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Video: Top stylist shares her secrets

TODAY
updated 10/12/2007 11:21:16 AM ET 2007-10-12T15:21:16

Hollywood's most powerful stylist, Rachel Zoe is the driving force behind today's major front-page trends and she personally decides what Hollywood's hottest stars are wearing. Now, Zoe gives readers full access to the style secrets and tricks of the trade she bestows upon hot celebrity clients like Lindsay Lohan, Salma Hayek and Mischa Barton. In “Style A to Zoe” readers learn how to develop their own personal style and go glam in every part of their life.Here's an excerpt:

Why glamour?
Why not? Sure, as with fashion and beauty or any other aesthetics, the pursuit of glamour is not going to save the world. But life’s too short not to pay attention, get up an hour earlier and stay up an hour later, or even to be wide open to all of its amazing possibilities.

Life’s too short not to take risks. To glam it up! A life of glamour and style makes everything that much more electrifying, that much more engaging.

Think about how we just can’t get enough of the brightest icons of Hollywood, past and present. How much we consume stories and snapshots of the charismatic characters living it up in the fashion glossies or in long-­ago-­published biographies. Or how much, as children, we adored the petite lady living next door who appeared larger than life, a kind of Diana Vreeland figure, draped in incredible caftans and laughing that gregarious laugh. Glamour can come in the form of a suggestion, a hint — like a pair of oversized sunglasses — or it can appear in all its unapologetic glory, blinding bright from the pile of gold bangles on a bronzed wrist or at an informally chic dinner you throw for your friends at a favorite restaurant. It isn’t about fashion.

It’s style. In my book, glamour is pure lifestyle.

My kind of glamour combines California ease with New York high life. It favors modern, even if it’s vintage. It’s browned to a deep Bain de Soleil tan and best served up with a crisp glass of champagne. It calls for a measure of je ne sais quoi. Yet style doesn’t require gobs of resources, fiscal or otherwise. As a stylist who dresses some of Hollywood’s most recognizable and engaging actresses, collaborates with fashion designers for their runway shows and advertising campaigns, and works with brilliant photographers on magazine editorials, it’s my job to know. As a lifelong lover of everything glamorous, it’s my thrill to share it with you.

Dreaming is real
Even all grown up and a part of the global fashion machine, I still love opening a pristine magazine or book and getting lost in the stories and photographs of all the amazing parties and people featured. I study the images. I dream. I tear out pages out for later reference. I admit it’s a bit aspirational and inspirational. But it’s a personal indulgence that has obviously had its professional merits, too, in my decade and a half as a stylist.

The first four years of my career were a crash course into the world of clothes and celebrity. I was just out of college, where I majored in sociology and psychology. Naturally, I went right into fashion. I was twenty-­one and living in the marvelously manic world of Manhattan, as the fashion editor for “YM” magazine, clocking in long hours, schlepping clothes from one part of the city to another, and coordinating shoots and readying starlets for magazine covers and models for editorial spreads.

I decided to break out on my own. I’d already been styling all the teen heartthrobs of the moment — actors, pop stars. I was the queen of teens. As it became increasingly evident that I could make in one week what I did in a year at the magazine, I decided to become a stylist on my own. It was absolutely frightening to leave the safety net of a corporate magazine, with its regular paycheck, benefits, and security. But I immediately started styling the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson (I met her the day she signed with Tommy Mottola; she was all of sixteen). The schedule was insanely demanding, but I was learning so much that it kept me going forward.

Four years into it, and feeling ready for the next challenge, I headed west. Actually, we headed to Los Angeles. My husband (and love of my life since we met, while waiting tables in college), Rodger, has always stood right there with me. We haven’t looked back. It’s a whole different game in the marvelously manic world of Hollywood. The hours are still ferociously long, and it’s increasingly normal for me to go three weeks without a day (or night) off. Seriously.

But now I have amazing assistants who aid in the schlepping and coordinating. I still tear pages out of magazines, but many of them feature pictures of the fabulous women I have been lucky enough to work with holding their own on the red carpet or laughing it up at a party: Keira Knightley, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Garner, Mischa Barton, Salma Hayek, Anne Hathaway, Joy Bryant, Cameron Diaz, Demi Moore, Kate Beckinsale. Now that’s dreamy, right?

