Hollywood's Top Female Execs Reveal New Rules for the Power Suit

Claudia Lucia
From left: Nicole Clemens, Salaam Coleman Smith, Orly Adelson and Tess Sanchez

As suit sales climb for men, Hollywood's women put a pin in the traditional uniform, preferring individual pieces: "The all-one-fabric look is very old"

If there is such a thing as a power suit in 2014, here are its new rules. One: It's not primarily about matching (unless it's a "power dress," like the new over-the-knee pencil dress that designers from Armani to Theory are doing, with a duster coat or cardigan). Two: Anything emulating the look of masculine authority gets softened. The old staple of the blazer is feminized with a pop of color or pattern, or rocked out, if you will, with skinny jeans and heels; trousers are relaxed by pairings with silky blouses. Three: Flexibility is key. The new suit says: "I have varied roles. I'm creative when I need to be and corporate when called for." Essential to that is not overdressing.

"Don't go too casual or too dressed up," is Gersh Agency's Leslie Siebert's new rule. Adds divorce attorney Laura Wasser: "Know your audience. I wear different clothes for court than I do for a client meeting. Comfortable for me means fitting into the environment." Producer Lynette Howell, whose Big Eyes, directed by Tim Burton, comes out Dec. 25, seconds that: "When I'm on set, I try really hard not to look like a producer, executive or agent. It's very important I look acceptable, approachable and that I can go on set and say to my director, 'Why don't you try this?' " Even in a pitch meeting, where the name of the game is persuading studios to part with their money, The Imitation Game producer Nora Grossman is "still pretty casual; I could never wear a full-on pantsuit. The all-one-fabric look is very old. Our writer dresses up, so everyone thinks he's an agent!"

This latest wrinkle in power dressing is reflected in the domination of separates over suits on the floors of all the major department stores. Neiman Marcus style adviser and personal shopper to stars and execs Catherine Bloom says one-size-fits-all power dressing has gone completely chameleon: "It's not so generic as it was. Now exec women are buying leather moto and bomber jackets paired with beautiful blouses and T-shirts. They add skinny jeans and great shoes while still staying in the story they need to stay in. There are not so many black sheath dresses. They want fashion to tell the story of who they already are."

Expression itself is branding these days. Take Warner Bros. executive vp worldwide marketing Blair Rich, who mixes Proenza Schouler and Givenchy with Celine bags and Matthew Williamson belts. "Working in entertainment allows you to dress in a way that expresses your personal style. The only rule is, there are no rules," says Rich. "My job is creative and visual, and my approach to fashion is just an extension of that!"



When former ICM film agent Nicole Clemens became senior vp series development at FX two years ago, out went her Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana pantsuits and in came a new look: "For me, it's business casual: Citizen of Humanity jeans, Prada shirts, J.Crew jackets, Roger Vivier shoes. I want to dress straight out of Blue Jasmine." Coleman Smith also experienced a reinvention this summer, going from now-defunct Style Network president to youth-net ABC Family executive vp strategy and programming: "To mix and match is very 'millennial,' " she says. A year ago, Orly Adelson left Dick Clark Productions to become president of British-owned ITV Studios. "I do much more travel to Europe, which is dressier," she says. "So a suit means a pencil sheath dress in black and a coat." Tailoring takes these execs through 14-hour days. "It needs to fit," says Fox executive vp casting Tess Sanchez, who, as wife to New Girl actor Max Greenfield, often dons gowns on the red carpet. "My boss is Dana Walden — that's a lot to live up to. I will do a power dress, but it's mostly skinny jeans, a man-tailored shirt and a YSL tribute heel. I need to be credible, not too sexy, but still a female."



In the independent-film (read: prestige, awards-season-relevant) world, it's about underdressing: the jacket or great top with skinny pants and heels for night, flats for day. Says Lisa Bruce, producer of The Theory of Everything: "You have to fit into all camps. I have a more masculine style, so Rag & Bone or pajama pants and blouse. I like to feel I'm in pajamas but not!" Nora Grossman, a producer on The Imitation Game, prefers Equipment shirts, Rag & Bone jeans and boots for coffee-shop meetings with writers. Lynette Howell also goes for jeans, "but I'll mix it up with a thrift-store jacket."

Lisa Bruce (left) and Nora Grossman

Lynette Howell



Even today, style in Hollywood is about fitting in, while in music, it's about standing out. To put it another way, for film and TV execs, personal expression is a business tool to make everyone from investors to talent more comfortable. For music power players, it's a professional imperative, even a respect play. "I have to be me, always," says Ethiopia Habtemariam, president of urban music at Universal Music Group. "Music is about the personal. You want a mixture of every perspective: jeans and a Givenchy tee, a Dolce dress with sneakers and always a leather motorcycle jacket, even with a dress."

Angelica Cob-Baehler had corporate jobs in the music business for 22 years before becoming a manager at Prospect Park who reps Laleh and Eden xo. "Now I can wear whatever I want: Isabel Marant, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, Rag & Bone, Equipment," she tells THR. "When you're representing artists, you don't want to be 'a suit.' I don't want my artists to be alienated by me. It's a balance of looking feminine and strong." Cob-Baehler adds that the change from marketing executive to artist representation has had an impact on her footwear. "I got a little executive bonus when I signed with L.A. Reid and told my lawyer, 'I will need that for a wardrobe.' She said, 'Honey, that's your shoe budget!' I wore high heels for three years! Now it's flat creepers almost every day."

Ethiopia Habtemariam (left) and Angelica Cob-Baehler


This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.