FROM THE WINDOW OF HER EPONYMOUS SUN-FILLED BOUTIQUE in West Hollywood's tony Sunset Plaza, Madeleine Gallay gazes with sensuous satisfaction at all of Los Angeles, from downtown to Beverly Hills. Next door, Rolls-Royces glide into the parking lot of the power-brokers' dining haunt, Le Dome; across the street sits the austere shop owned by Madeleine's ex-husband, the dapper Charles Gallay. It is all very New Hollywood, and at 43, with a background reminiscent of a Tinseltown novel, the charming but slightly steely Gallay has become fashion doyenne to her unflashy, dressed-down-but-chic, ultra-'90s clientele.
Consider: When Richard Gere took mistress Julia Roberts
out to polish her image in Pretty Woman, it was to a stark, chic, aloof Rodeo Drive store. But when Gere and his real-life bride, supermodel Cindy Crawford, shopped for wedding rings last December, they headed straight to Gallay's flowery four-year-old boutique. There, Crawford traded in her hastily twisted aluminum-foil elopement band for a more traditional gold ring paved with tiny diamonds. (Gere settled on a plain gold band.)
In catering to her pretty women, Gallay considers snootiness distinctly passé. "Madeleine gives you a big hug when you walk in," says actress Alyssa (Who's the Boss?) Milano, a regular. "You cannot be intimidated in my shop," says Gallay. "I mean, my shop is pink!" Rebecca De Mornay, Ellen Barkin, Iman, Virginia Madsen and Mimi Rogers are all devotees of the goods and the salonlike atmosphere. If Gallay is busy, Nicollette Sheridan—who picks out much of her Knots Landing lingerie there, as well as scanties for her own collection—might answer the phone instead. Rosanna Arquette has been known to work the jewelry counter for fun.
"It's very relaxed," says Rogers. "Madeleine is maternalistic. She's very low-key, with a self-deprecating sense of humor." "The '90s Gals Club," as Gallay calls them, sit around on the rose-covered patio and sip coffee and, she says, "talk about what we want to do next with our lives, our boyfriends, our hair."
Although the main point is to sell the clothes of young and offbeat yet pricey designers (John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana), Gallay doesn't think rags are the whole deal. "The fashion magazines say if you buy this dress, you'll be the envy of everyone," she says. "I'm saying, 'No, Doll, what you'll get is a really nice dress and that's all. Go and glow! Work out! Get some nice herbs around you! Happiness is not going to happen from a dress!' "
Gallay's own search for happiness has been run over an emotional obstacle course. Madeleine was born to former L.A. model Ranita Whitney, now 76, and an attorney. Her parents split when she was 2, and Gallay has never learned her father's identity. "I've always had a lot of mistrust for my mother," she says; the two rarely speak. Unmarried and pregnant at 16, Madeleine gave birth to Rina, now 27, wed the baby's father, a Korean War veteran 13 years her senior, and filed for divorce eight months later.
After waitressing and file-clerking for three years, Madeleine wandered into Charles Gallay's chic West Hollywood store one day looking for a job. "We fell wildly in love," she says. They married two years later—she was 21, he was 37—and their son, Charley John, now 20, was born the following year.
Once the Gallays had opened a second and then a third boutique, Madeleine found the marriage had lost its heat. "We were making a lot of money, but there wasn't as much passion," she says. "We were together too much." They divorced in 1987. ("I don't talk to Madeleine anymore," says Charles. "So I don't see the point in saying anything about her.") In the settlement she got the Beverly Hills house, he got the businesses. Because she couldn't find a job, she says, "I had to open my own store." The ideal site, ironically, was right across the street from her ex-husband's shop. (At the time, Charles claimed not to mind because "she's so totally different from me in her fashion perceptions.") She launched the new store in February 1988 with a 1,000-guest bash on her 39th birthday.
As romantic as Gallay is, she says she finds true love elusive. "I would love to be in love," she says. "Heck, I would love to be in like!" Gallay lives in a boxy Hollywood house that once belonged to James Dean, now steamy with tropical plants and Caribbean art, with son Charley John, who works at his father's store. Daughter Rina works at her mother's store.
When Madeleine needs emotional support, she pulls the cord on the back of a male doll that was a gift from Rosanna Arquette. "You look wonderful!" the doll says. "I respect your career!" Gallay giggles: "It's the ideal man!"
Not, of course, that she needs one. "I take great pride in achieving things on my own," says Madeleine Gallay. "I'm just beginning to blossom."
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles