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Behind The Velvet Rope

Posted by Penelope Mohoto-Sebilwane on September 1, 2014
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In 1998 -1999 the world’s stadia welcomed American singer-songwriter, Janet Jackson’s “Velvet Rope” concert on tour before capacity crowds of 15 000 audiences and more. The concert tour was a live ensemble act of her sixth studio album – “The Velvet Rope”. The concert tour and the album were titled as a metaphor for the emotional barricade preventing others from revealing their inner-most thoughts, drawing comparison to the velvet rope used in film premiers, night clubs, high-profile launches and award shows, prohibiting access from spectators. We have all taken note of the velvet ropes that partition who can and cannot enter such events. The velvet rope policy simply states that only a select few are allowed inside the velvet rope. Well, guess what?

There’s a human velvet rope in the realm of celebrity. The personification of the velvet rope. I have been the personification of it by profession, and so is every celebrity assistant cum talent coordinator that serves the red carpet lives of public figures. We are the expert-help velvet rope that rule out who can and cannot meet the management that reps public figure individuals. We sit alongside the publicist and rule out who can and cannot make the guest list of the next event our public figure boss will host. We rule out who can and cannot be fitted into the esteemed lifestyle and schedule of celebrity personas from music royalty to top-billing best-selling authors and speakers. We give aid to celebrity event producers during the planning of red carpet events and help to physically place and position the velvet rope which the public will see at hundreds of celebrity events. As support role players behind every leader in entertainment we help to barricade the aspiring public from the crème of celebrity talent that shapes and moulds the industry with their ideas and showmanship. From the towered offices of high net worth executives invested in the business of celebrity sits the personification of the velvet rope to curate who is well aligned to do business collaborations with our bosses, and who will receive a regret letter. Some have called us gatekeepers. And if you have come across a gatekeeper before, you know there are charming and creative ways around them. However, if you have ever been a spectator, prohibited access to a red carpet or VIP celebrity event, the feeling and experience is far different from encountering a gatekeeper. The velvet rope has a somewhat segregating demeanor that makes you keep your distance and sends you probing inwardly about the quality of the life you lead. When I was an aspiring citizen looking to break into the industry I came across all kinds of gatekeepers. I felt oust by their response and remarks, sometime silent treatment towards my resume submission. However they did not stand a chance against my industrious and enterprising ways to find myself serving the industry’s high-profile and HNW (high net worth) community.

THROUGH THIS ARTICLE – YOU ARE INVITED INSIDE THE INDUSTRY VELVET ROPE. I believe there is much to explore and share from behind the industry veneer. From how to coordinate talent for a photo call, movie press tours, brand endorsement campaigns, or award season appearances, to organizing the industry’s best kept secret specialist service providers like Balan Inc. For someone who is looking to break into high-end support, carve a career as a celebrity assistant, or advance as a PA for public figures especially those in entertainment, there are scores of subject matters you need to become familiar with. Knowing how every department of a celebrity persona’s lifestyle is managed takes up far more of the role than punching in timesheet hours of admin behind the desk. Unfortunately we do not go to school to master the reigns of celebrity lifestyle support. There is a handful of us that have had the willingness to throw ourselves in the deep end and learn as we go. Forums of exchange, mentoring programmes and resources of the trade are currently limited to closed membership associations helmed by groups of fellow human velvet ropes, otherwise known as veteran and retired celebrity assistants. Pioneers such as former assistant to Olympia Dukakis, Bonnie Low-Kramen. So while a genie is yet to come along and launch a specialized school, this “behind the velvet ropes” feature and subsequent articles to come serves to meet this need. Perhaps you have seen it all behind the lens of celebrity estate management and even hired an assistant or two to mend the professional life of the high-net worth principality you once served. Either way, we can come to this space to exchange ideas, learn some things to prep for an interview or even collaborate our expertise.

IN THIS ISSUE – I would like to venture into specialist glam squad representation (enter Balan Inc) behind stylists and designer lenders for celebrity events and appearances. Many of the stylists who make entertainment stars appear airbrushed and magazine cover ready are miracle-worker elves who work for reps like Balan, a luxury lifestyle tri-component agency that is founded by two former interns from Roc-A-Fella records. They are the guys a celebrity assistant or talent coordinator would call to book a stylist or an entire glam squad for projects, events and private occasions. The booking fee will vary from one stylist to another. The nature of the booking is influenced by the who’s who in celebrity talent and what is being styled. When an assistant enquires around and starts vetting stylists a publicist or manager can book for events like the Golden Globes, Oscars and The Grammys, the fees quoted are billed on a day rate between $2,000 to $10,000. Independent stylists like Rachel Zoe, or stylist to everyone’s favorite family (the Kardashians), Monica Rose work one-on-one with the talent. Top-tier stylists like these generally have a day rate in the five figures. That rate is charged for each day that the stylist is on the hunt for the perfect look. Fortunately, when we speak of Rachel and Monica, we are referring to stylists who have assistant stylists or another human velvet rope that provides the necessary support of running around in heels for the perfect pieces of the ultimate ensemble. During high-profile red carpet events stylists call in designer gowns from fashion house and studio showrooms weeks ahead of the events. The demand of the hottest and most publicized fashion designers can create quite a frenzy, especially during award season. Stylists must therefore make quick moves when lending gowns. It’s a snooze and loose game.

