How 'it girl' scaled the world of fashion
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NEW YORK -- On a humid June evening, Genevieve Jones, dubbed "Girl of the Moment" in the March issue of Vogue, threw a birthday party in her SoHo apartment for Jefferson Hack, the British editor of Dazed and Confused magazine who is also known for fathering a child with supermodel Kate Moss.
Ms. Jones's one-bedroom pad exuded bohemian chic, with low sofas, vintage armchairs and a mirrored antique French armoire. There were orchid arrangements, silver cups filled with colorful Ben Sherman cigarettes and two bartenders serving Palmes d'Or champagne that had been supplied by the brand's publicist.
Upping the glamour quotient were the young celebrity actresses Lindsay Lohan and Sienna Miller. French supermodel Anouk Lepere, Mr. Hack's current girlfriend, served as co-host. Ms. Jones circulated wearing a vintage black lace minidress and silver stilettos with mirrored heels, echoing Audrey Hepburn's portrayal of party girl Holly Golightly in the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Around 11 p.m., Ms. Jones grabbed a compact and lipstick stashed on top of the armoire for a touchup. It was an instinctive gesture for a woman who calls herself "Living Doll" on her MySpace Web page. "I'm known as a stylish girl," she likes to say with a giggle.
A few days later, an item appeared in the New York Post's Page Six gossip column mentioning that Ms. Lohan had attended the party and quaffed Palmes d'Or champagne.
Ms. Jones, the latest "It Girl" to burst onto Manhattan's social scene, may have no regular job but she nonetheless is a vital cog in the fashion industry's marketing machine. Dressing up and having her photograph taken, Ms. Jones helps fashion and luxury-goods companies pitch their products simply through being associated with her.
This scene used to be the preserve of wealthy socialites who wore designer dresses to charity balls. Nowadays, Web sites, Web logs, or blogs, and a glut of gossipy tabloids have broken down the barriers to outsiders. Armed with little more than charm, moxie and good looks, people like Ms. Jones can arrive from almost nowhere and in short order reach the top of the fashion pile.
The Web site of society photographer Patrick McMullan features more than 400 pictures of Ms. Jones, many with her signature red-carpet stance: staring over her shoulder with one leg kicked backward. This week, women who cruise the Web for coverage of New York's fashion shows will likely see photos of Ms. Jones as a fixture along the runways of Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen, Calvin Klein and Proenza Schouler.
Designers and luxury-goods companies have been wooing party girls for much the same reason that Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani courted movie stars in the 1990s. Companies provide clothes, jewelry and booze in exchange for the free publicity that comes from photographs and mentions in the media. Publicists for fashion houses, which sponsor charity events, are always looking to recruit fresh faces with invitations and gowns, either loaned or given free, in a process known as "seeding."
"If you put these girls on the red carpet enough times, they become famous," says publicist Lara Shriftman of Harrison & Shriftman, who spends a lot of time weeding out the has-beens from her mailing lists and adding fresh names. Ms. Jones has appeared on Harrison & Shriftman's list of "cute, stylish girls" invited to events, says Tinsley Mortimer, a former events planner for Ms. Shriftman's company.
"There is something intriguing about these women who are on the go and going out every night," says designer Michael Kors, who lends his clothes to this crowd. He says someone like Ms. Jones, because she wears the clothes with her own style, "is much more credible than when a stylist dresses a celebrity."
The designer Mr. Posen, who is a friend of Ms. Jones, got a boost in April when Ms. Jones was photographed dancing in one of the short navy dresses he lent her for a salsa party honoring the designer Oscar de la Renta. The pictures appeared on Style.com, a fashion Web site published by Advance Publications Inc. -- the company that also owns Vogue -- and Mr. McMullan's Web site.
They were noticed by a Vogue stylist, who called Mr. Posen to ask that the dress be sent over for consideration. Though it hasn't yet appeared in the magazine, Mr. Posen is thrilled. "This is the kind of feedback you get when you have a girl like Genevieve wearing your clothes," he says.
