In America, what’s a power woman without her power suit? From Condaleezza Rice on down, the women who wear the pants in Washington are, often enough, actually wearing knee-length skirt suits and dresses from St. John. On the West Coast, the brand’s more glamorous looks have found their way onto television and numerous red carpets.
This story first appeared in the June 18, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Marie Gray has reminisced about the moment when, on a July evening in 1995, she found herself sitting in the Queen’s Room of the White House after fitting First Lady Hillary Clinton with several suits for the upcoming Democratic National Convention. In her book “St. John,” author Liz Mitchell wrote, “Marie couldn’t quite believe that this immigrant girl from Yugoslavia was chatting with the President’s wife and sleeping in the White House.”
Since then, Elizabeth Dole, Tipper Gore, California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Bush aide Karen Hughes have been among the political figures who have taken to the Capitol steps in St. John.
While it’s hard to argue the appeal of Chanel and Valentino, most American women in public office tend to shy away from European designers. Who could forget the heat that Jackie Kennedy took for wearing Hubert de Givenchy couture during her reign in the White House?
“I think that political spouses and women who hold office often feel that they should support the working people of this country with their dollars,” said Los Angeles-based attorney, activist and television commentator Gloria Allred, a self-proclaimed St. John fanatic. “I like the fact that St. John is an American brand. It’s good for the economy.” But she quickly added, “I wouldn’t wear it for that alone. I wear it because it’s beautiful and fashion-forward without looking like a costume. I’m a lawyer, not a model.”
In large part, the brand’s appeal to power women stems from its user-friendly qualities. Women with very little time to shop can waltz into a St. John boutique and, in minutes, buy a head-to-toe look — including shoes, bags and jewelry. For women like Allred, for whom a normal day often includes meetings with prominent peers, press conferences, television appearances and movie premieres, that’s a plus. “Frankly, I can’t even think of what the alternative to a St. John would be anymore. I’m so far into it that there is no alternative.”
Small-screen stars and songstresses have taken to the power knits as well. Emmy winners Barbara Walters, Cybill Shepherd and Christine Baranski, Oscar-winners Sally Field and Marcia Gay Harden, and Grammy winners Reba McEntire and Toni Braxton have all taken up the St. John mantle.
“It’s fabulous travel clothing because it packs so well, and it’s hard to find elegant travel clothing. To me, it’s classy, it’s about being comfortable,” said Harden, who chose a red St. John dress when she was honored at the Women in Film Topaz Awards in Texas last September.
When asked how she feels when she wears St. John, R&B diva Braxton, whose line of work calls for dramatic fashion statements, said, “Oh, that’s easy — sexy.” She remembered wearing one of St. John’s little black dresses for a live concert in Europe before an audience of 80,000, recalling, “It was a total hit. In a dress or a suit, from size 2 through 12, their designs say `taste, style,’ and they make you very comfortable to be a woman.”
Country queen and crossover actress McEntire, who was first drawn to St. John because of its vibrant colors, particularly the electric blues, has worn the designs to several red-carpet events this year, including the People’s Choice Awards, the Daytime Emmys and the Academy of Country Music Awards, where, as host, she wore three gowns from the evening collection.
“In my line of work, personality has to shine through,” she explained. “It can when I wear St. John because I feel very elegant, yet comfortable at the same time. I’m more myself, instead of trying to be something I’m not.”
Toni Gmuer, Cybill Shepherd’s stylist for the past eight years, has dressed the star in St. John for several Golden Globe Awards ceremonies and on Shepherd’s Emmy-winning sitcom, “Cybill.”
“I like it because when a woman puts it on, she gets respect from other women who look and go, `Oh, St. John.’ They know just by looking,” she said. “And it’s timeless, so you can keep wearing it from year to year.”