A WINNING STYLE?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Most of us get ourselves dressed every morning. But if you're rich and famous, you have no need for such inconveniences. You have a stylist.

And when supermodel Rachel Hunter, of Sports Illustrated fame, went looking for a new creative type to help pick out her clothes and accessories, she decided to conduct her search the new-fashioned way - on a reality TV show. Style Me on cable's WE channel premieres tonight at 10.

Hunter and her crew looked far and wide for a talented potential stylist, soliciting applications from models, photographers, artists and retailers. Their quest brought them to Baltimore, where they found Pascale Lemaire.

Lemaire, 43, is fashion editor at Baltimore magazine. Many have admired her fashion spreads and possibly followed her advice about what to wear and where to buy it, but few really know her.

Thanks to Style Me, more will now.

Unlike many reality show personalities (term used loosely), Lemaire is neither annoyingly tragic or mind-numbingly dull. She's fun.

Call her funky fresh in a Von Dutch hat. Call her haute couture in a lime green Philip Treacy. She's a woman who will pair cropped denim pants with a luxurious fur-trimmed coat. She's all jangly bracelets and bangles, but no earrings. She totes around a pink butterfly backpack on wheels and, occasionally, wears blue mascara.

True to form on the show, Lemaire is quick with the quips. She says things like "stress-o-rama!" and "funkify this sucker." She crosses her eyes at the camera and calmly chats about cleavage with a rather stuffy Hunter.

"I'm Haitian," she says, over lunch recently at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott, her way of explaining her passion for color, flair and the unexpected. "I'm a fun, but fashion-y diva."

On the show, Hunter quickly recognized Lemaire's eye for fashion, saying, in a telephone interview, "Pascale is very, very talented. She's got a great sense of style."

Stylist-to-the stars Phillip Bloch, a judge on Style Me and one of the first professional stylists to elevate the gig to celebrity status, acknowledged her talent, too.

After the show's first challenge - scouring a flea market with $75 and 45 minutes to accessorize a little black dress - Bloch blew kisses at a cheering Lemaire.

"I take my hat off to you," he said at her jazzed-up creation. "Fabulous!"

Stylists, and style-related reality shows, are all the rage these days.

On Style Me's premiere episode, Hunter calls styling "the most demanding job in fashion. ... In my business, looking good can make or break your career."

In a recent phone interview, she says, "What we've seen in so many publications is how basically everywhere you look there's always somebody out there being styled by somebody."

And television has opened up a seemingly boundless venue for stylists to show off.

People have always been "obsessed with fashion and beauty," says Bruce Vilanch, a contestant on VH1's Celebrity Fit Club. "Now [reality TV] is just the latest way of expressing it."

Audiences love style-related reality shows - such as America's Next Top Model, Project Runway, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and A Makeover Story - because they enjoy watching people remake themselves, says Robbie Blinkoff, an anthropologist for Baltimore's Context-Based Research Group, which monitors trends and consumers for companies.

"This is about people constructing themselves. They're on an identity quest," Blinkoff says. "Throughout the show that's what you watch - as people learn more about themselves."

For Lemaire, of Silver Spring, the five weeks spent in New York last fall taping the show were "life-changing."

She learned to live without her cell phone, as the show's producers lock all the contestants' communication tools away to prevent leaks.

She learned to live dorm-style with strangers she calls her "surrogate, dysfunctional family," and, reluctantly, to give up control - not one of her strong points.

And she learned that she had outgrown Baltimore magazine.

"What New York did for me," Lemaire says, "it inspired me to no longer defer my dreams."

Lemaire recently handed in her resignation, and a month from now will leave the cluttered, colorful office she's occupied as fashion editor since 2000. For a chance to try her hand at the big time - TV shows, celebrity styling, red carpet commentating - Lemaire will pack up her Hello Kitty mementos, her David Beckham posters, her piles and piles and piles of fashion magazines.

Lemaire has been bitten by the celebrity bug. And now she wants more. However, she's unsure as to where she'll land.

People who know her are convinced she'll make it.

"Pascale is amazing," says Pallavi Ramamurthy, a sales associate at the South Moon Under in Harbor East, where Lemaire often pulls clothes for photo shoots. "She gets it before it hits."

Lemaire is not allowed to say if she won the Style Me challenge, competing against 12 wannabe stylists for $10,000 in cash, a yearlong contract with a talent agency and an opportunity to style Hunter for a major red carpet event.

But after the first episode - and the quick elimination of four of the 12 competitors - Lemaire was still standing.

"I'm not a real fashion snob," Lemaire says, despite her adoration of Vogue editor Anna Wintour and all things glittery, snazzy, funky, elegant, velvet, fur-covered, hot pink, hat-topped and fabulous. "I mean, I love Gucci, but I can also dance a jig about something that is $12.99 at Target. My ability is to blend both the high-end and the low-end and make it seamless."

tanika.white@baltsun.com

Pascale Lemaire

Age:

43

Born:

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Raised:

In New York, Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring

Education:

Two years studying drama at Catholic University; graduated from University of Maryland with a degree in fashion design.

Fashion:

Interned with Washington Times fashion editor Rosetta McPhearson; worked as freelance stylist in Milan for such publications as Women's Wear Daily; freelanced as a stylist for The Sun from 1989 to 1998 under Catherine Cook and Vida Roberts; began freelancing in 1999 for Baltimore magazine, where she was promoted to fashion editor in 2000.

Other publications that have carried her work:

George, Vanity Fair, Washington Post magazine, O (Oprah), Style

Most often compared to:

Star Jones Reynolds. "If you look at the magazines at Star real fast, and then you look at Pascale," says Marge Shaw, Baltimore magazine's receptionist, "you'd swear it's the same person."

On TV Style Me with Rachel Hunter airs at 10 tonight on WE.

An article in Monday's Today section referred to a new reality show Style Me with Rachel Hunter on the WE: Women's Entertainment network. That network is available on Comcast digital cable, only to Baltimore residents, and on DIRECTV. The next episode of the show will air Monday.The Sun regrets the errors.
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