The boulevard where Monica Rose’s studio is situated is one of those classic LA roads: sprawling, colourless, seemingly endless, permanently baking in that California heat. Somewhere along that street is a non-descript building, and right there in the middle, with a view of a rooftop car park, is the office of one of the most important women in fashion.
Rose isn’t a fashion designer, although things that she loves usually end up in your favourite stores. She’s not employed by a magazine, although her work graces every glossy and website you scroll through on your daily commute.
Rose is a stylist, whose clients include some of the world’s most photographed women with names that begin with the letter K. At one point, she styled the entire Kardashian family, from matriarch Kris all the way down to pint-sized Balmain aficionado North West. The sisters Hadid have also graced her books (Bella has since moved on to a new stylist, while Gigi remains a Monica Rose acolyte). Miranda Kerr has just signed on as a client.
Today, Rose’s studio is humming with activity. The modest space is filled with racks stuffed with clothes. Rows upon rows of shoes – cage booties, strappy stilettos, sneakers – are arranged on the floor. The petite brunette, clad in an outfit that has become her signature (ripped jeans, black camisole, sweeping duster coat), can’t stop apologising for the mess. “I would love to have a beautiful studio but it’s so unrealistic,” she laughs. If this is chaos, it’s an organised one.
It’s mid August, a period that would usually spell downtime for a celebrity stylist. Too early for the frenetic rush of awards season in January, after the big press tours that coincide with the blockbuster movie releases in May and June.
But Rose is always busy. Her schedule is almost completely booked out until next year. “I have a great group of girls who have so much going on,” shrugs Rose. “So that keeps me busy.”
And she is. Today she has a fitting with Chrissy Teigen for the upcoming tapings of her show Lip Sync Battle, and another tomorrow with Khloé Kardashian. She also had two fittings on the weekend with several more pencilled in for the following weeks. She’s gearing up for a whole host of events: from an appearance by Kendall Jenner (“My Kendoll,” Rose calls her) on Jimmy Kimmel’s talk show in a saffron Gucci camisole, and a pearl-studded Lanvin choker to a party-perfect outfit for Kylie Jenner to ring in her 19th birthday (skin-tight lace jumpsuit), to 20 outfits for Gigi Hadid to wear while she dashes from chauffeured car to runway show at New York Fashion Week.
That’s not even mentioning the arm of her business that has now overtaken everything else: off-duty styling. From Teigen’s carefully orchestrated post-baby wardrobe (dinner with hubby John Legend in a sheer skirt and a flouncy black blouse by Australian high street label Asilio) to the next-gen, model-off-duty aesthetic that Kendall and Gigi have helped popularise. When any of her girls step outside – to go shopping, supersized iced latte in hand; to visit their mum’s mansion in breezy Calabasas; on their way to and from their jobs as models/presenters/It-girls extraordinaire – you can almost guarantee they’re wearing an outfit scouted, selected and ultimately sanctioned by Rose.
“We used to do mood boards, but we just don’t have the time,” sighs Rose. “I didn’t take a holiday this year. I’m not complaining, because I’m working. I feel like I’ve been doing this for 14 years. This did not happen overnight. I’m working as hard as I did back then. Now it’s just on a different level.”
It wasn’t always thus. Back in 2001, she was just another of Los Angeles’s many shop girls, slogging away in chic boutiques while they dreamt of bigger things. For Rose, who was quickly gaining a reputation for being a dab hand at putting an outfit together for her customers, it was the dream of becoming a stylist. “I was not a normal child,” she says with a smile, recalling her youth in northern California. “I would call my friends ahead of time and tell them what to wear to school. I was always dressing somebody.”
After working one-on-one as a personal shopper and stylist in retail, Rose made the jump into editorial when a photographer friend asked her to assist on a photoshoot in 2003. Four years later, while working for men’s magazine Complex, she met Kim Kardashian, then a little known socialite whose biggest claim to fame was a leaked sex tape and appearing slightly behind Paris Hilton – like a handmaiden – as they strutted around Melrose Place in head-to-toe monogrammed Louis Vuitton.
Kim was struck by Rose’s sleek, sexy style and eye for merchandising, a result of her many years in retail. “She said, ‘I’d love for you to come over to my house and look at my closet and let me know what I need to do to get on those best-dressed lists,’” Rose has recalled. (When Rose got there, she threw out some 30 Herve Leger bandage dresses.)
Rose’s first big hit as Kim’s personal stylist was a silver dress with a sculptural overlay by Australian designer Toni Maticevski. After Kim –then a successful reality TV star – wore the outfit to the Grammys in 2009, it landed her on several best-dressed lists and kickstarted her much-lauded fashion regeneration. Through their close relationship, Rose started working with Kim’s sisters, Kourtney and Khloé, then her mother, Kris, then her half-sisters, Kendall and Kylie. She would style them for onscreen appearances, for their annual Christmas card, and for advertising campaigns.
