After the Debate Comes the Fundraising Finish Line: Hillary Clinton's Hollywood Supporters Talk Power (and Power Dressing)
As the town gears up for its final push during this election season following Wednesday's last debate, top L.A. hosts Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Andrea Nevins reveal the secret to dressing the part — individuality: "There used to be one archetype of a woman. … Now there's a multiplicity of ways of being."
The latest headlines about first-class groping and backstage peeping are enough to make a woman feel like wearing a paper bag to work.
But if Michelle Obama has taught us anything, it's that women can simultaneously wield their power — witness the first lady's epic Oct. 13 speech — and feminine individuality.
The same is true in Hollywood where female fundraisers this election cycle are eschewing any notion of a standard political power uniform. "Whether it's Melania, Ivanka, Hillary or Chelsea, it's not one size fits all. There used to be one archetype of a woman. … Now there's a multiplicity of ways of being," says Andrea Nevins — the documentary filmmaker and wife of Showtime president David Nevins — who with Chelsea Clinton is hosting an Oct. 20 daytime fundraiser at her Hancock Park home. She plans to wear a "simple and fun" Pinko green frill-collar blouse and matching patent leather skirt with short boots.
Management firm Gotham Group CEO Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, who is co-hosting an evening fundraiser on Oct. 25 for Democratic senatorial candidate Kamala Harris, might don a Victoria Beckham black long sleeve mini dress with dramatic white cuffs. "I get dressed for me, not other people," says Goldsmith-Vein, a member of Clinton's National Finance Committee.
She's not the only Hollywood power player invested in expressing her own individual style.
"Things that are a little unusual and eccentric but still polished — that is what I like to think my personal style is," says Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and distribution for Warner Bros. "But I like to be comfortable. I love sneakers and I don't like high heels. I used to wear linen suits with little white collars and a little Coach pocket book like that was your uniform in corporate life. But long ago I dispensed with that and just thought, 'Be who you are.'"
"The thing I notice now about most female executives is that they want to be different," says celebrity/executive stylist Jeanne Yang, pointing to Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley as an example. Execs "don't want to be wearing the same thing, whether that means being first to get something or having it made-to-measure." Neiman Marcus personal shopper Catherine Bloom agrees, noting her Hollywood clientele are looking for "new, new, new. For a while, it was the sheath dress everyone was wearing religiously, but now there is everything from blouses to bombers to suits."
Clinton has made pants suits her sartorial signature, and as it turns out, they've actually become fashion-relevant again, seen on the Paris and Milan runways in sexier iterations at Balenciaga, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen. Saks Fifth Avenue is putting the suit jacket on its It List at the end of the month, "just in time for the election," says fashion director Roopal Patel, and Beverly Hills boutique Gratus, a favorite of Goldsmith-Vein and other execs, currently has two pants suits in the window.
Another key piece at Gratus? A pussy bow blouse like the $1,100 fuchsia Gucci style Melania Trump wore with much fanfare at the second debate, two days after an audio recording was released where her husband spoke about women using the word "pussy."
The former model made a statement with one of the biggest fashion items of the season, the frilly, feminine blouse, a 1970s and '80s throwback that's finding its way into many Hollywood wardrobes.
"They've really replaced the T-shirt," says Neiman Marcus' Bloom of the season's feminine blouses, singling out Gucci, Etro, Giambattista Valli and Chanel for must-have styles. "And with ruffles and prints, ribbons and ties, they're personality pieces."
Nevins bought the Gucci bow blouse in silver lamé to "add a little bling" to her wardrobe workhorses, like an Agnes B black flared skirt and Christian Louboutin platform pumps.
But abundant options don't always mean suitable ones, says Dana Asher, Hollywood's top executive stylist, whose clientele of 30-plus women includes showrunners Shonda Rhimes and Michelle King: "It's challenging to find designers who are making things for working women." Gucci has gone from being a professional resource to a "carnival," she says, adding: "So many of them seem to be making things for bloggers."
And in a creative culture known for its casualness, "You can slide into disrespectful really quickly, particularly in L.A. where we can be a little lackadaisical," warns Nevins.
"It goes for both men and women, the need to dress appropriately," adds Shannon Rotenberg, executive director of Matthew McConaughey's Just Keep Livin Foundation and co-host of the Oct. 25 fundraiser for Harris: "For Kamala, you want to put your jacket on."
Rotenberg likes to mix and match colorful, feminine pieces from Reese Witherspoon's Draper James line. "I'm Southern so I don't like wearing all black."
Asher says the fashion environment is tougher than it has been in the last several years because of the number of events her clients need to dress for, from the Emmys to MIPCOM to kids' bat mitzvahs, and how expensive it has gotten to do so. "If I have $20,000 for a wardrobe budget, which is a lot, it goes quickly, so I have to be more creative," Asher says, sharing that Nordstrom private label is her go-to for affordable skirts and dresses that can be mixed in with designer pieces from Giambattista Valli, Erdem, Dior, Lanvin and Michael Kors.
Samie Falvey, former executive vp comedy at ABC and now chief content officer of a soon-to-be-named startup at Awesomeness TV, jokes that when it comes to shopping options, "I haven't been able to find an opaque shirt in two years," yet attests to industry dressing growing up and finding its footing: "Though Hollywood is creative, there's a sense of what's age-appropriate as you move up the ranks. My comfort place is a combination of formal and informal, so I never feel like I'm over- or underdressed — a big chunky short-sleeve sweater, red lipstick, Rag & Bone jeans that mimic stretch leather, and my Rockport wedges, which are my secret shoes because they look a bit conservative and they disappear, but I've literally walked three miles in them."
Falvey also subscribes to the rule that you should invest in one fabulous thing that makes you feel great. In her case, it's a pair of Prada velvet sandals bought for the Emmys but now worn with everything from jeans to sweatpants. "They make me feel like I'm presenting myself appropriately, because I'm wearing big girl shoes."
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.