The Rachel Zoe effect The uber-stylist is driven by her passion for fashion
emerging from a long corridor, Rachel Zoe walks into the room,her body draped in a plunging V-back dress in dramatic red.‘You’re not seeing my spine or anything?’ she wonders aloud, looking at the small audience of assistants, her index finger pointing to her infamously and much-discussed skinny frame. Of course, Zoe’s very visible spine, along with her bony chest, is her trademark, albeit an outrageously thin one. The camera focuses on Zoe’s back as a ‘comforting’ answer bursts out of the mouth of celebrity stylist and Zoe’s former assistant Brad Goreski:‘Yeah, we do!’
Spine aside, the stylist-cum-designer-cummother-of-two has more important issues to deal with, like what to wear to the party that evening. She turns away to try another dozen outfits, from an off-the-shoulder floor-length floral dress to a white boho-chic frock. Around her, designer clothes cramp the rails, shoes line up against the wall and comments about her skinniness fly. She is parading in front of the cameras for her TV series, The Rachel Zoe Project, which debuted in 2008 but has been off the air for about a year.
The image of a tiny Zoe literally swamped by fashion, her long blonde locks framing her face, sighing impatiently at the little time she has to work on her million projects-packed life and screaming in
her familiar slang,‘I die!’ and ‘Baa-nanas’, is what made her a household name in the fashion/ entertainment industry and a stylist one can’t ignore. Camera-ready since she worked with A-listers Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton and Nicole Richie (who she once called ‘my little Barbie doll’), Zoe’s life through the lens of reality TV is not short of realism.
Born on 1 September 1971 in New York City to wealthy art-collector parents, Rachel Zoe (pronounced Zo-) Rosenzweig decided to drop her last name (Rosenzweig sounded too Jewish; ‘Zoe’ was cooler). Then in 1993, Zoe, who had just graduated in psychology and sociology from George Washington University in Washington DC, went back to New York to follow her real calling, fashion. ‘I’m so not about being cool,’ she says. ‘I’m just a fashion geek, that’s what I am.’
From styling her friends after school to her job, in the early Nineties, as an assistant fashion editor (she was promoted to senior fashion editor within two years) for now defunct US teen magazine YM, Zoe exhibited a fashion ‘geekness’ that was sharp and effective.At 25, she went freelance and styled upcoming pop stars and celebrities, among them Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. In 2002, she moved to Los Angeles, the perfect setting for her fascination with old-Hollywood glamour.
At the time, Nicole Richie was taking her first steps to fame alongside pal Paris Hilton in comedy show The Simple Life (style factor: zero). When the stylist and the actress met in 2003, the alchemy was incandescent and Zoe’s revamping of Richie’s wardrobe propelled their joint ascent to style stardom. Rachel Zoe’s signature look – boho-vintage chic, large sunglasses à la Jackie O, wide-brimmed hats, bangles dangling off the wrist and floor-length dresses – suddenly covered Richie’s ever-shrinking silhouette and worldwide magazines, page after page.
The metamorphosis of Nicole Richie pushed Zoe into the limelight, both because of her ability to style with flair (she did bring back wedge platforms and turned oversized sunglasses into the new cool) and because of her fascinatingly skinny frame (and the copycats it seemed to create in the pool of celebrities she was advising).
In 2006, in a clash that remains a lesson in masterful bitchiness, the two parted ways. Richie then posted on her blog this memorable comment: ‘Blind Item: What 35-year-old raisin face whispers her order of 3 peices [sic] of asparagus for dinner at Chateau [Marmont] every night, and hides her deathly disorder by pointing the finger at me, and used her last pay check I wrote her to pay for a publisist [sic] instead of a nutritionist? HINT: Her nickname is lettucecup…’.
Since the break-up, many of Zoe’s clients have spoken in her favour, denying the claims that she was forcing anyone to be a size zero. Cameron Diaz responded in the August 2008 issue of Harper’s Bazaar: ‘She’s more likely to press big dangly earrings or chunky necklaces on you! No one can make somebody do something they’re not already predisposed to doing.’
