TWO HOLLYWOOD PUBLICISTS DOING DOUBLE DUTY AS STYLISTS PROVE A GREAT FIT FOR FASHION.
Byline: Merle Ginsberg
Stephen Huvane, a partner in the bicoastal publicity giant PMK-HBH, may not be a full-time fashion stylist — but he knows how to play one when he needs to. And how could he not, when his client list includes some of Hollywood’s best-dressed actresses? Huvane’s girls include Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Jennifer Aniston and Liv Tyler, and he has come to know what fits these beauties like a couture satin glove.
“My particular clients just don’t like dealing with stylists,” Huvane said last week as he shuttled between designer suites at the Beverly Hills and Peninsula hotels and the boutiques on Rodeo Drive in a brand-new Cadillac Escalade SUV stuffed to the gills with garment bags from Gucci and Versace. “They find that compromising in some way, since a lot of stylists are pushing specific designers. And when the rumors get out about who’s wearing what, you can usually trace it back to stylists.”
On the Monday night that kicked off Oscar week, Huvane visited Versace’s mega-suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel to consider dresses from Donatella’s couture and recent ready-to-wear collections for Gwyneth, Helen and Kirsten. Versace consultant Marcus Ebner and worldwide p.r. head Jason Weisenfeld, who’d flown in from Milan, explained that any of even the most recent dresses could be made in different colors and with specifically requested design elements. Huvane walked out with several garment bags.
Later, over dinner at Orso in Beverly Hills, he told how he came to add the hyphenate of “sometime-stylist” to his more-than-full-time job as power entertainment publicist.
“I’ve come to know what works for each client, having gone to all their magazine shoots,” he said. “I see the samples and how the designers cut and I’ve gotten to know my clients’ bodies. But then, I also know their issues and their images — what we want to project if they’re considering certain roles and having producers and directors see them in a different light.” Huvane has worked with both Paltrow and Hunt for 10 years, and there’s a high level of trust when he makes an initial pull for them or scans look books and videos for awards show gowns.
“Gwyneth is brilliant at knowing what she wants to wear. She’s basically a fashion expert. For her, all I do is make a few phone calls and some selects. Some other clients might be great examples of wearing fashion, but they don’t necessarily know designers or what they specialize in.”
Huvane is also schooled in what will photograph well and what won’t. But he isn’t concerned with the minutiae that preoccupy full-time stylists and fashion editors.
“I’m not opposed to a client wearing a dress that’s been on a runway or even in a magazine editorial. I know the fashion business is obsessed with that. But the bottom line is that if someone looks good in a dress, they look good in a dress. On the other hand, I also know that if it’s been worn a lot, no one’s going to run another picture of it. But why does it need to be an original creation, as long as it’s beautiful? I never ask designers for an exclusive.”
Huvane may have become something of an expert, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be going to the runway shows next season. He limits his involvement to the top awards ceremonies, and mostly to design houses he and his clients have relationships with.
“The year Gwyneth was nominated for ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ it was just crazy,” he recalled. “All these people were calling wanting to drop off dresses to my office. But I didn’t want all this valuable clothing in there. One designer, who shall remain nameless, came into the lobby with dresses and I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them, since we’d already commissioned clothes for Gwyneth. He gave me such attitude! Then, the next day, an item ran in Liz Smith saying my lobby was packed full with dresses for Gwyneth — and we have about 70 clients. Not one of those garment bags was for Gwyneth. In fact, she wants to avoid having people go to a lot of trouble for her. And guess what? She never even stepped into my office that week. That irritated me.”
But it won’t unravel Huvane, ever the professional.
“Fashion’s not serious,” he added with a laugh. “Fashion’s fun. It’s about dressing up and looking pretty and having fun…I think.”
These days, Cari Ross, a high-profile entertainment publicist and partner at p.r. agency Baker, Winokur, Ryder, is almost as much a player in fashion as she is in entertainment. In fact, she’s become someone who even full-time stylists watch to see what she’ll do next.
