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Isaac Mizrahi: For style, get inspired!

In his new book, "How to Have Style," the designer shares what inspires his creativity and fashion sense, and sets out to help women discover how they, too, can be fashionable. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In his new book, "How to Have Style," the designer shares what inspires his creativity and fashion sense, and sets out to help women discover how they, too, can be fashionable. An excerpt.

Question: How to have style?

Answer: Inspiration
To me, you can’t have style without being inspired. When I design a new collection, I am inspired by so many things. The color of a flower. The shape of a butterfly’s wing. The juxtaposition of an old tenement building next to a shiny new skyscraper. Disparate images that somehow come together and show me how to think. It’s as if the ideas enter my brain and come out of my eyes and hands as sketches and ideas. I think of new ideas by reflecting on familiar thoughts and images, much the same way a chef concocts new dishes with his favorite ingredients. Somehow over the years I’ve become very attuned to the things that inspire me to design, to live my life, and to have style. This is what I want to share with you — the technique of identifying the things you love and learning how to let them inspire you and everything you wear.

But there’s no way to unearth your personal style without first knowing who you are. Start by forgetting the idea that you look bad. You don’t. I truly believe that all women are more attractive and better put together than they think they are. I don’t believe in makeovers, so the women chosen to work with in the book were all good looking to begin with. I think smart women can be set free with a little friendly advice and a shot in the arm of good old-fashioned confidence. If anyone ever tries to tell you you’re not pretty or that you have no sense of style, don’t believe that person for a minute.

If you can accept the fact that you look just fine, it will allow you to take the pressure off yourself and have fewer expectations. The minute you do that, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the process of learning about style.

I’m not going to try to convince you to change yourself. I’m not one of those intolerant people who thinks that unless everyone wears my designs, or unless everyone spends most of their day getting dressed, they look awful. I like it when people look plain or messy. I applaud busy people who don’t have time to think about style, as well as people who go overboard. I admire those who take risks and fail. That’s the true meaning of the word “style.”  If you’re one of those people, this book is for you.

Maybe you stopped trying at some point in your life. Perhaps you are afraid to try something new. Or you think you don’t have the time or money. Well, I know you do have a sense of style; you just need some help figuring out what it is, and once you figure it out, then money isn’t really an issue. "How to Have Style" will encourage you to find your inspiration.

Inspiration comes from the most surprising places. When you wake up in the morning, your first impulses should not be discarded. You think “flowers.” You think “stilettos.” You think “gray-blue.” These first thoughts need to be encouraged into physical evidence of who you are. This is your subconscious screaming out for attention. This is inspiration, and it needs to be respected. Inspiration is something that starts a thought process. It motivates you to action.  And it can come from anywhere. It may come from the image of your favorite style icon in a magazine one day, or from a particular shade of blue in a Matisse painting the next. Or perhaps your style is motivated by a pair of red patent sandals in a store window you pass on your way to work. Wherever your inspiration comes from, you have to acknowledge that you’ve started a personal style puzzle. The fun part is putting all the pieces together.

Let me give you an example. The other evening, before going out, I tried on every single jacket I own until I found the perfect companion to the ankle-length pants and silver moccasins I wanted to wear that evening. It was the shoes that inspired me to have fun with my look, and I was determined to solve this puzzle and put the whole look together. By the time you’ve finished reading this book, you’ll be inspired to look at your own style in a fresh new way.

I reached out to twelve women whose style challenges seem to resonate with everyone. The questions these twelve women asked me are universal; they’re the style questions I’m asked over and over.  How can I …

  • dress stylishly on a budget?
  • find clothes for my petite figure?
  • pack for business trips and stay stylish?
  • be stylish after 50?
  • be a stylish mom?
  • look great if I wear a size 12 or larger?
  • introduce colors into my wardrobe?
  • shop like a stylist?
  • dress to express my personality?
  • dress for evening?
  • find my own sense of style?
  • awake from my jeans coma?

Any of these questions sound familiar?

The women who appear in this book are real. None of them are stylists. None of them have more than an average amount of time to devote to putting themselves together. None of them had unrealistic expectations about the results.

To help them find their own style, I gave each woman a corkboard and asked her to transform it into her own personal inspiration board, about which you’ll read more later. Each inspiration board is unique, fascinating, and individual as each woman herself. The boards reveal how each woman sees herself, how she wishes to appear to others, and what she aspires to when it comes to having style.

In working with these twelve women, along with a staff including a fashion stylist, hairstylists, and a makeup artist, it became clear that certain topics needed clarification. In looking at other style books and at TV shows, I was baffled by all the confusing and often conflicting information. I challenged myself and my staff to address these baffling style topics throughout the book.

Between the stories of the twelve transformed women and information on important topics, you’ll find that this book covers all the style essentials. One thing that all of these twelve women and every other stylish woman have in common is the need to put herself first on her list of style priorities. Not the clothes or the makeup or the accessories, but herself. Which means you.

Excerpted from "How to Have Style" by Isaac Mizrahi. Copyright © 2008 by IM Ready Made. Reprinted with permission from Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group.