Monty Frazier, Image Catalyst: Did He Make Over Katie Couric?

Did she or didn’t she? Did Katie Couric, co-host of NBC’s The Today Show and television’s new $60

million woman, have her image revamped last year by Montgomery Frazier,

self-described “image guru” and natty fixture of Manhattan nightlife?

According to Vogue, the

answer is yes: “Frazier persuaded her to lose the bridge lines and chunky,

frumpy shoes,” the magazine declared in its September 2001 issue, which raved

about the anchorwoman’s new look. “Into the bin went the pseudo-Chanel suits;

into the wardrobe came Burberry’s check pencil skirt with matching pump,

leather ensembles by Tommy Hilfiger, print dresses from Nicole Miller,

spectator looks from Ralph Lauren, and high-heeled mules by Celine.”

But through a spokeswoman,

Ms. Couric said that Mr. Frazier never got near her mules.

“Katie really has not ever worked extensively with Mr. Frazier,”

said Allison Gollust, Ms. Couric’s publicist at The Today Show. “We were not exactly sure where Vogue came up with that.”

Mr. Frazier says he doesn’t mind … well, he minds a little. He

said he did three weeks of work with Ms. Couric, including a meeting in her

office, phone calls, a shopping outing, and about 100 outfits that he had sent

over from 10 different designers. He said he was introduced to Ms. Couric by

his pal, the physical trainer High Voltage, who was credited in Vogue for putting the Today Show host through four “grueling”

workouts a week.

“You know, what can I say?” Mr. Frazier said. “I think I did help

Katie, and I think other people in the fashion industry have noticed it, so I

don’t see why she would take that askance. Yes, we have had little to do with

each other. However, I was with her at a crucial

point, before people noticed how she started to look.

“Her shoes are fabulous now because I sent her I don’t know how

many pairs. And the clothes are much better,” he continued. “So if anything, I

gave her a big kick in the butt, image-wise. But I’m very sensitive about that.

I don’t want to say anything negative about Katie because I like her. She’s

lovely.”

Eugenia Ulasewicz, the president of Burberry North America, said

that Mr. Frazier “started to get Katie Couric into some of our items. She was a

client through Montgomery. He came in and saw our product and said, ‘You know

what? I think this would really be right for Katie Couric.’ She was on People magazine with one on. He selected

some things for her, which she purchased from us. And it fits her style. We

love it! It was great having her wear our things. She still does; the other day

she had our things on. Don’t you think she looks great?”

In any case, Mr. Frazier is busy with 20 clients, whom he talks

to as often as five times a day. They include a few society ladies, a

journalist, the chief executive of a large corporation and some Hollywood wives

who want careers.

“People like me make New York go around,” he said. “We’re called

‘catalysts.’ We help develop new people, places and things. That’s exactly what

I’m about. Do I think I’ve ever received the credit I deserve? Not really.”

He said he can be tough on his clients. Or his advice can be

simple: “Wear a hat; wear red, never white-photographers hate that.” Or: “Just

feel comfortable … live it and have fun tonight. You’re going to look beyond .” Often, he said, that’s all a

client needs to hear.

He charges $4,000 to 6,000 a month, or $200 an hour. A personal

shopping day costs $800. “If it’s a celebrity and I want to work with them, I’m

very flexible,” he said. “I’m not an asshole and I don’t etch things into

stone.”

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Frazier was eating coq au vin at La

Goulue on the Upper East Side. At 42, he is lithe, with blond hair and a pink

complexion. He was decked out in a brown tweed suit, an Armani sweater vest, a

cashmere sweater and a silk scarf he’d bought in Bali.

“Did you meet the owner, the

blond lady?” he said. “She’s really lovely. This is a cool place because

the food is always great, they treat you really well, and I feel like Dolly

Levi when I come here. It’s like, ‘Hello, Dolly !’

I love that because they’re always like, ‘Oh, Montgomery !’”

Mr. Frazier is currently

staying at High Voltage’s apartment-”a prince in exile,” he said. He moved in

last fall, when he was trying to get over his “divorce” from a wealthy

boyfriend, an interior designer he’d lived with in a “very grand” palatial

townhouse on East 67th Street.

He mentioned a client: Grace Hightower, Robert De Niro’s

soon-to-be ex-wife, who was looking to be reinvented. Rather than write a tell-all

book-a “cheesy” idea-he suggested she write a children’s book. So she’s working

on that.

