Words: Joanne Wilkinson
Image: Steve Vas
It’s hard to believe we’re still talking about this woman, but she is partly, if not entirely, responsible for boho-inspired style wafting around our maxi dress-covered ankles longer than anyone could’ve predicted.
Remember when Nicole Richie led a Simple Life and you could actually see the Olsen twins’ faces, even when they were wearing sunglasses? That was in the pre-Zoe days, where food was allowed and items of clothing weren’t used as props to emphasise how much weight you’d lost.
As stylist to the stars, Rachel Zoe commands an almost untouchable position in Hollywood circles. When actresses need a makeover that will revive their career and give them much-needed column inches, it’s Zoe they call. Her brand of glamorous bohemian luxe is favoured by many top stars, but there’s a uniform look about Zoe’s clients, which has led to them being labelled ‘Zoebots’.
The Zoebot is a strange breed. While Zoe may have started out her career styling for the likes of Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and the Backstreet Boys, it was only when she started to work with young Hollywood’s elite new stars in 2004 that her style really began to have an influence on fashion in a big way.
Ironically, as her own status grew, the stars she worked with shrunk in size, sometimes dramatically. Zoe is always adamant that the blame of anorexia and other eating disorders cannot be laid at the door of her LA mansion. But it’s not a coincidence that girls everywhere wanted to emulate the lollipop-head look of the Zoebots, because these were Hollywood’s coolest screen stars, and how attainable is that when you’re eating normally and you don’t work out obsessively?
It’s quite understandable that a clever stylist will use tricks that emphasise best bits and hide the things you’re insecure about, and no one would expect her clients to have a demand for making them look bigger. But it was the way that Zoe highlighted the eventual severe skinniness of her subjects that disturbed me. These girls didn’t need a plunging neckline to show that their breastbones were more ample than their cleavage. They needed someone to help them dress for their natural shape, not a shape that had been curated by the House of Zoe.
Skinny people don’t need to emphasise how small they are by accessorising their frame with oversized objects that only serve to highlight how shrunken they’ve become. They don’t need saucer-sized sunglasses that hide their sunken cheeks, they don’t need swathes of fabric draped over their slight shoulders and they don’t need a man’s watch to hang off their bony wrists. And insisting they carry an oversized hobo bag that weighs more than them is just cruel. No, thin people don’t need to follow these style rules… unless they want to draw attention to themselves and get the column inches they so desire about their appearance.
And therein lies the dark genius of Zoe. She’s not a stylist in the sense that she dresses her clients to make the best of what they have. She dresses them in order to get the most column inches possible, both for herself and the Zoebot she’s styled- exactly why she’s my anti-fashion icon.
Apart from the fact that the boho look died around the same time as former Zoebot Mischa Barton’s career, Rachel Zoe’s brand of fashion is, on the whole, unattainable and unnecessary. Though thousands of women bought her self-titled style book and tuned in to her, I’m sure, enlightening TV show, it would seem the Zoe backlash has begun. Yes, she may still have her celebrity clients and be making millions, but do women and girls still want to dress the Zoe way? Her own fashion range, which doesn’t throw up any surprises in terms of style, is rumoured not to be doing well and her TV show is on the verge of being cancelled.
But if you’d still like to be a Zoebot, don’t be put off by my cynicism and dislike for the woman – the Rachel Zoe range is available to buy at selected American outlets, for anyone that carries more pounds in their purse than they do on their body.