You might call her the Robin Leach of the fashion world. But when Elsa Klensch trots the globe in search of individuals with champagne tastes, she seeks out the taste-makers and trend setters, from Yves Saint Laurent to Giorgio Armani, rather than their consumers.
Since its debut eight years ago, her weekly series "Style With Elsa Klensch" (which airs locally on Cable News Network at 7:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays) has quietly garnered a cult following of 40-million viewers in 67 countries. The faithful--half the viewers are men, says Klensch--rise early to "have breakfast with Elsa," and many say they never miss an installment.
Here's how each show begins: theme song (a rousing, regal tune) followed by Klensch, in her distinctive Australia-by-way-of-New York accent, delivering her familiar greeting, "This is 'Style,' and I'm Elsa Klensch reporting on the design worlds of fashion, beauty and decorating."
From there, the infallibly chic Klensch--50ish, bobbed hair and prone to wearing black with important and noticeable accessories--sets off on a global tour that may include a designer's home in Milan, a French runway model's exercise routine or a glimpse of opening night at the Winter Antiques Show in New York.
Her coup, however, is in allowing the viewer to be privy to the seasonal press openings of the major international fashion houses in Milan, London, Paris, Tokyo and New York.
Edward Maeder, curator of costumes and textiles department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says: "I don't know of any other program like hers on any television station in the country. She's a bright, worldly, sophisticated analyst in a way. She's analyzing fashion and presenting the most current and unusual trends. I think she's wonderful."
Indeed, Klensch travels five months of the year in search of the latest and newest. (Her husband, retired banker Charles Klensch, often travels with her, although he's strictly the "Brooks Brothers type," she says, and attends shows only under duress.)
Klensch says she is never denied access to designer collections, although Tokyo's Yohji Yamamoto, she notes, is the least accessible--he's severely shy--for her post-show wrap-up. Usually, when she arrives in town, she is greeted with flowers and chocolates, as well as private lunches with the designers, although only Armani, she says, invites her soundman and camera operator along for the meal.
Even designers of global stature, Klensch says, have come to recognize the power of the television camera--and to seek it out. "Television is it--it's nothing to do with me," she insists. "It's to do with the medium."
Still, during a recent visit to Los Angeles, where Klensch spoke to the county museum's costume council members, a testimony to her far-reaching influence was proven at a small dinner held in her honor at the Bistro restaurant. Among those attending were Los Angeles designers James Galanos, Bob Mackie and Gus Tassell.
While in Los Angeles, Klensch interviewed Architectural Digest editor Paige Rense, but she didn't cover the city's fashion industry. As she told the costume council, "Listen, get me a decent runway so we can get good shots and we'll be here. We have to have great video, otherwise it doesn't work."
A veteran of the fashion industry, Klensch cut her teeth as a reporter at Women's Wear Daily and went on to become senior fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar, senior market editor for Vogue and a columnist for the New York Post.
Not only does her experience afford her access to designers for interviews, but as Maeder notes, she can just as easily talk about trends as put them in historic perspective.
She cites Saint Laurent as "among the two or three most important designers of the century" and singles out Armani "whose contribution to the '80s was an easy elegance."
Other designers of importance: Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Yamamoto, whose avant-garde concepts, she said, "will take a long time to be understood in the West," Azadine Alaia, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix, whose "audacious, witty clothes belong almost in another world" and drew attention back to the dying Paris couture.
When it comes to her own taste, Klensch is a pragmatist. She believes in buying only the best, including the accessories.
"Clothes are so expensive, you've got to know what you want, what suits you and do different things with them."
The black "T-shirt dress" by France's Isabel Canovas that Klensch wore to dinner at the Bistro, for example, showed up again on her the next morning, this time with a black cardigan and different jewelry.