“With my clients, I’m a bit Svengali-like,” he said. “I’m always

on the phone with so-and-so or so-and-so: ‘Monty, I just got this and I don’t

know what to do.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Well, why are you making such a big issue

out of it?’”

Another client is Camille Grammar, wife of Frasier star Kelsey Grammar. They met back when Mr. Frazier was

giving fashion advice to MTV and Ms. Grammar was a dancer on a show called Club MTV . When Camille and Kelsey

married, Mr. Frazier dyed his own hair purple, blue, pink and magenta for the

wedding.

“Kelsey just adores Monty,” Ms. Grammar said.

Last autumn, while spending the weekend with the Grammars at

their home outside Woodstock, N.Y., Mr. Frazier gave Ms. Grammar some career

advice. She had said she wanted to start producing movies.

“I said, ‘Well, why don’t we think about doing a movie on the Club MTV days and make it a real

feel-good dance movie? And have Kelsey produce it!’” said Mr. Frazier. “And

Kelsey thought the idea was great, so I don’t know where that’s going to go.”

A waiter appeared and handed him a phone.

“How’d they know I was here?” he said.

Montgomery Frazier grew up

all over the U.S. His father was an Air Force man; his mother was

beautiful and, he said, “incredibly stern, a strict disciplinarian.” Once when

he was 7, he was fighting with his older brother and broke an expensive ceramic

lamp that his father had just brought home

from Japan. So his mother broke the other one over Monty’s head. “I

learned never to do that again!” he said.

When he was 9, they lived in Ontario, Canada. Monty was late to

school one day, so he took a shortcut through a frozen marsh and fell through

some ice. He nearly died of hypothermia.

In high school in Colorado, he was on the student council and

dubbed “Mr. Popular.” “All the jocks wanted to know why, for some strange,

inexplicable reason, all the prettiest girls in school happened to hang around

me,” he said. “Hmmm … makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

He said he graduated early and faked a nervous breakdown to get

away from home, spending six weeks in the hospital.

He finally came home, but not for long: One day when his parents

were out shopping, he convinced his next-door neighbors to whisk him off to a

hotel, where he got drunk on cheap wine. Then he left town and never saw his

parents again. “A shame, but sometimes things don’t work out,” he said.

He lived with his grandfather on a ranch in Phoenix and hooked up

with a local modeling agency. “That’s where I started discovering exactly who I

was,” he said. He got a job with Hyatt hotels, first in Phoenix and then in Los

Angeles, where he spent a year hanging around the sons and daughters of famous

people. In 1982, he convinced Hyatt to transfer him to New York, where he

shacked up with two drag queens who took him to Studio 54. He was 19.

“I was the new kid in town,” he said. One of the first people he

met in Manhattan was the infamous art dealer Andrew Crispo, who convinced him

to scrap his first name (Ronald) and go with his middle one. “So he actually

was kind of a mentor for me-scary, when you think about it,” said Mr. Frazier.

Mr. Crispo went on trial a

few years later for the S& M-related death of one his Hamptons houseguests,

Eigel Vesti. Mr. Frazier had been spending weekends at the Hamptons house, and

he had to testify.

At the time, Mr. Frazier was working his way up to

public-relations director for the trendy SoHo boutique Parachute. “That’s where

I learned that a look is very important,” he said. Madonna would come in all

the time to read the magazines.

In 1988, he became wardrobe stylist for Club MTV , which was hosted by “Downtown” Julie Brown.

“He was a force,” said Ms. Brown, now a full-time mother in Los

Angeles. “He definitely brought fashion to MTV. He opened a lot of doors,

especially for new designers.”

“MTV was still in its cool stage,” Mr. Frazier said. “I was there

during the golden age of MTV. The 80′s were a high point for me-I was Mr. MTV.”

He dressed Ms. Brown, he said, in “the most ridiculous outfits,”

which “months later you’d see in videos. So we did influence the way divas look

today, I’m sorry. And I will take credit for that.”

He left MTV in 1992 and spent some time at a downtown magazine

called Project X, which was backed by

nightclub owner Peter Gatien.

“So that was my renegade, nocturnal, star-of-the-downtown-world

days,” said Mr. Frazier. He avoided drugs. “I only drank champagne. I’m a bit

of a glamour boy, right? I’ve always been an uptown boy downtown.”

On another recent

afternoon, Mr. Frazier was in the tea room at the Carlyle Hotel. He was wearing a gray suit with yellow

window pane, a lavender sweater vest with matching lavender tie, and a

pink-and-white-striped $400 shirt.

