Monday, January 23, 2012

No Holds Barred

Three mani/pedi techs on one model in preparation for The Art of Elysium's annual Heaven Gala.
by Blair Sabol

In Los Angeles it's called "The Awards Season." It starts in early January with The Palm Springs Film Festival and rolls into The Critics Awards, the Golden Globes,The Sag Awards, The Spirit Awards, The Oscars, and ends with The Grammys.

My L.A. friends insist you can't hold a function on any weekend from January thru March. All the caterers, valet parking, party planners, hair and makeup techs, and top venues are booked. The town becomes a seizure of self importance and hype.

Apparently in December you are meant to get all your botox and "pull backs" done; do your rehab time; finish your second house's roofing in Aspen and complete all your adoptions of Sudanese babies in time to return to L.A. to make your appearance at one of these award ceremonies or at any of the pre/post parties.
Banners fly in Beverly Hills. Digital construction signs outside The Beverly Hilton.
I made the mistake of visiting L.A. the weekend before last, which was the Golden Globes date. But Beverly Hills and Hollywood can handle the influx and insanity. They have been doing it for years. So the hotels were packed, but manageable. Oddly there appeared to be a strange quiet in the streets. Lots of store sales were going on all along Rodeo Drive, The Valley, and a 50% blowout at all Fred Segals. But the stores were empty.

A weird level of lackluster seeped over the town by Saturday night. The new Bel Air Hotel has just opened to less than glowing reviews and nobody was talking about any hotel bar scene. Hookers were scarce. More people were talking about the NFL playoff games than the movies. 
Golden Globes tenting at The Beverly Hilton.
Golden Porta-Potties.
Good friend Cameron Silver (Decades store owner) graciously invited me to his own awards event, The Art of Elysium's fifth annual Heaven Gala. This is a popular charity party supporting the Art of Elysium Foundation, which helps inner city kids with medical challenges.

The gala usually falls during the award's week chaos. Cameron was being honored as a "visionary" and a "spirit of Elysium" by bringing fashion and style programs to the kids ("He has brought heaven on earth”). He staged a terrific fashion show along with an elaborate dinner with "uber-stylist" Elizabeth Stewart at the Deco grand Union Station. I was inducted into the "awards season" state of mind that night. It was impossible to find Cameron. He was surrounded by his "Team Decades," which included his PR person, reality TV Crew, "handlers," and lawyers. I couldn't bust his flack flanks. But I did get near Elizabeth Stewart, who was beyond genteel, kind and a bit amused at all the carrying on.
Uber-stylist Elizabeth Stewart getting wired for The Art of Elysium's annual Heaven Gala.
Media lineup at Heaven Gala Red Carpet.
Putting the final touches on the red carpet.
The paparazzi at Heaven Gala red carpet.
Elizabeth Stewart being hijacked by Fashion TV.
Stewart is probably one of the most successful and long-standing fashion stylists today. She came along way before Rachel Zoe arrived with her own big business branding. Early in the evening Stewart and I tried to have a conversation about all this "stylist mania" but a Fashion TV cameraman and reporter sideswiped me and before I knew it they were off "shadowing Stewart" ... and I was left thrown at the red-carpeted curbside.

Event coverage is a dangerous sport ... you need your own linebacker cameramen with you at all times. The music and the mob was deafening so I gave up on Stewart and ended up "shadowing" Team Stewart. That consisted of Sean Knight (Stewart's real assistant, who is now an up-and-coming stylist in his own right) and star model Jenny Brunt, who was acting as Stewart's "hand bag carrier" for the night.

They were as charming and self-effacing (rare commodity during The Awards Season) as Stewart herself. They helped me get backstage to see the show models in pre show prep. That scene was a catacomb of screaming ear-plugged party/show producers in black with sharp elbows and high octane screams. The exotic models (mostly Hollywood High School age Serbians) all looked over 6 feet tall with skyscraper legs and arms and teeny heads.
Backstage with hair and makeup at Heaven Gala.
Makeup palette. Model board.
I was in a sea of Jar Jar Binks look-alikes. There was an impressive lineup of hairdressers, makeups artist, and four manicurists to each girl (one at each finger and toe) all working feverishly and laser focused. This is Hollywood at its highest – THE land of makeovers. In an hour all these awkward looking girls (all of them "dining" on bags of Doritos and nothing else) were transformed into exotic creatures.

