The other day I was reading the Ask Vanessa column in the NYTimes by the fashion critic Vanessa Friedman and a reader asked “How can I dress like a designer? It’s not that I want to fool the world into thinking I run a fashion brand, but I am always struck by the fact that they never look as though they are trying too hard but they always look elegant: cool but functional. What do they pick for themselves?”
Vanessa tried to navigate this conundrum, which is that most designers never wear what they show on the runway, they mostly stick a very minimalist palette of black. Sure, there are exceptions, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen wear their The Row clothes, but they also fit into that category. Miuccia Prada wears skirts and heels with a coat or sweater almost exclusively and Marc Jacobs really goes for it these days when he gets dressed. But for the most part, designers have a uniform–a very clean, incredibly simple uniform that doesn’t relate to their work.
Their reasoning? “The truth is, most designers, men or women, don’t see themselves as living billboards for their own work — at least in their working lives….Both Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Dior women’s wear, and Virginie Viard, the creative director of Chanel, took their bows in simple black suits from their brands. Black was also the color of choice of Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Haider Ackermann of Jean Paul Gaultier and Daniel Roseberry of Schiaparelli.
“Since my 20s, I’ve been in a uniform,” Mr. Roseberry said when I asked. “This Canadian tuxedo” — he gestured at what he was wearing: a faded denim shirt and faded jeans — “or black Carhartt pants and a black T-shirt. It lets me direct all my energy at my work.”
Mr. Ackermann said he was always in black and white or blue, the better to let his collections “do the talking.” Similarly, Mr. Piccioli, who wears black pants from his men’s collection with a black T-shirt when it is warm and a black sweatshirt in the winter, said that wearing the same thing pretty much every day “lets you keep some distance from your job.””
I am not convinced. Frankly, I think most of the top fashion editors and designers create a uniform because they know that is what ultimately works best. All the razzle dazzle that gets sent down the runways, while gorgeous and fun (sometimes) starts to feel like noise. Their work can feel almost disingenuous. How do you sell a lifestyle you don’t personally embrace? And…when you think of all the style icons we constantly reference–Jackie O., Lee Radzwill, Jane Birkin, Sade, Cathrine Deneuve, Audrey Hepburn, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy to name a few, it is not the frothy gowns they occasionally wore that spark our admiration, it’s their trench coats and simple turtleneck-and-jeans looks. There are women designers who practice what they preach–Elin Kling of Toteme, the Olsens, Stella McCartney, Nili Lotan and the newer Sisi Li of Nells Nelson and Maria McManus. I think that is also the reason their designs have become so appealing to so many of us–they craft uniforms for life, not occasion clothes.
This leads me to an old obsession that was reignited after seeing the new image below.
That is a black leather trench coat. It’s one of those eternal wish list wants that I never been able to justify, because it’s expensive and also because it’s a lot of leather. That said, my recent Toteme shearling coat purchase was so worth it; it makes me happy and it’s nice to have something that stands out a bit. A leather trench feels so French to me, sexy but still classic. Nili Lotan does have a perfect one that is under $3000. I need to think on it and go try it on. It would be a forever piece, but the window to wear one is short. And I’m not sure it’s where I want my money to go. I’ll let you know my decision.