Stars promoting their next project – whether it be a film, TV series, or brand extension products such as fragrances, fashion lines and books require loads of coverage and publicity opportunities to guarantee them success. These opportunities fuel much of the business of the red carpet. Stylists will beg and borrow glamorous dresses, jewelry, shoes and the occasional headpiece. When the efforts of a stylist hit a red carpet home run, an avalanche of brand exposure will surround the designer or fashion label whose merchandise was adorned by the celebrity. Pictures of the celebrity wearing the merchandise will make front cover news and appear in many publications giving absurd amounts of publicity to brand or designer that created the merchandise. Such a phenomenon or several repeat occasions of this magnitude are what give birth to the stardom of stylists. Enter Rachel Zoe and her reality TV show on Bravo.

There are also PR and product placement firms who come into the picture to pitch ideas to stylists on what designer or brand to clothe celebrities in. Their role is to find a celebrity who embodies a fashion house or designer brand and pair the two. That embodiment helps to achieve congruency between the celebrity figure’s image and the aesthetic of the fashion brand or designer. The world of celebrity is like a wedding cake with multiple tiers which product placement specialists must have a taste of in order to know which celebrity figure (and stylist) to approach for fashion product placements they plan to propose. The top tier is occupied by A-list celebrity who headline and lead as mega film stars, musicians, media personalities (think Oprah) and TV stars. This level of fame is A-list because it sends ripples across cultural borders and commands world-wide resonance. Names like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Kanye West and Lady Gaga come to mind. These are highly bankable stars. The next level tier is that of B-list celebrity who are stars to watch in film, music and TV. They already have careers and make nominee lists ahead of the major award season in Jan/Feb of every year. On occasion you will find some who are complete newcomers to entertainment and gain recognition for the roles that have launched them into the scene. Most teen idols are set to be in this category for their popularity. I will not speak of C-list and D-list celebrity as I do not find it polite. The tabloids will be a lot more inclined to find value in boxing a number of talent into those categories. The best way product placement specialists determine any celebrity’s ranking is via tools like Centaur Media’s celebrity intelligence and buzz portal. An agreement exchange takes place between the product placement party and stylists (largely to A and B-list celebrity categories) to achieve a win-win scenario for the designer, the celebrity and the style direction commanded by the stylist. Lately popular stylists have become far less accessible to product placement specialists since they have built their own celebrity status, marked by their own style choices that have earned them red carpet home runs.

The most influential personal style bloggers now exist in the digital age, covering much about the latest and greatest moments in the business of red carpet, designer fashion and celebrity style. Among them are whowhatwear.com, former Vogue assistant Emily Weiss of www.intothegloss.com and www.cupcakesandcashmere.com. In today’s age being a celebrity assistant combines the profile of executive assistants, celebrity managers and a business COO or Vice President. Being in the employ of celebrity figures, the field demands of us to know everything that goes on behind-the-scenes. After all, the little black book of any celebrity assistant is rich with professionals and go-to gurus that are instrumental to the effectiveness of our job. My sole vow going into the industry was – and remains to always immerse myself in the industry. I have build libraries at my home, on my phone, my Macbook and iPad for the sole purpose of staying engrossed in the industry’s Who, What, Where, When and How. Perhaps it is a quality I harvested in the year that I studied print and broadcast journalism. Whatever triggered or implanted the habit and belief in my mind, it is an attribute that is sort after. The job of a celebrity assistant is what she makes it. About 2-years ago I was presented an opportunity to provide assistant services to a stylist representative. He could not be bothered with my resume. Instead he asked – “what do you know about red carpet etiquette?”. I gave him ample insight into factors of who, what, when, how, where and how etiquette is an integral part of red carpet events and how it impacts the work of a celebrity stylist. I wd less than 15 minutes. Would I have landed the same outcome had I went on like a spectator on the excluded side of the industry velvet rope? Most probably not. When we immerse ourselves in the lifestyle and business of those we serve, what we end up making of our job transcends many creative fields that truly make our profession a lifestyle, more than a career. I personally care so much about high-end support for both emerging and celebrity talent. I heart talent. I believe that today’s up-and-comer is next week’s super star, and the same can be harnessed of dedicated professionals in private service. For that, I have also taken to mentor and offer career stylist consult to other assistants in luxury, entertainment and the creative business environments. The editor of www.celebrityestatemgmt.com, Kimberly Varney, once spoke of Hollywood’s Best Supporting Role in an article she wrote referring to the role played by estate managers. Her phrase also embodies exactly what goes into the role of celebrity assistants. It is a phrase that befits the estate manager, the celebrity assistant, the talent coordinator and several other positions of those who provide expert-support that makes celebrity lives a well-oiled functioning machine. And there are many parts of that machine. More on that in coming issues.

Penelope Mohoto-Sebilwane

ABOUT THE AUTHOR//

Her work life spans 15 years.She has called many executives in different corporate sectors boss; developed great skill at the birth of privately owned enterprises alongside founding investors; supported a newly appointed board of directors; to coordinating the successful sale and acquisition of her own established online business.

Knowing the ins and outs of celebrity life from working with PR & Talent Management Agencies earlier in her career, and successfully applying into mentorships and mid-career intern programs in the creative industry for 3 consecutive years, she became well-poised to initiate projects where she consults independently as a celebrity assistant, talent coordinator & lifestyle manager to a host of media personalities, celebrity talent, celebrity managers, publicists, stylists and entrepreneurs they work with in film, TV production, casting directors, studio facilities, advertising agencies, fashion and women's magazines.

Determined to grow the list of international celebrity talent she supports; coordinating talent for bigger headlining projects; engaging emerging talent and using herself to change the face and perception of assistants worldwide;- Penelope is fiercely growing her personal brand as a coach, public speaker, author, career stylist, contributing writer, entrepreneur, and THPH: the highly paid help (an evolved and ever enterprising top-tier assistant)

For reviews on her service and brands she has worked with // Visit www.celebritypastudio.co .za

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