Fierce by day and all frills by night
MARIE Antoinette would feel right at home in this white boudoir with Louis XIV-style tables, glistening chandeliers and gilded mirrors. But this is no inner sanctum for some let-them-eat-cake queen.
Eloise Yellen Clark spends her workdays running a hedge fund and then retreats to her ultra-feminine house where chaise lounges are wrapped in satin and windows are covered with bridal-gown silk.
Girly at home, gutsy at work. Clark fits the description of an “alpha kitty” -- a catchphrase making the rounds on the Internet for highly successful women who feel that they can be serious as well as frilly, even in worlds still ruled by alpha males.
“The alpha kitty movement is all about standing out,” says Atoosa Rubenstein, a former magazine editor who promotes the alpha kitty ideal through her MySpace page (www.myspace.com/atoosaspage). “An alpha kitty is starring in her own movie and she wants the set to be glamorous. She’s one step closer to having it all, but having it all in her way, not defined by others’ standards.”
Take-charge, style-conscious women have risen to the top in publishing and entertaining -- Helen Gurley Brown, Oprah Winfrey, Cher -- but today’s alpha kitties are conquering the creme de la creme domains still dominated by men, says Rubenstein, former editor of Seventeen and CosmoGIRL! magazines. Women are on the move up in politics, business and technology.
“We’re still grappling with changing roles, but we also have the first female speaker of the House wearing high heels and saying she’s using her stern grandmother voice. That could have been professionally risky in the past,” says New York University sociologist Dalton Conley, who studies the dynamic shifts in work and family life. “What’s new is that the 24/7 economy has erased the clear division between home and work, and these women are finally opening up their private lives.”
Investment wiz Clark shrugs when asked if she sees herself as an alpha kitty, a term recently added on the site Double-Tongued Dictionary (www.doubletongued.org).
“I’m just a working woman running my own business that gives me intellectual stimulation, financial security and freedom to take good care of my kids and myself,” says Clark, in a black dress and gladiator-strapped high heels. “My friends say the house is like me. My investment philosophy is unconventional, my look is unconventional and I attract independent thinkers who like that.”
CLARK used to live in a house filled with modern furniture: no curly adornments, no gold, no cherubs. She wore business jackets, skirts and stockings -- “you couldn’t wear pantsuits on the floor of the [New York] Stock Exchange,” Clark says, recalling when she started her career in finance in the early 1980s, before Madonna had recorded her first album. After earning an MBA in finance from UCLA, she worked for Citibank, Merrill Lynch and Bankers Trust.
About eight years ago, she started shopping at antique stores, and slowly her taste changed. But nothing she saw -- dainty Baroque chairs, ornate silver pieces -- would look right in her spare contemporary home in Cheviot Hills, so she started searching for something traditional with a grand driveway. Two years later, she bought a Mediterranean-style house in Beverly Hills and hired interior designer Philip Nimmo, who has worked with actress and businesswoman Jaclyn Smith and studio vice presidents.
Clark wanted her new house to look as if it had been lived in for centuries. There would be gilt sconces, satin chairs slipcovered in see-through silk, velvet pillows, tables with marble inlays and draperies printed with gold words in French that would billow like ball gowns.
And she wanted it done in eight weeks.
“That says a lot about me. A busy person doesn’t have years to decorate,” says Clark, who founded OmniQuest Capital four years ago with seed money from the tech titans behind Liberty Media, Technology Crossover Ventures and Expedia. “Being an investment professional, I also had a budget and I needed Philip to respect it.” He did. Together they shopped for expensive pieces, such as a $75,000 black, celadon and tangerine rug and a $50,000 English chinoiserie desk for the living room. But they also found $100 chairs at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.
Convention was not going to stand in the way of Clark surrounding herself with pretty things.
Her Italian-styled house is filled with English and French antiques and whatever caught her eye. When she moved in with her two children, Ali, now 15, and Max, now 13, she also brought a few contemporary art pieces.
“It’s cozy mixed with the unexpected,” Clark says, while standing underneath a French chandelier draped with charm bracelet-like trinkets, strands of beads, pearls and tiny keys.
The shifts in period styles and design motifs create an irreverent feeling, says Clark, a self-confessed rebel. “I’m a visual person. I love fashion, jewelry. And I love the bold stripes on old antique pieces next to modern art.”
Nimmo sees Clark as having two lives: “Her boom-boom-boom work life and her la-di-da, homey home life. This house facilitates that change.”
Her lush master bedroom, Nimmo says, is “the ultimate catnip.” The 1930s Louis XIV-style furniture is painted chalky white. “Scarlett O’Hara would think she hit the jackpot with these drapes,” he jokes of the white bridal-gown silk. “If Eloise ever needed a dress, she could just grab the fabric off the windows.”
She converted an unused second walk-in closet to a yoga studio. A nearby room is used as her home office for early morning calls to the East Coast. Here, she works off an 18th century English oak table.
“I used to work 15 hours a day on Wall Street,” says Clark, who is on the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University and speaks at conferences on companies benefiting from female leadership. “Now I’m still a hardworking perfectionist and I care about everything I do, but I work my way. When I come home, I want to see my children happy, my house beautiful and still know what my managers are doing.”
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More species of the alpha kitty
The alpha kitty aesthetic comes in many shapes and styles, each exuding a certain confidence and success. Here’s a peek at a few kitty lairs.
The bohemian look: The home of Becky Stark, a Los Angeles singer who fronts the otherwise male folk group Lavender Diamond, looks as if it’s a part of an old vaudeville theater. There is an eclectic assortment of furniture and castoffs in the blue- and-green living room. Adding to the theatrics are embroidered images including a dove carrying an olive branch and the words “Peace on Earth” -- a message in many of her lyrics. In her home studio are other inspiring totems: her grandmother’s tea set, hand-painted water pitcher and a clock with an embroidered face. “My feminine side must be let completely free,” says Stark, who wears floor-length gowns from the 1950s, gossamer capes and flowers in her hair. “When I feel uplifted I have more to give and I have better ideas.”
The dollhouse look: A tidy Edwardian house in Pacific Heights with its teal walls, floral drapes and chandeliers is different from the admittedly messy corporate office of Mercedes Ellison, vice president of global partner sales for Hyperion Solutions. In her haven from workdays filled with numbers and programs, one room showcases her collection of dolls, old ballet slippers, porcelain and Parisian art. “Going into this room makes me feel calm and safe,” Ellison says. “It is where I keep my memories.”
The diva look: Rows of long necklaces cascade down walls like artwork in the walk-in closet of Donna Armentor, senior promotions manager of Sony Computer Entertainment America. She lived seven years in an apartment without a closet and it wasn’t fun, so she’s gone overboard in her new home to decorate this cherished space. Handbags, scarves and shoes are categorized into sections, the most colorful ones on display. “My work life can be chaotic, but when I put on accessories I assert my femininity,” Armentor says, “and these things remind me of the places I’ve been on business trips.”
-- Janet Eastman