Hollywood: To live and style in LA

She wanted to murder Claudia Schiffer, Faye Dunaway was a diva, but George Michael, as always, was a sweetie. Andrew Gumbel talks to outspoken stylist to the stars, Kim Bowen. Photographs by Robert Yager

When film and rock stars give off that aura of effortless glamour and self-importance, it is is largely because of people such as Kim Bowen. In case you thought that stardom was just a question of talent, or beauty, or even some special, indefinable something, Bowen can bring you down to earth. She will tell you what it is really all about.

It's all about the clothes.

As one of the entertainment business's busiest and most successful stylists, Bowen should know. Over the past five years she has dressed hundreds of celebrities for publicity shots, adverts and music videos. She knows how to disguise out-of-proportion figures, knobbly knees and ungainly limbs. She knows how to talk someone out of their own ideas on clothing if they aren't going to look great, and she is not afraid to stand up to publicists, personal assistants, girlfriends or other hangers-on who think they know better.

Most refreshingly, she is deliciously aware of the artifice of what she does for a living and has no trouble blowing away the mystique like so much fluff off a long silk dress. "Almost everybody has their public image filtered through the work of wardrobe stylists these days," she says. "That's why someone like Emma Thompson gets so much stick for her appearance. It's because she's wearing her own clothes and people aren't used to that. It's too individual.

"Let's say an actress wants to turn up to an event in a long black dress and a ruby necklace inherited from her grandmother. A stylist will tell her she shouldn't wear jewellery because it clutters up her neck and makes her look short. Then she might be asked to change the colour of her shoes to give her greater elegance or length, and make her wear gloves because her arms are a bit chubby.

"When I was a child I was fascinated with Hollywood and the way people looked. It's actually a bit depressing now to see Jodie Foster in a supermarket looking just as wretched and ordinary as everyone else."

Bowen is one of a long line of Brits successfully transplanted to Hollywood. But she is also a bit of an anomaly. Far from buying into the star system, she does everything she can to keep it at arm's length. Instead of name- dropping, she will regale you with hilarious put-downs of how mad or obnoxious many of the celebs she has known are. At one point Bowen swore she wouldn't work with any more celebrities but was tempted by the prospect of Faye Dunaway, just to see how an old-fashioned diva operated or, as she puts it, "to see how mad she was". Dunaway was thrilled with the Dolce & Gabbana trouser suits that Bowen picked out for her, but spent the day examining her make-up with "a jeweller's spyglass" and ordering endless Diet Cokes and mineral water. Bowen's enduring image of the shoot is Dunaway standing on a lawn slapping her head and screaming for the hairdresser.

"There are two ways of doing my job," she says. "Either you go freelance, like me, or else you attach yourself to a celebrity and work exclusively for them. That can pay incredibly good money but it takes a certain talent that I don't have. Basically you have to stick your head up their arse and keep it there. I can't do it - too much of a healthy ego, I suppose.

"The whole celebrity thing revolves around yes-men, having a coterie of people. The stars are always making careful choices about who they do and don't want to be. They don't give a fuck about anything except themselves. That's what 98 per cent of them are like and it drives them mad."

For that reason, Bowen has steered clear of feature films (despite the daily fee of up to $4,000), preferring to work on shorter projects - music videos and TV adverts, mostly (for which the daily rate can range from around $800 to $2,000). Since any stars involved tend to have their own stylists, she gets to think more about the overall look, thus attracting more attention for her own work while reducing to a minimum her exposure to abrasive demands and big tempers.

There are exceptions, of course. George Michael is a friend, and she has just finished working on his latest video, Outside, which features a risque series of tableaux of couples having sex in the open air. (The characters do have clothes on - well, at least to start with.) There is even a tongue-in-cheek re-enactment of Michael's recent arrest by an undercover cop who lured him into a public lavatory, the difference here being that the policeman is a voluptuous woman, not a man. Bowen dressed him in a pewter Paul Smith shirt and black trousers. For another scene she found him a genuine LA cop outfit ("tailored to fit his sleek form").

"George is a real sweetie because he doesn't pretend to be anything that he isn't," she says. "Actually I'm bloody knackered because we were up until five in the morning on the last day to get it finished. That's one disadvantage of not working on feature films - no union-regulated working hours."

Bowen is disarmingly casual about almost every aspect of what she does, and utterly unafraid to express her opinions. (She does, however, dodge giving her actual age, stating, "I'm in my thirties, this is a town where these things matter.") Sitting in casual stretch pants in her mock-Tudor mansion in the heart of Hollywood, she releases a torrent of stories about models, actors and - her biggest bugbear - the publicists who insidiously run the entertainment industry.