Her double duty started when Ross was based in the firm’s Los Angeles office, and escalated two years ago when a move to New York brought her into closer contact with the fashion world. Ross wound up handling most of the dressing chores for fashion-forward actresses such as Julianna Margulies, Jennifer Connelly, Salma Hayek and ex-client Claire Danes. (She’s also the publicist for Dylan McDermott and Courteney Cox Arquette, among others.)
It all started six years ago when Margulies was invited to sit at a table at the CFDA Awards with Allure editor Linda Wells. “I knew this designer, Narciso Rodriguez, who was then from Cerruti, would be at the table,” said Ross, “So I thought Juliana should wear his clothes.”
It ended up being a beautiful collaboration. “We completely bonded and we’ve been friends ever since,” said Ross of Rodriguez.
Ross said she’s always been interested in fashion. “I think I’ve always had an eye for what looked good,” she said. “And that just comes from within. I’m not sure you can teach that to people. You can’t beat Audrey Hepburn. I loved Bette Davis in ‘All About Eve’ and ‘Now Voyager.’ And Vivien Leigh in ‘Gone With the Wind’ was gorgeous. Old movies inspire me.”
Ross’s first red-carpet triumph occurred in 1988, when Danes sailed down the Oscar runway in a blue-green cashmere sweater and matching satin skirt by Narciso Rodriguez. It was the first time anyone had ever seen knitwear at the Oscars, or, for that matter, separates for a black-tie event.
“Narciso’s classic but very modern,” observed Ross. “I’d be hard-pressed to find another designer who can combine those two things so well. I was happy that Claire looked like a young woman, so age appropriate. Narciso just got it.”
Rodriguez also designed the stately, camellia-accented black gown Jennifer Connelly wore to this year’s Golden Globes ceremony. And Ross had him create an entire wardrobe this season for Hayek, who’s getting ready to promote “Frida” (based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo) in the fall.
Connelly, whose first big red-carpet sweep was at the recent Globes, has since joined the ranks of Hollywood’s style-savviest stars thanks to Ross. At the Director Guild Awards in early March, Connelly arrived in a black Balenciaga. At the British Association of Film & Television awards a week later, she turned up in a Vivienne Westwood skirt and bustier. For the Screen Actors Guild awards, it was a two-piece black Alexander McQueen tux with a lace-up jacket that she and Ross chose after deciding to pursue only London designers. Yohji Yamamoto got the nod for last month’s Berlin Film Fest.
“That’s why she’s not wearing black to the Oscars,” Ross said firmly. Nor is Connelly wearing a gown by Rodriguez, which might have been too predictable. It was through him, though, that Ross met New York fashion publicist Pierre Rougier, who also represents Hermes, Viktor and Rolf and Balenciaga.
“My first thought about the Oscars,” said Ross, who has a story for every dress, “was to do something no one’s done before. That’s why we asked Nicolas Ghesquiere to make Jennifer’s dress. No one has ever worn a Balenciaga designed by him to the Oscars. But if it wasn’t for my relationship with Pierre, Nicolas might not have done it.”
Connelly and Ross met with Ghesquiere, and all got along famously. “Jennifer wanted to do something different, not classically conservative,” she went on. “He sent us eight dresses that had never been seen before, were never on the runway. But I wanted something really special.”
During a visit to London for the BAFTAs, they took a train to Paris to meet the designer. “It’s been incredible watching the whole thing come together: the bottom of one dress, the top of another, this fabric, that color. All of a sudden, it arrived here — and it’s extraordinary.”
Rougier spent time here this week overseeing Micheline, a Balenciaga couturier, as she provided the finishing touches in fittings with Connelly, who’s in L.A. shooting “The Hulk” with Eric Bana for director Ang Lee.
“It’s a dress that’s never been seen and I love that,” said Ross. “Being nominated for an Oscar happens maybe once in your career. You should feel the most special, the most unique. And besides, if I have one goal with fashion, it’s this: I like to surprise.”