How does an awkward boy from Montreal grow up to become a red-carpet glamour guru? By having a mother who dresses like “the Jewish J.Lo,” says PEOPLE’s West Coast Style Editor Steven Cojocaru. “I learned everything about fashion from her.”
And as he recounts in his recently published memoir, Red Carpet Diaries: Confessions of a Glamour Boy, Cojocaru capitalized on that knowledge from an early age. Accustomed to feeling like “a freak show because I wasn’t a jock,” Cojocaru, 40, eventually became known as “the Halston of [Wagar] high school” after the more popular students started asking him for fashion tips. Still, even to this day, his parents—Benjamin, 70, a retired electronics-company executive, and Amelia, 65, a former seamstress—hope that their son will outgrow his fashion fetish and “be a doctor,” Cojocaru says.
Not likely, especially considering his on-air dishing duties for the Today show and Access Hollywood. But he has changed in one way: Previously blinded by celebrity (“I came out of the womb eating, breathing, living Hollywood, ” he says), Cojocaru—who lives with his Maltese Stinky (“We’re madly in love”) in a two-bedroom Los Angeles house—now has “very little reverence for anyone. We all know how silly what we do is.” Which is clear in his diva-ish diary entry from the Oscars 2002.
8 A.M. I’m down to the wire. I have two hours to make my Sophie’s Choice: a black sequined blazer that Donatella Versace sent to me from Italy via her assistant Nunzio, or the sleek black satin jacket from Lords, my favorite rock-and-roll formalwear boutique. I fret that [the blazer] gives me a kind of Circus Circus Casino floor-host look. Can I really wear this to the most coveted invite of the year, the Vanity Fair post-Oscars bash at Morton’s? This is my first time going with a real invitation to go inside—beyond the velvet rope. I can’t look like I should be dealing chips to people at the two-dollar blackjack table.
9 A.M. Thankfully, distraction comes first: Makeup. I’ll be doing the red carpet for Access Hollywood, and they’ve sent over a makeup person to do a little light foundation, highlighting stuff, and a lot of concealer (unfortunately applied with a paint roller). I’m strenuously against having my eyebrows penciled in. I don’t want to look like Joan Crawford.
Then comes the Director of My Hair, my beloved Byron, who spends an hour doing my hair. It takes about 10 minutes to blow it out straight and then 45 to use up an entire bottle of hair spray to keep it that way.
11 A.M. The fact is, I needed two drop-dead ensembles: one for the red carpet and one for the Vanity Fair party. I was leaning toward the black satin suit for my red-carpet stint, and, to go gangbusters for Vanity Fair, a pair of white satin pants, a sheer Dolce & Gabbana white silk shirt and sleek Gucci boots.
[My stylist] Jenny kept pushing a burnt-gold satin tuxedo shirt for the Oscars suit. But it had ruffles. I said, “I look like Ricky Ricardo. These will not do.” Jenny shook her head and said, “They look fine.” But the ruffles were splashing out everywhere. We had minutes to spare. “Do you want to tape them down?” Jenny said, in a flash of inspiration. So we tamed the ruffles.
1 P.M. I find the Access Hollywood crew, and they send me upstairs to the balcony. Basically I’m a paid heckler. Being up on the balcony brings out all the mischievous prankster demons in me—I have visions of taking water bombs and throwing them on different stars.
3:30 P.M. Publicists have overtaken the red carpet. One of the little-known (or seen) parts of the Oscars is all the cell-phoning going on between stars in their limousines and the publicists who are telling them when to show up. Lots of stars get told to circle the block because they get there too early. And if you get there too early, you’re considered a complete loser.
Then there are those who are always the last to arrive. Like Cher. I remember she was the last to arrive at the Oscars the year that Titanic was nominated. She wore that gigantic flying saucer on her head. I shouted to her, “Cher, Cher. Come here and talk to PEOPLE.” But she was not coming near reporters. My childhood idol or not, finally I lost it and barked, “Cher, if you do not come and talk to me you’re not allowed in. Will you get your butt over here and talk to me right now?” She seemed to like direction, so she came over and talked.
4:25 P.M. Usually I get tipped off in advance about the outfits. Sunday morning, reps for the designers call me to say, “It’s confirmed that so-and-so is wearing this.” But it amazes and frustrates me how these stars—who have the world’s greatest clothes sent to them—still manage to screw it up.
Case in point: Gwyneth. She’s wearing this outfit that will haunt her for a long time. It’s a Goth Alexander McQueen gown with black Elvira eyeliner and yodeling Heidi hair. It’s all over the map. People still ask me, “What was she thinking?” And I think that people like Gwyneth and Cameron Diaz are such golden girls, they feel they can do no wrong. Gwyneth probably walks around to this day going, “Nobody got me. Nobody got the artistic statement I was making.” For trying an edgy runway look I give her credit.
11:30 P.M. I’m waiting for Ann Curry in the parking lot of the Pavilions grocery store on Santa Monica Boulevard. She’s going to go with me to the Vanity Fair shindig. You want to talk about reverse glamour? I’m frostbitten up to my collarbone. Where’s that Versace blazer?
12:15 A.M. Ann shows up in her car, and we’re whisked to Morton’s in West Hollywood. It’s at Robertson and Melrose and it’s limo gridlock. Outside the front door there are bleachers for the public and a velvet rope for the press types.
Soon enough we’re in. And there is Farrah Fawcett looking kind of dazed and confused. Diana Ross sits in a booth with her huge mane of hair. She looks like she’s about to take a nap, to be perfectly honest.
Everywhere you turn there are stars. Mel Gibson is in the back room with his cronies around him and smoking a cigar. He always finds the womb of the party and stays there. Gwyneth and Nicole have a little mutual fan club going. People spill onto the dance floor and sprawl into banquettes. Hugh Jackman is so obviously the belle of the ball. It’s interesting to see the aura around somebody who’s really hot.
2:45 A.M. I get invited to the after-after party. But I have to be on-air at 5 a.m. to do a morning dispatch for the Today show. I need a break. So I go home and hose off my dried, caked-on makeup.
4 A.M. I get to Burbank and meet up with Ann Curry, who looks ridiculously fresh-faced despite the fact that I was with her hours ago and I know she hasn’t slept. In minutes we’re on-air. It’s amazing how quickly you wake up when you have the opportunity to deconstruct Gwyneth’s Heidi hair on national television.