Eva Mendes gave her support too: ‘If anything, that woman makes me eat. When I leave Zoe’s place after a fitting, I feel better about myself because she has only ever encouraged me to stay the way I am.’
‘I’m so not about being cool. I’m just a fashion geek, that’s what I am’
In an interview for the Hollywood Reporter published in 2011, Harper’s Bazaar editor-inchief Glenda Bailey explained, ‘You can immediately identify a Rachel Zoe look – retro, glamorous, bohemian – but she still makes her clients look like individuals. It comes as no surprise that Rachel has her own brand, because her best advertisement is herself.’
Indeed, Zoe’s best advertisement is probably herself and it is no wonder that her first book, coauthored with Rose Apodaca, Style A to Zoe, published in 2007, sold more than 100 000 copies.The style bible contains Zoe’s ‘insider tips to the art of a fashionable, behind-the-velvet-rope lifestyle’ and gave her devotees enough fashion hints to munch on. It also established her, if she wasn’t already, as a major fashion player: she is everywhere, as a consultant for the relaunch of fashion house Halston, a stylist on Jimmy Choo ads and the face of apparel brand Jockey.
In 2008, when the premiere season of The Rachel Zoe Project, produced by Zoe herself, aired on the Bravo channel, it was a narcissistic exploration of her daily life in fashion, filled with extraordinary clothes and accessories. It was also a portrayal of an incredibly passionate woman, far from the ‘skinny-bitchy cold’ persona
often depicted in tabloids. On this, fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg writes in the foreword to Living in Style, her latest tome published last March, ‘She’s a modern woman who listens to the needs of modern women.’
There is no doubt that Zoe’s bulimic appetite for all things fashion and her understanding of the sartorial needs of today’s women have landed her a style authority title. But she is also famous for working long hours without a break, taking on more projects than she can possibly handle and making no bones about her passion. She told the Hollywood Reporter, ‘I was completely obsessed with fashion and spent all my money flying to Paris to go to couture [events] because that was the dream. Designers were my heroes and my celebrities. It hasn’t really worn off.’ Along with her husband, former investment banker Rodger Berman (the two met as students and married in 1996), she has built an empire, Rachel Zoe Inc, that has interests in TV, publishing, styling and fashion design.
In 2011, Zoe launched her eponymous collection, based on ‘vintage-inspired fabrics, prints and silhouettes [and] evocative of the European sensibility, which she has come to be known for’. Her Spring/ Summer 2014 collection had a cool and effortless chic. Although it was nothing ground-breaking, she created silhouettes that were modern, comfortable and desirable.
And since she became a mother of two boys, her approach to life has changed a little. She told the Daily Beast’s Erin Cunningham, ‘I used to burn the candle at both ends and go to every event and every dinner… Now if I go out one or two nights a week, that’s a lot. It’s a completely different life.’ Rachel Zoe might have a completely different life but it is still a flawlessly stylish one.
For Zoe, life as a self-confessed ‘fashion whore’ has never been so rewarding. During a shoot for Harper’s Bazaar she said,‘If I was going to die, there is no better way to go than with all those designers, like… death by fashion… My feet in a bowl of water, being strapped with Louis Vuitton belts in a Marc Jacobs dress, my hair crimped…’.
From top Rachel with Coco Rocha, MBFW, New York, 2013; at London Fashion Week, 2011; at the Golden Globes after-party, LA, 2014; at MBFW, New York, 2013; attending Giorgio Armani Autumn/Winter 2010 show, Milan.
Clockwise from top left With Nicole Richie (right) at Olympus Fashion Week, New York, 2006; with Brad Goreski, filming an episode of The Rachel Zoe
Project; at Paris Fashion Week, 2011; with designer Francesca Amfitheatrof, New York, 2014; with singer Gwen Stefani (left) and designers Nicole Richie and Jennifer Meyer, Beverly Hills, 2013; at MBFW, New York, 2012.