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I was a teenaged fashion queen
Dressing the part certainly got me in the right mind-­set to realize my dreams. I started young. When I was thirteen my friends and I took the train from our suburban ’hood of Short Hills, New Jersey, about thirty minutes from New York City.

They all went to hang out at some pizza dive, and I beelined it to a vintage store in the West Village to buy a $200 mink coat. It was chocolate brown and hip length. I had saved my allowance, my gift money, every single dollar for a year to get it. When I got home, I told my mom it cost $40. She and I always butted heads because she couldn’t figure out why I needed these kinds of things. Of course, she has always been exactly the same. I came right out of my mother’s womb and into her closet.

I swear. Her closet is my earliest memory. As a young girl, I thought she epitomized glamour. Everything about her was and still is beautiful — her hair, her jewelry, her shoes. My sister and I would rifle through her things all the time. Some of my fondest memories are of the three of us sprawled out on her bed. We’d spread out her boxes, the kind you find at the hardware
store to organize nails but are perfect for the endless inventory of jewelry she collected.

Thank God my dad understood. He has a great eye and instinct for beautiful things (my parents have an amazing contemporary art collection), and he has aided and abetted in her collection, especially during their frequent travels. The year after the vintage-­mink adventure, I went with my family on my very first trip to Europe.

Again, I decided to splurge my savings. I walked right into Louis Vuitton in Paris and bought a messenger bag. It draped across my body in a half-­moon shape. I still have it. It’s just beautifully made. I was thirteen going on thirty — thanks to my mom as inspiration (whether she acknowledges it or not). And my aspirations and fantasy life were further informed by my hero, Halston.

To me, Halston was the great American designer and style icon. He was the first American fashion superstar. I would get lost in staring at photographs in books of him and the chicest women alive who sashayed through life in his clothes — Bianca Jagger, Angelica Huston, Jerry Hall. His perfume bottle was even designed by Elsa Peretti! I admit that I always wanted to run with the fast crowd.

To me, the fast crowd symbolized more experiences, more opportunities. Living it up, living with more wasn’t so much about materialism as it was about this fantasy life to be and do. I wanted to dance at Studio 54. I wanted to travel to exotic places. I wanted to do the unimaginable. It was just a matter of “how do I get to that?” So it was beyond a dream come true when I was appointed creative consultant to the storied fashion house in early 2007. I knew collecting all those vintage Halston gowns and old books would come in handy someday! Halston wasn’t alone in my Hall of Heroes either: Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino — I swooned over images of their work as much as the tales of their complicated, thrilling lives. They worked hard and played glamorously. What they all shared was an impeccable personal high style. This style sense was my gospel.

I was always the overdressed one among my friends. But that’s who I was. And since it was my money I figured I was entitled to a mink coat. In my head and in my dreams I aspired to look, feel, and live a certain way. Since I was very little, I always wanted more in life. Not more things, but just better. When it comes to quality, it has to be the best there possibly is. The quality of a well-­made jacket. The quality of time I spend with Rodger eating a deliciously prepared late-­night dinner. Sometimes it’s worth saving up for the good stuff.

That’s particularly the case when you choose an item that will withstand time, maybe not because it’s a classic but because you’ll always love it. A good bag or a pair of shoes or a chair or vase might be more expensive because of the quality, but in the end it holds up longer. As soon as I was old enough to realize the things I wanted in life, I figured out how to get them myself. I never wanted for anything as a kid, and I’m grateful to my parents for that. But I never expected anything either. I never wanted a rich guy who could pay my way through life. I dated guys like that.

The notion of being a kept wife wasn’t for me. Success and happiness don’t come through shortcuts. I wanted to work hard and achieve my dreams myself. I always loved the popping cork on a bottle of champagne. In that very instant, the loud “pop” seems to signal a crazy burst of excitement, conjuring all kinds of thrills: stepping out your front door with the biggest smile and highest heels; hanging out with your favorite people and laughing until it hurts; jetting away from home to an even more thrilling place — living it up because you’re truly alive. There’s an intrinsic charge to those three very simple words: Living. It. Up. It’s about being happy, positive, alive. There’s even something so chic in the brevity of the phrase, as if it were a synonym for style itself. On those nights when we live it up, we feel our most glamorous, our most confident. Right?

