THERE’S NEW BLOOD CIRCULATING THROUGH HOLLYWOOD, AMONG THE LEGIONS OF STYLISTS, DESIGNERS AND MYRIAD FASHION PLAYERS IN TOWN AT OSCAR TIME LOOKING FOR A PIECE OF THE ACTION — EXPOSURE UNDER THE GLARE OF THE TV LIGHTS, THE BIG SHOT AT DRESSING OR ACCESSORIZING A NOMINEE, AND MAYBE EVEN BEING LINKED AS A STYLEMAKER TO ONE OF THE WINNERS. THE GAME’S GOTTEN MORE CROWDED THIS YEAR, WITH CONTENDERS FROM ACROSS THE CONTINENT AND EVEN THE OCEAN. HERE, SOME OF THE LATEST.
Byline: Merle Ginsberg
The Educational of Rachel Rosensweig
Eight years ago, New Yorker Rachel Rosensweig graduated from college but had no idea what she wanted her career to be, let alone what a stylist was. This year, the now-bi-coastal Rosensweig made the grade again, as stylist of choice for nominee Toni Collette in her Oscar debut.
Along the course of her study in style, Rosensweig had been a fashion assistant at YM, then YM fashion editor, then a freelance stylist who’d worked on rock videos with Stone Temple Pilot, among others. She went on to dress a diverse group of celebs: George Clooney, Liam Neeson, Meg Ryan, Cindy Crawford, Brooke Shields, Britney Spears, Alicia Silverstone and Gwen Stefani.
“I was called by Wolf Kasteler, Toni’s publicists, right around the time Toni was nominated,” recalled Rosensweig of her latest assignment. “What I knew of Toni Collette was this: that she was a non-conformist, not a generic Hollywood diva. Toni’s about as real as they come.”
The two met at the French Roast coffee bar in Manhattan’s West Village and began to cook up a look — not too normal, and not anything people might expect. “Let’s put it this way,” said Rosensweig, “We both knew she wasn’t going to be wearing the same old beaded slip dress.”
Rosensweig then went about researching every evening dress that had come down the runway for both spring and fall, and called in practically every look book and video in captivity. “I was looking for subtle drama,” she said. “You want everyone to see her step out of a limo onto the red carpet, to a collective ‘Wow!’ But you want ‘wow,’ and not ‘weird.”‘
From the moment she was hired, Rosensweig’s fax machine was jammed with sketches, and her phone started ringing from 8 a.m. to midnight every day. “Yes, a million designers have called,” she sighed. “I think there’s been a profound interest in Toni because she’s not the norm. Nobody has any idea what she’ll turn up in. It could be American, it could be European. She doesn’t have an overly familiar image, and I think that’s good.”
Rosensweig has had one major obstacle to the process: Collette is currently starring in “The Wild Party” at the Public Theater in Manhattan, doing two shows almost every day and thus hard to pin down.
“I’d like to do a fitting every day,” said Rosensweig. “But we’ve only had two so far. And I have to climb five flights of stairs to the dressing room with a rolling rack with twenty garment bags. But I’ve worked in worse circumstances. I shot a music video with the Backstreet Boys for five nights in a row, then worked on their Rolling Stone cover during the day.”
Probably one major reason Rosensweig is so in demand is her tendency to over-pull. “My assistant thinks I’m addicted to over-pulling,” she laughed. “But my motto is: Always bring backup. We had one major dress for Toni, but then someone wore a dress like it to SAG — so I called in 35 new dresses. I like to work with new designers, ones you don’t often see on a red carpet.
“Now, we have it narrowed down again,” Rosensweig said a week or so from the main event. Still, she was heading out to L.A. a few days before the Oscars to pull jewelry and was bringing “a lot of extra clothes,” she warned.
“I mean, she might love one dress now, but not be feeling it that day. I want her to feel like a movie star, to be Cinderella. What’s funny is, I’m obsessed with it, but I don’t think she is. She’s really not.”
