Monday, November 3, 2008

High/Low: Style Therapy Hero #1

As I've stated many times, both on this blog and to many of my clients, it's not always about the label. A defining characteristic of a true stylemaster is the ability to mix high and low items effortlessly. My favorite Style Therapy hero does just that; I'll refer to her as Clara Wang.

I remember Clara when she was a student at Parsons and I was Tim Gunn's assistant. Years ago, during my undergrad years at university, most students had a default outfit for class. Boys and girls alike wore flared jeans and oversized sweatshirts. For bar night, they'd keep the jeans and trade-up to a tight shirt and platform boots (boys and girls alike here, too). They were essentially mixing low and lower. At Parsons, the design students did not mess around. Even though they were doing labor intensive work around the clock, for the most part, they understood the importance of looking sharp. I think they were inadvertently motivating one another not to be slobs. They remain the best turned-out people I've ever worked with.

Yet, Clara Wang always stood out. I can't overestimate the importance of the word POLISHED. I'm not referring to the overdone, talking-head anchor look. Being polished is more organic and personal. The hair is neat, without being stiff. Makeup is applied with a steady hand, not caked on. Clothing is pressed, clean and tailored. There are just the right amount of accessories, and it never jingles and jangles when walking. It's a modern elegance.

Clara Wang was special because she made this ladylike aesthetic her own. When other people her age were slumming it in heavily whiskered jeans and tattoo t-shirts, she exeduded quiet elegance. But that's not why CW is a Style Therapy Hero. Once, when she was an intern in the design department of the contemporary label we both worked for, I commented on a blouse she was wearing. It was an off-white silk number with interesting pleating at the neckline. I assumed it was Doo Ri or Philip Lim. When she told me she had picked it up at the thrift store for $7, I was floored. She used her design background to tailor the sleeves a bit, but the integrity of the shirt was in tact.

Another time, we'd met up with some other Parsons/contemporary clothing brand friends for brunch. Naturally, Clara was styled beautifully. She wore what I believed to have been the Yves Saint Laurent Tribute sandals. I was left astounded, once again, when she revealed that they'd been picked up from Bakers, which is kind of like Kinney.

Clara Wang has that uncanny ability to style herself through instinct. I believe that's something one is either born with or picks up from a very early age. Sure, she owns beautiful pieces by PRADA, Saint Laurent, the aforementioned Doo Ri, and other higher end designers. But to wear head-to-toe designer intentionally can wreak of fashion victimhood. There's a level of insecurity if one relies on the runways to dictate their every move and poo poos anything they deem beneath them. In fact, there's a word for that in the Style Therapy Book of Diseases: Labelwhoritis. You may know someone who has it, or suffer from it yourself. I had a brief, but acute, case of it back in the summer of 2002.

I applaud Clara for her bold take on fashion. She knows what she likes. She knows what works on her. And she's not afraid to integrate a Chanel bag with a secondhand shirt. This is true, original style. She never has to worry about looking dated, unlike the desperate fashion victims who wouldn't be caught dead at a Kinney or a Zara. And there's nothing wrong with insisting on good, quality pieces. But to insist on a name is another thing entirely. I, for one, proudly position my YSL pumps next to my Aldo boots in my closet. There's never any shame in a good high and low Style Therapy game.

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