"They foster this culture of dependency, always trying to make the star feel insecure and inadequate. They say things like, `you know, maybe you're right about your legs being a little fat.' I had Minnie Driver in this house for a publicity shot - a very ambitious young lady, I must say - and it was all going fine until the publicist showed up. She went, `Why is Minnie wearing Armani? Armani is an old woman's designer.' It was all bollocks, of course, but Minnie bought straight into it. And the session went to pot."

Bowen's reputation as a straight-shooter has been partly responsible for her success, though not without a few bumps along with way. (She is currently in dispute with another stylist - he has been nominated for a VH1 award for a video that Bowen jointly styled. She has received no credit.) She got interested in working as a stylist, she says, because she couldn't stand the fashion industry. "It's a goldfish bowl, an empty, worthless place," she says.

Born in London, she studied fashion and textiles, then pure fashion at St Martins in London. After that, she landed a job in Australia as fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar, a job she quit on principle after her editor was fired. She then had several jobs in fashion journalism, including a short stint on the ill-fated newspaper the Sunday Correspondent and periodic freelance pieces for The Guardian. "That was when I found out that you cannot write about the fashion business and be honest," she said. "I wrote a piece slagging off British designers and The Guardian tossed me out on my ear."

Arriving in Hollywood five years ago, she started doing celebrity shoots with the photographer Wayne Maser ("a fantastically talented but despicable man") before teaming up with the commercials director Tony Kaye, another Brit famous for not suffering fools - and, on occasion, suing them. "He changed my life," she says. "He's an amazingly talented, intelligent, wonderfully mad person and we got along brilliantly. He never gave me any grief because we understood each other completely. Once we were doing this very surreal ad and the only instruction he gave me was `I want you to go fucking mental.' So I did." Her work with Kaye includes the radical Dunlop tyres commercial with silver-painted men and a Velvet Underground soundtrack.

Other directors have not been so easy. Once when a director decided at the last minute he wanted her to change the entire wardrobe, she fought him tooth and nail - partly because there was no time to make alternative arrangements. "Afterwards, when we had finished, he thanked me for standing up to him and said I was right and he was wrong."

Los Angeles is not always the easiest town in which to find clothes. Few designers have big offices, and they are still slow in providing what has become a standard service in Europe - lending out their collections to any celebrity who asks. "They used to say they weren't interested at all. Then Jean-Paul Gaultier came along in the 1980s and gave tons of stuff to pop stars. They made him as famous as his clothes did. Now everyone does it, but Armani is the only designer with a proper PR department here." There are times, of course, when designer clothes are not called for, and Bowen is adept at working with specialist costume companies, cliquey boutiques such as lingerie den Playmates and, on occasion, going out and thrift-shopping.

Bowen is now one of a half-dozen or so stylists at the top of her profession. She works regularly with Janet Jackson, another celebrity who passes muster in her book ("perhaps because she grew up in a showbiz family she's not fazed by her own celebrity"), and the singer Lauryn Hill, who recently flew her to New York to pick the clothes for a video clip set in 1968.

Having fought to get where she wants, and to work as much as possible with the people she likes, she is not overly ambitious to branch out into new fields (film-maker Tony Kaye once told her she should go into directing). "I make good money, I like what I do and I still have time to do things on the side, like write. Unlike most people in this industry, I have a life." With the LA prerequisites of a pool, a convertible and a gym, Bowen is in no hurry to come back to Britain, either.

Has success blunted her confrontational edge? It might have done, she suggests, but she is still hilariously outspoken about the miserable time she had on the set of the Citroen Xsara advertisement. Its star, Claudia Schiffer, who had worked with Bowen a month before and been fine, was difficult, to say the least. "I know it must be nerve-wracking for anyone, even a model, to do a striptease in front of a film crew, but she took all her inhibitions out on me." Schiffer insisted that Bowen line her underwear with flesh-coloured fabric, even though Bowen warned her it would end up looking like a girdle. "Which it did." When Schiffer couldn't negotiate the staircase in high heels, Bowen was sent into the Californian suburbs at 5am to find flatties. "At one point," Bowen remembers, "I had to go into my dressing room and scream." Luckily for her, Bowen wasn't around when Schiffer also demanded a body double for a shot of her foot.

These days she bites her tongue when she risks doing herself a bad disservice. "I've got better at picking my fights. If I think a request is unreasonable, I'll say so. But, I mean, if I'm doing a Rice Krispies ad and someone wants to put feather dusters up everyone's arse because of the demographics or something, why bother arguing?"

Life and Style
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Life and Style

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

    Structured Finance

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

    SQL Server Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

    C#.NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone