Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the magpie effect

previously published on Associated Content.

All that glitters . . . musings on the Rachel Zoe Project

I have always liked things shiny. Baubles, bangles and beads. Is that the reason I find myself, like the proverbial magpie, drawn to watch the Rachel Zoe Project? I share this impulse for bright things with the celebrity stylist, who said in her latest installment, (paraphrasing here) that "it doesn't matter how great the dress is, it's all about the jewels." Looking at the results of her styling efforts it's hard to disagree. The jewelry, which she considers "the most fun," was the best part if the show, and I suspect, the best part of her job. She actually looked animated, practically giddy as she sorted through tens of thousands of dollars worth of gaudy gems to adorn her clients, as opposed to her perpetual glum demeanor when faced with finding a designer gown (or just trying to get a sample delivered.) Trying to select the "right dress" is almost always agony for Zoe and her staff.

It would be easy to make fun of her, and her cockeyed world and its values. Many do, but what is probably most surprising is how willing Zoe herself is to poke fun of her image (which she is also so desperately trying to promote.) Watching her deadly serious depression at the LA "downpour" that might ruin her clients' red carpet moment—well it's hard not to snigger. But the tiny woman takes her job seriously and she does want her charges to look their best. It may be a superficial world that she inhabits, but it is true that a "great red carpet moment," the right dress (matched with fabulous baubles) might actually boost the career of an actress whose latest films may not have been huge at the box office.

Most of what Zoe does is behind the scenes, and I suspect, still off camera, as what the audience gets to see is a lot of worrying and kvetching, but not a lot of actual legwork or even schmoozing of new clients. The editing of the show wants to add the drama by hinting at troubles with previous assistant Taylor (drop that - she's gone and bringing her up is boring) and intimations of her marriage possibly suffering as a consequence of her pursuit of success. We are only two shows into the season and her husband Rodger is whiny and downright pissy about wanting to be a dad and his fear that her clock is losing ticks by the moment. There is also a lot of proclaiming on his part of his masculinity and weariness of always being surrounded by girls and gays (protest much?) Do we need this storyline? I might be a tad more sympathetic to "his story" and the human angle the show is trying to push if he didn't (I assume) let his wife style him with white flowing scarves and get his hair cut like Justin Bieber. Who needs it, just get back to the clothes.

No offense to the domestic discord or bliss that may occur in their white-on-white world (their furniture reminds me of Sex and the City's Charlotte and her horror that her husband Harry might sit his naked butt down on her pristine white furniture), but the real appeal, the real "story" of the show is the suspension of disbelief that Zoe and her career can actually exist and the vicarious thrill of imagining playing dress up with all of those designer samples. Even though she is proving her clout this year by trotting out some of her bigger-name clients (Demi Moore, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz), it is mostly the inexplicably eternally stressed Zoe that fascinates.

What was the most interesting moment of the second episode? After all the flurry and build-up of Zoe and crew to dress four women for the Golden Globes, after Zoe's frantic rushing around to fit each actress, she didn't hang around all the lights and cameras but quietly returned home in time to watch the pre-show on television, with her buds, just like any other fan, albeit insecure that her husband might make fun of her and her love of fashion (he did and does in his soliloquies) or not like her work (he actually was quite supportive.)

Suddenly it all seemed like one big dream. Is Zoe delusional? Did she really do all or any of what we just watched? Who's to say that Jennifer Garner didn't dress herself? It's the most ephemeral of careers to fairy-godmother these Cinderellas. No wonder Zoe has decided lately that she might also like to go to the ball.
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