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2 Designers Win Big on Game Show by . . . : OUTFITTING VANNA

November 25, 1987|NANCY YOSHIHARA | Times Staff Writer

Dressed in an oversized black sweater, denim skirt and white Reebok tennis shoes, Carlotta Khero stared intently at page after page of a red plastic-covered album. Mounted on each page were four Polaroid photographs of the same woman.

There was Vanna White, star of the hit game show "Wheel of Fortune," in a royal blue dress; Vanna in a red one; Vanna in a slinky metallic number and Vanna in a lace garment. When Khero finished with one album, she flipped open a black one filled with more photos, the last showing Vanna in a strapless, white dress and wearing the pink terry cloth slippers she wears backstage.

Khero is no ordinary Vanna White fan.

She is one of two Los Angeles designers who create the clothes Vanna wears on the nighttime version of "Wheel of Fortune," a syndicated show seen by 43 million viewers across the country. Each night, Vanna's outfit is provided by either New Leaf, where Khero heads the design staff, or Climax, a line designed by Karen Okada for David Howard of California Inc.

Vanna is big fashion business for the two garment makers, which produce moderately priced dressy clothes. They clothe Vanna at no charge and get the kind of publicity and exposure that money couldn't buy. "That show is worth millions in advertising," Khero said.

Within days after Vanna appears in a dress that viewers--male and female--take a fancy to, letters and calls inundate the offices of "Wheel of Fortune," New Leaf or Climax. Fans from all over the country want to know where to buy a dress.

Both New Leaf and Climax keep photo albums to help customers. Under each Polaroid picture in New Leaf's albums is a label noting the style number of Vanna's outfit and the date she wore it on television.

"We get a picture of every garment in advance of the show. We keep a library of it," says Howard Levinson, president of David Howard of California Inc., which produces the Climax line. "Let's say people contact 'Wheel of Fortune' or they call us. If Mary Smith of Des Moines saw a garment, we immediately go back through our book and we have an in-house computer to find out which store in that particular area carries the dress."

Glamour is the aim of New Leaf and Climax, and Vanna exudes that image, one that was carefully crafted by "Wheel of Fortune" producer Nancy Jones. "Five years ago, when the night show made its debut, we wanted a different look than the daytime," which had been running for seven years, she explained during a break in recent taping of the night show. (New Leaf and Climax, along with Giorgio and Gucci, also provide Vanna's sporty wardrobe for the daytime program.)

"I wanted her to look glamorous. If you watch TV, you want to see something visually stimulating. It was a very definite choice to put her in sexy, glamorous clothes. The impact of Vanna's wardrobe on the whole fashion industry is astounding. Now everyone on nighttime television gets dressed up--on talk shows, game shows and variety shows. The clothes created Vanna's image," said Jones, who selected Vanna's dresses in the beginning.

The guidelines for Vanna's wardrobe are simple, according to Jones. Nothing tasteless nor too revealing. "It's OK to be sexy, but it's not OK to be in bad taste. You never see something that shows too much skin, too much breast, that's too short or poorly made," Jones says.

Wears Clothes Well

New Leaf and Climax each send about 20 to 50 dresses--size 5 to 6--at different intervals to "Wheel of Fortune." Vanna and the show's costumer, Florence Calce, select what she will wear. Dresses that look uninteresting on the hangar take on a different dimension on Vanna.

"She makes them look good. She puts on anything and it looks great," says Calce, who sometimes has to alter clothes that are too big around the hips for Vanna.

Backstage during one recent taping at NBC studios in Burbank, Vanna was wearing a strapless, gold lame dress by Climax and padding about in her pink slippers. The dress was selected, explained Calce, to help show off a $55,000 emerald and diamond necklace, a prize on the show, that Vanna was to wear.

Vanna wore fake diamond pave earrings, one of the many pairs found in four plastic trays with individual compartments sitting to one side of her dressing table. Nearby was a shopping bag full of size 7 shoes--all pumps--in a variety of colors and fabrics. Vanna says she buys most of the shoes she wears on the show at Leeds Shoe Stores.

She tapes five shows in one day, with eight-minute breaks between them for wardrobe and hairdo changes. She typically wears gray or blue eye shadow and a coral-red lipstick known in the trade simply as No. 32. In the last few minutes before she went on the air, Calce was taping a portable microphone to Vanna's right thigh.

Later, Vanna says: "I wear things that I don't like. I didn't particularly like the last one. . . . I wear it because it's fashionable and I try to please everyone." What didn't she like? "It gave me more hips than I like."

Dresses Casually

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