For the ladies of 'Selling Sunset,' fashion means business

Chelsea Lazkani, right, says, 'We all recognise how much fashion plays into our roles and how important it is that we, as the public say, serve looks.’ Picture: Netflix photo

Chelsea Lazkani, right, says, 'We all recognise how much fashion plays into our roles and how important it is that we, as the public say, serve looks.’ Picture: Netflix photo

Published Jun 11, 2023


By Rachel Tashjian

In the high stakes dealmaking and backstabbing of "Selling Sunset," the Netflix reality television show that tracks the drama of the Los Angeles residential real estate company The Oppenheim Group, one of the biggest characters doesn't speak.

It can't form a thought. It can't even make a deal - though depending on how you use it, it might help you land one.

We're talking, of course, about the clothes.

On the show, whose sixth season landed last week, the realtors have stunned (and flummoxed) audiences with cocktail dresses that lace up the front, glass bustiers, enormous blazers that somehow also reveal a lot of skin, and tiny leather gloves. Memes extol the outlandishness of the clothes.

"Selling Sunset agents turning up to a broker's open house at 2pm," posted one user alongside three images of actress Megan Fox in ultra-revealing cut-out gowns and heavy make-up.

"You think you know what clothes look like," another Twitter user said. "And then you watch Selling Sunset."

"We all recognise how much fashion plays into our roles and how important it is that we, as the public say, serve looks," says Chelsea Lazkani, who joined the show last season.

For viewers who are used to switching between sweatpants for Zooming and streaming on the sofa and tame separates worn for half-hearted returns to the office, the clothes on "Selling Sunset" seem to defy everything including weekend wear and business casual.

Bre Tiesi, the newcomer (and paramour of Nick Cannon), frequently appears on the show in a Thierry Mugler blazer with enormous, nearly villanish shoulder pads that cuts off to reveal the bottom quarter of her breasts. "It makes me feel edgy, but sexy, but classy," Tiesi says.

The show's stars often appear for a day of work in neon cocktail attire, like a fitted neon green David Koma dress Davina Potratz wore in the middle of season six that has a lace-up cut-out at the chest. "I think if you reveal too much skin, you take away from your beauty," Potratz says. "So I try to focus on one part of my lower body or upper body."

Chrishell Stause, Heather Rae El Moussa, Bre Tiesi, Emma Hernan at a broker's open in season six of “Selling Sunset.” Netflix photo by Sara Mally

Some of the cast members' outfits even seem to resist the very logic of clothing itself. In one scene, Emma Hernan wears a black gown whose bodice is a lattice of silk straps. She puts a shot in the bust of the dress and a fellow cast member drinks it from its perch in the silky grid as Hernan obligingly leans forward.

In another scene, Lazkani arrives at the office in a white suit jacket and matching trousers - and underneath, a white bikini top whose cups are two enormous white flowers.

Amanza Smith, who often wears cornrows or Bjork-like buns, weeps in a nude tattoo top that extends over her entire hands, awkwardly wiping away her tears with her nude tattoo top-covered fingers.

In fact, a number of cast members go about their days inexplicably wearing gloves - in Los Angeles! In the midst of record temperatures! Lazkani says she wears them "when I want to be in my masculine era." When you see someone wearing gloves on television, she says, "they're always about to be messy." Doing surgery, committing a crime - or merely getting their hands dirty with drama.

The show's elaborate wardrobing also marks a departure from the style of producer and creator Adam DiVello's previous shows, "The Hills" and "Laguna Beach," whose stars are widely credited with ushering the cliché "basic girl," with boot-cut jeans, leggings and stretchy T-shirts.

Instead, flashy designers like Versace, LaQuan Smith and Dion Lee are the cast's favourites. Forget "quiet luxury." These clothes command attention - encouraging lingering, even distracting stares - and refuse to apologise for it.

The team behind the show has encouraged the outlandish clothes, cast members say. "I think the production [started to] focus a little bit more on the look and fashion, and they would do slow-mo entries into scenes and really kind of feature the people that were wearing more bold or outrageous outfits," Potratz says.

"So we, of course, noticed that as well. All of us want to look good and stand out, and everyone's stepping it up and going more and more and more and trying to see what kind of fun fashion they can experiment with."

Amanza Smith and Chelsea Lazkani, with brothers Jason and Brett Oppenheim. Netflix photo by Adam Rose

Potratz also points to the influence of Christine Quinn, who left at the end of last season under a cloud of murky ethics. She dressed "above and beyond," Potratz says, and even appeared as a celebrity guest at a number of fashion shows in New York this past fashion season. (Quinn declined to comment for this story.)

But perhaps no one's outfits stretch the limits of plausibility more than Lazkani's. In an early episode, she arrives at a broker's open - essentially a cocktail party for brokers to show off a new property, where the show's drama frequently crescendos - wearing a white porcelain bustier dress with a leather handbag whose front is sculpted to resemble female anatomy.

That piece was by artist Stef Van Looveren; Lazkani says she wanted to use the show to spotlight independent designers.

In another scene, she meets a fellow broker for coffee in a leather wrap belt skirt by Diesel - an item that went viral on high fashion social media this year, when buyers realized it was virtually implausible as a skirt - and struggles to sit down. (She eventually does so, though the angle of her chair blocks her below the hips.)

But wait a minute - aren't all these people in the business of selling multimillion-dollar real estate? Lazkani says showing her personality through her clothes helps her clients see her as a real person. Tiesi says her suiting helps her feel like a boss. "You dress for the job you want," she says.

Keeping up with the Oppenheim colleagues is no easy task. Nearly all of the cast members use stylists, several said in interviews.

The stylists can charge anywhere from $800 to $2,000 (about R15K to R38K) per look, on top of which the cast members pay to rent the clothes, which is generally 20 percent of the retail cost.

Some work with showrooms that lend or allow them to rent samples. (Some, like Lazkani, don't use a stylist and buy all of their clothes.)

Does the show help the cast with all these costs? "Absolutely not," Tiesi says. "They don't help us with anything."

Cast members say they usually spent two hours or more in hair and make-up - there are spray tans and manicures and pedicures to be done, after all - and some, like Tiesi, have told production they will film just one scene a day to keep their wardrobe preparation to a minimum. (Cast members say they do indeed dress like this even when they aren't filming, dressing down only on rare occasions. "It's to the nines," Tiesi says of her sense of style.)

Others describe a relentless chase to have enough outfits: Perhaps you begin the day filming in the office - there's one outfit - and then you need another look for a birthday dinner that evening.

And let's say someone gets in a fight at dinner (Did you reach out to my client behind my back? Did you inadequately confront someone at a party three scenes ago?!) and you might find yourself having to film a scene the next morning, to confront or comfort someone - that's another outfit. "You kind of have to have some stuff ready to go," Potratz says.

"It can be exhausting," she says, "because you have to do all the getting ready, and then you have the actual drama happening, and then you have to plan for the next outfit."

But it's not that tiring. "I could never be exhausted of fashion," Tiesi says.