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Wanted: A look

In a state where appearance is everything, image makers agree: Davis has little style. Neither do his competitors, except Arnold.

August 19, 2003|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Never mind the budget deficit and the energy crisis. In the most image-conscious state in the nation, Gray Davis' most serious offense may be that he has no discernable style. The eye grows weary of his endless parade of gray suits, his Mister Rogers hair, his turkey neck and his puffy eyes.

"He would definitely be a candidate for some of the improvements we do," said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Robert Kotler.

"Style? What style?" asked Danny Marsh, co-owner of Sy Devore, the Studio City menswear store that outfitted the Rat Pack. "Gray Davis has no style. I'd like to see him in a closer-fitting suit, some shirts with more color and ties that make some sort of statement rather than just melting into the woodwork.... And he looks like a 15 1/2-inch neck wearing a 16 1/2-inch shirt."

"I would put lowlights in his hair so it doesn't look so white," said Nelson Chan, a colorist at Estetica in Beverly Hills. "It's too much salt, not enough pepper."

In the land where plastic surgery is given as a 16th-birthday present and yoga is practically a religion, the consensus among image makers is that Davis isn't up to snuff. And with one bulging exception, most of those hoping to unseat him aren't, either.

"Bill Simon has his suits custom made, but there's no expression in them," Marsh said.

"He lacks a strong signature," said Pikke Allen, an image consultant in Los Angeles.

Cruz Bustamante, Marsh said, is "busting out of his collars." And, Allen added, "He's reflecting the look of midlevel management."

Harsh?

Of course! This is the state where a pair of Bruno Magli shoes was once offered as evidence in a murder trial; where Winona Ryder's courtroom wardrobe generated as much interest as her crime; and where Kobe Bryant's purchase of a $4-million purple diamond ring for his wife made local newspapers, including this one.

For some reason -- Sacramento, perhaps? -- California politicians don't dress like the rest of California. Davis, Simon, Bustamante and former L.A. Olympic czar Peter Ueberroth typically don Washington's politico uniform of a dark suit, a white dress shirt and a patriotic red tie. But now they have to compete with a Hollywood heavyweight who has a penchant for Armani suits and understands that all the world's a red carpet. Not to mention porn star Mary Carey and billboard queen Angelyne, who have attention-grabbing assets of their own.

"If governors' races were determined solely by looks, Kathleen Brown would have beaten Pete Wilson," said economist and author Virginia Postrel, whose new book, "The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness" (HarperCollins), will be released in September. "But there is an ability to punch through and attract the camera, which in this field of so many people is more important than when you only have two choices."

No one is suggesting that any of the top candidates trade coats and ties for surf trunks and flip-flops. "It doesn't mean they have to look outrageous," said Alan Flusser, author of "Dressing the Man" (HarperCollins). "A pin collar, or even a white handkerchief in the breast pocket, could elevate the presentation. Especially today, when there is a boredom about politics in general and candidates tend to look like each other and sound like each other, it would be nice if they could intimate through their clothes that they have an independence of spirit."

Of the front-runners, Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be casting himself in the anti-pinstripe role. "His personality is so big, it's almost like he's saying, 'I don't have to wear a suit,' " said Vincent Boucher, a wardrobe stylist for celebrities.

When he filed his papers to run for governor, he wore a sports jacket, a white oxford shirt without a tie, and stone-colored trousers. Wife Maria Shriver was at his side, lending Kennedy sheen in a Jackie-esque sleeveless polka-dot dress, with a brown leather purse tucked neatly under her arm. Columnist-turned-candidate Arianna Huffington, ever the savvy media personality, took advantage of the photo op, appearing at the couple's side in an almond-colored double-breasted suit with a white T-shirt underneath.

"When you think of the three of them in that photo, they match each other.... If Cruz Bustamante or Tom McClintock were in the photo, there would have been this strange clash of two worlds, Hollywood polish versus the rumpled guys," Postrel said.

When the temperature soared into the upper 90s on Thursday, Schwarzenegger attended a graduation ceremony at Mulholland Middle School in Woodland Hills dressed for the heat in a khaki suit, a cheery yellow aloha print shirt and cowboy boots. Like President Bush, he has a style strategy, according to Allen. "As an actor, he has had top costume designers working on him, and they have trained him to know that every setting has a costume."

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