The Graduate: Rachel Zoe

The Bravo star (and last year's No. 1) has become too big to rank thanks to a hot runway show, multimillion-dollar fashion empire, TV show (whose future is uncertain) and -- watch out toddlers -- a possible new kids' line.
Lorenzo Agius

Rachel Zoe has seen many milestone moments during her 15-year run as a star stylist. There was 2003, when Jennifer Garner, her first truly A-list client, wore Narciso Rodriguez to the Emmys and instantly put the Jersey girl formerly known as Rachel Rosenzweig on the red-carpet map. Five years later, Zoe was the belle of the Bravo ball, debuting her Rachel Zoe Project reality show chronicling the daily travails of Rachel Zoe Inc. (RZI) as the company navigated celebrity clientele (Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway are among Zoe's loyalists) and its colorful staff (now 27 employees and counting). On season four -- which averaged nearly 1.4 million viewers, up 2 percent from the previous season -- she documented the launch of her eponymous fashion label and fulfilled a lifelong dream. Bravo and Zoe are in talks about a new and freshened-up concept for a fifth season, sources say. An announcement could come at the network's April upfront in New York.

Because her success has been so beyond what anyone thought a stylist could achieve, THR decided to recuse her from this year's list (though her presence on the red carpet has been less in the past year, with Hudson and Garner having kids). But to hear Zoe tell the story of her own success, these accomplishments pale next to a singular event in 2011: the birth of her own son, Skyler -- or Sky Sky as Zoe has dubbed the 11-month-old -- her and husband (and RZI president) Rodger Berman's first child. "It's a paralyzing love," she says clenching hand to heart. "He's so blinding, I can't see straight most of the time."

Even turning 40 doesn't seem to faze Zoe, who celebrated her birthday with 60 friends at Chateau Marmont in September and, in a scene that could have come straight out of Benny Hill, witnessed her chocolate espresso cake (featuring an image of Zoe as a little girl) fall to the floor when a server slipped. Today, she laughs off the mortifying snafu: "I'm so happy with where I am now, that I'm in a permanent good mood. Things that used to get me down don't stress me out anymore. … Instead of being terrified at 40, it's like my life is complete.

"I'm a living cliché. All those things they say about a baby changing your perspective -- it does! I stare at my 500 racks of clothes, and I'm like, 'When am I wearing it?' I went through this thing where I thought, 'I'll sell everything.' Then I was like, 'Wait, I'm having a momentary lapse of sanity.' "

Another shocker in the new Zoe world order: The fanatic vintage collector admits she hasn't bought anything for herself "in so long." Instead, she's splurging on $230 Gucci booties for Skyler (with plans to encase them in bronze) along with anything baby by Burberry and Ralph Lauren. "It's all so freakin' cute," Zoe yelps. "Listen, I know it's excessive. It's disgusting, and I'm embarrassed. My only excuse is that I didn't have a girl. I have a living doll with no opinion right now."

Naturally, her interest in apparel for infants has prompted speculation as to whether she'll launch a baby line. "I think it would be really fun," says Zoe. "There are incredible baby clothes out there -- I go into Baby Gap and want to buy one of everything! -- but I definitely think there could be more."

But first there's the matter of her women's line, which has expanded to jewelry ("You can buy a cocktail ring for $150 or a necklace for $600 -- it's all in a contemporary price point"), winter accessories ("It's part of the head-to-toe complete look"), bags ("I'm obsessed"), shoes and even hats. At her fall runway show at New York Fashion Week in February, Zoe rolled out '60s- and '70s-inspired downtown London looks. Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were her muses for a collection that screams rock-star chic. "When Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger were dating, it was fashion history. So it's very tailored suits and ruffles and tunics," says Zoe, who started out as a magazine fashion assistant (later becoming tabloid fodder herself when clients Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie got painted as members of a size-zero harem).

The Rachel Zoe collection, which is carried in 210 high-end department stores including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, has been a resounding success, with retailers like Neiman Marcus boasting an 85 percent sell-through. And though there are plans to enter Asia and other regions, it has the essence of niche appeal. Indeed, Zoe, who also designed a successful and more affordable QVC line last year -- which, when it debuted, netted $35,000 in sales a minute -- isn't looking for mass. "I'd rather tread a little lighter. I'm superstitious."

She applies a similar philosophy to Skyler's approaching first birthday, which the family will celebrate in the backyard of their Beverly Hills home picnic blanket-style. It flies in the face of the many ostentatious birthdays Bravo has broadcast on its Real Housewives series, none of which Zoe has seen. "I don't deal in pretentious kids' parties," she says, flabbergasted that a friend imagined her renting Versailles for Skyler. "It sets a bad precedent."

Another show she's never watched? Bravo's It's a Brad, Brad World starring former assistant Brad Goreski, with whom Zoe had an acrimonious 2010 parting and whom she is said to have snubbed at a recent Marchesa runway show. "I won't ever see it," she says, squashing the notion of curiosity for curiosity's sake. "I don't think it matters enough to me, to be honest. He should live his life how he wants. He's not in my life and won't be. People move on. All that matters is having good people around me." Goreski, whose show premiered with 1.1 million viewers, declined comment.

And will Zoe see another season of The Rachel Zoe Project? "I don't know," she says. "We're in talks with Bravo. We have to figure out what we want and find that place where everybody is happy. It takes a long time to film, and I give 100 percent of myself as executive producer. I do love being on television and in peoples' homes. I'm not an actor, so there is a connection that's real. … But I also think, 'Are people sick of it? Is it time to do something new?' "

One idea: a scripted TV show in the vein of Gossip Girl that she'd produce. Zoe also has a second book in the works, an "I've grown up" version of 2008's Style: A to Zoe. But there are moments, like when her cell phone rings to the tune of The Beatles' "Let It Be," when Zoe appreciates slowing down. "For 20 years, we've been on this constant treadmill and never stopped to take a breath," she says of herself and her husband (they plan to renew their vows next year for their 15th wedding anniversary). "People tell you everything changes when you have a kid, but what nobody says is you don't mind."