The Italian designer Alessandro Dell'Acqua had never met Ms. Jones when she agreed to co-host a party -- also in April -- celebrating his 10th year in business. The designer's publicist contacted Fabiola Beracasa, the daughter of media heiress Veronica Hearst. Ms. Beracasa then asked her friends Ms. Jones and Ms. Mortimer to join her as co-hosts. The trio was prominently featured on the invitation. They each wore and were allowed to keep one of the designer's dresses. In return, they posed like old chums with the designer for photographers, leaving the impression they wore his clothes all the time.
The Tanzanite Foundation, a trade group that promotes blue crystal gemstones, offered Ms. Jones the chance to wear jewelry featuring the gems. Ms. Jones obliged by wearing a pair of tanzanite and diamond earrings valued at $50,000 to a May gala at the Frick Collection. Amy Williamson, a publicist for the foundation, says the goal was to generate chatter. "What we want is a buzz among the girls, for them to talk about how she wore something amazing," she says.
Several fashion companies are going a step beyond loans and freebies and are signing contracts with these women to appear in ads. Julia Restoin Roitfeld, the 25-year-old daughter of French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, has been hired to promote the first fragrance created by former Gucci designer Tom Ford. Judith Leiber Co., the maker of $2,500 crystal evening bags, has hired Vanessa Getty, wife of Getty heir Billy Getty.
"She is the new generation of style setters, the new face of society who a lot of young women look up to, rather than some movie star," says Robert Vignola, president of Leiber. Ms. Jones was approached this summer by Banana Republic for a possible appearance in an ad.
Unlike many of her friends, Ms. Jones isn't an heiress and she lacks the Ivy League credentials and social pedigree of Manhattan's largely white society set. An African-American, she grew up in Baton Rouge, La., and didn't go to college. Some personal details, from her job to her age, remain sketchy. Ms. Jones says she is 27, but according to a database of public documents, her driver's license and voter registration put her age at 31.
Ms. Jones, who has a housekeeper and an account with a car service, is vague about how she supports herself. "I have my own money," she says, adding, "my parents love me." She often dubs herself an "interior designer" and calls an Elle Decor editor, Carlos Mota, "my boss." Mr. Mota says he has hired Ms. Jones for a couple of free-lance tasks and says he plans to work again with her this fall. People who know her believe she receives financial support from a wealthy former boyfriend.
"It's more mysterious if people don't know so much about me," she says.
Like so many clothes horses, Ms. Jones seemed destined early on to be a fashionista. She grew up in Baton Rouge, where her British-born father works as a chemical engineer at Exxon Mobil Corp. Her mother Patricia, who was born in Trinidad, is a homemaker.
The Jones family lives in a leafy suburb in a ranch-style house in a neighborhood of professional families. Joy Ledet, a neighbor, describes the Joneses as "lovely people" who keep to themselves. Mrs. Jones, 53, confirms that her daughter often accompanied her on shopping trips, where Ms. Jones developed a love of vintage dresses and costume jewelry.
"Genevieve was always in high heels," says Kano Brannon, 35, a New Orleans vintage-clothes dealer, who remembers Ms. Jones stopping in his shop as often as twice a month as a teenager. "She always bought very carefully. She preferred the things from the '60s. She has the best taste."
At McKinley High School, a Baton Rouge public school for gifted students, the willowy Ms. Jones says she wasn't very popular. She reveled in her nonconformity. The family visited relatives in New York twice a year, and she would return to her bedroom in Baton Rouge "and do my Madonna-in-New York look, dressing up in fishnet stockings," she says.
In the 1992 Growl yearbook from McKinley High, Ms. Jones, a junior, and two other girls were featured on the style page, "modeling the latest hair styles."
Instead of schoolwork, Ms. Jones says she was more interested in fashion, dancing, singing and having a good time. After high school, her father got her a job at an engineering firm in New Orleans, where she shared a rented apartment with a girlfriend. Ms. Jones and Mr. Brannon hung out together, dancing at underground rave parties at warehouses. She says her first serious boyfriend was Trent Reznor, leader of the rock group Nine Inch Nails.
In 1998, she moved to Manhattan's Lower East Side to a studio apartment, financed by her parents. "I lied to them and told them I was going to college," she says. "But I didn't know what I wanted. I just knew I was trying to figure things out." She did odd jobs at artists' studios, stretching canvases, for example. "I was a dating, party girl," she says.
