Hubert Burda Media

Everybody Comes To Hollywood

Documenting the influx of young blood to Hollywood is fashion billionaire MICHAEL KORS and portraitist CLAIBORNE SWANSON FRANK. 

It feels just like watching a scene acted out live upfront, an exchange so scripted that it can’t be natural — but it is.
“Hello!” Celebrity A says as he takes Celebrity B’s hand to shake it. “So great to see you.” And then he drops it. “No, let me do it again — I didn’t quite like the first one.” And then he shakes B’s hand again, with an aggrandised improv.
Not that there was any conceivable difference, but then again, we are in Hollywood, the land of affected handshakes (and even more affected air-kisses), big gratuitous laughter and insider jargon. Tonight, Prestige is the only official Southeast Asian media flown to Los Angeles to dine in honour of designer Michael Kors. We are to fete his latest project Young Hollywood, a 180-page pictorial tome of portraits photographed by Vogue alum Claiborne Swanson Frank.
We are all perched on the Neutra-style modernist residence 1113N Hillcrest Mansion — owned by producer Randy Simon of Requiem For A Dream fame, now used more as a shoot location and events venue than a living space. Like many sprawling Hollywood estates, it is built into the slopes of Beverly Hills to capitalise on the view of the Los Angeles skyline. And what a view, competing with the photogenic faces who all showed up for this private dinner party, a much-coveted Hollywood ticket for only a privileged 150.
By the lava-rock fireplace is Abigail Spencer, in a marigold Michael Kors number (if you must have a handle, she plays Dana “Scottie” Scott on USA Network’s Suits).
Elsewhere, there’s Jim Parrack — that’s True Blood‘s fang-banger Hoyt Fortenberry —lingering in a corner with his date, looking quite out-of-place in a grey suit and tie, perhaps realising his get-up is too serious for the jaunty crowd tonight.
And there goes Magic Mike‘s Alex Pettyfer, looking way shorter than what IMDB professes his height to be. And busy taking selfies is The Hunger Games‘ Isabelle Fuhrman.
“I’m so sorry.” A tall lass in a black diaphanous Autumn/Winter Kors outfit emerged, trying to squeeze past me in the queue forming outside the bathroom. Before I could make the recognition, Cody Horn — daughter of Alan, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios — has skipped away to re-join her posse.
With the exception of the more well-known Pettyfer, if not for the handles given above, you may be forgiven for being momentarily stumped by the names of Spencer, Fuhrman, Parrack and Horn.
Indeed, who are they?
Granted, their monikers are not as resonant as Jolie-Pitt, Zeta Jones, or Paltrow. But these are the names Hollywood wants you to know today, for tomorrow. These are the emerging crop of starlets, the new generation of bright young things. In short, the very same people profiled in Young Hollywood.
Earlier in the day, during an interview at The Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, Frank had said: “The heart of Hollywood is youth — it’s a dream of youth.”
“All these young women are still coming down here from the mountains to create themselves,” she said. “That’s powerful.”
Displayed all around the Hillcrest estate are various portraits lifted from her photo book. “This is a unique generation of actresses and insiders. They are in their own way, creating waves not before seen in Hollywood: Crossing industry lines, producing, writing, directing…”
“At the end of the day, whichever young generation of Hollywood we’re talking about, there’s this dream of hope and possibility, and of transformation, honouring this gift of the American dream.”
Kors, who had written the foreword for her book and had his latest collection used to style the portrait subjects, echoed: “There’s always a dream of becoming a new person.”
“The American dream is that you can come from a small town to Hollywood and if you have the talent, ambition — good looks don’t hurt! — and the right situation, suddenly you transform yourself. And with each role, she transforms herself again. It’s very inspiring to see these women who are chameleons.”
“They can keep changing.”
Frank herself had witnessed this when she was still a junior staffer at Vogue US: “Working for Anna [Wintour] is so inspiring because sitting in that office, as a sponge, I watched people overnight become Someone. I realised, who are you not to be someone in this world? Who are you not to be a photographer or a stylist or an actress?”
“The amazing reality of chasing your dreams and making it a reality, became very real.”
