She speaks four languages. She grew up in Switzerland and Paris, where her mother, a Chilean socialite, was a fixture at the couture shows and an ambassador of sorts for Valentino. And her Russian-born father was an international sensation best known for impersonating a king.
If one had to take a stab at guessing Victoria Brynner's occupation based on this mini-biography, James Bond-style double agent might come to mind. In some ways, Brynner, daughter of the late Academy Award winner Yul Brynner, is exactly that. As the founder and president of Stardust Visions and Stardust Celebrities, a Los Angeles-based photo-production company that also brokers deals between fashion brands with deep pockets and the celebrities who appear in their ad campaigns, she moves with ease between two worlds. Brynner, 45, operates as the ultimate Hollywood insider one minute and as a savvy fashion-photo editor the nextsometimes during the same phone call. "Well, I speak the fashion-beauty lingo, and I speak the Hollywood lingo and the photography lingo," says Brynner, who is an accomplished photographer as well. "Some clients like to know that I'm involved because I can translate all of it."
She also has impeccable timing. When Brynner founded the company 16 years ago, the notion of celebrity as it is today didn't exist. The glamour of old Hollywood was long gone, and tabloids were more interested in UFO sightings than in the label on an actress's handbag or gown. Brynner worked as a photojournalist and then as the local bureau chief for Italian fashion magazine Moda after moving to California to be with her future husband. She found that photographers and stylists she'd been in contact with through the magazine would rely on her expertise for producing photo shoots (scouting locations, procuring permits, organizing a crew) when they traveled west. "When I first came to L.A., it was like a forest out here," she says. "People didn't eat outside on any terraces. The art scene didn't really exist. Production companies didn't exist."
Slowly, as the fashion world reawakened to Hollywood's style-setting potential, Brynner's business grew. By the mid-'90s, the glamour machine was back and running full stop. "Annie Leibovitz became one of my clients," she says. "Her shoots are so production-heavy and demanding. It was this incredible experience. Then I started working with Robert Erdmann. I met stylist Lori Goldstein on a Herb Ritts job, and she introduced me to Steven Meisel. I got a lot of great introductions. Those were the big relationships that cemented me in fashion."
Today, with husband (and business partner and father of her two young children) Gino Sullivan at her side, she counts Louis Vuitton and Lancôme among her clients, and has worked with virtually every big-name fashion photographer. Through the Stardust Celebrities division of her company, she's helped luxury brands sign A-list actors to represent themScarlett Johansson for Vuitton, Matthew McConaughey for Stetson, Katherine Heigl for Nauticacreating professional relationships with earning potential limited only by a star's self-control. "The morals clauses in the celebrities' contract are what make the deals so complicated," she says. "If someone has a DUI arrest, any kind of criminal charge, that can be very detrimental to a brand."
Given the rampant bad behavior in Hollywood of late, it seems as if signing a star to peddle a product may be more of a gamble than ever. Not so, says Brynner. "It's a calculated risk. You see how a person's behaved in their career so far, and you hope for the best," she says. "Celebrities sell. That's why they have so much power. In a weak economy, advertisers will rely even more on celebrities because they know they sell."
One of Brynner's most marketable skills is hard to list on her illustrious résumé, and that's her ease with celebrities, her ability to cut through the fog of fame and get some work done. Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor were fixtures in her childhood home, and Brynner's father was one of the most successful actors of his generation. Ultimately, that helps her business, not because of any networking or nepotism opportunities ("To my mother's great distress, I have not used my personal connections to help my business," she says with a smile) but because the "talent" feel most comfortable with people who are unfazed by their presence. "Los Angeles is a small town, and these Hollywood people really speak their own language. I understand it," she says with a shrug. Christine Lennon
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