Women in the seat of 'Empower'

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010; C01

The first thing to remember on a fancy photo shoot with famous fashion photographer Norman Jean Roy is not to get in his sightline. And Roy, who has images of celebrities such as Donatella Versace, Kanye West, Robert Pattinson and Cate Blanchett in his portfolio, apparently has the peripheral vision of a prickly headmaster. Don't even stand where Roy might sense your presence. Preferably, stand in a corner. Try not to breathe.

Banished to said corner in a nondescript commercial building on L Street NW, one can just barely peer into the office of Sheila Brooks, owner of SRB Communications, and one of five women from the D.C. area who were chosen by Jones New York to star in its upcoming advertising campaign: "Empower Your Confidence."

Washington is the first stop on what will be a series of glossy regional pitches. "D.C. did us so proud," says Stacy Lastrina, chief marketing officer. "We think it's the epicenter of empowerment."

In addition to Brooks, the campaign includes Nellie Robinson, an executive at Children's National Medical Center; former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers; and Georgetown Cupcake's Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne. The ads will arrive in local media in March.

The campaign is built on the premise that style is a tool for advancement. Skip the fads. Don't worry about being a fashion plate.

On Friday afternoon, after having her auburn hair primped and her face powdered, Brooks posed in front of the dark wooden desk in her private office, dressed in cream-colored trousers, a white shirt and a black leather jacket - all by Jones New York, of course.

This, however, was not the wardrobe she originally was supposed to wear. "I'm not a dress person," Brooks says, referring to the first option. "I asked for a pantsuit or a suit jacket and skirt. Dresses for me are after 5.

"I have to be in front of clients and staff. So what I wear and how I look are very, very important to me," says Brooks, who spent 13 years in TV news before starting her company. "I don't feel a dress conveys the kind of authority I want to convey."

One woman's empowering pants, however, are another's fashion faux pas.

Her first day in the Clinton White House, Myers wore trousers - thus breaking a rule, left over from the Reagan era, that looked askance at women wearing pants in the West Wing. "Someone who was on the professional staff told me," Myers recalls. "I think the person's intention was to inform, not to reprimand." But still.

For her photo shoot, Myers wore a sleeveless black sheath, an olive overcoat and a glass bead necklace. She felt powerful in the dress, but she wouldn't have felt that way 15 years ago standing at the podium in the White House briefing room. She would have needed a blazer.

"I think there's more flexibility now for what women can wear," Myers says, although there is no less scrutiny.

As Jones's brand ambassador - and author of "Why Women Should Rule the World" - Myers tells young women that "you have to meet a certain level of coherence in your appearance, otherwise it becomes a distraction. A bad hair day is a virtual mute button if you're on TV."

"Sometimes my lack of attention became a distraction," says Myers, recalling her White House days.

"I can be a powerful role model. And a cautionary tale."

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