When then-ingenue Uma Thurman made her Oscar debut in 1995 styled by Barbara Tfank in a lilac Prada dress with an ethereal chiffon wrap, it shifted culture. “You know when you eat a bad burrito and you get that rumble?” asks Phillip Bloch, catching himself ever so slightly as he makes the comparison. “I hate to compare that Prada dress to this, but it was the gas that got it all moving. This moment triggered something.” Thurman’s look is oft-referred to as the moment that truly sparked fashion’s lucrative love affair with Hollywood, a mutually beneficial relationship that forever changed the red carpet game.
Few know that better than Bloch, a former model who segued into styling magazine editorials in New York. But an encounter (or lack thereof) with a supermodel led him to change course. “I was working on a shoot, and Naomi Campbell didn’t show up three different times,” recalls Bloch. “I said, ‘Fuck this, if I’m going to run around like crazy, I’m going to do it for people that I really admire.’ Not that I don’t admire Naomi, but I had come from being a model, and I showed up on time.” He moved to L.A. and landed his first styling job on River Phoenix’s final photo shoot before his death in 1993. Bloch’s career not only took off, it crescendoed when he styled 13 A-listers for the 69th Academy Awards in 1997.
Compared with today’s expertly manicured, heavily sponsored and social-media-friendly fashion set, Bloch’s memories of that Oscar week seem unfathomable. Clad in tank tops and baggie shorts (“I was a homeboy then”), Bloch raced to and fro for pickups and fittings in a Dodge Dakota convertible with couture dresses, accessories and high-end jewelry packed in the back with a tunnel cover draped over. “In those times, you didn’t need guards and I was carrying around millions and millions of dollars worth of jewelry with no security, no permission slips, nothing. Just like, ‘Here you go.’”
Looking back on what he accomplished on that night in collaboration with the high-wattage stars, all of whom he still admires and many he is still close with, Bloch is overwhelmed by a rumble from another place —his heart. As the tears start to fall, he says, “I take great pride in being the Forrest Gump of fashion and having helped usher in a different era in Hollywood. I didn’t do it for the money, I did it because I loved it and loved them,” says Bloch, who has a podcast True Crime: Fashion and Passion with Carol Alt and Pat Cleveland and is prepping to launch two fashion labels. “It’s about legacy; one thing always leads to another, and I have to say that all of these looks still work today — except Will’s fucking suit.”