This story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
One rainy evening in late February, Andrew Weitz was dining at the Thompson hotel in Beverly Hills. In a high-collar pink shirt, gray double-breasted suit and Tom Ford eyeglasses with ombre-effect frames, he looked less like a WME talent agent and more like a GQ editor fresh off the front row at Paris Men’s Fashion Week.
That same evening in New York City, APA partner Brian Dow was strolling home to Chelsea from his Midtown office. In three-piece Donegal tweed with peaked lapels, his tie and shirt boasting different black-and-white checkered patterns, he attracted impressed glances. The ensemble was made to measure by L.A.-based designer Waraire Boswell (waraireboswell.com), a former UTA training program employee whose fans include LeBron James. “He’s like my drug dealer,” jokes Dow. “He’s not cheap.” (Boswell’s custom suits range from $1,750 to as much as $5,500.)
Fashion plates such as Weitz and Dow are the exception among agents -- for now. Old-school 10-percenters still prefer a dark Hugo Boss or Zegna suit with Prada, Gucci or Bally shoes. "In the '80s, everyone was in Armani suits, and it looked like they all came out of a factory,” says Andrew Francis, a licensing agent at UTA. But this longtime uniform, worn with a white or blue dress shirt, medium-width tie and clean-shaven face, is losing hegemony among a growing number of Beverly Hills and Century City sharks. “There’s a group of agents that are very fashion-forward, so whatever the new style is -- slimmer-cut suit, skinny lapels or big, thick ties -- they are on that train,” says Francis, who for himself mixes made-to-measure with suits and separates by Ralph Lauren, Theory and Zegna Sport.
At CAA, perhaps the most fashionable of the agencies, Bryan Lourd leads the way. The managing partner -- who has appeared on Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed List — favors suits by client Tom Ford and pieces by Band of Outsiders, launched by former CAA agent Scott Sternberg. Lourd is as comfortable in a pale gray suit with matching tie, pink shirt and shoes with no socks at Cannes as he is in jeans, a sharply cut denim jacket and V-neck sweater at Herb Allen’s slouchy annual retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho. Casual Fridays don’t exist at CAA, so his colleagues always stand out in the right suit or tux with a fashion-forward twist: Joel Lubin (spotted at Soho House recently in a tweedy three-piece), Alex Mebed (who favors made-to-measure shop Klein Epstein & Parker, 367 Robertson Blvd.) and Jim Toth (in a midnight-blue tux at the Oscars with wife Reese Witherspoon). Not exactly what Lew Wasserman and Michael Ovitz set forth.
“A few years ago, you could tell someone was an agent the minute they walked in the door,” says Darren Gold, owner of the online boutique Alpha-man.com, which has a pop-up store at West Hollywood’s Satine (8134 W. 3rd St.). “Now it’s tough to pick them out. It has completely diversified.” Veteran stylist Phillip Bloch says his WME agents sometimes seek sartorial tips, but only a few try quirky or edgy looks. “Mixing a patterned suit, a striped shirt and a paisley tie -- that’s hard to pull off,” says Bloch. “But my agent Kenny Slotnick does it all the time.”
Mad Men-inspired pocket squares, tie clips and vests have made for more distinctive style, says Paradigm’s Brad Schenck, who also notes a trend toward custom suits and uncommon labels. “Anyone can go to Barneys, Neiman’s or Saks,” says Schenck, who looks for private-label suits at West Hollywood’s Jay Wolf (517 N. Robertson Blvd.). The boutique, which also carries Paul Smith, treats agents like stars, sending options home for them to try on.
Meanwhile, watches -- an accessory that can pole-vault one black-suited guy over another -- have become a competitive sport. “For a while, everyone had to have the Rolex,” says Francis. “And then the Panerai is all you’d see.” (He wears an IWC.) UTA’s David Park collects Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshores; ICM’s Chuck James prefers Pateks and Cartiers. Footwear is another way to step away from the crowd: ICM’s Nigel Meiojas kicks up his John Varvatos and Jil Sander suits with rugged Frye boots.
Thanks to an increase in fashion savvy spread by TV and the web, young Turks know “masstige” shops make it possible to look as sharp as a millionaire partner with the proper fitting. “Boys in the mailroom will take a J.Crew suit to a tailor and say, ‘Gucci me,’ ” says Manfred Westphal, APA’s senior vp media. They also might benefit from the example -- and largesse -- of their bosses: UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer is known for gifting assistants with Armani and Isaia ties from his own elegant collection.
If worker bees are starting to look like Italian architects -- or Dior Homme models -- then some credit goes to the perpetually tanned Ari Emanuel. Often tie-less at premieres, he exudes confidence in a gingham shirt or squared-off aviator sunglasses. The WME co-CEO’s alter ego, Ari Gold, played by Jeremy Piven, also influenced the industry: The Entourage character’s flashy pinstripe suits and mixed patterns greenlighted real-life Emanuel wannabes to show more style swagger. (But even if male fashion IQ is rising, not everyone is comfortable talking about it: Agents from WME and CAA declined comment.)
Agents’ dapper dress also is tied to fashion’s rising relevance to the industry. Style-driven TV shows and merchandising deals have become big business. Dow, who represents the Kardashians on the licensing side, reads Women’s Wear Daily religiously. “I’m bringing my A-game to the office every day, and appearance is part of that,” he says. And brands eager to get their clothes on stars have begun cozying up to their reps. “How did agents get so chic all of a sudden?” asks one fashion insider. “Gifting helped.”
Another trigger? “Having a cool client,” says Bloch. As one anonymous agent puts it: “You can’t seriously expect a client to think you’ll have taste in picking material if they look across the table and you’re wearing a badly fitted suit. That just doesn’t fly anymore.”