Signature Style: What It Is, Why It Matters

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I’ve been obsessed with the idea of signature style for years – partially because it simplifies life to have a look that you own. But most importantly, it communicates to the world (and to yourself) what you’re about, it helps define your personal brand.

Many of my friends have very specific – and wonderful – signature styles. I asked four of them to share with me how they came to develop their look, who has been their biggest inspiration and how they’ve honed their style over time. Two consistent findings: music is a HUGE influence, as are mothers.

I also love this quote on the subject in the Telegraph (UK) from Lauren Santo Domingo: find your celebrity doppelganger – someone who’s your shape and size and looks great. Don’t be embarrassed about copying their proportions, silhouettes and colours. They probably have a very expensive stylist getting it right for them.

For me, it’s all about the big nerdy Warby Parker glasses, the bold red lipstick, and the Vans sneakers.  Throw in a little Cos and my new fave, Anthom, and that’s as close as I’ve gotten to signature style. Both of those brands, btw, have what Emma Cookson describes as “eye-catching quirks of form” – so I’m definitely onto something.

Read on below for details – and tips – on the signature styles of Emma Cookson, Michelle Flood, Mary Clarke and Amanda Dolan.

EMMA COOKSON

emma cookson

I met Emma when she was Head of Strategic Planning at BBH (before she became Chairman of the agency). Currently she is consulting on branding and communications for a wide range of top companies throughout the world.

1. How would you describe your signature style?

“Mostly black clothes, asymmetric shapes and clean lines, loud shoes and lamentably messy hair.”

2. When, and how, did you come onto this look, how has it evolved from when you first adopted it

The mostly black thing I’ve deemed a necessity for as many years as I’ve been meaning to lose 15 lbs (i.e. basically my whole life).

The love of architectural/asymmetric lines, and of eye-catching shoes…. I think I picked up both those from my mother: ever since I can remember I’ve always liked clothing that had eye-catching quirks of form without being fussy-looking.

And the messy hair, well that wasn’t adopted, it is just is.

3. What are the most important elements of your signature style?

The thing that gives me most pleasure is probably shoes.  It is embarrassing to admit how much pleasure I derive from buying a new pair of shoes and how much I like people to notice them……

4. What are your top sources for this style (brands, stores, items)?

I still do lots of my people-watching and shopping in the UK despite only visiting two or three times a year – the street style there makes things much more interesting.   And my favorite high street brands are all European – Cos and Zara especially.

For originality and inspiration, I love Dover Street Market, including the NY one (I live in NY): the space, the stuff they sell, the people who work there who are all so quirky but friendly and unpretentious too.   But I don’t actually follow many style or fashion blogs, I’m not big on Instagram – I have an old-school love of physical magazines.

Some of my most loved designer-y items have come from Yohji Yamamoto, Sacai, Dries van Noten, Marni  – but I admire lots of different brands and designers.   I love it when you get those hi-lo mix ups (Jil Sander at Uniqlo, Marni at H&M) or when classic brands with amazing provenance evolve or play with their identity – Vuitton in recent years or like Coach now seems to be doing.

5. Who is your style inspiration?

My mother, without a doubt.  I’ll never be able to match her combination of classy style and sartorial mischief, but that must be where my fear of looking boring comes from.

She was a thwarted actress who got married young to my Dad, a much-older orthodontist, and they ended up living in a small, socially conservative, English town.  She did not dress to fit in. If I tell you she once dyed her hair green – while still wearing the latest designer styles – you’ll start to get the picture (this is even pre Punk remember, *no-one* dyed their hair: we walked round town for weeks afterwards in a bubble of silence – people just stopped and stared).  And she got a tattoo also – in the early 1970s, when absolutely no-one except bikers and sailors had tattoos – I remember she had to go to a place at the local docks to get it done.

But she was meticulous and fastidious too, and the spirit of rebelliousness softened as she aged: she died a couple of years ago but I still hear her voice of affectionate disapproval when I walk out the door without having put thought into what I’ve got on (“Are you really going to wear *that*?”)

 

MICHELLE FLOOD

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Owner of FloodStyle, Michelle is a top NYC-based set designer, prop stylist and fabricator. Clients include Governor’s Ball, Calypso St. Barth, Production Glue, Ralph Lauren.

Michelle has always been on the forefront of a very cool, sexy boho vibe.

1. How would you describe your signature style

I like dude-wear. Rock and roll. Boho. A mix of utilitarian and layered, flowy, ornamental clothing. I like to feel free.

2. When, and how, did you come onto this look, how has it evolved from when you first adopted it

As a teenager I was influenced by music. My sister was seven years older. I was captivated by the covers of the records she used to play. David Bowie, Rolling Stones, old Elton John. Music was my special world that shaped how I dressed and perceived the world. As a teenager, I was way more hardcore rock chick. My look has gotten softer and more layered. More white witch than dark witch.

