graphic blocks of colour and, of course, a single bow to tie it all together.
At the Met gala, 2019
“Camp is all about exaggeration and being playful,” Elle told Vogue, when asked her perspective on the 2019 Met Gala theme. Elle’s take on ‘camp’? A Miu Miu “Malibu Barbie” in a chiffon cape and manicure dripping with kitschy charms — from Coors Lite bottles to McDonalds burgers. According to Elle, the look was inspired by her mother, who used to collect charms in the 80s.
At the Cannes Film Festival, 2019
In 2019, Elle was appointed a member of the Cannes Film Festival jury — and the youngest juror of all time, at that! In this role, Elle made the complete Cannes circuit, attending each of the festival’s red carpet premieres and, of course, serving a number of red carpet looks. For her 2019 tour-de-Cannes, Elle paid homage to the style of stars past with a series of Old Hollywood-inspired looks — think Veronica Lake in plunging Gucci satin or Hedy Lamarr in a chiffon cape. Or this show-stealing Dior outfit, inspired by the house’s mid-century New Look.
At the Independent Spirit Awards, 2021
In 2020, Elle took her star power to the small screen, starring as Catherine the Great in Hulu’s “anti-historical” comedy-drama The Great. To the following year’s Independent Spirit Awards, where she was nominated for the role, Elle channeled her character wearing a Vivienne Westwood dress “inspired by Catherine the Great’s love of pearls,” she wrote on her Instagram, “and we all know no one does a corset like Westwood!!” Elle’s love of Vivienne Westwood corsets is well documented: she’s worn them to Cannes — twice! — on late-night talk shows and, most recently, to promote the latest season of The Great.
At the LACMA Art+Film gala, 2021
We’ve seen Elle wear Gucci before, but never like this. In 2019, the actress wore one of the Italian house’s ethereal gowns to the premiere of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Floaty, floral and embellished with the film’s iconic finger prick, the dress was designed in homage to Elle’s Disney princess protagonist. In 2021, however, Elle arrived at the LACMA Art+Film gala looking more like Maleficent than Aurora in a black chiffon number, also by Gucci.
At the InStyle Awards, 2021
From Loewe’s egg heels to Balmain’s chain-link crop top, Elle Fanning’s 2021 The Great press tour has given us a slew of fun, slightly surrealist red carpet looks. Here, Elle wears the latter look to the InStyle Awards, where her long-time stylist Samantha McMillen was awarded Stylist of the Year. “Samantha McMillen is my stylist of the year every day!” Elle wrote in an Instagram caption, celebrating the win. A sign of many more exciting looks to come, for sure.