NEW YORK — Anyone who thinks that this century is just like the last one should meet Suzanne Gluck and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, both in their 30s and the first women to be named to the board of directors during the 105-year history of the William Morris Agency, where they run the literary department. To hear these two tell it, not only has the glass ceiling shattered, the image of an agent dressed in a dour power suit is way out of date.
“Increasingly women at the top of our profession seem to operate with a much more relaxed dress code,” says Gluck, taking a rare moment to relax in her office. “Often when we take clients into meetings, I have to explain who is in charge.”
A sleeker version of casual Friday now informs every day of the week. “Somebody who’s just coming in here with an Eddie Bauer pocket T-shirt and running shorts is not going to work out,” Gluck explains. “The casual look has to be filtered through a fashion lens, but obviously there is a casual-chic aesthetic that is being promoted by virtually all the designers.”
Powerful women within the industry, such as Sherry Lansing, Amy Pascal, MTV’s Judy McGrath, Amanda “Binky” Urban and ICM co-president Nancy Josephson, led the way, and now women hold positions in the upper echelons at every agency, from Endeavor to UTA and CAA to Brillstein-Grey. While the new generation of female agents is as serious minded as their pioneering predecessors — with Gluck and Walsh representing heavy hitters like Suzan-Lori Parks and James Patterson, and making way for bestsellers like “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” — their look is much less severe.
“Through the Eighties and well into the Nineties, the ethos was, ‘be less visible than the client,’” explains Gluck. The writers and actors these agents serve, however, were more comfortable dealing with individuals than drones. “They don’t want to be cookie-cutter talent, and they don’t want cookie-cutter representation.”
Now the classic agency rule banning jeans is as archaic as the mimeograph, and fun fashion is making headway with agents like Walsh, who loves to shop at Gucci. And these women are not willing to ditch personal style in the name of corporate success.
“I didn’t want my outside predicting how I feel on the inside, and I do believe that change comes from the outside in,” explains Walsh, whose boutique agency the Writers Shop was bought by WMA in 2001. “I was fiercely protective of the way that my outside presentation affected the way people thought of me. I didn’t want to have to pretend that I was someone I wasn’t in order to have authority. I was determined not to put a uniform on just so that people would listen to what I had to say.”
Of course, the agency’s youngest female employees have pushed that newfound fashion freedom to its limit. “Some of the assistants here dress like they’re rock stars,” says Walsh, looking somewhat rocking herself in a sheer black top and tossing her wild curls. “There’s one assistant here who never has the same hair color twice. It’s adorable, but I certainly hope that her pants don’t get any lower.”
And if they did? Well, these days it’s all a part of the business. “Entertainment and fashion are so closely tied together,” says Walsh. “It’s self-expression.”