Meet the Private Stylists Who Dress Shonda Rhimes and Other Hollywood Power Players

Awards season is just as busy for them as it is for the actors and actresses who work in front of the camera.
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Shonda Rhimes and Yara Shahidi at The Hollywood Reporter's 26th Annual Women In Entertainment Breakfast in Dec. 2017. Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for FIJI Water

Shonda Rhimes and Yara Shahidi at The Hollywood Reporter's 26th Annual Women In Entertainment Breakfast in Dec. 2017. Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for FIJI Water

With the Emmys down and awards season imminent, plus the onslaught of Oscar-bait movie premieres (and it's always TV season), famous actors and actresses aren't the only ones seeking an assist from professional stylists for career-boosting (and dealmaking) appearances. Because the studio heads, directors, agents and producers fostering star trajectories, green-lighting projects and signing the gonzo checks need just as much wardrobe guidance — especially considering their demanding and often unpredictable schedules.

"It's more about the everyday kind of support than about necessarily being in the public eye all the time," explains Leesa Evans, over the phone from Los Angeles. She's made The Hollywood Reporter annual Power Stylists list for her work with Amy Schumer, and costume designs blockbusters including "Zoolander 2" and "Bridesmaids." Evans estimates that the remaining 60 percent of her "triangle" is spent personal styling, closet-stocking and wardrobe-managing for directors, producers and studio executives — many of whom she met while on-site for her other two jobs.

Her clients maintain busy schedules packed with power lunches, intense meetings with other influential industry players, dinners and galas — on top of their personal lives — so they rarely have time to think about putting an outfit together, much less shop. Of course, a client's needs are further intensified when said power player happens to be Shonda Rhimes, mega-producer, showrunner and otherwise media mogul responsible for "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," "How to Get Away With Murder" and your next Netflix binge.

Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Television Group Dana Walden and Emmy winner Regina King at the Fox Broadcasting Company, FX, National Geographic and 20th Century Fox Television 2018 Emmy Nominee Party. Photo: Araya Diaz/Getty Images

Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Television Group Dana Walden and Emmy winner Regina King at the Fox Broadcasting Company, FX, National Geographic and 20th Century Fox Television 2018 Emmy Nominee Party. Photo: Araya Diaz/Getty Images

"Every day of her life," says Dana Asher Levine, on a call, about the scope of her work for Rhimes. Her impressive roster also includes Dana Walden, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Television Group (whom Ryan Murphy thanked in his Emmy acceptance speech for "Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"), and Nancy Utley, Fox Searchlight Pictures President. Along with strategically shopping for personalized seasonal needs, like the TCAs in August or Golden Globes festivities in January, Asher Levine is shopping year-round to ensure she has appropriate items on-hand whenever an occasion arises, like, perhaps, a last minute, high-stakes meeting negotiating the Fox and Disney merger. 

Unsurprisingly, Rhimes may have occasions unique to her social and professional status that require stellar — and specific — looks, such as lunch with Oprah, hosting George Lucas and the Obamas for dinner, posing for an Architectural Digest shoot in her new digs or supporting Serena Williams at Wimbledon. "I dressed her to sit in the Royal Box, so there was a whole list of things she could and could not wear," says Asher Levine. 

For clients who are constantly going from a professional office environment to glam Hollywood events, there's a fine line between looking sharp and style-conscious, but conveying an air of authority. "It's a little more cerebral, as opposed to being a little bit more flashy and fun," explains stylist Jeanne Yang, who has a steady mix of both celebrity — Jason Momoa, Kumail Nanjiani, Matt Bomer and snowboarder Chloe Kim — and private clientele. 

In this case, overly fashion-forward aesthetics, which are usually celebrated in red carpet moments, can have the opposite effect. "I try to avoid trends as much as possible when working with executives because most of them don't want to be seen as though they fly by whatever wind blows by," Yang adds. "Most of them want to appear conscious of what's going on, but [stay] really professional. When you're wielding the pen that signs a check for a $150 million movie budget, you need to be somebody who appears very strong and knows what your positions are."

But in both cases, an appropriate, on-point look can give a confidence boost that helps realize some sort of professional goal — especially for people not accustomed to the spotlight. "You want to feel comfortable to even forget what you were wearing, so then you can really talk about the project and your passion and involvement in the project." Evans explains.

