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The dated adage that begins “Behind every successful man …” doesn’t bear ever repeating, especially since these days most successful men have a successful woman beside, if not ahead, of them. But it does raise the question of who’s backing successful women as they attempt to meet the demands of colleagues, families and friends while still trying to hold onto a semblance of sanity.
One powerful studio executive, happily married to an equally successful man in the industry, has figured out a partial solution by hiring what she calls a “wife”: someone to take care of her personal needs for a few hours a day, whether it’s making sure there is fresh milk in the fridge, the dog is up on its vaccines or the air conditioner repairman can be let in during normal business hours. The only thing the “wife” isn’t good for is the one task her boss most wishes she could perform: subbing at a pitch meeting so the executive can sneak off for a mani/pedi with a friend by her side and the latest tabloids stacked on her lap.
Keeping a life going smoothly while working around the clock isn’t the stuff made up in Harlequin romances, to be sure. But a backup of extraordinary people who take care of executives so that they can, in turn, take care of themselves does make for a happy ending to a 16-hour work day. Here, the lowdown on what no high-powered woman should be without.
A Cut Above: Originally from Korea, Byron designed clothing before realizing hair care was his true calling, much to the relief of his executive and celebrity clientele. Among those who trust their tresses to him: Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Jaime Pressly and Sharon Stone. After a seven-year stint at Prive, Byron opened his own three-chair salon in Beverly Hills, where he resolutely remains the only stylist in order to better attend to his clients’ needs. Byron’s known for his cuts and blowouts, but he also is a master makeup artist, halving the time it takes to preen for a premiere, especially for those lucky enough to be one of the clients for whom he’ll make housecalls. Haircuts and makeup application both start at $150. (www.byronstudio.net; 407 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-276-4470)
Pet Project: They don’t care that you missed a meeting, lost a project or simply lost your mind and screamed at your assistant. On the other hand, kennel cough and hair balls wait for no woman, no matter how crazy the deadline at hand. Veterinarian David Schwartz understands the entertainment business; indeed, one of the few times he’s hard to reach is during Monday Night Football, when he’s hanging out with William Shatner and the actor’s posse of Rottweilers. (Yes, Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart have been known to stop by.) One network executive is positive that Schwartz lives at the kennel because he answers his phone no matter when she calls. In fact, says the good doctor, “I just make sure to have every call forwarded to my cell.” Schwartz, whose 20-year practice has involved being on call for Universal, offers services from boarding to references for house sitters and dog walkers, and even non-Trekkies are eligible for housecalls. The only line Schwartz draws, it seems, is in his own life: “I don’t have dogs,” he explains, “because I listen to barking all day. I don’t like going home to it.” (Boulevard Pet Clinic, 11440 Ventura Blvd., Suite 103, Studio City; 818-506-2440)
Sole Mate: Greg Papazian is the third generation of cobblers to own Eddie’s Shoe Repair, and he earns the kind of accolades for his work on Louboutins and Manolos usually reserved for cosmetic surgeons who rescue sagging jowls. Papazian tried to escape the family trade by working as a photographer for the Whisky a Go Go in the early 1970s but caved once he realized he could work 9-5 and earn a living. And it’s a mighty good one, to hear him tell it; clients flock from as far as Australia, Europe and South America clutching boxes of shredded heels and worn-out soles. “Manolos are run of the mill,” Papazian says modestly when pressed about his business. “We did all the boots for Gene Autry, and those were worth $5,000 each.” For his money, Papazian says Cole Haan makes the best shoes — “The same that Gucci makes and then marks up $150 and Prada makes and marks up to $700” — but he’s happy to work on whatever’s given to him. Says Papazian (who, for the record, wears Birkenstocks), “We treat people and their shoes like they should be treated.” (Eddie’s Shoe Repair, 13716 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-789-1972)
Gold Digger: Liseanne Frankfurt, the powerhouse talent behind LFrank Jewelry, is an artist whose work can overshadow even the glitziest of gossip. Working with organic forms and the highest-quality materials, Frank is known for designs that are ultraluxe without being obviously showy, whether she’s wrapping wood in 18-karat gold to make dangling earrings or overlapping delicate bands of gold and insetting uncut diamonds to craft rings. “I was at a dinner party and a woman beside me said, ‘My husband gave this ring to me for our anniversary, but I don’t know what the stone is or who designed it,'” she says. “And that was sad to me. When it’s about something important, you should appreciate it and know that no one else has it.” To that end, Frankfurt, whose baubles have been featured in New York’s outpost of the Japanese beauty emporium Takashimaya, prefers to work privately with clients. “It’s more interesting for me to know what a person likes or dislikes, and it’s exciting to make something for someone that they’ll love and not run into a thousand times,” she explains. Rings made out of 18-karat gold without stones start at $900; Frankfurt’s designs also can be purchased from twistonline.com. (Liseanne Frankfurt, 310-398-6334)
