The red carpet phenomenon owes much to Wanda McDaniel. While she defers to her boss, Giorgio Armani, credit also goes to the former reporter from Missouri whom Armani hired in 1988 to tend to VIP clients through their Hollywood adventures, on- and offscreen.

Ever amicable and professional, McDaniel pioneered the gig of modern liaison between fashion house and celebrities, a required feature of any self-respecting temple along Rodeo Drive and one that runs the gamut from wardrobing films to media inquiries. In fact, many of her alumni have gone on to the competition.

“There is literally no better mentor than Wanda McDaniel,” said Ralph Lauren’s West Coast liaison Jennifer Meyer, who spent two years under McDaniel’s tutelage. “She grooms you for life, your next job, relationships. Every fashion house is doing what they’re doing in Hollywood because of Wanda. She singlehandedly changed the paradigm.”

A large part of McDaniel’s appeal is that she operates exactly unlike the typical publicist. Her background as a journalist is one reason. There’s also the personal insight that comes from being the wife of a producer: For 25 years, she’s been married to Al Ruddy, whose credits include “The Godfather” and, most recently, the Oscar-nominated “Million Dollar Baby.”

In fact, during recent weeks, McDaniel has found herself in the very awkward position (she insists) of joining Ruddy at the many award shows and premieres for the movie, starring Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank. “I have a whole new respect for the people who have to do this all the time,” she conceded one recent afternoon.

Her longtime friends, many of the famous she’s courted and dressed over the years, are similarly reverent. “She is a superstar and to me there is nobody that even comes close to her,” said Maria Shriver. “She’s the grande dame of promotion for designers. She’s been extraordinary at putting that aspect of the business in play. She’s political, she’s savvy, she’s fun. Mr. Armani is blessed to have her in that role, a role she created and put on the map.”

— Rose Apodaca

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.