In addition to accommodating a comprehensive scope of occasions, often in one day, private styling also involves a diverse range of age and sizes. Instead of borrowing sample-sized samples from the public relations arm of design houses or retailers, as they do for celebrities, personal stylists are taking out items on consignment from the studio services department — similar to a costume designer who's buying (and not borrowing) for a project. The stylist then meets with the clients for fittings, which run anywhere from two times a year to weekly, depending on the needs and/or expectations of the client, who then makes the final purchase. 

"Remember, we're buying clothes. We're not borrowing clothes," says Asher Levine.

These Los Angeles-based stylists maintain strong relationships with the local luxury brick-and-mortar retailers, including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty boutiques like Elyse Walker, plus outposts of high-end designers, like Gucci and Prada. Considering their clients' spending power, the stylists are integral to the retailers' bottom lines. "I sell a large volume of clothing monthly — $300,000 to $500,000 a month — on the streets from Beverly Hills to New York City," Asher Levine adds. "So pretty much retailers know who I am because I'm actually paying their rent."

These close relationships prove especially helpful during awards season, when the power players are wheeling and dealing, promoting their projects and accepting trophies. Just like celebrities, they want to avoid their own "Who Wore It Better" moment, especially during high-profile awards ceremonies. But it's trickier when private clients are wearing off-the-rack, current-season pieces, as opposed to borrowed, one-of-a-kind runway samples. In other words, dupes are floating around, so that's when the private stylists make that call to PR.

"I'm telling them '[My client is] wearing this and 'nobody else can wear that,'" explains Asher Levine. Luckily, high-end designers tend to produce small runs of gowns of such caliber, making the process of asking another high-end customer to wait (or holding sales of the piece) easier than it may initially seem.

"There aren't 150 $10,000 gowns out there. There might be 12," she adds. "So it's easy to find out where it is and who has it. It just takes one phone call." 

Yang, who also likes to give retailers "forewarning" when one of her high-powered clients calls dibs on a piece, also takes a move from her celebrity styling playbook to avoid any awkward outfit twinning. "I get a lot of custom-made pieces," she says, meaning working with designers on bespoke or commissioning tailors of her own. "Because the fact is that people are not all size 38s or size six, too." 

Amy Schumer at the 2018 Tony Awards. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Amy Schumer at the 2018 Tony Awards. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Borrowing does happen on occasion, though. Evans, with her celebrity styling relationships, has worked with Tiffany & Co. for luxury jewelry loans for her private clients to wear to high-profile awards and events. "That typically hasn't been the norm up until recently," she says. "They understand that it's not just the actors that are being featured [in publicity photos] in this day and age. The creatives behind the project are also an important part of the artistic outcome itself."

For stylists like Evans and Yang, there's also the interesting dynamic of working with a design house or retailer for celebrity loans and then returning with private clients who actually purchase the product. Presumably, brands and retailers pay extra attention to these relationships that yield sales, more than the social media shout out and placements on best dressed roundups actors might generate. But the stylists equally value the arrangement, too. After all, a brand that isn't making money can't loan.

"I encourage even some of my clients that are celebrities to purchase items and say, 'hey, it's not just a matter of going out and borrowing things. You should buy something,'" says Yang. "Because the thing is: People can't keep giving clothing away because if they do, then their business won't exist."

Jeanne Yang and celebrity client Jason Momoa on the job. Since she doesn't post any private client selfies, this one should do, right? Photo: Courtesy Jeanne Yang

Jeanne Yang and celebrity client Jason Momoa on the job. Since she doesn't post any private client selfies, this one should do, right? Photo: Courtesy Jeanne Yang

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In the Insta-age, celebrities tagging their glam team in turn generates more publicity, followers and clients for the stylists, but things are different in the private styling world (the operative word there being "private"). Unless your client is Rhimes, a celebrity in her own right, it's harder for stylists to brand their private work via social media.

Of course, Evans and Yang can post their work with their famous, A-lister clients on the red carpet (or in costume on-set in Evans's case). "It's hard because I don't have the luxury of posting my celebrities or my clients. You have to use imagination as to what I'm doing," says Asher Levine, who doesn't have (or need, apparently) a website to disseminate her work either. But she wouldn't change her workload.

"But I do the same fun things as a celebrity stylist," Asher Levine says. "I just get to do them more my way."

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