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."
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."
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!"
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.”
Fox's Fab Four
Below: Liz Paulson
“We’ve all worked so damn hard to get here, we could not have been concentrating on clothes!” says Klein, 20th Century Fox TV’s executive vp casting and talent. “During pilot season, it’s 24/7.” The 20th Century Fox TV team tends to go with tailored black-and-white and put all the details in the shoes. “I didn’t develop an obsession with shoes till I was in the corporate world,” says Paulson, casting and talent vp and sister of American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson. “It’s not a casting department requirement, but it’s the pretty part of dressing corporate.”
Hers are Louboutins in varied colors, while Kasabian, manager of casting, goes for skyscraper Giuseppe Zanottis in purple or green. Herman prefers black booties by Iro with a conical heel.
“I sit at a table with a lot of men,” says the tiny blonde. “I need to look them in the eye.” Paulson is quick to defend the subtleties of difference in their styles: “We are pretty well-formed women who know exactly who we are. We all bring something different to the department and from a fashion perspective, too.”
Below: Lindsey Kasabian
On the Way Up at WME
When you’re working your way up the agency ranks, you need to dress specifically for your department. “Female film agents here love Chanel,” says Samantha Leon, agent trainee and assistant to partner and talent agent Brad Slater. “So I got this black-and-white knit Chanel-style dress on sale at Trina Turk. When you start out and you’re not making money — but working with people who do—you have to figure out how to shop on a budget. And give it a personal spin, because you also need to be noticed.”
Agent trainee Cristina Lynch reports to Marc Geiger, partner and head of the music department, so a short leather skirt, leopard blouse and boots take her from a day at the office to shows at night. “We’re a little freer to express personality, which is indicative of the music business,” she says. Meanwhile, Cao assists in business affairs, so it’s not surprising that her style approach is a tad more conservative. “I’ve got all the black suits lined up,” she says laughing. “But then I have a Radiohead tattoo for personal style. It’s OK, I just cover it with blazers.”
Below, from left: Samantha Leon, Leslie Cao and Cristina Lynch