Where to start?
Before my first appointment with a client, I’ve already done my homework. I’ve studied her achievements, both professionally and sartorially. We discuss what kinds of films or songs she’s done and what’s next on her wish list. We consider what she’s rocked on the red carpet and what didn’t work.

We discuss what she’s happy with about her style, her body — and what doesn’t make her happy.

Everyone has something about themselves they’d rather change. Roll your eyes all you want, but even supermodels are quick to point out something about their bodies they’re insecure about.

It’s best to focus on what you like about yourself and what is working for you. Remember, a good stylist is a master of illusion. If you’ve got a great décolletage and arms, play those up. If it’s your legs you love, then give those a showing instead. Color, proportion, and even your attitude can make all the difference.

Create your own look
The operative word is “create.” Build, shape, construct, deconstruct, form — all terms conveying a work in process and one that’s open to experimentation. When we create we select, combine, invent, refine. We edit. We change. In the following pages, I will provide the guidance to do all of these things — your way. A priority in my work has always been for my clients to become more aware of themselves.

I’m not there to enforce my point of view, but to point my clients — and now you — in the direction of your dreams. The best part of creating style? Whether it comes to your personal look or the look of your home or a tabletop for a party, it’s not permanent. It can be changed. Tweaked. Re-­created. And it all begins with dreaming. When I sit down with clients, we determine whose style they’d love to borrow elements from and we discuss why. For Lindsay Lohan we’ve channeled Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe as a young Norma Jean. For Mischa Barton we’ve tapped Twiggy and Peggy Lipton. One of my personal modern-­day favorites is Kate Moss. I love how she can look effortlessly chic no matter what she wears, how she can mix something worth $5 with a $5,000 item. So with her, it’s as much about her image as it is her attitude and approach to fashion. Who inspires you? Collect images of your favorite icons from fashion, film, and history. While you’re at it, collect images of favorite looks, accessories, interiors, even stuff you might like just because of the color, shape, or idea of it. Tear pages out of magazines, copy them out of books. Do whatever it takes to build up an inspiration file. Inspiration may also be staring right at you.

So much of my style as an adult derived from my mother’s style in the 1970s. On my desk I keep a couple of photographs of her from that time. My mom was always very tan, her brown hair thick and long, and she would always wear the most incredible, oversized chunky jewelry. She also had this amazing earthiness and generous spirit that came through in the way she carried herself and wore her clothes. Even casual, my mom’s outfit always had an element of drama. That was a valuable lesson I enlist with my clients now. I always strive for one element of dramatic flair, something that is special about the overall look that we can also build on. I call it the “wow” factor. When you’re styling a look, you no more want to impersonate your fashion icon than perfectly copy a trend.

Through the assessment process with my clients (and you should certainly be doing the same), we examine whether the changes in their style they are proposing are what they really want. Is it something they think they want because of what someone else said, or because it’s a look that’s working for someone else? It’s great to be inspired by others, but trying to be a replica of someone else never works. Go ahead and play with the Brigitte Bardot makeup or a Twiggy frock and flats, but do it your way. Be yourself. Don’t copy, but do draw inspiration. Interpret it. Otherwise you risk being a fashion victim instead of someone with great personal style. And that’s no way to make your mark.

In my wildest kismet
Successful stylists know clothes, but just as importantly, they know their clients — they know what they really think and feel, and how they move and react. A stylist needs to know a client’s dreams and aspirations, her insecurities and attributes, and how to process all that information to bring out the best and most beautiful in her. You have to do the same for yourself when creating your own look. Got that? Style can be empowering when you understand your own limits and strengths and know how to exploit them favorably. It is not limited to the rich and famous. We’re all looking for style cues in the way we live. An adjustment here or there or something new (even if it’s really vintage) in your life provides a sense of renewal. Even rearranging your closet or the furniture can provide a boost. Eyes closed or open, just dream. No matter how wide awake to the world I am, I dream. I dream of moments. At a party. On the red carpet. I dream while lounging at home or running errands midday. Sometimes dreams last only an instant. I can be talking through a scheduling crunch with my assistant as I drive us along endlessly jammed Sunset Boulevard up to my house. Right there, a dream will start. I run with my imagination, letting it play out all kinds of scenarios, anticipating what might happen during a party in whatever complete look I’ve dreamed up. I may be very black and white when I make up my mind about, say, which clutch is going with what dress, but I dream in color. I dream in the royal purple of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and the lipstick red of the soles on Christian Louboutin heels. In my dreams I can actually feel the friendliness of cashmere, or smell my favorite fragrance (an oil I always pick up on my holidays in St. Barths that’s a blend of amber, vanilla, and tuberose). I dream of dancing under dozens of mirrored disco balls with Halston at Studio 54. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: dreaming is absolutely a required activity.

