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For stylist wannabes, a dressing-down

A new WE reality series takes an unflattering look at contestants hoping to help others look good.

January 21, 2006|Robin Givhan | Washington Post

Celebrity stylists are the fashion industry's most peculiar creations. Their job is to give a famous person aesthetic panache. To make them look good. And to let the average fan believe the stars did it all themselves.

Phillip Bloch works with Halle Berry and found the Elie Saab gown she wore when she accepted her best actress Oscar. Nicole Kidman has relied on the help of stylist L'Wren Scott to maintain her reputation as an icon among the fashion-obsessed. And stylist Rachel Zoe is spawning a whole generation of underweight clones by dressing clients in her signature look of a disco hippie.

The stylist is a personal shopper, guru, prognosticator and schlepper. Male stylists dress women and female stylists dress men. But sometimes they look as though they can barely dress themselves. Jessica Paster, whose clients have included Jessica Simpson, often looks as though she has rolled out of bed without so much as a head shake to get the hair out of her eyes. She favors frocks best described as sacks.

So what precisely makes a good stylist? How can you spot someone with potential?

That question is posed in the latest reality show to tackle the byzantine world of fashion, in which quality is subjective and a charming personality can go a long way to sell an extremely bad idea. "Style Me" debuts Monday on the WE: Women's Entertainment channel. A dozen contestants live together in New York while competing in various tasks in hopes of being the last person standing. The winner receives $10,000, a one-year contract with a talent agency and the opportunity to style the show's host, model Rachel Hunter, for a red carpet event.

In the first episode, their task is to take 45 minutes and $75 to shop a flea market for pieces to accessorize a plain black dress. For sheer amusement, the producers decree that the contestants must haul the dress around on a mannequin as they rampage through the Hell's Kitchen souk on the west side of Manhattan.

And as is the habit of reality TV, some contestants were selected for their skill at pulling together a fetching ensemble and others seem to have been chosen for their annoying mannerisms, overblown egos or a tendency to weep under the staggering pressure of picking out a necklace.

The weeper is 28-year-old Chris Watts, who grew up in Anchorage and describes his childhood as rather Dickensian -- except he longed for more copies of Vogue magazine rather than another bowl of porridge. Watts cries when he can't find a belt at the flea market. He turns potty-mouthed and surly back at the group home. He gets drunk and passes out in the bathroom and a maintenance man has to be called to unlock the bathroom door. Watts goes into a blubbering fit during the judges' critique of his work -- that being his selection of an asymmetrical necklace over which he anguished.

The judges, by the way, include Hunter, Bloch and Milica (pronounced Melissa) Kastner, whose most compelling credential appears to be that she's Hunter's good friend.

Other contestants include 23-year-old John McNulty, who describes himself as androgynous. With a mane of curly golden locks, he spends a significant portion of the first show talking into the camera from a bubble bath and sounding precisely like Truman Capote. There's Franco Lacosta, 36, who just wants to "make everyone look beautiful." The phonetically challenged Airic (pronounced Eric) Lewis. A woman named Buick. And a 31-year-old named Brittnie Romain who clearly has never watched reality TV because she wears stiletto heels to take on the day's challenge.

At least in the first episode, "Style Me" does not have the high-kitsch drama of "America's Next Top Model." And it lacks the splendidly pretentious histrionics of "Project Runway." But its timing is impeccable. It arrives on cable TV during the height of the red carpet season. The work of established stylists is on display as their clients lurch from one award show to another, all leading up to the Oscars in March.

Aesthetic stumbles are rare on the red carpet. At Monday night's Golden Globe awards, for every classically attired actor and every actress in haute couture, there was only the occasional guilty pleasure of a fashion oopsie-daisy.

Geena Davis wore a fire-engine-red, fitted satin dress that looked like it had a brontosaurus tail hanging off the back. Horrifying! And Reese Witherspoon wore a lovely Chanel debutante dress that turned out to have been worn by Kirsten Dunst a couple of years ago. Mortifying!

"Style Me" aims to launch the career of one more person looking to stamp out these flickers of harmless amusement. In exchange, the least the show can do is provide more wonderfully inappropriate crying fits.


'Style Me'

Where: WE: Women's Entertainment

When: 7 p.m. Monday, repeating at 10:30 p.m.

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