Style Profile: Kristen Naiman

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A few years ago, Isaac Mizrahi released a book called How To Have Style. Kristen Naiman, who was the stylist on the project, appeared in the book wearing a red lip, striped sailor shirt, and jeans. Yes, I liked her outfit, but I also liked her work. I flip through a lot of style books and the made-over subjects typically wear cookie-cutter outfits that are void of personality. The outfits in How To Have Style still feel relevant today (about five years later). They are accessible, classic, current, and impressive, which is how I would describe Kristen’s style.

Fast forward to now and Kristen is still working with Isaac, she is the creative director of his line, and she is still wearing a red lip and a striped shirt (see here). Throughout our shoot she kept using the word elemental, and her wardrobe is exactly that. She owns the basics, but they are beautiful basics. It’s not easy to make core pieces look exciting, but Kristen does. Interviewing her emphasized how important it is to hone in on the products and brands that work for you, but never forget to have fun with fashion; a lesson she learned from Isaac.

You said you grew up in Rye, New York in Westchester. How do you think that influenced your style?

I think there is a fundamental preppiness about me that I can never shake.

Who is your favorite designer?

Dries is definitely my favorite designer besides Isaac, but I tend to wear a lot of the more classic pieces. I love the more over the top Dries stuff, but I think the longer I style and work in fashion, the more I get super elemental and utilitarian in my own personal dressing. It’s sort of like all of my personal instincts are pared down to a more fundamental form, and I put more of my instincts for statement into my work. I’m into building a beautiful wardrobe of super classic things that you can keep building on. Then you can buy vintage things or whatever to mix in.

I was thinking about that the other day. I like maximalist dressers and I like to look at what they wear and sometimes I identify with that, but then sometimes I look at my wardrobe and I’m like, “I need basics. I need just a good white shirt.” Everyone was so  surprised by the Celine show and how much print there was and I think these non-basic items are turning into collectors’ items. A lot of the investment items now are these beautiful, special pieces, which is like the exact opposite of what I would have thought.

Collecting is not necessarily the same as having style. I know a lot of girls that work in fashion that have these sick, amazing wardrobes. But they just wear the looks. Having style is really different than having fashion. It’s a different thing to wear the head to toe look than it is to dress yourself in your own unique voice. I’ve always dressed my own way. I like a boys for girls look. It’s classic, feminine meets masculine.

Have you always been like that?

You know, in my younger life I was maybe a kookier dresser. I think when you’re younger you experiment a lot to find your voice, and there’s something that remains about that, but I’ve gotten more refined as I’ve gotten older. When you are really young or really old there can be a real crazy exuberance in your dressing. A sort of devil-may-care thing that I love so much and suits the very young and the very old. I’m going to be an insane dresser as an old lady.

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Have you felt like you’ve needed to dress more refined and put together because of your job?

Maybe. It is really important to have fun with your clothes. I don’t like safety per se. But right now there’s also an element where it’s like I am a mom and I have a busy job, and I have a social life, and I have a whole big life that I love, and I’m really interested in millions of things, and there’s only so much time that you have.  One thing that I really believe in is that dressing should be something that enhances your life. It shouldn’t be something that causes you a lot of strife. A lot of the joy that I have is in having really beautiful things that I can just throw on and not think about. I boiled down my style to an elemental form so that it was something that could sort of just happen in service to the rest of my life instead of being a slave to that. I wanted to be able to just have beautiful clothes that just existed in the context of my bigger, beautiful life. I think that comes with having a really demanding job, with having a kid, with having a social life, with having all of these things that you want to give time to.

Do you get things tailored often?

I go in and out of it. I’m a fierce editor and I will get rid of things, but I won’t do it until I’ve tried to exhaust it. The goal is to love things so much that you wear them into the ground. I don’t buy tons and tons of stuff, but what I buy I really, really use. It’s the opposite of buying pieces and wearing them twice. I wear things until they are thrashed.

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Do you shop in Brooklyn?

I love Bird. I think Jenn Mankins has done an amazing job of defining Brooklyn girl style. I go to Brooklyn Flea. I love Eva Gentry consignment. There is a really sweet store in my neighborhood called Suzanne de la Vaga that I think is great.

I want to start consignment shopping more.

I love consignment shopping. I just bought a Commes des Garcon slip dress at this amazing consignment store in Dalston, London. It’s a 1995 Comme des Garcon slip dress. It doesn’t get more iconic than that. I also love a Century 21 moment. I think that’s left over from being a scrappy kid who loved to make something out of nothing. I still really love that. I still love to find a jewel in the rough.

Do you still shop vintage?

I do. I will always love vintage.

What are your signatures?

My lips and more recently my hair and these three brass bangles. But I always wear red lips always, always, always. I play with different shades of red, but it’s always red.

What lipstick brands do you wear?

