With her off-duty outfits of oversized Costco tee-shirts and Old Navy jeans, pediatrician Kathy Azaro wasn’t exactly considered a fashion plate. And when Dr. Azaro, who is the vice-president of DanceVision, would go to pick up her children after their classes at the ballet company’s Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, she would be even more “dressed down” in her post-gym uniform of pajama pants under her coat.
Little did she know that her unique sense of style was to become the inspiration for an episode of the TLC television show “What Not to Wear.” Tomorrow, January 31 at 10 p.m., she is the subject of a makeover by Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, the fashion experts who turn unsuspecting women “from frumpy to fabulous,” as the show advertises.
Ms. Azaro’s nomination for this honor came from one of the other mothers at the studio. “Melissa Ackerman, whose children also take classes at the school, had seen somewhere that the show was looking for a ‘dance mom,’” said Risa Kaplowitz, the school’s co-founder and director. “She wanted to nominate herself, but you can’t do that. So she nominated Kathy.”
It wasn’t until six months later that Ms. Azaro realized what was going on. Unbeknownst to her, Ms. Kaplowitz and other conspirators, including Mr. Azaro, had been shooting videos of her, with a camera sent to them by the show, as she went about her daily business clad in her usual tee-shirts and jeans. And Ms. Kaplowitz was secretly choreographing a two-minute ballet to be performed by students, including Ms. Azaro’s son Max and daughter Annabel, at the “hit,” which is when the unsuspecting victim is confronted by Clinton and Stacy and realizes what is going on.
“I was unaware of all of this, but everyone was complicit,” said Ms. Azaro, who looked perfectly fashionable over a lunch at Panera in West Windsor last week. “I was pretty shocked. It took me a minute to realize what was happening.”
Ms. Azaro had brought her children to a small theater in New York for what she believed was a rehearsal for an upcoming DanceVision performance of Ms. Kaplowitz’s ballet “The Snow Queen.” She was distracted, not realizing at first that the mini-ballet being performed was about her and her lack of fashion savvy. When she saw a pair of her pajama pants being held up on stage, followed by the appearance of Clinton and Stacy, she began to figure it out.
Having your friends and family nominate you for a makeover can be humiliating at best. But Ms. Azaro, reluctantly at first, was game. The deal includes $5,000 to use for a new wardrobe, and four nights in a New York boutique hotel on Gramercy Park. “Four days in a hotel without my kids? Are you kidding? I’d never been in a hotel room by myself for that long,” she said. “I wasn’t going to pass that up.”
As for show’s standard requirement that she allow Clinton and Stacy to paw through her existing wardrobe and throw it in the trash, it could have been worse.
“They were both so nice and attentive,” she said. “Clinton, in particular, has a sincerity about him that’s endearing. I was a little worried that the week would be hellish, but they had a way of criticizing my clothes without criticizing me. They almost make you feel like your clothes aren’t good enough for you. And there was no article of clothing that I was attached to, so it wasn’t that difficult.”
During the five weeks between the “hit” and her actual trip to New York, Ms. Azaro went on a crash diet and lost 15 pounds. “My husband started calling the show ‘What Not to Eat,’” she joked. “I didn’t do anything crazy, though. I just ate less and exercised more.”
Ms. Kaplowitz met with the producers in New York as preparations for the show progressed. At one point, she feared that it wasn’t going to work because they wanted her ballet to focus on the cutthroat competition culture portrayed on television shows like “Dance Moms.”
“They thought we were all about competitions, but we’re not a competition school or a recital school,” she said. “We’re about growing pre-professional dancers. At one point I said to them, ‘I’m sorry but I think you have the wrong school.’ But after about 20 minutes, I think they understood and they said, ‘Go do your thing.’ So I think it turned out differently than they expected. Plus, Kathy is not your typical dance mom. But they liked her and they wanted her to get on the show.”
Ms. Azaro thinks she was selected because the producers saw her as “very typical of a 40-year-old woman who thinks looking good just isn’t attainable anymore. And I was okay with that.”
The actual shopping began at Levi’s, “a total disaster,” she said, followed by a trip with Clinton and Stacy to Max Mara and other boutiques. She did some additional shopping with a stylist from the show at Bloomingdale’s, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor. “But Clinton and Stacy looked over everything I bought to make sure I had everything I needed to complete my wardrobe,” she said. “They made a real effort to see that I had things for every aspect of my life.”
The hair and makeup sessions that followed her shopping expeditions were relatively easy, Ms. Azaro said. But for the “reveal,” which was filmed at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village, “they shellacked me with makeup,” she said. “My six-year-old daughter kept looking at me and saying, ‘Are you my Mommy?’”
For Ms. Kaplowitz and other friends and family, the transformation of Dr. Azaro was amazing. “It was a huge change,” Ms. Kaplowitz said. “She was beautiful before, but now she’s even more so.”
Ms. Azaro said that while her experience was positive, she secretly hoped that the episode of “What Not to Wear” would be cancelled. No such luck. When it airs this week, she won’t be watching. “I just can’t,” she said. “I don’t want to see it. Anyway, it’s on at 10 o’ clock — way past my bedtime.”