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THE STYLE FILES: THE PICTURES : A Silent Partner : What becomes a Hollywood legend most? Stylist Vivian Turner makes the stars shine, then bows out of the picture.

March 14, 1994|MAUREEN SAJBEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Perhaps no other profession in the world requires you to show up for work bringing your own bags of dirt.

Vivian Turner's does. As a wardrobe stylist to the stars, she works in one of Hollywood's quirkiest professions. She must be able to size up a celebrity, shop for clothes and arrive on a set with everything necessary to make him or her look great. She's part miracle worker, part invisible woman, part lingerie expert, part best friend.

And yes, she brings her own dirt. It's actually Fuller's Earth, a powdered stone in different shades used to age clothing on the spot, and it's just one of a dozen items in her bag of tricks.

Turner has put Christian Slater in young hunk clothes to host the MTV awards, to shoot editorial layouts and meet the press. Geena Davis wore her choice of sexy ruffles for the February cover of Premiere magazine. Turner dressed Axl Rose in wedding-day finery for his elaborate "November Rain" video. In nine years of styling, she's always been on target, never once having the star or director reject everything on her wardrobe rack.

Turner's secret for success, says Susan Culley, head of Susan Culley & Associates, which represents Slater, is that you can't tell she was there.

"Celebrities want to look like themselves," says Culley, "and a lot of stylists pull things that the celebrity would not wear. Vivian has this incredible knack for picking things out that the client and the magazine both love."

Her career began when, as a favor to her boyfriend, Turner prepared some clothes for bands he represented.

One member, Charlie Sexton, was to go in front of the camera of top photographer Greg Gorman, who noticed the ease with which Turner clothed the singer. Gorman asked her to come the next day and help out with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the day after that with Alexander Godunov. The next day the photographer asked Turner to be his in-house stylist. Turner now works free-lance through the Cloutier Agency.

"I started at the top and I didn't have the background," says Turner. "I didn't even know what Topstick was." (That's the double-stick toupee tape used between the star and the strapless gown so the gown stays up.)

"We did a shoot with Keanu Reeves last year and he's not known for doing, or enjoying, photo sessions," says Gorman, recalling one of the biggest challenges the two faced together. "She put him in a dozen changes and it was amazing. The clothes made him feel comfortable and he was incredible."

For "The Hideaway," the modern-day thriller Jeff Goldblum is now shooting in Vancouver, the clothes-savvy star requested that Turner design and style his costumes. One recent prep day she presented him with a rack of Calvin Klein, Industria, Donna Karan and custom-made shirts, jackets and pants for approval.

"She's brilliant," Goldblum says simply. "She's great and she's got great ideas."

"Vivian tells people 'This is what your needs are,' and she says it in an inoffensive way," says Maxfield sales manager Janet Gaertner, who's always happy to see Turner coming in the door. People respect this honesty, says Gaertner. "I'll see Vivian shopping with an actress again after the film is over."

"You're working with individuals, and there's something that makes them who they are. You tap into that," says Turner. "You enhance a personality, not take it away."

After "The Hideaway," Turner's next challenge is to dress clients heading to the Oscars. Those who saw the Golden Globe Awards as an indicator of this year's Academy Awards' dress code would be mistaken, she says. The Globes' toned-down mood was due partly to the earthquake.

For the Globes, Turner dressed Stockard Channing in a black Armani suit and Laura Dern in a fitted black brocade dress by Pamela Barish, the new young California designer currently hot among the Hollywood chic.

Anything actresses wore to the Globes are, of course, "used up," she says, and won't be picked again. There were, however, lessons to be learned:

* A bust-squashing bustier dress on Penelope Ann Miller was "unattractive," while Natasha Richardson's strapless Giorgio Armani "looked great." The difference is in the construction. "Strapless gowns are hard to wear. Women tug on them and that looks so bad. If something looks uncomfortable, it usually is uncomfortable."

* Janine Turner's white bra under a sheer dress was another error. "You wonder sometimes what a person was thinking. Her bra was going to become invisible when it was lit?"

* Joan Chen, Winona Ryder, Vivian Wu and Kate Capshaw were among those who had elegance and style. On the other hand, "poor Juliette Lewis is a mess," says Turner, referring to the oddball Cleopatra headgear the actress chose for the evening. "She needs a stylist in the worst way. The weird stuff doesn't work."

The stylist predicts Oscar night will bring out plenty of Armani, as usual, along with a good amount of Richard Tyler and a smattering of Pamela Barish. Versace will make a play, but she says his clothes are for perfect women, and therefore intimidating.

"Actresses are real women," Turner says. "Most of them aren't models, they're not 6 feet tall, they don't have bodies like Stephanie Seymour." It's best, she says, to figure out what they do have and work around that.

For example, "Bette Midler has great cleavage and beautiful legs, but she's tiny, like 4-foot-11. So she looks gorgeous in short dresses with great necklines."

Turner's stamp is one of understatement. Not too much jewelry. Not too much of anything.

"Simple is the most beautiful. Ostentatiousness is not what people are about now. I don't use big earrings and lots of stuff unless it's necessary. You need to know when to stop."

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