Stylists like Rachel Zoe, Arianne Phillips and Nancy Steiner are used to earning top dollar to make celebrities look camera-ready. But recently they had the tables turned on them, posing for painter Kimberly Brooks as part of her new series “The Stylist Project.” And much like her aesthetically attuned subjects, Brooks took a highly detailed approach in rendering their likeness.
A month before the exhibit’s opening, Brooks stands in her Venice, Calif., bungalow studio counting the number of cerulean blue feathers she needs to paint on a Valentino coat wrapped around Zoe’s tiny frame; perfecting the aristocratic stance of Katherine Ross, consultant for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who evokes John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X” in a black Rodarte gown, and adding final touches to the black beaded necklace and white bracelet in Jessica Paster’s topless pose.
“They are setters of scenes,” says Brooks, acknowledging the challenge of tackling such fashionable muses. “They know what they want. They are very specific.”
“The Stylist Project,” which will be on display at Los Angeles’ Taylor De Cordoba gallery from Feb. 27 through April 3, is an offshoot of Brooks’ first solo show in 2007, “Mom’s Friends,” which portrayed her mother and her girlfriends glammed up in furs and feathered hair in the Seventies. After attending a museum lecture on how designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli influenced the painter Matisse, Brooks decided to document a moment in fashion with the help of stylists. With her easy manner, Brooks had little trouble convincing women such as Elizabeth Stewart and “Mad Men” costume designer Janie Bryant to sit for the hundreds of photos on which she based her painted portraits.
“She’s so down to earth and incredibly kind,” says Jeanne Yang, whose clients include Katie Holmes. “When she takes pictures, she talks to you and makes you feel attractive.”
Brooks studied fine arts at UCLA and Otis College of Art and Design and began painting full-time eight years ago (she also writes a column for the Huffington Post). Still, she felt a kinship with the stylists. “I see them as artists, too. I use paint. They use Prada,” she adds.
Even with the latest designer looks at their disposal, some subjects still found themselves at a loss when it came to styling themselves. Yang, for one, couldn’t choose a single dress, so she wore three by Marc Jacobs, Leonard of Paris and Sari Gueron (the latter made the final cut for the painting). Andrea Lieberman waited until the last minute to pluck a navy and white striped maxidress from her own fashion line, A.L.C.
Once done with her Los Angeles-based series, Brooks will seek inspiration from New York image makers such as Grace Coddington, Nina Garcia, Brana Wolf, Amy Fine Collins and Lori Goldstein. She hopes to eventually take her project to London, then Paris, and publish a book highlighting the stylish set she’s immortalized on canvas.
“These people are used to styling for a red carpet or an evening out,” Brooks says. “That’s ephemeral while paintings last for hundreds of years.”
“Kimberly Brooks: The Stylist Project” opens Feb. 27 at Los Angeles’ Taylor De Cordoba gallery, 2660 South La Cienega Boulevard.