Fashion Disasters Averted!


“I’m one of those people who can just always find the dress. I can do that!” Phillip Bloch reminisces as we sit chatting at a really sad Golden Globes party. We’re talking about what in palmier days—OK, last year—was a totally fun time for Bloch, who has the dubious distinction of being considered the first celebrity stylist. On the night of the Globes, in non-writers’-strike times, a guy like Bloch would be zipping starlets into sequined tubes and then getting drunk with the rest of the glam squad—not hanging around on West 30th Street wearing a knit cap and a T-shirt featuring a map of Botswana.

The strike has sunk the Globes, which is why we are eating thin-crust pizza in an events space of breathtaking beauty created by another red-carpet fixture, Robert Verdi, who calls this place the Luxe Laboratory. The other guests include three women wearing high boots tucked into skinny jeans and who work for fashion companies and decline to be quoted by name, and Mickey Boardman of Paper magazine, whose nom de plume is Mr. Mickey and who will kill me if he isn’t quoted copiously by name.

So what would Verdi, who has spent the last several years emphasizing the good points of Kathy Griffin, Fantasia, and Eva Longoria, among others, be doing right now if the Globes were glowing? He strolls out of the Luxe Laboratory’s white thassos-and-carrera-marble bathroom and says that he’d either be dressing someone for the event itself or, more likely, covering the scene for a network like E! or participating in a postmortem on who looked great, and more importantly, who was a walking disaster.

“I think I say funny things, not mean things,” he says. “I don’t do cheap shots, even if they look really bad.” (Full disclosure: I have also taken part in such cable-TV discussions, albeit rarely, and believe me, you always end up saying mean things.) But Verdi knows that even when someone looks really rotten, it may not be his or her fault. “For a lot of people, the art of dressing is beyond their understanding,” he says. “That’s why they hire someone.”

“But why would someone hire you, Robert?” Bloch teases. Bloch has his own pet peeve when he’s on TV talking about awards shows, which is pretty often: “The question I hate the most is: What trends are we going to see? The answer is always the same: gowns! I’ve been in this business 15 fucking years and the answer is always gowns!”

We chat about the wonderful old days before stylists were so prevalent (of course Bloch and Verdi would have had a hard time making a living back then), when red-carpet gaffes were a regular part of the landscape, when Cher and Demi could be counted on not to disappoint and Björk dressed like a bird.

Then one of the skinny-jeans-and-boots women starts reminiscing about the fabulous GG parties of the past. Bloch recalls that he was so stoned and drunk after the HBO fete at the Château Marmont last year that he could barely make it home, and he gets as misty-eyed as Mrs. Clinton in a New Hampshire diner.

Meanwhile, the Luxe Laboratory’s 103-inch Panasonic plasma-TV screen (“I didn’t know they came that big!” says another lady-in-boots) is eliciting high-toned comments from Mr. Mickey: “Look at Jill Rappaport with her pussy hanging out in those tight pants!” A few minutes later, Nikki Blonski, nominated for Hairspray, turns up in a clip from the Martha Stewart program showing off her dog Rocky in a collar Martha supposedly made for him.

Blonski’s appearance prompts Bloch to suggest a possible upside to the replacement of the awards gala with the mirthless sleep-inducing news conference that now fills the 103 inches. “At least the losers don’t have to be seen on television,” says Bloch. “I bet Katherine Heigl is like, ‘Thank God it’s not on TV this year.’ ”

Of course, not all of us have a Verdi or a Bloch waiting in the wings to help us get dressed every morning. This lack may be one of the reasons that legions of self-help fashion books are crowding stores this season—tomes with titles like Nina Garcia’s The Little Black Book of Style, something by Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway called What Would Jackie Do? (hint: they don’t mean Coogan or Curtis), and the latest, Just Try It On! A Month by Month Guide to Shopping and Style, by Susan Redstone. I must confess that I have an affection for these inane tracts, which, with their iron-clad optimism and their insistence on the possibility of triumph over long odds (a lumpy figure, a bare bank account), are as satisfying as a romance novel. I devour Just Try It On in one sitting, though I admit I give some months short shrift—March is devoted entirely to sunglasses, which doesn’t interest me much, though I am mordantly fascinated by November, which includes information on what to where to a state dinner. (This problem comes up a lot.)

On the other hand, some of Redstone’s advice really spoke to me, like the bit that says you should ignore size tags. (Yes! Half the time I leave the zipper open; the other half I have a pin in the saggy waistband.) She also says you should shop in unexpected places, and I heartily agree. (What, you don’t buy your purses at the fishing tackle store? You haven’t squeezed into a cardigan from the kiddie-uniform shop?)

As it happens, Redstone is having a book party at Henri Bendel, so I join a gaggle of her friends, many of whom are swathed in furs, sport Balenciaga bags, and clearly don’t need the hints about combing the racks at Wal-Mart and Target that Redstone cheerfully supplies. The author, who has scads of blond hair, violet eye shadow, and is beaming as brightly as her yellow-chiffon Catherine Malandrino dress, seems genuinely touched—stunned, even—that I’ve read her book.

When I tell her that I am appalled that four of the fashion professionals polled in her book are enthusiastic about women sporting bare legs in winter (crazy me, I wear woolly tights when it’s cold) and what a bunch of ninnies they must be, she says, “My legs are bare too!” and indeed they are, tucked into a nice pair of heels.

“They’re by Guess,” she says. “Don’t you think they look like they cost more than 99 bucks? Because I kind of wanted these shoes I saw at Bloomingdale’s—Christian Louboutin, for $1,075. They were purple and trimmed with Swarovksi crystals. I believe in being authentic—I saved $900 on shoes! I don’t wear thousand-dollar shoes. I’m not a movie star or a socialite.”

I’m nodding vigorously in agreement when Redstone’s friend Syl Tang, the CEO of a business called HipGuide, chimes in dryly: “You didn’t get them because they didn’t fit. If they fit, you would have bought them in a minute!” Well, maybe Bloch or Verdi could get her a discount?

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