I never got to check the outside red carpet as I was so "over" all red carpets. In L.A. during Awards Season every place from the airport to the delis to personal driveways sport red carpets. I couldn't imagine what stars I would know walking down this Heaven Gala carpet. Elijah Wood was being honored. But I mix him up with Tobey Maguire and actually cannot identify either one of them.

"In the house" were Kat Von D, the tattoo artist/reality show star, a "Glee" actor and the "new Heidi Klum" Runway hostess Angela Lindvall. And thank God Kelly Osbourne showed up since that was the only celebrity I recognized. But my favorite "stop and chat" was with Nicole Isaacs, a producer of E! Fashion Police (Joan Rivers's hit show), my favorite fashion source at the moment. I believe Joan Rivers single-handedly put all red carpets on the map.
"Team Stewart": Jenny Brunt, Elizabeth Stewart, and Sean Knight.
Elizabeth Stewart (in her clunky boots) fielding questions at the Heaven Gala. E! Fashion Police's Nicole Isaacs.
When Elizabeth Stewart was finally released from Fashion TV's clutches, I did get to hear from the lady herself. How she loves her work “but really in the end the job of a stylist is still about schlepping. It is not at all glamorous. It is about organizing, communicating and being obsessive compulsive above it all."

Rachel Zoe is now a business and a reality show. Elizabeth Stewart is older and more of an editor. She's also semi-intuitive and a therapist to many of her clients who have no taste or interest in dressing themselves. She wouldn't reveal her client list, but I found out that Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, and Viola Davis lead the pack. Stewart is The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Time magazine's "go-to" girl for all cover shoots and giant spreads.

She plays down her own style and her own "throwaway beauty" (she was dressed in a simple black Dolce short skirt and jacket, clunky boots and seamed stockings) is staggering.
Tarina Tarantino and Kelly Osbourne. Angela Lindvall, Tarina Tarantino, and Alfonso Campos.
Tarina Tarantino's wrist full of her latest collection.
Skin care designer Nyakio and Artist husband David Grieco. Fashion reality show host Angela Lindvall.
"I love clothes and embrace most looks but believe me ... I have my own BIG opinions." I could see how I would want Elizabeth Stewart as my new best friend. She is so soothing, understated and seemingly understanding. She flies well beneath the radar. Who does that in this culture? She has no reality show gig and doesn't want one.

She agreed with me about the confusion over what this new "stylist as star" trend has become. I confessed to her that I thought most of today's stylists were really "personal shoppers" and merely keyed into product placement not hardcore creativity. In her shy way Stewart concurred and insisted that she tries to stay focused "on my helping instincts. I am here to serve. It's NOT about me and never was. I am embarrassed about what has happened to the meaning of my job."

She is not designing her own line of clothes and refuses any QVC contracts. She had just completed two weeks of 24/7 fittings and shootings and has six more weeks to go. She would be spending the Golden Globes evening quietly at home with her husband and children watching it all on TV like every other poor slob. Her Heaven Gala fashion show was much more impressive (chosen from Silver's vintage stash of Lacroix, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Dior and more relics) than what appeared on the Golden Globes red carpet.
Heaven Gala table setting.
Great Heaven Gala Fashion show lineup.
My issue with the Red Carpet hype is ... what does Charlize Theron's "fairy" dress or Angelina's "alien look" have to do with anything that really goes on in clothing. Even women who wear such formal attire don't care about Red Carpet couture. Face it, we only love looking at red carpet shows in the confines of our homes with our pals so we can mock the whole production! It has never been about trendsetting but rather it’s about wise cracking.

Frankly, I miss the big gaffs of years gone by; singer Bjork in her swan goose costume, Barbra Streisand in her glitter shorts, Demi Moore in anything of insanity. Today's stylists have homogenized every star into the same exact visual with little jewelry and sloppy hair. The truth is that all the clothes are on loan to these celebrities and I want to see what they actually OWN. It was more fun when they shopped from their own closets and were responsible for their own hair and makeup ... for better or worse. It was REAL! Now it's an assembly line of merchandising.
Clockwise from top left: Cameron Silver and Elizabeth Stewart; Kelly Osbourne and Blair Sabol; Producer Alfonso Campos and Designer Tarina Tarantino; Tarina Tarantino and tattoo artist/star Kat Von D.
I didn't stay for Silver's after party but I did run into good friend and jewelry designer Tarina Tarantino who is now doing her own popular line of sparkle makeup for Sephora. Her husband Alfonso Campos is still film producing. I also met Heaven Gala trophy designer/artist David Grieco and his wife Nyakio who is producing "indigenous skincare."