But isn’t that what stylists are for? Rosensweig admits that for celebrity stylists, it doesn’t get any more important, or conspicuous, than the Oscars.
“If people love the way Toni looks, maybe I’ll have more presence at future Oscars,” she speculated. “I was asked to do them last year, but I was already working on something else. If you style celebrities, this is the ultimate dream. And I would do it for free. I’m not, but I would.”
There’s no rest for the styling. In the middle of a press junket for the new movie “Return to Me,” as stylist-dresser Nancy Collini was keeping a sharp eye on client David Duchovny’s transitional look (from the dark, dour Mulder on “The X Files,” to a lighter, brighter romantic leading man), she got paged to run over to the “X Files” lot because co-star Gillian Anderson’s look needed some adjusting. Then, in the middle of it all, Angelina Jolie phoned in — ostensibly to check up on her Oscar look, but mostly to chat.
It was business as usual for Collini.
Collini’s more-than-full-time job is dressing both Duchovny and Anderson for the show and for most of their off-camera appearances. But since January, she’s been doing plenty of moonlighting, dressing Jolie (who’s won every best supporting actress category she’s been up for) for all her awards-show appearances — the Golden Globes (a white Chanel dress and a white leather Marni coat), the SAG Awards (a black chiffon Versace), and now, the Oscars.
However, unlike many of the other stylists who were deluged with designs, sketches, requests and appointments, Collini, who learned her craft under movie costume maven Marlene Stewart, lacks any sense of overt Oscar urgency. She treated the task of finding an Oscar gown reverently, but not like some sort of fashion emergency.
“I met Angelina on the set of the movie ‘Playing God,”‘ she explained, a bit breathlessly, “because I did David’s clothes for that movie, and he and Angelina became really good friends there. I’ve pretty much been dressing her ever since. She’s very creative, with a creative sense of style. She’s a beautiful girl. Other people talk to me about her ‘image.’ I just see a beautiful person. So she has tattoos, so what?”
Collini has come to be able to boil Jolie’s awards-show style down to a short hand: clothes in only neutral colors (black, white, tan, grey) that fit well and are essentially streamlined. “She can go a little Goth,” she admitted. “It’s easy for her to go to that punk side; she’s a very old soul. So we’ve been purposefully avoiding that for these occasions.”
Unlike many of the other women who’ve been along for the ride during this awards season — and definitely unlike the other young women — Jolie is not a fashion diva. She just doesn’t obsess on what she’s going to wear.
“We talked about it,” said Collini, “and she ripped some photos out of magazines. This whole thing’s been a feeding frenzy. Millions of people wanting to dress her. Even if you don’t call them back, boxes of dresses show up, sketches, tapes. I edited it all out and presented it to Angelina. In all of it was one sketch we thought we could do something with.”
Jolie, who’s been in Mexico shooting “Dancing in the Dark” with Antonio Banderas, met with Collini two weeks ago to do a fitting. They liked the result, and that was that. No other options, no second and third choices. One girl, one dress, the only dress she saw that she wanted throughout the whole process.
“We went for a particular silhouette, a good shape,” said Collini. “This dress will work in any circumstances, it’s a good choice. It’s nice to have it finished a week before the Oscars. We didn’t want to make a big drama over it. It doesn’t need to be va-va-voom. That Randolph Duke dress she wore to the Globes last year was that. I think she got her fill of modeling, playing Gia.”
Of course, it would have been easy for Jolie, with her face and figure, to have taken a Jennifer Lopez-like stance with her Oscar dress. But, “We both wanted the Oscars to be a grown-up thing for Angelina,” said Collini. “People are always coming up to me, and saying, ‘Are Angelina’s boobs real? Are her lips real?’ In this town, people don’t believe anyone could just naturally be that beautiful. She’s the least vain person I ever met in my life. And you know what she’s most excited about? She wore my heavy silver skull ring to the Globes, and I had one just like it made for her for the Oscars. I know it’s going to bring her luck.”
