LIFE STORY

The Rachel Zoe ef­fect The uber-stylist is driven by her pas­sion for fash­ion

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - WORDS EM­I­LIE GAMBADE

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.

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