In Hollywood, the lines of power are divided between stiff suits and soft suits.
That was the fashion message in "The Player," director Robert Altman's wicked sendup of fast-track movie studio executive Griffin Mill. He has it all. How can you tell? He wears soft suits.
And those in the business who know say the movie is a mirror image of fashion reality.
"If you're a stiff suit, you're a nerd from the East who only crunches numbers," says one senior studio marketing executive (soft suit) of the people who finesse the fine points of the business.
For agents, producers and studio executives working on the creative side of the business, the essential suit is loose-fitting and loosely constructed for a subtle drape. It's usually double-breasted and, for those men toiling at the highest altitudes of power, it's either custom-made or it costs as much as if it were. That means a four-figure price tag.
The shirt, also unfitted, is either striped or solid; and the correct tie looks like a piece of abstract art.
As for the color palette, it doesn't necessarily match or make sense in toto--a fine point meant to convey that an independent thinker lurks within. Off-toned suits, such as the greens favored by Griffin Mill--more tan than olive--are considered particularly creative.
Bottom line: conservative uniforms are deadly. So are ties with ducks, golfers or stripes.
"People don't come to me to buy a Republican tie with a blue shirt and gray suit," says Tommy Perse, co-owner of the Maxfield store on Melrose Avenue, a prime purveyor of soft suits for industry executives.
"We like the look to have big personality. The star of the movie had a big personality. People want to look good, especially in the movie business, the image business."
"You don't see polo ponies that much at screenings," says Michael Lombardo, vice president of business affairs at HBO. "People want to make a statement about being au courant, being on top of trends, and they're very competitive about the way they dress and knowing the up-and-coming designers. In New York, he adds, the right look comes from Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers. Here, it's from Maxfield and Armani.
Alexander Julian, the New York men's clothing designer Altman hired to dress Tim Robbins' Griffin Mill character in "The Player," says the look is "post-Ralph," meaning not as traditional as Ralph Lauren. "It's less identifiable," says Julian.
"There should be a silent or barely observable trace of irreverence, a dash of quirkiness that sets you apart as an individual," Julian explains. "It can be as simple as the pattern of a tie. It can be a combination of solids or patterns. It can be all of the above."
But it can never be flashy.
'We're in an industry accused of being slick," notes Arnold Rifkin, founding partner and head of the motion picture division at Triad Artists agency. A former New York garment industry executive, Rifkin may wear black silk-crested loafers, but his suits are soft and very quiet. He considers pin stripes too loud, but he does wear pin dots. He wears distinctively patterned ties, but never flamboyant socks.
"I have no reason to call attention to my feet. It's my brain I want people to notice."
In "The Player," Julian wanted to make a point that fashion is set at the top echelons and everyone underneath, such as Mill, are wanna-bes.
In real life, movie companies don't have carved-in-stone dress codes, but there is truth to the notion. Some film companies and agencies are more style-conscious than others, and all the players pay attention.
"At Columbia, the young executives who are in charge--like Mark Canton, Peter Guber and Barry Josephson--are interested in fashion and guys study them," says one production executive at another company. "But that's not true at Warner Bros. You wouldn't see Robert Daly (chairman of Warner Bros.) in a Romeo Gigli suit. It's a function of age."
The executives at the Walt Disney Studio aren't considered fashion leaders either. Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, is something of a wild card; he's known for wearing stiff, fitted shirts and conservative Hermes ties. Sometimes he comes to work in head-to-toe Gap.
Universal executives have a reputation for being the most conservative since Lew Wasserman, chairman of MCA, supposedly reprimanded them for infractions such as wearing "too much pattern on their ties," says a television writer who works on the studio lot. Legend has it that since Wasserman started out as an agent, and agents tended to wear plaid back then, he instituted a businessman's dress code, with conservative suits and ties, at MCA.
But agents have turned their image around in recent years with Michael Ovitz, chairman of Creative Artists Agency, considered one of the city's major sophisticates. Ovitz and the other men at his agency dress soft but serious, gravitating toward Armani suits that convey a style edge, but are dark and conservative enough for their serious side--meeting with financiers.