I love Nars. My default mode is Nars Red Square, which is a lip pencil, or Heat Wave. I’ve been wearing both of those for a long time. But I just bought that Dior Ara Red 999, which is the new Dior red that I’m really into. And I love Serge Lutens Garde Rose. Those are my two reds for fall.

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How do you shop? How do you prepare for a new season?

I’m not a huge shopper. I obviously know what’s in the market and I tend to browse a lot before I buy anything. I make sure that I know everything that’s out there. Then I tend to pretty strategically select a couple expensive things that I buy. I start with pieces that I want to have for the season, and then I tend to try and fill in the gaps with fun, cheap things or vintage things, but I don’t do too much of that either. I try really very hard to do the less is more thing. I don’t like to have tons and tons of clothes. I always feel terrible if I buy something and only wear it once or twice. My goal is to buy something and love it so much that I live in it until it falls apart. I do tend to shop when I go to Europe. I really like Le Bon Marché and I usually buy one or two pieces there a season. I bought that Commes cape there, the Dries blazer, and my main shoes from the last couple seasons. I’ve seen the clothes pretty much everywhere else by the time I get there, but the edit there is really very chic and very smart. It’s not safe or fuddy duddy, but it’s usually very intrinsically classic. A successful purchase is something like this Lanvin dress I own. Even though I bought it probably seven years ago, I can wear it every year.

Are you a full price shopper or do you stalk an item until it goes on sale?

I’m a sort of a mix. I will definitely buy full price things when they are amazing pieces that I will have forever and probably won’t ever go on sale. So I do a little bit of that, but only a little bit. I’m not an exclusively full price shopper. I tend to either do that, or I like to wait until things are 70 percent off and I’m digging through some bin. I don’t like very much in the middle. Or I love Century 21 or a consignment store. I think that we make so many products in our world that there’s something nice about finding the beauty in the refuse. Finding the things that have been cast aside or overlooked. And of course, who doesn’t love a deal?

Has having a daughter changed your style?

I think women who age really gracefully understand the balance of what is youthful yet age appropriate, sophisticated, and chic. They understand how to play with age. Something about becoming a mom obviously brings another layer into that and there’s definitely something about having a kid in kids clothes that reminds you of exuberant dressing and fun dressing. But I don’t think that I’ve changed so much the way that I dress. I still wear tons and tons of high heels. My daughter comes every Wednesday night to work and we go out for pizza together. I roll her down the street in the stroller and I’m always wearing high heels and you can’t believe the amount of people that either look or make some funny or hilarious comment about a pair of pumps and a stroller. In a lot of ways I’ve been very determined to not let being a Mom slow me down or change my style or force me into some sort of practical shoe situation that I don’t want to be in. But motherhood has reinvigorated my love of sparkly things and made me think a lot about determining what your style is as you age.

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You like the single sole pointy toe pump?

Yes. I’m a devotee of a singe sole shoe. I really don’t like a platform. I think there is something really elegant and classic about a single sole shoe and I never really liked a platform, even through the whole platform rage. For me, I think the shoes is sort of the punctuation and I think that the line that a single sole shoe creates looks really good.

Tell me about your jewelry?

I love brass jewelry because there is something earthy and easygoing and utilitarian about it. I wear it in the ocean and I don’t polish it. For something that you wear every single day, there’s something elemental about it.

What do you wear on the weekends?

I’m little, so I like a heel. Lately on the weekends I have been wearing these little black, short Margiela boots that have a tiny heel. But I love a man’s oxford or loafer, always. But probably right now my favorite shoes for the weekend are these leopard pony hair Isaac Mizrahi slip on sneakers. They are my favorite. The last is perfect. I didn’t wear sneakers for a long time because I was always wanting to look like a grown up, but since I really became a grown up there is something great about a pair of sneakers that I really got into. My daughter has these little navy high tops with sparkly blue stars on them that she lives in. So in our sneaker we make a good pair.

Where do you shop in New York?

I do go to Barneys and Bergdorf. I really like Kirna Zabete. I love A Détacher. I tend to get a piece or two from Mona each season. I love Celine. I think Celine is beautiful and really well made. I love the St. James store. I buy striped t-shirts there. I really like Uniqlo for affordable sweaters. I love Muji for button down men’s shirts. For men’s clothes, I like Paul Stewart and the boys department at Brooks Brothers. For consignment I like Ina and Eva Gentry. For vintage I love Cancer Care on the Upper East Side, Legacy on Thompson, and Dulcinee at the Brooklyn Flea.

You have great denim. What are your favorite brands?

I’m very picky about jeans. I like either vintage Levi’s or classic APC jeans. And I really love 45RPM. For casual clothes in general I love 45RPM.  I’m not a big fan of designer denim for me.

You travel a lot. Do you have any tips for packing?