Kithe Brewster’s Muse
Of all the stylists who’ve worked with Oscar nominees this year, Kithe Brewster has the most diverse fashion resume — he’s lived almost everywhere and worked with almost everyone. In the last few months, the beneficiary of that expertise has been nominee Julianne Moore — but the relationship has also been one of muse to artist.
Brewster’s a fashion chameleon. Born in St. Louis, he lived in Paris for four years, London for five; put in his time as a celeb stylist working out of L.A; commuted between L.A. and London, and a year ago, moved to New York.
And celeb styling is only a portion of his business: He’s got a hefty track record in magazines, lately styling most of Flaunt’s covers, stories in Russian Vogue, and Julianne Moore’s recent Entertainment Weekly cover; and he’s fashion editor of Chiq, which is published by Dutch, out of Holland. He also does imaging work with recording artists such as Eve and the English band Bewitched.
“I don’t want to be confused with a personal shopper,” said Brewster from his apartment in New York’s West Village, which of late has become Julianne Moore central. “If I shop with a client, it’s one who’s a friend, like Julie’s become.” He’s been dressing her for about six months now; they met when Brewster styled her cover for Flaunt in the fall.
“What I’ve done,” he said, “is make her younger and sexier. I think in movies she appears sexy, but also very refined. I’ve been dressing her a lot in Daryl K., and edgier, street-ier clothes.”
Brewster’s first major event with Moore was the Golden Globes, to which she wore a striking low-backed purple Ralph Lauren halter gown, unlike anything she’d worn before. “I came in with a photo of a dress from the Seventies,” said Brewster, “and Ralph and Julianne both put in their ideas. Then Ralph matched it up with the shawl of the season, a black leather fringed piece.”
Not only was the dress well received but so, apparently, was Brewster, who wound up becoming the first freelance stylist ever to advise Ralph Lauren on a collections show, for fall 2000.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Brewster. “I think he’s a genius. I hope you saw some of my influence there. I thought this collection was one of his edgiest. I actually had a hat designer from the East Village named Barbara Fineman make up a fedora for the models.” Ralph scrapped the hats in the end, but Brewster maintains “the fedora still wound up the hat of the season.”
When it came to Moore’s dress for the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, she and Brewster both fell in love with a nude leather dress at the John Bartlett show, which they attended together, and she wore it in a very modern way: with fishnet stockings and one long, shoulder length diamond earring, with Jimmy Choo python shoes.
For the Oscars, it was a whole other ball game. “Julianne and Hilary Swank were the women designers wanted to dress the most. I mean, I had 32 messages by midday on Oscar nomination day! It’s the red hair. In fact, so many hairdressers were dying to do her, but Julianne’s very persistent about her team — Scott Barnes is going to L.A. with her to do her makeup, and Steven Ward from Garren is doing her hair.”
Moore, and Brewster, got the full-on star treatment from the European designers. Chanel flew them both to Paris to see the fall show and dine privately with Karl Lagerfeld. In the space of four days, they also dined with Valentino at his house outside of Paris, had fittings with Jean Paul Gaultier and met with Tom Ford. What’s more, dresses by Prada were made and sent with matching shoes and bags.
“Absolutely all the designers said, ‘no pressure,”‘ according to Brewster. “A lot of the designers asked, if she doesn’t wear this dress to the Oscars, could she wear it to the British Academy of Film and Television awards later in the year? For the Oscars, our goal was to be more elaborate than the Globes or SA; we wanted a vision of vintageness that’s very modern.”
Moore probably had better final options than most, and Brewster’s previous connections with designers didn’t hurt. While his style has definitely rubbed off on her, he admits Moore’s own style has, in turn, affected his cultivated sensibilities.
“Julianne’s my muse. She inspires all the editorials I do now,” said Brewster, “because she’s such a real woman. It’s so great to be able to make runway fashion work on a real woman. This relationship is my most memorable for the things I’ve learned.”