All of these people introduced me to so many young inspiring California designers of everything attending the gala. It's obvious that L.A. is now a fashion epicenter. It is no longer a fashion joke.
The Golden Globes red carpet, the morning after. The undoing of the Golden Globes lounge.
The glam is gone, deconstructing the GG set. The trash outside the red carpet.
I ended my awards weekend with a true voice of reason from a real fashion legend; Mademoiselle Magazine Fashion Editor Edie Locke. She was with Conde Nast for 30 years (roughly 1950 to 1980). Edie greeted me for tea at her Woodland Hills home an hour before the Golden Globes liftoff. She's been living in L.A. with her husband Ralph for 17 years.

For many of us Edie is right up there with Diana Vreeland in sheer history . She was her own power to be reckoned with. The industry adored her and Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein still stay in touch with her. After Conde Nast Edie went onto the The Travel Channel and Oxygen Network to do her own fashion reporting.

Legendary fashion editor Edie Locke.
Fork necklace by husband Ralph.
Here's how she sees it: "L.A. put exercise and sportswear on the map. I am very intrigued by what I see out here. It is NOT New York City or Paris but nothing is. Yes, there is great lack of taste at times. That is true everywhere. I still don't understand bad bodies in short shorts and Ugg boots. But at the same time there is a great sense of freedom in the West."

Said by a lady who still wears a simple grey cashmere sweater, great trousers and glorious jewelry (a silver "fork necklace" made by her artist husband) and her notorious wistful of clanky bangles.

"I still look at all the magazines and I recognize I am very out of date. But I truly try to stay open and accepting."

Locke is now 90 years old and doesn't drive, but that doesn't stop she and her husband from getting out and about to everything cultural in Los Angeles.

“The problem today is comfort has taken over in a ridiculous way. Everyone looks like a mess at the airport. I remember when we all loved to dress to travel. I still believe in style really coming first ... and I don't mean only torn Levis. That's a 'look,' but I am not sure that is a style.

Too many people are getting away with awful taste because they don't care or maybe they are lazy. Why bother ... Then again this is so NOT my time. As I said, I try but I simply can't keep up. I still love Ralph Lauren and rarely does he sell out to all this Red Carpet nonsense. He doesn't have to. He stays perpetually brilliant. As does Oscar de la Renta."

She admits to loving the Lagerfeld of old, but isn't sure about today's Lagerfeld. She agrees we are living in ugly times: "as I said, too much bad taste masquerading as fashion. Quality and integrity aren't around much anymore. The internet and reality TV have taken over and I am not sure that is good or bad. Just different. I live for mystery and now there is no mystery."

She loved that Tom Ford kept his recent show under wraps and "by invitation only." She also likes Tilda Swinton and Kate Middleton for knowing their own personal best. Currently Edie is writing her own memoir: "The working title is called Freeze Frame: From the Kick of Nazi boots to the click of high heel shoes."

Locke escaped Nazi Vienna on her own in 1936. She went to London and then onto New York City in 1943. A true survivor, and she herself admits" I am still a work in progress." As for her amazing energy in her own aging,"I live one day at a time. I wish I could wear all my great old clothes. But where am I going? To the supermarket and to visit my grandchildren. My life now is marvelously simple. I am grateful that my style is all about my own family. It's the tried and true."
Best of friends: Edie Locke and Ali MacGraw.
She still lives for the latest news ... "I live to be fascinated ... show me what's new." Just as the Golden Globes red carpet started her dearest friend actress/style icon Ali MacGraw arrived to join her for the viewing. Ali claimed Edie to be "the real deal ... a dynamo and utterly timeless. She wanted to make me the accessory editor of the magazine, but I had just scored Goodbye Columbus and that was goodbye to all that."

Ali reported on her previous day's photo shoot with 99 other stars at the Paramount Studio's 50th Anniversary "Class Picture."  From Kirk Douglas to Justin Bieber. It sounded like THE true Golden event of the weekend, let alone the year. Everyone who ever starred in a Paramount picture or produced one was there ... live in person!

Just as we started to watch the first two minutes of the Golden Globes red-carpeted telecast, Edie turned to me with pure instant know how and stated "Oh God ... it's all nude colors and fish tails." That fast. she is still brilliant and intuitively on the money! Once a fashion genius, always and forever.
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