On my first day interning at a fashion PR showroom in Los Angeles, I steamed a pantsuit Julia Roberts wore. The star of Pretty Woman could not have been more fitting for the occasion, as if it were to foreshadow my own rise within Beverly Hills. For the next two months, I would rub shoulders with the likes of Halle Berry, Celine Dion, and the Duchess of Cambridge…through their outfits, that is.
While New York City may reign as America’s fashion capital, LA’s proximity to Hollywood and red carpets makes it the center for celebrity styling. PR firms feel less like corporate offices and more like swanky stores where the industry’s handful of stylists shop around for key pieces for their star-studded rosters. As an intern, I was constantly making sure the eight rooms of designer merchandise looked flawless and that no piece went in or out of the showroom without being tracked. Yes, the work proved the fashion industry is not all that glamorous. But you already knew that. Here’s what else I learned.
1. It’s not about buying, it’s about borrowing
I use to eat up those magazine articles praising a star’s personal style. Now, I give them an eyeroll, smirk, or page flip altogether. Why? Having prepared enough garment bags of clothing samples to send out to singers and actresses, I know 99 percent of the time, the star owns nothing of what they are wearing on the carpet. The dress, the shoes, the clutch…they were all borrowed from showrooms and have to be returned in a matter of days.
Sure the star may have had the final say, but their choice was pretty guided. LA showrooms carry the latest collections of the brands they represent and fight to put out into the world. Stylists—no, more often their assistants—drive around town visiting these different showrooms picking up dresses and accessories in the vein of the celeb’s image and event. The pickings plump the racks back in the stylist’s studio, ready to make an impressive assortment for the fitting. What doesn’t make the cut, or even into the star’s hands, is sent back asap to be steamed and prepped for another pull. There’s no telling how often a single pair of pumps has been tried on or worn.
2. Street style is not so spontaneous
The above doesn’t just apply to the red carpet. Stylists came in just as often to pull clothing for their client’s street style. You know those pictures where a star is walking out of a coffee shop or airport gate but nonetheless looks perfectly put together? Yup, that outfit was strategically sourced from the corners of LA, especially when the press tour of their new movie or album is looming near. Looking effortless takes effort.
3. It’s raining heels and handbags every day
I’m not saying celebrities never own the designer sneakers or purses they sport. But as another testimony to their lifestyle of appearances, a portion of the items in their closets definitely ended up there for free. To promote their brands, PR firms often give away shoes and accessories to celebrities or even pay them to wear a certain outfit. The list of merchandise our showroom gave away was long enough, and we weren’t the only PR firm doing this in LA or NYC. With all this competition, the hardest part for us was to find any proof that a celeb chose and wore their gift in public over everything else they have received. It actually was easier to find evidence that a particular celebrity had given one of her gifts to a friend and another to a thrift shop.
4. The best dress is saved for the best dressed
What I found most interesting about PR and managing a showroom was the strategy that took place on both sides. While stylists and PR executives ultimately are colleagues, they each work towards separate goals. Stylists want to get as much of the best items as possible, so that they can impress their celebrities with racks of luxurious clothing. PR executives, on the other hand, only want to give away their best designers if they are pretty certain the celebrity will wear that jumpsuit or jacket to the event. Otherwise, while the piece is traveling in a garment bag, it could have been in the showroom where another pull is taking place. The showroom knows the stylist is going to other showrooms, and the stylist knows the showroom is going to dress other celebrities. There is no guarantee the star will pick your piece to wear at the end of the day.
It’s a gamble on both sides, but from the PR’s perspective, that’s why certain top designers won’t be lent out to smaller scale, lower grade celebs. You can’t be too generous. But it takes that generosity—a top stylist and showroom giving someone new a chance—to make a fresh face into a style star. Without it, a rising actress may face an endless cycle of bad dresses and bad press.
5. Celebrities, photographs, and magazines still rule
I started each day at my internship the same way: checking to see if a celebrity wore one of our pieces, if there were any photos of it online, and if any publication had written about it. While being featured on an Instagram post or Snapchat story was great, it wasn’t enough. We needed the concrete, lasting nature of a photo in print or an article on a page ( online counts too) to know we got the look out there. In today’s age of social media, it’s easy to claim influencers are drowning out the voice of celebrities and editors, yet I disagree. Celebs and editors continue to lead the conversation while the others are the echo. Most importantly, you need the people behind the scenes that take the photo and write the article to prove it actually happened. Yes, a picture may be worth 1,000 words, but you still need someone to write them.