Designing Woman: Zoe With a Zing

This is no program for the fashion weak.

"The Rachel Zoe Project" is marked with a "Z" that would have had Zorro second-guessing the style of his own flashy cape. And that mask? Oh, how retro!

At 46, Rachel Zoe Rosenzweig is a designing woman who has become a fashion plate of more than nibbles and nubs; she is stylist to the stars, projecting what and how they will wear what she "advises."

Some advice: "The Rachel Zoe Project," airing on Bravo, showcases her bravura styles and status as she lets her fashion statements speak for themselves.

What do they have to say? The gossip of gossamer, whisper of woven — and always, yes always, a stretch of the strident. Her A-Team of A-listers would chain themselves to the ground rather than put up with the gaudy, flashy jewelry of a Mr. T of "The A Team."

Her so-called signature image — "bronzed, sexy and '70s-tinged laid-back glamour" — is a moving Glamour magazine on high heels; now she offers tips and topics on her Tuesday night series so others can follow in her shoes, teetering though they may be.

Fanning her influence are her reported clients/fans: Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan, Salma Hayek, Liv Tyler, Debra Messing, Joy Bryant and Anne Hathaway, among the glam and glitterati.

Now Zoe zips into focus, not only on Bravo, but in stores with a branded luxe line of handbags while bagging the publishing industry, which last year came out with her Style A to Zoe.

How fab can you get?

Decidedly not much more than this scintillating and sexy stylist, whose model behavior has, nevertheless, incurred the wrath of some detractors who claim her look puts fans' health on thin ice — that her style emphasizes that emaciation is to be imitated.

Nonsense, she roars back — and healthily, it must be added. If others claim she can be a control freak, well, she is in control on her show, showcased along with her husband, Roger Berman, and a duo of designing dervishes, Taylor and Brad. Now, the woman who put the purr in catwalk explains what she does.

But, first, maybe a little chicken soup? It couldn't hurt. "I am very pro-eating and I am really a Jewish mother at heart," she says of making sure her plump clients/friends business base doesn't thin out.

"If you ask anyone in my personal life, or professional life, I'm almost like a food pusher."

It's in the jeans — and genes: "That's the family I come from."

Come on; zero in more on the topic and she says, "I don't right now" have a client with a 0 size, the range instead going from 2 to 10.

Nervous Nellie?

That's some hot point, indeed. And yet, the woman with such a cool veneer is vexed, she admits. "I'm like a Nervous Nellie about everything that I do," she says of her new show. "I get anxiety before I do anything that's new."

Ah, but a Nervous Nellie with just the right accessories. Access Fifth Avenue? Okay, but what she is attempting is challenging when "it's something outside of your comfort zone, and you're stepping outside of what you do every minute of your life for 15 years. Doing a TV show was something I was extremely apprehensive about."

There is nothing to fear but fear itself — unless, your shoes don't match your scarf, of course. But "most of the time I had absolutely no knowledge that the cameras were there."

And what do they catch? A fall line of dress? Catch her excitement: "Every time we go into a press tour or a premiere, an awards show — whatever it is — I still get that excitement I got 15 years ago, whether it's Jennifer Garner, Eva Mendes, Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Cameron [Diaz].

"Every dress is still exciting to me."

Then she addresses those who may not agree with her: "I don't want to push someone into something they're not — that they don't feel 100 percent in."

She plays the percentages well; so many of the hot and hip hit on her advice that there's nary an awards show that doesn't zing with Zoe's pulse.

Even with a new handbag line, it's not the wallet that fascinates as much as "What's in your closet?"

"I probably have a bit too much of everything," she says, allowing that her vantage point on vintage is one of admiration.

"Those are things," she says of her vintage collection, "that I can't ever part with. It just keeps growing."

So just how did this native daughter of Short Hills, N.J., grow so much in an industry that hems and haws on who gets famous first? She puts the focus where it belongs, she says: "What I do is a service, and it's not about me. It's about my work for them," the clients.

It all seems to work so well. What works for her? "I am a shopper, a collector, and I can't really make an excuse for it, other than it's my art and it's what I do."

But can one change a stylish frame of reference? Can an average Joe — or Juliette — be transformed before the camera into a Cameron? "If I could transform myself into Cameron Diaz, believe me, I'd blink my eyes and make it happen."

She has her eyes, instead, wide open to reality. "The first lesson one learns, whether you're famous or not, is you live with the cards you're dealt."

Deal or no deal? "Not to sound sappy, but everyone is beautiful," she contends.

"It's just how you appreciate" it.

Good fashion appreciates, too, and the star's faves are "sort of a top 10," including "Pierre Cardin, Lanvin, Ossie Clark, Yves St. Laurent, of course. Chanel always."

If she's channeling a '70s look, she does it handsomely: "I'm always a huge advocate of the smoky eye and a very, very jewel-toned red lip."

She gives surprising lip service to a top trend that is revealing. "I'm not a huge advocate of cleavage," she says with double-barreled brazenness.

No middle of the road here. "No more showing midriffs unless you're on the beach."

On the move herself, she changes — not like the weather but according to the scenery. "I mix it up when I go to Paris and Milan," says the transcontinental trotter. "I like to do different things."

"I tend to do a little more of the Coco Chanel thing in New York, and, in L.A., you just seem very overdressed."

One thing she won't skirt is the importance of her hubby, a venture capitalist who capitalized on a college job to meet and greet Zoe. "I was at George Washington University, undergrad, and he was in grad school. I stayed for a summer to take classes and I got a job as a hostess at a restaurant — and he was a waiter."

Check, please! He helps her see the cup of life as half full. "He's the strength in the system."

Now that she's reached this new TV platform — on or off high heels — she can help viewers shop till they drop … big bucks or small amounts, depending on what addresses their inner St. Laurent. And as far as being in shoe business … "For the fall, it's all about your boot — an ankle boot and a knee-high boot."

Those boots are made for talking, but what would she say is the perfect accessory a woman needs to go with them? "The perfect bag."

Zip it? No, one more item: "And, of course, big, big fabulous sunglasses."



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