Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series. It explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
In this installment, celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch -- whose new show, "Cause Celeb," tells the back stories of why Hollywood stars decide to give back to the community -- transitions from talking dresses to talking charity.
HLN: How did you become a Hollywood stylist?
Phillip Bloch: When I was a little kid, I got in trouble all the time; I hated school, I couldn’t find my direction. But I had a great art teacher, and my parents got together with him and created an extracurricular activity about design, fashion, and style for me. And it saved me. I did that course, went to FIT, got discovered, and went to Europe to model. After eight years — I did [John] Galliano’s first show, worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, was in Italian Vogue — as I was leaving the business, the editors I worked with said I should be a stylist. When I got to Hollywood, my first job — after almost nine months of not working — was with River Phoenix. It was his last photo shoot and it was a cover of several magazines — they all bought the photo because he died that year. After that, slowly, it just happened. It took a lot of perseverance, but within a year, I was the talk of the town. Once I got that first job, Faye Dunaway was my next client.
HLN: What’s one of your favorite memories of styling celebs?
PB: I’d have to say Halle Berry winning the Oscar [for her role in “Monster’s Ball”]. There’s just something to being a part of the inner circle in that moment and with Halle, it was history (she was the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actress). And that dress — people still regard it as one of the top 10 dresses of the Oscars.
HLN: Tell us more about the dress: How did you find it?
PB: I found the dress the summer before. It was a couture dress from the [Ellie Saab] summer collection and I had another friend, Annabella Sciorra, who was nominated for her role in "The Sopranos," so I offered it to her. She loved it, but a week before the Emmys, she said, “I can’t wear that dress — that’s a winner’s dress. And I have a feeling I’m not going to win.” Sure enough, she didn’t win. So when buzz around Halle in “Monster’s Ball” started, I thought, let’s save it for the Oscars. And Halle won!
HLN: Why do you love styling celebs?
PB: I don’t do it because it’s a pretty dress. Oh, alright I do do it because it’s a pretty dress and I love the chiffon and the satin, but it’s the provenance, it’s the story. It’s something bigger — it’s the moment. In Halle’s speech, she said “This moment is bigger than me.” And 10 years later, to be able to walk into a market in Atlanta and have a handful of people come up and thank you for the work you do and to have them remember a dress! Sometimes, a dress is not just a dress — it’s a moment. And you remember the dress in that moment.
HLN: Your new show, “Cause Celeb,” looks at a more inspiring side of Hollywood instead of the materialistic one. What prompted this idea?
PB: There’s more to celebrities than what we constantly see: The arrests, the accidents, the divorces, the drugs. I’ve been behind the scenes for them and I’ve seen the pain, struggle, and sadness. From these struggles come great stories, like Cee Lo Green’s mother being one of the first volunteer firefighters and being rescued from a car wreck by the volunteer fire department and that’s why he works to help the volunteer firemen. Or Jordin Sparks working with Save the Music because she was that kid who was saved by music. I wanted to tell these important stories.
HLN: Is there a drawback to charitable work in Hollywood?
PB: There’s this saying in Hollywood, “I help create awareness.” It’s not just about raising awareness for a charity. What do you do afterward? It takes a little more than putting on a dress, attending an event, and taking a photo.
HLN: In today’s economy, it can be hard for people to give up something they worked so hard for. How do you encourage people to give back?
PB: Forrest Whitaker gave me a great quote once: “Sometimes, you just need to be quiet.” If you take a minute of your day, clear your head of all the noise, and think about what’s important to you and what has affected your life, the answer will come to you. Do you have an old coat? Donate it. Could you clean out your closet, sell some of your stuff on eBay and donate the money to a charity of your choice? It really feels good. And it can be the simplest things. Brides, you spend thousands of dollars on flowers; those that don’t get taken home, make sure they they’re sent to a hospital. That’s a chore your bridesmaid or best man will actually appreciate.