Power of Style: Where the Town's Industry Bros Buy Their Clothes
Hollywood's male executives increasingly call on wardrobe whisperers — independent and department-store style consultants — to "look like the person who can get the contract, negotiate his way through anything."
Robert Burks, who has been a style consultant at Barneys almost since its opening in Beverly Hills 20 years ago, recently received a panicked call from a Hollywood executive who had to meet President Barack Obama on very short notice. "We were told the driver would be by in 45 minutes to pick everything up," says Burks, who counts half a dozen top industry insiders among his clients, including United Talent Agency chair Jim Berkus. "We got the sport jacket, trousers, shirt, shoes, everything, and then I turned it around with the tailors here downstairs and took care of it."
Such is the kind of urgency that can shadow the new breed of wardrobe whisperers, who advise entertainment players on appropriate and plugged-in clothing choices, handle their purchases and error-proof their clothing closets. Much like the bygone sacrosanct bond shared between a man and his tailor, today's executives have come to depend on style consultants, both independent and at department stores and favored retailers. Says Berkus of Burks, with whom he has been working for five years: "What you want is somebody who has an idea for you. I come in and Robert says, 'Here are three things that I love,' and then we argue a bit and then I usually buy one or two of them. That's the relationship. We laugh a lot when we go at it, and I like to give him a hard time. These are really good people," he adds of Barneys' staff. "They understand the pressure you're under and they deliver for you." Says independent style consultant Andrew Weitz of The Weitz Effect, who left a career as an agent two years ago to become a go-to stylist for some of the biggest power brokers in town: "When I work with high-level executives and CEOs whose time is very valuable, I help by giving them one less major thing that they have to think about." He adds: "Perception is everything in this business. What I provide creates a shift in their lives, whether it's business or personal. I've seen it, no matter how high up you are on the totem pole."
Image and influence always have been intertwined in Hollywood, but the level of style has stepped up, notes Chuck James, a partner at ICM who takes guidance from his "secret weapons" — store consultants on both coasts, including Ian O'Loughlin at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Charles Dale at Tom Ford in Beverly Hills: "High-end designers like Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford and Giorgio Armani have penetrated beyond women's looks on the red carpet. With the evolution of social media, I've noticed in the last three to five years, more men, whether in the area of representation or studio executives, are taking fashionable risks. It's a way to stand out. It's accepted now, it's revered and people think it's cool." Producer and founder of The Company Charlie Ebersol, who wears pieces of his own design mixed in with items from Bonobos, Dunhill and John Varvatos, notes: "When I started out, I used to be made fun of for wearing a tie when I was on a reality set. Now those people are looking more established." Neiman Marcus style consultant Catherine Bloom, who works with a full roster of executives, adds that men are becoming increasingly aware of the power of a properly fitted garment: "Even if they don't verbalize it, they're in a meeting with someone who has beautifully fit ted clothes, and they can see something they want to emulate because of how good it looks." Berkus sums up how Hollywood is more keenly aware of style than ever before. "People notice each other, they notice what you're wearing," he says. "When I walk in with some new Loro Piano shoes, the receptionist says, 'Nice shoes.'"
Seize sur Vingt co-owner James Jurney says that working with a stylish customer like Esquire Network president and E! Entertainment GM Adam Stotsky (both are wearing the store's label) can influence upcoming designs: "You'll see something and think, 'That would look good on Adam; he would wear that.'"
Adam Stotsky, Esquire Network president and E! Entertainment GM, largely leaves his wardrobe choices to James and Gwen Jurney, owners of Seize sur Vingt. "I happen to like pocket squares and they have some great ones," says Stotsky. "My grandfather was a jacket-and-tie guy and told me at a very young age that the way you present yourself says a lot about who you really are. I also happen to be a steward of a brand with men's style in its DNA. When people comment on my pocket square, I say it comes with the business cards." With outposts in Manhattan and the Melrose design district, the stores carry high-end slim suits, energetic plaid shirts and classic-with-a-colorful-twist shoes and accessories. Stotsky, who started out buying shirts and had his wedding suit made at Seize sur Vingt, first met the couple in New York in the late 1990s, when they were fleeing a banking career in derivatives and opening their first store. "Gwen and James have always curated a singular point of view that works for me. It takes the guesswork out of it," he says. "I like to buy, but I don't enjoy the process of shopping."
Bloom says convenience is a critical function of her job: "The biggest priority for everyone is time. No one has it, but everyone in Hollywood needs to look their role. Even if some men are not so into fashion, they need to be dressed." Like other consultants, she travels to her clients to save time while she tries to take them beyond their comfort zone: "Say you want a new leather blazer. I might show you what's really going on now, which is a perforated suede blazer or a suede and leather blazer. So I would show you some ways that are a little more current than what you might have had in your imagination." Joe Lupo, co-founder of New York-based consultancy Visual Therapy along with business partner Jesse Garza, similarly sees his role as encouraging industry players to go in a bolder, more authoritative direction, noting that film executives on the East Coast frequently come out of an Ivy League background and tend to be more classically inclined than their West Coast counterparts. "You want them to look like the picture of success, like the person who can get the contract, negotiate his way through anything. But it's never the edgy stuff or the three-piece suit — it's more like the Tom Ford two-piece. They still have to look approachable."
Weitz says his career switch began when a new colleague asked for his help several years ago. "He was so funny and one of the nicest guys I've ever met, but a bit of a mess," he says. "We worked on his style for several months. Two years later, his confidence is now through the roof — and he grew his business another $200 million." Weitz adds: "Right there, I knew I wanted to help others see what is possible."
This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.