I’m a maniacal, crazy, tightly-edited packer. I try not to check a bag if I can avoid it. The most important thing about packing is having a palette. I establish a palette so all of the things rotate together and work with each other. And then accessories are a really good thing for traveling. I try with shoes to be really streamlined about it. I’ll wear a flat shoe and bring a sexy heel in my bag. I love sunglasses. They are a really great way to switch things up because they are quite light. Scarves are a really easy way to make outfits feel different. Belts are really an amazing thing to bring that change things up.

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What is your uniform?

I think it changes. Right now it’s probably a pair of Manolos, a men’s button down shirt, and a blazer with either a short skirt or jeans. And I love a crew neck sweater.

What’s your process getting dressed in the morning?

I have absolutely no time to get dressed. I probably get dressed in about ten minutes. It helps to have an edited wardrobe with lots of things that work together. Sometimes I will try to think about it a little bit the night before, but a lot of times I just walk to my closet, grab four things and do it.

What are you thinking about now in terms of style?

I have been thinking about boots and what’s the boot that I want. I’m leaning towards an ankle boot that feels really timeless but a little bit feminine, a little bit sexy, a little bit casual. I’ve been thinking about that for a while. I have been thinking a lot about skirts. I’m into a short structured mini skirt right now, which is actually a relatively  new development.

Really?

Yes. Legs feel really good right now. I’m into legs. Covering up everything else and then showing legs.

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What has Isaac taught you about style?

There’s an instinct when you’re seeing so much to say no not yes. To be more of an editor and less of an enthusiast about style. I think he has really taught me to maintain my sense of risk and adventure about style even if I don’t always employ that in my own dressing day-to-day. I really appreciate it and know how to do it when I want to. He always reminds me it’s about the love of it. You can’t forget the fun.

Do you think style is inherent?

Certainly amazing style has a certain amount of instinct that’s hard to teach, but I think everyone can have style, in the sense that they can pay attention to their style and have the best version of their own style. To a certain degree, style is intuitive. But you can learn a lot so you have to pay attention. The best thing you can do is observe the world around you and take note of what you like and why. Listen to your intuition and refine your instincts. Style is really a lot about knowing who you are seeing, where you are going, who your audience is, and being able to meet the world in a way that makes you feel comfortable. A lot about having style is a lot about having that kind of confidence.

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What’s your philosophy on jewelry?

I have two main modes of with jewelry and pretty much nothing else. I have a sort of casual jewelry go-to and dress up jewelry go-to. For casual, I’ve been wearing this exact jewelry for daytime for years. And again some of that is born out of just wanting to know what I’m putting on in the morning. But also it’s a lot about figuring out the thing that works for you and just committing to it. For dressing up, I love a  simple piece and then some sort of super crazy, huge, bold piece of jewelry. Like massive crazy earrings or a sick huge necklace. I think that’s super chic.

What about handbags?

I like a relatively unbranded handbag. I’m not into having the bag of the season. I’m somewhat against it. I don’t like things that wear me. I like things that fold into me and are beautiful amazing objects, but aren’t madly identifiable.

I think the super successful design is design that is able to fold into a variety of different people’s lives. For the last few years there’s an Isaac bag that I really love that comes from a tool bag shape, and i have a fur one and a black leather one, and I also for the last bunch of years I’ve been carrying that soft, super unstructured Celine tote and the trio cross body. I have them both in navy. Both of those are bags that melt into everything else that I have. And the Isaac bags are just beautiful and have amazing design. I wear the fur one when I’m feeling nutty and the plain black one when I want to be refined. You can’t beat those two bags. And I also really love a clutch. My most perfect clutch is the Raw Vachetta Square Apiece Apart clutch. It’s so simple and perfect.

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How do you stay inspired to try everyday?

I sort of feel like it’s like a self respect thing. I think that it’s a part of taking care of yourself. There’s something about that that’s really fundamental and important.

What makes you buy something for yourself?

I’m a combination of being insanely practical and I’m also into impulse purchases. I need to get over taken with the crazy, panicky breathless feeling that you get when you see something that you think is incredible. But in a moment like that I will always try to find a moment, stop and ask myself, ‘Am I really going to use this object in my life? Is it going to have a lot of purpose?

What makes a woman stylish?

For me, a lot of times the most stylish women I notice are women I see and I think that looks really amazing on her. Casting is at least half of style and the integration of some really amazing clothes on the right person is a major indicator of style. Having something unique and brave about your style and also timeless and streamlined is always an intersection that I find very irresistible. I also think that style is not just clothes. It’s your whole being. It’s the intersection of your clothes and your hair and your makeup and the way you walk and the way you move and your body language and your energy. All of those things are a part of style. So I think people that have the most style have a certain kind of presence of being. That’s the place where style starts. It doesn’t really start from the clothes necessarily.

Photos by Sam Aldenton.

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