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
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
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
“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
“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,
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.”
Follow George Gurley via RSS.