Ms. Jones sidled up to the fashion crowd. At a downtown bar not long after her arrival, she spotted Irina Pantaeva, a striking Russian supermodel and actress whom Ms. Jones had idolized as a teenager, and introduced herself. Ms. Jones says they soon were exchanging phone numbers. "Irina and I started hanging out and she took me everywhere, introducing me to her friends," she says.
With her exotic looks and bubbly personality, Ms. Jones deftly networked the swanky set, spending late nights at Bungalow 8, one of the city's most exclusive after-hours hangouts. She expanded her circle of acquaintances quickly. She now claims as friends a number of wealthy women, designers, top models and celebrities including Sean Lennon, son of the late John Lennon.
In 1999, Ms. Jones had a chance meeting with Mr. Posen, an aspiring designer. At that time, he was in high school. "I saw her from across the street. It wasn't what she had on -- I don't even remember -- but she had this presence. It was amazing," recalls Mr. Posen, who walked over to introduce himself. He invited her to his parents' SoHo loft apartment, where he showed her some of his first designs. After Mr. Posen opened his fashion business in 2001, Ms. Jones stepped in to model his clothes during an appointment with the Henri Bendel boutique.
Party invitations began trickling in 2002 after W magazine published a photograph of Ms. Jones in jeans and a tank top at the opening of Alexander McQueen's new store. Through Mr. Posen, Ms. Jones met Ms. Beracasa, who then made the introduction to top Italian fashion house Fendi.
"We like Genevieve, who is bright and classy," says Paige Pederson, Fendi's New York publicist. "With a celebrity, you have less control where it gets seen. But these girls are the best ambassadors. They are so happy to speak well of the house."
In high fashion, all roads lead to Vogue, which in March featured Ms. Jones as its "Girl of the Moment," showing her in seven different party pictures. The magazine spread, which put Ms. Jones firmly on the society map, came three years after Ms. Jones met Andre Leon Talley, Vogue's editor at large. At a party at the New York apartment of designer Donna Karan, "she just stepped in front of me and started dancing with me, just like that," recalls Mr. Talley, who says Ms. Jones looked "sensational" in tight jeans and a baby-doll top.
Last year, during New York fashion week, Ms. Jones ran into Mr. Talley again after the Calvin Klein show. Ms. Jones, who wanted to change into a Zac Posen outfit before the designer's show, invited Mr. Talley back to her apartment, where she ordered Chinese food. He marveled at her decor, closets full of vintage labels and 300 pairs of shoes. "She is one of those mysterious, New York girls who just shows up on the scene," Mr. Talley says.
From there, Mr. Talley took Ms. Jones to a party at the penthouse of Mariah Carey, where he introduced her to Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa. On the spot, Mr. Costa told her he would love her to wear his clothes. A few loaners later, Ms. Jones says she was happy to "lend support to Francisco" during a special event at the Calvin Klein boutique in May, in which customers order pieces from a designer's collection. Ms. Jones modeled the samples and flitted about for photographers. She bought a top and pair of pants for herself.
Today, Ms. Jones spends mornings auditioning designer outfits in front of her computer, exchanging Web-cam images with her friend Ms. Roitfeld. From her two closets and armoire, she pulls the latest $2,000-plus runway frocks, which she either buys at deep discount or borrows or receives as gifts from the likes of Calvin Klein, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Alexander McQueen or Mr. Posen. "My body allows me to be adventurous," says Ms. Jones, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs about 100 pounds. After Ms. Jones is photographed in an outfit, she puts it in storage.
Derek Blasberg, a 24-year-old free-lance fashion journalist whom she calls her best friend, says he sometimes pushes her toward work and studies. On her behalf, he gathered applications to fashion schools. "But she won't fill them out," he says. "I would just like her to do so much more with her life."
Ms. Jones shifts back and forth from being all-consumed by her current lifestyle to being ready to move on. "I can't just do this forever," she says. She has mentioned taking courses this fall in computer design for interiors and says she will sign up for French lessons.
For the time being, the hubbub surrounding New York fashion week has been foremost on her mind. "I haven't reached my full potential in this little game," she says. She would like to nab a formal fashion contract.
"I'm going to hold out," she says, "and wait for something really good."
First Published September 14, 2006 12:00 am