But the real big business came when Rose began putting together everyday outfits for the women she calls “the family”. The majority of celebrity stylists don’t provide off-duty services, with the exception of Rachel Zoe. Looking perfect on the red carpet is enough of a burden for an actress hoping to present the most compelling version of themselves. But Rose’s clients aren’t your garden variety starlets.“My clients are photographed as soon as they walk out of their homes, everybody’s looking at them and what they’re wearing,” she says.
The stakes are higher. And where Rachel Zoe might have put a few looks together for Nicole Richie or Lindsay Lohan in the mid Noughties, Rose is styling multiple outfits for her clients every week. She’s doing work faster than she can promote it on social media. “I don’t want to clog the feed,” she laughs. “Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the amount of work that I do.”
Take today, for example. While other celebrity stylists might find their racks filled with gaudy red carpet fare, Rose’s studio is stuffed with denim cutoffs, silk camisoles and khaki army jackets. She definitely has an aesthetic: heavily street-style influenced, balancing out billowing oversized silhouettes with skin-tight bodycon, all in neutral hues. It’s a look that requires equal parts confidence and innate coolness.
“And it’s effortless, I always say that,” adds Rose. “I always want my girls to look like they styled themselves.”
Much ribbing is aimed at Kylie for saying things like: “I started wigs, and now everyone is wearing wigs.” But even if what these girls are wearing isn’t exactly new, the sheer fact that they are wearing it makes it covetable.
If Rose puts one of her clients in a piece of clothing, it will sell. You can chalk this up largely to the fact that she places enormous importance on making sure her wardrobe choices are age appropriate. So while Kim or Teigen might be found in pricier wardrobe options befitting a 30-something woman (a trench coat by The Row, or a Givenchy handbag), her younger clients are often clad in labels that their 20-something fans can afford and probably already love. Labels such as H&M and Stuart Weitzman and, increasingly, a brace of Australian brands, from C/MEO Collective and One Teaspoon right up to Zimmermann, Ellery and Bec & Bridge.
“I think what our customer likes is to see celebrities wearing a brand that is so accessible to their own wardrobes,” says Bridget Yorston from Bec & Bridge. Siham Elmawey, designer of Adelaide-based C/MEO Collective, admits that the Monica Rose effect on sales is so palpable, she designs with her clients in mind. “They are watched closely not only by our customers but also by the whole design world,” she says. “They are always in the hottest new trends, colour or print. Everyone wants to put an outfit together like them.”
And sure, it looks effortless on Kendall and Gigi. But underneath the chic veneer is Team Monica Rose, working furiously behind the scenes.
Rose usually does two fittings a day, and her phone is vibrating constantly with messages from her three assistants out scouring boutiques or trawling the internet for the next underground It-label. Every time they spy something, they send a snap to Rose, who has the ultimate say whether or not it ends up on the rack. Each fitting lasts up to two hours, with Rose and her team bringing in three carloads full of clothes. Sometimes, one fitting will produce up to 20 looks for a particular street-style project. Paris Fashion Week is the big one, says Rose, with multiple outfit changes and after-parties. She packs all the looks with credits, reference notes (roll the sleeves, or wear jacket off-theshoulder) and tonnes of photos. If she knows a set of clients will be appearing side-by-side – say, Kendall and Gigi palling it up – she’ll make sure the clothes will photograph well together. “I try to mix and match where they do kind of co-ordinate, but it’s not the same,” she says.
After she’s sent someone all their pieces, it’s back to the studio, where everything that didn’t make the cut is dispatched back to the stores and showrooms from where they came. Everything is meticulously documented in binder folders. And then the whole process begins again, for the next job. It’s a mammoth feat of organisation. “I think if I were a celebrity I would want a stylist, too,” says Rose with a smile. “You pack my clothes for me, you put cute looks together for me, you introduce me to new designers. Right?”
Everybody says it, but it’s true. You see celebrities everywhere in LA. It probably boils down to the fact that the ratio of famous people to plebs cohabitating in that urban sprawl is particularly high.
The confusing factor is even the non-famous people look so good. They have glossy hair and tawny skin and white teeth. It’s a city full of beautiful people.
Which is why there’s barely a double-take when Kendall Jenner passes me on my way back to my hotel in West Hollywood. A black limousine pulls up and out hops a gazelle-like girl, a wisp in a pale pink velvet kimono. It was a remarkably unceremonious entrance for someone with an Instagram following almost three times the size of the Australian population.
At least, I think it was Kendall. In her beige choker and sweeping coat, a patented Monica Rose outfit, it looked an awful lot like her. In that hazy, rose-gold Los Angeles afternoon, it was hard to tell the difference.