Hollywood's 2013 (Surprising) Rules of Power Dressing

Sky-high heels, statement gems and long hair are among the style strategies that female brass at Warner Bros., Fox TV and WME have adopted to thrive at every step of their careers, whether at the top, nearly there or just starting out: Alexander McQueen shoes "are my executive armor."
From left: Sue Fleishman, Sue Kroll, Veronika Kwan Vandenberg and Diane Nelson
From left: Sue Fleishman, Sue Kroll, Veronika Kwan Vandenberg and Diane Nelson
Ramona Rosales

This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

A streamlined and tailored femininity has been the go-to look these past few years among Hollywood's power women (a description they all eschew, by the way). But with dresses and heels replacing the old-school generic pantsuit (sorry, Hillary), a new element has come into play in 2013: the personal effect. "I always like to add a twist," says Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and international distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures, who is known for her black Lanvin dresses, Givenchy jackets and Irene Neuwirth necklaces. "Sure, it's about jackets, blouses, pants, etc., but if there isn't some slight quirk, it doesn't feel special. There's got to be some personal expression." Or, as described by Trisha Cardoso, executive vp corporate communications at Showtime Networks: "It's professionalism plus personal, mixing vintage with modern, high and low, like Dior pumps with a J.Crew sweater. It's important now to keep your look unique, not off the rack. Identity is an issue."

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Below: Sharon Klein


These are women who know that branding yourself is truly where branding begins, whether you're at the top, almost at the top or just starting a career in the entertainment industry. "I am corporate in my title," says Sue Fleishman, executive vp worldwide corporate communications and public affairs for Warner Bros. Entertainment, "but I dress for myself. Coming up, I dressed for success: bow ties, manly suits. Now, wearing dresses and great boots is what makes me comfortable, which equals confident." Adds Sharon Klein, 20th Century Fox TV's executive vp casting and talent: "We may work in a corporation, but it's a creative corporation. We're working with filmmakers. We can't walk in like 'suits.' We'll shut them down. We have to blend in to a degree -- and stand out to a degree, too."

And how is this feat accomplished? For one thing, none of the women here works with a stylist. "I hired one once," admits Kroll. "I hated everything she sent me. I like to shop for myself. You get to think about something other than work." Says UTA partner and motion picture agent Blair Kohan (Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham): "Fashion is an expression of emotion and creativity. The moment you dress for 'power,' it stops being fun. It's not about power anymore -- it's about confidence."

Below: Stephanie Herman

For Hollywood women, confidence is in the heel height. "They're my executive armor!" laughs Klein, referring to her six-inch purple Alexander McQueens. "I have these in many colors. They make me feel tougher." Same for Liz Paulson, casting and talent vp of 20th Century Fox TV. "I wear Stella McCartney black clothes and Louboutins in every color. Six-inch ones. And I'm tall!"

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Summing up: black clothes with white, colorful heels and for finishing accents, Prada, Balenciaga or Givenchy bags, with jewelry. "Accessories are the personal detail," says 20th Century Fox TV vp casting Stephanie Herman, who dresses up her cream and black clothes with delicate diamonds from Switch -- and long, wavy blonde hair. Hair, it seems, is the final touch, an element of softness worn by stylish insiders across the board: Think Farrah Fawcett running a studio. "It infuses personality," says Klein. Even Leslie Cao, assistant to June Horton in WME business affairs, attests to its financial impact for industry beginners: "You can skip a lot of shopping if you change up your hair." Shoes, jewelry, hair: It looks like power, as with God, is all in the details.


The Women of Warner Bros.

It’s great to be at the top, but it also means there’s not a lot of downtime. For these Warner Bros. top execs, that means strategizing a look — “chic but a kind of uniform,” says Kroll — that allows for fast results for office or premiere. “If what you’re wearing is tugging at you or inappropriate, you don’t think about what you’re at the table to do,” adds Fleishman. “Stick to what works and do a variation on that.” Says Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment and president and chief content officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment: “For me, it’s dresses for the office — and jeans with the animators.” Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, president of international distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures, has her own time-management strategy: “I only shop when I travel,” she says. Overall, the power-dressing rule seems to be “know thyself.” Says Kroll: “I used to try to dress more creatively when I was with the creatives, but now I just know what’s me.”