Room With a Viewing: When it’s time to screen a show out of the editing bay, skip the red carpet in favor of your own wall-to-wall. Mark Niven, co-owner of Legato Home Music & Theater Systems, has been in the business of turning rooms into theaters for 18 years. There’s the obvious projects involving creating high-end screening rooms in mansions, to be sure. But perhaps more impressive: “In extremely architecturally designed modern homes, we’ll have a panel on the wall that controls everything in the house,” Niven says, “from the music to the security system, heat, air, music library, lights and iPod.” And even if it’s been so long since you did it last that you’ve forgotten how to have a dinner party, the panel will remember for you, down to the lighting and the music. That said, “I think the rooms that are the most fun to design are the multipurpose family rooms where a remote control runs everything,” Niven says. “When your friends come over, CNN stops playing on your plasma TV, the blackout shades come down and you’re watching what you want on an 8×10 screen that will rival a movie theater’s.” Prices for creating a screening room from scratch begin at $40,000. (www.legatohometheater.com, 310-399-6632)
Budding Beauty: There’s no better training for being in the service industry than toiling away as an assistant. Toby Kassoy, the artist behind the floral company Lillabello, spent years working for an executive at UPN before backing her hobby with a business. She spotted the need thanks to her boss, a man she describes as “a great guy but very high maintenance, so I couldn’t just call up some run-of-the-mill place for flowers. In addition to a great product, you also needed great service.” Kassoy, who worked her way through college apprenticing in a flower shop, found the encouragement she needed when her father learned he was sick and got to work creating a business plan for her; her doors opened a week after he died. Kassoy has no storefront, instead working out of a monstrous warehouse that caters to clients such as CBS, the CW, Focus Features, Paramount Television, 3 Arts Entertainment and Warner Bros. “An executive can e-mail me at 9 p.m. with an order to go out the next morning and know it’s taken care of,” says Kassoy, who keeps her business small enough so that she can answer all e-mails and phone calls herself. Kassoy also keeps track of important dates such as anniversaries and birthdays, as well as preferences; she will take pictures of repeat orders upon request to ensure no order is ever duplicated. (www.lillabello.com; 310-337-1130)
Jet Set: Altour is a luxury travel agency that does pretty much everything for its clients except pack for them. Founded 15 years ago by Alexander Chemla, a former executive at Club Med who was disappointed by the lack of attention paid to upscale clients by other agencies, Altour now has 650 employees in offices in Los Angeles, Paris, New York and London, ready to book their clients on everything from a long weekend in Rome to a month in India. “We’ll arrange a five-hour trip to a spa if that’s what they like,” Chemla quips. That might be a stretch, but Altour will arrange for you to travel in one of its limos to the airport, where you can board one of its chartered private jets; should you have any troubles in your destination, there’s a 24/7 help line. Altour also has created its own high-tech computer system that is manned by seven full-time employees and allows the agents access to the most minute pieces of information. “We won’t just tell you what the best hotel is,” Chemla explains. “We’ll tell you that room 12B in that hotel is on the corner with a view of the ocean.” The company also embraces an ecological philosophy; its car fleet includes the Toyota Prius, and every Christmas, Altour plants thousands of trees in Africa based upon the number of miles it has booked on airlines. (www.altour.com; 310-571-6000)
Saving Face: One executive calls La Prairie Spa, located in the Beverly Hills Hotel, “nothing less than a secret weapon.” Open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., seven days a week, the spa is renowned not only for its pampering but for its respect of clients slammed for time. “It’s surprising how many people who live here end up taking advantage of the early appointments rather than the later ones,” spa manager Nicole Wygand says. Well, not really, given that one of the 15-minute therapies available is the Caviar Intensive Eye Treatment, which is designed to perk up tired-looking eyes, perfect after a late-night premiere before heading to work. Same-day appointments are often possible thanks to 25 therapists on call at all times. The eye treatment is $85, while the 60-minute Executive Stress Break, a combination of massage and reflexology, is $170. (www.thebeverlyhillshotel.com, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-887-2505)
Self-Service: A brilliant new company called Voce, a combination concierge/cell service provider, takes over where an assistant leaves off. For $200 a month plus a $500 activation fee that buys a high-end phone, headset and unlimited minutes, Voce offers its clients the services of some 20 Voce “assistants”; overseen by a former Ritz-Carlton head concierge, they’re available 24/7 whether a client needs directions, help remembering a line from a movie or tickets to a hot show. They even provide curbside assistance at airports, walking customers through security and into airline lounges where one is not necessarily a member. Calls made from abroad to the hotline are free should you need a last-minute dinner or hotel reservation in Sweden or just can’t bear to go to sleep without knowing the score of the Lakers game. “We even helped track down a friend someone had lost touch with 15 years earlier,” the company’s Ron Pattani says, and while such an instance has yet to occur, “If we can’t help, we’ll direct you to the expert who can.” (www.voce.com; 368 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, 800-998-VOCE)
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