For Kors, fashion, too, is about transformation: “You put something on, you feel like a different person. And for someone who loves to travel, the entertainment industry is a way to travel without getting on a plane: When you see a film, it takes you somewhere else, when you see a television show, you are living another life.”
Leafing through its pages, one cannot help but feel the art direction in Young Hollywood comes across as a little too casual. Absent was a certain element of fantasy, a certain filmic make-belief so cognisant of the movie world. I wondered if this was appropriate of Hollywood stardom today.
On my smartphone, I showed Frank a variety of iconic Hollywood images I had collated: From Richard Avedon’s 1955 Dovima with Elephants, Edward Steichen’s Gloria Swanson 1924 portrait in black lace, to Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of a seven-months pregnant Demi Moore on the August 1991 Vanity Fair cover. I asked: Don’t you think as fashion or image creators, you owe the world a figment of fantasy, apart from the reality around us?
Kors chimed in: “Very few people have a red-carpet life. It’s exciting for a designer to dress actresses on the red carpet, to make them look amazing,” he says. “But I’m actually more excited, say, if Angelina Jolie is wearing Michael Kors to take her children to buy paint at the art store. That kind of glamour is everyday glamour. If you look at a picture of Kate Moss arriving at an airport with a hat and then you say: ‘Oh maybe I can get on a plane with a hat.’ Or if I see Miranda Kerr wearing a coat on her shoulders, picking her son up from school, then suddenly: ‘Oh, the coat on her shoulders!’ Glamour is accessibility.”
But what about fantasy?
“But there’s still fantasy! Realistically, most people do not go to the beach dressed like that,” he says, referencing an inside photo of Horn in a bathing suit. “If it’s strictly fantasy, it’s hard for a lot of women. It might be a beautiful photograph but I don’t know if it actually inspires them to change the way they look, or feel about themselves.”
“That’s what’s interesting about her book: Even when she shot them in evening gowns, she shot them in a very casual way,” he says. “That’s what keeps it current, modern.”
There is a huge re-education of glamour that Kors seems intent to justify.
At dinner, before Zoë Kravitz — daughter of singer Lenny — went on stage to perform with her electro-pop band Lolawolf, Kors made a speech in honour of Frank’s book: “Your work has really inspired all of us to look at Hollywood in a different light. I have to say, to offer a fresh perspective on a subject that is as tried and true as Hollywood is really a rare feat — so bravo!”
As Kors settles in with Frank at the central table — which included actress Hailee Steinfield and Pettyfer — I ask him if being young also means to struggle: Whether it is to find meaning, to find oneself, establishing your own footing and in defining success on your own terms.
“Gosh!” he says, flushed by the memories. The strife is only too familiar as a young fledging talent in his 20s in the vast fashion industry. “The best thing in life was that I followed my instinct,” he says. “You try new things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Basically when you fall down, you get up.”
“When you look at these talented young women, not every project they do, works. But they’re driven and excited about what they do, so they stay in the game. When you’re young, you’re resilient and you bounce back.”
“You have to always keep trying new things and that’s what will keep you young.”
As the last strains of Kravitz’s soulful chords trails off and the dessert plates are cleared, Frank looks around the throng of youthful energies that surrounds her. “The spirit is so powerful here,” she says, pausing, almost gasping at the reality of her own words. “It’s really at the core of Hollywood.”
As the party simmers down, Glee actor Chord Overstreet wanders over to chat with some fashion editors from Latin America, who start teaching him how to converse in Brazilian Portuguese.
Meanwhile, the ageless Amber Valleta — looking almost as supple as her first Vogue US cover in 1993 — rose from her seat. As she departs a company that includes Pettyfer, she hollers over her shoulder: “Remember, it’s Number One, not Number Two!”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but right here, echoing Frank’s “dream of youth” adage, she might just be saying that as long as you believe you’re young, and act and think as youthfully, you can still be Number One.
We’ll remember that.