MARILU HENNER: MEDIA BLITZ
Byline: Arthur Friedman
NEW YORK — If Hollywood had an embassy on Seventh Avenue, Marilu Henner could be its ambassador.
A self-professed clothes hound, the 45-year-old star of stage, screen and television is a great believer that in today’s popular culture, the worlds of entertainment and fashion are closely linked.
“The entertainment media has brought more fashion to the public, and the public in turn has demanded more from the entertainment world,” Henner said. “It’s not just watching the Academy Awards to see what people are wearing. I think television has brought fashion into people’s homes.”
To Henner, the connection between celebrity and fashion is personal and professional. Her personal style lies somewhere between Elaine Nardo, the innocent but plucky character she played on the hit TV sitcom “Taxi,” and bad girl Roxie Hart, whom she’s portraying in the musical “Chicago” at the Shubert Theatre here through March.
Henner’s girl-next-door looks and dressing room decor — pictures of her two young sons and her giant teddy bear couch companion — are a stark contrast to the violet blue Prada minidress she’s wearing — a look that Roxie, a murdering flapper of the Roaring Twenties, would have died for. Or killed for.
Professionally, Henner has been affected by the more fashion-conscious entertainment media.
“In the old days, for instance, I wouldn’t watch ‘Bewitched’ to see what [Elizabeth Montgomery] had on that day,” she said. “Whereas now, you can’t wait to see what the ‘Friends’ or ‘Murphy Brown’ characters are wearing.”
In the movies, Henner said 15 to 20 years ago only certain films — for example, “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn — had a fashion impact. Today, every big movie has a wardrober who wants to create a fashion image, particularly for the female stars, so that fashion and lifestyle magazines will cover the film from that perspective.
For Henner, professional and personal styles merge to become one.
“As an actress, I’m always looking at the character appeal of a situation,” she said. “In that same way, if I’m dressing for brunch at somebody’s house as opposed to going to a premiere, I dress differently. And if I’m going to a premiere in SoHo versus the Ziegfeld, I’m going to have a different look.
“Plus, in New York you’re going to wear a lot more black than you would in Los Angeles.”
Henner works with Sharon Feldstein, a Los Angeles stylist, who helped her create a look and a style that she likes.
“I have some very definite ideas on what might look good on me or what might look good on somebody else,” Henner said. “I love things that are close to the body. I always feel that with red hair and a big personality, I sort of come gift wrapped, so I’m not somebody to wear very loud, bold clothes.
“A lot of it has to do with color and shape. I know, from having watched myself for nine years on sitcoms and on countless talk shows, what works and what doesn’t. Believe me, I spend half my time when I watch ‘Taxi’ reruns saying, ‘Oh my God, who talked me into that shade of orange.”‘
Henner said she’s the type of person who covets a few basic pieces and “beats them to death.”
“If I buy something that really works for me, often I’ll buy it in multiples,” Henner said. “I don’t necessarily buy just certain designers, but I’ll regularly see what Gucci is offering and I love Prada bags.”
Henner also buys a lot of clothes from New York designer Kalinka.
“She’s fabulous,” Henner said. “She’s given me a lot of pieces and she has my measurements now, so sometimes I’ll say ‘I’m going on Letterman, do you have anything,’ and she’ll send me some fabric or I’ll go to her workshop.”
Kalinka said Henner “knows what she wants to wear and she wears it well.”
“She has both a tailored sexiness and a casual elegance, and she looks fantastic in a pantsuit,” said Kalinka, who recalled first dressing Henner about a year and a half ago for a “Late Night with David Letterman” show. “She’s my perfect size 4.”
Kalinka said Henner likes versatile looks that are suitable for many occasions. The designer said when Henner does comes to buy, it’s a harmonious experience because they see eye to eye on what looks good on the actress.
Henner also admires Los Angeles designer Tom Mark’s Mark Wong Nark collection and Kenneth Cole shoes, calling them “stylish but not painful.”
When people ask her what she misses most about Los Angeles, noting her love of clothes and sizable wardrobe, the bubbly actress answers, “My closet. I have a really great closet.”
“I love keeping clothes. After I’m finished with them, I either give them to people, or I’ll save them for a character I might play. For example, about a year and a half ago, I played a character from the early Eighties and I actually had my own wardrobe that I knew worked.”
For her current run as Roxie Hart in “Chicago,” which began in July when she replaced Ann Reinking, Henner has to fit into some tight and revealing outfits.
“What’s great about what William Ivey Long did for the costumes is that he designed each one for each of our bodies,” Henner said. “He made sure to use whatever skirt length or bust point or neckline was most flattering to each of us. When you have a great designer taking each person individually, you know you’re going to get great style.
“I really like things to look very sleek, which is great in this show because most of the costumes are designed that way,” she said.
Out of the spotlight, Henner is a “jeans and T-shirt person,” who likes Reebok sneakers and shoes and jazz sneakers by Capezio.
Married to director-producer Robert Lieberman, Henner said she’s able to keep her figure through a nondairy diet, raising her children, Nicky and Joey, and “doing eight shows a week, which definitely keeps me in shape.”