“The difference between me and Anne Slowey,” Garcia says carefully, “is that I never sought this out. I never wanted to be famous.”
The five years that have passed since Holzman first conceived of Stylista have proven his instincts correct. The blending of the fashion industry and “reality” TV, of scrappy voyeurism overlaid atop the business of obsessive-compulsive perfection, has created the crack rock of programming. There’s something oddly compelling about watching pretty teenagers from Ohio trying to bear up under the faux-withering gaze of a fashion photographer on America’s Next Top Model, or Whitney falling down the stairs in plain sight of her bitchy colleague Emily on The Hills.
Slowey claims not to watch any of those shows. But if the promotional clips of Stylista released by the CW are anything to go by—and they are—she has an innate feel for fashion reality TV’s appeal, and she does not plan to play to it with subtlety. In one, she haughtily mocks her would-be assistants’ ensembles and totters around on heels about four inches taller than anything she’d wear to the actual Elle office. In another, she is shown riding the elevator wearing sunglasses and a hysterically contemptuous sneer.
“I don’t even know what reality is anymore,” she remarks the first time I reach her by phone. The fact that the early trailers have been panned for being schlocky seems to have surprised Slowey, who hoped viewers would get that the whole thing is a joke—just her and Elle creative director Joe Zee having a laugh. But whatever. She professes to be “somnambulant” regarding the public’s perception of her. There are too many immediate tasks to accomplish, she says, decisions to make, stories to read, and at the end of the day, too much vodka to drink. Apropos of very little, she e-mails me a favorite passage of James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson that brings her solace in times of metaphysical confusion:
My indolence has sunk into grosser sluggishness, and my dissipation spread into wilder negligence. My thoughts have been clouded with sensuality; and ... my appetites have predominated over my reason. A kind of strange oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of the last year; and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me without leaving any impression.
There are probably a handful of people in the entire fashion industry—Karl Lagerfeld is another—who could tell you who Boswell actually was, but Slowey sends him as an e-mail salvo. With her Birkenstocks and vintage frocks, she prefers to identify with the “creative” as opposed to the “consumptive” side of the fashion business. And she possesses an acute allergy to discretion. She was famous in the Elle offices for sharing—often in her “outside voice”—the details of her marriage (to architect Rodger Fairey) and sex life with even the greenest of interns, while keeping the office busy with an endless swirl of healers, alternative-medicine practitioners, and feng shui consultants. “Anyone who works with her thinks, how does this woman not have a show?” says a former Elle staffer.
Slowey’s endless, self-mocking struggle to exterminate the proverbial last ten pounds has alone fostered something of an Internet reality show. She has tried steroids, supplements, pills, a sort of detoxifying electroshock therapy she calls “Frankenbutt treatments,” and an on-again, off-again commitment to juice fasts. Until Stylista, Slowey’s big moment on the New York cocktail-chatter radar was divulging her February 2007 Fashion Week Food Diary, a harrowingly calorie-deprived fast of Emergen-C supplements, oatmeal, wine, and the odd olive. To motivate herself, Slowey buys her fashion-show ensembles, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Lanvin and Prada and Balenciaga, several sizes too small. Once, she decided to read Ulysses and practically locked herself in the house for a week, reading it in the bathtub. “I lost eight pounds,” she recalls wistfully, and advises me to confront my distaste for Joyce.
Slowey and Garcia were smoking buddies when they started working together at Elle in the late nineties. But they were always quite different from one another. Staffers often reference a pair of videos on the magazine’s Website that peeked inside the closets of Elle editors as proof of how incompatible they are: Slowey’s is small, East Village, overflowing with vintage finds; Garcia’s is cavernous, color-coded, and situated in an apartment overlooking Central Park. Where Slowey got into fashion by accident and mostly to be around other creative people, Garcia had “total conviction” it was where she belonged. In a book she wrote called The Little Black Book of Style, Garcia evocatively summons the moment of epiphany: the day her 15-year-old “Colombian princess” self, clad in a miniskirt and heels, first took in the sight of her new classmates at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, who were uniformly decked in khakis and duck boots. First, she was horrified at the sight of her classmates, then mortified for herself, then she felt a renewed commitment to dress the way she felt most beautiful.