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When the snow was still up over my head in our hometown of Chicago, my mother would appear in a hat made of cherries. From the neck down she'd be in her winter fur coat, but her head would be like a harbinger of spring. And in the fall, it was the same thing: Before the leaves had even begun to turn, out would come the first felt hat of the season, always with a feather. I remember getting in the car with her and watching her fight with that hat--the feather was so long she actually couldn't get it into the car! That was just her way of announcing the change of seasons. My mother was known all over town for her style and her wit--not to mention her crazy hats. Of course, it would be hard not to be known around town when you're wearing flowers on your head in the middle of a Chicago snowstorm.
Thinking back, it's little wonder I ended up where I am now. My fashion education started in her bedroom when I was just a little girl. I'd sit mesmerized, watching her get dressed in sequined dresses, fox-trimmed suits, a cocktail dress with feathers lining the hem. One Christmas the photographer Victor Skrebneski gave my mother a white marabou jacket. Not many women could get away with wearing something so outrageous, but she wore that jacket to death--trailing feathers all the way. My mother has the best taste of any human being I've ever met, so who could blame me for trying to keep up? I think I started dressing up in my mother's clothes from the day I knew how to dress myself. The minute she left to go out for the evening, I'd slip into her closet and drape myself with her most lavish velvet negligees, high heels, and dazzling jewelry.
As a child, I loved playing dress-up morethan anything. And in a sense, that's what I'm still doing today. Only now, instead of my mother's closet, I have all of Bergdorf Goodman to play with--seven floors filled with designer collections, glamorous evening gowns, and unique accessories. And instead of just dressing myself (or my little dolls), I now outfit some of the most beautiful and famous women in the world. And just as I never got bored in my mother's closet, the daily challenges of dressing all sizes, shapes, and types of women still gives me a little thrill. When I find just the right dress for the mother of the bride, create a movie character's entire wardrobe, or calm a nervous young woman before her first job interview (while dressing her in a knock-'em-dead new suit), I can shut my dressing room door at the end of the day and call it a success.
My mother always claimed that I walked to a different drummer when it came to dressing. Whatever my peers were doing, I deliberately went the other way. Even at summer camp, when we all had to wear a uniform, I'd find a way to put my own stamp on it. I cuffed the shorts, rolled my sleeves a certain way, tied a sweater around my neck. I'm not saying I always looked great. Maybe I even looked ridiculous at times, but that is exactly what's so much fun about fashion: taking a style risk here and there just to see what happens.
Sometimes it doesn't work at all, but then you know not to do it again, and eventually you build confidence in your ability to make smart fashion choices. That's the real secret to dressing well: It's all about attitude. The attitude of the clothes, but also what's in your head. It's about walking into a room, knowing that you look and feel good, and projecting that attitude out to everyone who sees you.
When I first started my career as a fashion consultant in 1976, the phrase "personal shopper" didn't exist yet. But the customers were desperate for help. Bergdorf Goodman, which has always been New York City's most chic department store, had just about everything anyone could possibly want, but the women who ventured through the revolving doors on Fifth Avenue were often intimidated, overwhelmed, or too frightened to try anything new.
That's where I came in. From the beginning I think people came to me for reassurance and for an objective eye. When one of my customers puts something on, instead of looking in the mirror, she looks at me. I was born with a good eye, I admit. And it's a blessing. I can't deny that there is something intuitive about dressing well and knowing what works and what doesn't. But that doesn't mean you can't learn to do it yourself. It just takes a little practice and a lot of looking in the mirror.
I have customers who have been coming to me since the day I first opened my dressing room door. Over the years, they've brought in their friends, their mothers, their daughters, and even their granddaughters. When I first worked with Betty Buckley (who has been a customer for twenty years), she was on Broadway in Cats. And she's called me before every audition since then. By now, I think it's almost a superstition. I find her an outfit, she gets the part. Some of my customers think I perform miracles. I think I'm just honest. A woman who steps into my dressing room is more likely to hear "Take it off, that looks awful" than "Oooh, that's fabulous!"
Most days my office bears more resemblance to a three-ring circus than it does to a chic fashion show. There's a constant parade of women in all shapes and sizes: actresses, powerful executives, society types, housewives, young mothers, and regular working women. But regardless of who they are and how much they have to spend, in the end, they keep coming in because shopping and dressing is about much more than clothes. It's something you do to make yourself feel good. It should be fun. And sometimes even funny. Because if you aren't enjoying your clothes, then you really are missing the point. I always maintain that no one walks into my office--or into any store anywhere--unless she is ready for a bit of a change. I have yet to meet a woman who can walk past a store without her nose pressed to the glass. She's desperate just to pass through. Show me a person who doesn't like new things--whether it is a frivolous adornment or a necessity--and I say she isn't a woman!
|Ch. 1||Going Shopping for the Truth||1|
|Ch. 2||Wardrobes Aren't Built in a Day||21|
|Ch. 3||Why Basic Is Boring||49|
|Ch. 4||Black Is Beautiful||81|
|Ch. 5||Stepping in, Stepping Out||99|
|Ch. 6||The Dressing-Down Dilemma||121|
|Ch. 7||The Inside Story||139|
|Ch. 8||Clothes - An Owner's Manual||157|
|Ch. 9||Taking the Store by Storm||185|