Part of the glam squad
Behind the styles, Art Conn ’94 helps outfit Hollywood elite.
His name had been called at the 2019 Emmy Awards. Joy, disbelief and gratitude were all Art Conn ’94 said he felt.
He had been at Hollywood award ceremonies before — many times before.
As a costume stylist for the Hollywood elite who walk the red carpet looking glamorous, Conn is the person behind the scenes picking attire and styles for the rich and famous.
He had never been nervous at Hollywood events in the past. But that night was different for him — he was the one on the red carpet — and he remembered all the work that had gotten him to that stage in September 2019.
Conn has earned his reputation for costuming during his years working at American Idol from seasons four through 10 styling Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Adam Lambert and Jordin Sparks, among others. His website lists Emmy-nominated shows Top Chef, Shark Tank and X Factor USA as a few of Conn’s TV styling credits. He has helped style music’s top artists, including Madonna, Pink, George Michael and Lenny Kravitz.
But his path was not initially clear to him upon leaving Dayton.
“I remember after I graduated, I felt like I could do anything I wanted to, even if I didn’t know what that was. UD gave me the confidence,” Conn said.
His early days in California, after graduating as a communication management major, were spent selling designer footwear to stars including Britney Spears, Paula Abdul and Christina Aguilera.
His time in retail taught him what fashion did for others: It made people feel better about themselves.
“When I saw clients put on something they felt nice in, they just stood a little taller and they smiled a bit more. It was nice to see that,” Conn said.
That helped carve his path into a career in the fashion industry.
While in retail, Conn met stylists coming into the store to purchase pieces for Hollywood clientele — a profession he didn’t know existed at the time. One of these stylists urged him to get into the profession because of his knack of putting glam accessories together.
In 2002 he began working as a freelance costume stylist, and in 2005 he received his first break — what he calls his “ultimate break.” A colleague whose husband worked on American Idol heard of an opening for a costumer and told Conn to apply. He got the job.
“I grew up as a huge fan of American Idol — and now I was going to be there working on it,” he said.
When I saw clients put on something they felt nice in, they just stood a little taller and they smiled a bit more.
Conn recalls going to stores and picking out clothing for Carrie Underwood, which she would wear during her life-changing performance when judge Simon Cowell predicted she would be the most famous of all winners — a prediction come true.
In 2016, Conn’s eye for fashion led to a personal request from drag queen entertainer RuPaul for Conn to work as a costumer on the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, a competition series searching for the next star in the drag queen entertainment business.
Conn worked on the show for three seasons, his talent ultimately being recognized by his peers with an Emmy nomination.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” Conn said of the awards ceremony, “but I told myself to enjoy this moment no matter what happened.”
In excited disbelief, Conn rose from his seat as he heard his name called to accept the award for Outstanding Costumes for Variety, Nonfiction or Reality Programming.
“It was surreal,” he said. “They announced our show, and I was nominated against some of my dearest friends.
I would have been happy with any outcome, regardless. And they were happy for me, too.”
He said he is grateful for the opportunity to have worked with RuPaul’s Drag Race and have his hard work and talents highlighted on television. He acknowledges the upbringing that shaped his path to his success.
His Midwestern beginnings include riding on his bicycle down the streets and running barefoot through the grass in Louisville, Ohio. Conn went to Catholic schools starting in elementary school and said he loved the educational challenges that came with it.
“I am a person who loves to learn,” he said. “Not to say I’m a teacher’s pet, but I was always the person up front in class who was involved.
“I always felt the best education was a Catholic one.”
That inclination drove him to apply and get accepted to the University of Dayton. He said the decision forged his future path.
“I have always loved knowing I grew up in a small town,” he said. “As I grew, I just knew that I didn’t see myself being the person staying in that small town living in a small town all my life.
“I wanted to go to a school that was going to challenge me, and I thought UD was a great place to explore what I wanted to do. And, I was far enough away from home to feel some independence.”
Conn admits most people don’t understand his profession.
“When people say to me, ‘What’s your goal?’ there are many goals, but the main goal is to make the person you are working with feel amazing,” he said. “That happiness radiates off the person, and people can feel that.”
He does know, though, what he does makes a difference.
“I tell my friends, ‘I’m not curing cancer, and I’m not doing brain surgery. But making others feel good has its own importance.’”