Mother of invention
The high life doesn’t have to mean high ticket. There are ways to score the good stuff and not pay full price. You just need to be creative. These days there are so many ways to find quality at accessible prices, from eBay to second­hand shops. I’ll see a giant pair of enamel earrings —earrings worth maybe five bucks, if that — and imagine them as the perfect finish to the most amazing of date outfits.

You don’t have to be a celebrity either to borrow. Nor does a loan have to come from a designer. You and your sister or a cousin or friend can share jewelry or a party dress. And dreaming with someone else always doubles the fun. Some of the most stylish glamazons are living it up on a dime. They just know how to reinvent a look with a belt or by wearing their hair another way. They mix new and vintage. They glide on some bold lipstick, throw on some heels, and wow onlookers just because of their joie de vivre. You can even turn basics up a notch with some minor adjustments: a few gold bangles on the left wrist; a dozen more candles scattered around the patio; a silk eye mask to block everything out during a catnap on the red-­eye. Just an easy tweak here or there. It can alter your outlook. Isn’t life so much better then? I never understood how some people could not care less about whether things are beautiful or not. Even less, those who tell others to stop dreaming, that it’s a waste of time. I have a theory: the miserable ones who tell you to stop daydreaming lead pretty sorry lives. Take stock around you right now. Can you spot three opportunities begging for a tweak?

Glamour is in the details
As stylist to some pretty famous and talented women, I’m well versed in the many steps involved in readying them for their red carpet close-­ups. It’s not just about the dress, which undergoes numerous fittings before it’s camera ready. It also involves the right shoes with the perfect heel height, the earrings and other jewelry, and even the bag. Every little detail matters in an era of Hollywood style when every part of a star’s look is documented, analyzed, and remembered long after the actual event is forgotten.

And if the hair and makeup aren’t right, none of the rest matters. Another detail never to be overlooked is comfort. If I’m dressed in clothes that allow me to navigate my wild world without a thought of feeling uneasy or constrained — or downright unpresentable — I feel like me. Comfort nurtures confidence. With my marvelous clients, I strive for clothes, accessories, and jewelry that let them feel their most comfortable. Glamour should be effortless. Or at least look it. High style is also very much about ambience. It can color the environment you live and entertain in. You can even take it with you, glamour on the go, when you’re jetting off for a holiday or for work.

It’s all there in the  details — comfortable, luxurious, and evoking a sense of living it up. So why not live a life of everything glamour? With some adjustments to the way you style your life — from your clothes to your home, from after dark to the morning after — every day can pop. The nine chapters in this book cover it all, thanks in great part to the insights of some of my dearest and most stylish friends — clients and several incredibly talented designers, all of them tastemakers who constantly wow us. Regardless of what the latest fashion trend is, if it doesn’t look good on you — and doesn’t empower you in a way that makes you feel great —then take a pass. Style is not fashion.

As my friend Francisco Costa, the creative director of the Calvin Klein Collection, puts it: “Fashion is fashion. Stylish people might use fashion. But fashion has its place.” Style, on the other hand, is what defines you —the best of you — from your shoes to your sheets. It’s there in the choices you make, in the quality of the things in your closet or home, and in the way you entertain or jet off on holiday. Whether this is something your glamorous neighbor told you or you read in a magazine a dozen times over, deep down you know this. Now put it to practice.

So dream on ....

Excerpted from “Style A to Zoe” by Rachel Zoe. Copyright 2007 Rachel Zoe. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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