Some people seem born not so much with a silver spoon as a platinum shoehorn. They're easily recognizable: impeccably suited men with cuffs and collars so sharp they could be weapons; women so perfectly coordinated they obviously dress by computer.
In Los Angeles, the well-groomed inevitably are part of the working groomed. They put in long hours, adroitly steering from one daytime meeting to another, and on to evenings filled with business and social obligations.
Not surprisingly, their stylish presence is derived from mixing professional skills, such as organization and discipline, with personal tricks--often learned the hard way.
These days you won't find Brooke Knapp, president of the Knapp Group and a record-setting aviator, traveling the way she used to. On her way to Washington for a black-tie event a few years ago, Knapp inexplicably grabbed a silver-sequined top from her luggage and stuffed it in her handbag. In the capital, she learned all her baggage had been lost.
"The only store open at that hour was a place with beach clothes," Knapp recalls. "I bought a pair of black cotton pants, and, luckily, I was wearing black heels." Since her near-miss, Knapp's advice is: "Take on board with you whatever you plan to wear that night."
Knapp considers herself "a safe dresser." But her wardrobe includes items other women might not call safe, such as leather ("it's become stylish") and costume jewelry. She shops twice a year, selecting "nice things I can change around. And I never buy anything unless I have something to go with it."
Her elegance is enhanced by details money doesn't always buy: "I learned to hold my stomach in when I was 6 years old," Knapp says. "I can still hear my grandmother saying: 'Stomach in. Head erect.' "
Larry Thompson, head of his own film production and management company, stands tall and talks with a winning Southern accent.
Busy with film projects (including a CBS special "about that very meticulous dresser, the Duke of York"), Thompson maximizes his time with a number of reliable services. He has a hairdresser who never keeps him waiting. And every two weeks, someone comes to his home to polish his shoes. How many pairs? "Less than Marcos," he responds with a laugh.
Stock of Five Tuxedos
For the estimated 35 formal functions he attends a year, Thompson keeps a stock of five tuxedos, among them a $3,000 Brioni. "Women," he says, "have the luxury to dress differently every time they go out. Men have to try to find a fabulously designed tuxedo made out of fabulous fabric."
Crisply groomed Laurance Taylor, former vice president of advertising and creative services for Vidal Sassoon, is convinced "taste can't be taught. It's something you're born with, although I think there are services that can make the most of your potential."
Currently a free-lance consultant, Taylor believes "a briefcase, shoes, pocket handkerchief and belt have to be the very best. It's like having nice teeth and hands. They go together and say a lot about a person."
But nothing in his wardrobe, including his favorite Bennis-Edwards shoes, Polo suit, Burberry blazer and pleated Armani slacks, is ever bought at full-retail price. "I buy all my clothes on sale," boasts Taylor. "I enjoy the search."
Sometimes it is the hidden extras that make the difference between rumpled and radiant. Designer Rosemary Brantley, who chairs the Otis/Parsons fashion-design department, keeps spare shoes in her office (patent-leather flats or plain calf pumps) and wears special plastic and leather supports inside.
The "teeny platforms," as she calls the $250 custom-made orthotics, "make your feet land the right way," she explains.
Her other grooming must is "a sticky roller," which she buys at pet stores. "I have three cats, and the roller to me is more important than ironing. I go over my back, front and shoulders every time I get dressed."
Large- and extra-large-size freezer bags have become musts for screenwriter Carol Doumani and her husband, Roy, an international investment banker. "It's our newest packing trick," Carol explains. "We use soft luggage, and the air that's trapped inside the bags cushions the clothes."
Doumani dresses and works with precision. She exercises every morning, skips lunch, spends her afternoons writing, meeting with producers or serving as curator and tour guide for the couple's showplace home, designed by sculptor Robert Graham. She buys her clothes in Milan, and when she goes to the Orient, she takes along favorite designer pieces to be copied in finer fabrics, such as sable and cashmere.
Although she rarely goes to the hairdresser, she has a weekly massage and a monthly facial, "which allows me to wear very little makeup because my skin looks healthy. My goal is never to be drop-dead gorgeous. It's to look attractive, well-groomed and understated."