Next to him was a client, Barbara Conroy, who was wearing a

leopard-skin jacket over a black outfit that would fit right in on a ski slope.

Ms. Conroy, an Emmy Award–winning TV journalist, had recently been divorced and

wanted back into journalism.

Mr. Frazier tells her what to wear (Donna Karan, Carolina

Herrera, and no more Mary McFadden), and she introduces him to people.

He wants her to write a book called Fifty Countries, Seven Wars and get a serious TV chat show.

Recently, he sent her to a makeup artist.

“I want Barbara to get a new kind of palette ,” he said. “Get her into the colors that are more

appropriate for her hair color now and where she is in her career now. It’s

about launching Barbara Conroy as a brand name. First of all, there’s no

redhead on a network. I mean, Barbara Walters is more blond, Katie is blond,

Diane Sawyer is blond, Deborah Norville is blond, Paula Zahn is blond. They’re

all blond! There’s no redhead. I said, ‘Capitalize on that.’ I said, ‘Always be

yourself; don’t try to fit into the other person. There’s already somebody

else. Be Barbara. Be a unique creature .’

“I hate the word fabulous,”

he continued. “I’ll say, ‘It’s beyond …. That

is so beyond .’ I love to express

myself; I’m very animated when I love something and ruthless when I hate

something. I can be very, very evil.”

Later that night, it was off to the 50th birthday party of

another client-Sydney Biddle Barrows, the Mayflower Madam-being held at the

Bubble Lounge in Tribeca.

He knew the bar’s manager, Billy Lope.

“We were the young, beautiful boys who used to go to Studio 54,”

said Mr. Lope. “We were the fresh young meat, and we just had to be beautiful.

It was a nice era-we didn’t have to actually know how to do anything. But we

turned out great. I did, he did. We’re not drug addicts; we’re not dead.”

“I always have the feeling that he’s a descendant of the English

royal family,” said Fares Rizk, a belly-dancing drag queen who once painted Mr.

Frazier’s portrait. “The way he puts himself together with the cap, the cane,

that’s what he looks like-like a young English gentleman. He also advises me on

how I should appear at the next party.”

“When Sydney invited me, she was rattling off the guest list,”

said Edward T. Callaghan, a seventh-generation New Yorker, publicist and dandy.

“I told a friend, ‘The only one I’ll have to compete with in the

sartorial-splendor area is going to be Monty.’ I just hugged him and I brushed

his cheek and I said to him, ‘How dare your skin be so soft? I know how old you

are, and why are you looking like you’re 25?’ He’s my style guide. He’s a

Seeing Eye dog for everyone out there.”

“I think he’s the most stylish … he has the best taste in New

York,” said the birthday girl, Ms. Biddle.

Then it was time to head to a Harper’s

Bazaar party in the West 20′s. Mr. Frazier wasn’t on the guest list, but

publicist Susan Magrino appeared and whisked him in.

Inside, he danced with two women.

“He is like an enigma,” said Vivian Bernal, an actress and model.

“He knows everyone, and yet it’s like no one knows who he is. But everyone

knows who he is …. If Montgomery

Frazier was a straight man, he would be the ideal

husband for any woman in New York.”

“Now that I see him doing this, I think he definitely is

straight,” said Harper’s Bazaar

fashion director Mary Alice Stephenson. “He’s not dancing like a gay guy,

O.K.?”

Then we headed to the after-party next-door at Lot 61.

Actor Alan Cumming was introduced to Mr. Frazier. “He’s svelte,”

Mr. Cumming said. “Trim. He’s like a hedge that’s trimmed. He needs to get

fucked up the arse.”

Christian Leone, the 30-year-old head of public relations for

Halston, said he met Mr. Frazier four years ago at a party.

“He was the quintessential dandy,” Mr. Leone said. “I’d never

seen anyone  dressed like that in my life. He had a cane.

He had a, like, three-quarter velvet jacket. Very Oscar Wilde. So a friend of

mine and I went up to him; we were intrigued. We heard he was stylist, and he

said, ‘No, I’m a fashion guru .’ And

we were like, ‘What is a fashion guru?’ He’s like, ‘It’s very different … it’s

very involved .’”

It was 1:30 a.m. Mr. Frazier got his first drink of the night-a

white wine. “I always wanted to be a big star,” he said. “But I was so busy

helping big stars that I never had the time to work on myself.”