3. What are the most important elements of your signature style

The most important element is attitude.  A good tough boot, comfy sandals, and layers are key. A kimono, a vest, a tunic, a leather jacket, a caftan, a slip dress, a shawl, a poncho, a structured blazer, a scarf, a skull cap, military wear, delicate symbolic jewelry, chunky jewelry, glitter, crystals, and magic.

4. What are your top sources for this style (brands, stores, items)

I’m not a specific “must -have” brand person. I love the Australian sisters’ line, Spell. I love Frye boots and LOVE Vagabonds Daughters scarves. I also LOVE to shop in Asbury Park, NJ, where it feels like the East Village many years ago, when it was funky and fun.

I shop at thrift stores. I shop Free People even though it co-opted “Boho” style. I shop for real designer stuff only if it’s a great steal.

5. Who is your style inspiration

Stevie Nicks

Patti Smith

My Mom when I was a young kid.

 

MARY CLARKE

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I first met Mary when she was the creative director of the just launched, uber cool teen magazine, Sassy. Since then she has gone on to be Executive Editor of Bridal Guide Magazine. Mary is my go-to for breaking trend news. Her style is eclectic and quirky with a utilitarian edge.

1. How would you describe your signature style

Big over small: a smock-like top or dress over skinny stretch denim.

Summer = cropped denim with sandals or clogs. Winter = longer denim with clogs or boots. (I don’t wear “regular” shoes.)

2. When, and how, did you come onto this look, how has it evolved from when you first adopted it

An earlier iteration was the summer dress-over-black-footless-tights moment (2007-ish?).  The scenario morphed from tights to denim when a stylish friend sang the praises of her $19 Uniqlo jeans. I never would have tried them on otherwise. Once I realized that with the right top one could avoid the sausage factor I was sold. My newest railroad-stripe Uniqlos have led to pattern mixing: floral over stripes, gingham over stripes, and so on.

3. What are the most important elements of your signature style

Ease, color, fabric, fit, feel.

Nothing should ever hit at the waist—only above or below, and the overall silhouette on top should lean toward billowy or A-line.

4. What are your top sources for this style (brands, stores, items)

In heaviest rotation:

  • Muji (they understand the beauty of the smock)
  • Uniqlo for denim: dark blue, white, striped, heather black
  • C.P. Shades (rediscovered this past year)
  • Matta NYC (love!)

Other faves:

  • Malia Mills (best known for swim, she does great dresses and has good sales)
  • Sailor Rose (gorgeousness in Liberty of London printed cotton lawn)
  • Comme des Garçons—for inspiration and the MarketMarket sale.
  • eBay—I found my dream 1967 Marimekko smock dress after months of searching;
  • etsy for vintage Butterick and McCall’s sewing patterns when I’m feeling extra crafty.
  • Jutta Neumann for leather wristbands and sandals

5. Who is your style inspiration

There are multitudes. Early influences were particularly strong: Beatniks (I was obsessed). The Addams Family. Edward Gorey. Girl Scout uniforms. I spent hours studying album covers, so I was drawn to a lot of guys and guys’ stuff—Keith Richards’ Moroccan striped shirt; Bob Dylan’s Triumph Motorcycles T and black sunglasses. We weren’t allowed to wear pants in high school, so jeans became super important over the years.

These days inspiration is more likely to come from friends…random people on the street. Looking to the fashion firmament, I like how Lynn Yaeger puts herself together: she epitomizes what my friend Andrea K. calls the “orphanage look.” And Linda Rodin, especially when she uses denim as a jumping-off point—the queen!

 

AMANDA DOLAN

amanda dolan

Amanda is a sparkling spirit with an incredible head and nose for business. She was a top merchant at Betsey Johnson before starting SPARK PRETTY, a visual lifestyle brand and virtual vintage shop based in NYC. She is a thrifter extraordinaire. She will also be hosting a Spark Pretty Pop Up Store on the Bowery in NYC, open to the public, from November 2-6, 2016.

1. How would you describe your signature style

“Colorful-Eclectic.” A hodge-podge of zany patterns, interesting textures, sparkling accessories and bold color layering.

2. When, and how, did you come onto this look, how has it evolved from when you first adopted it

As a very small child I was always attracted to bright colors. I was an avid painter and always splashed neon hues on to paper. I consistently wanted to wear the colors that were on my paint pallet and make them come alive. I remember being five years old and convincing my Mom I just HAD to have a pair of bright fuchsia Mary Janes.

Over the years my love of wearing color evolved. Now instead of looking like a literal walking rainbow, I’ve learned to take elements from favorite colors and patterns and transform then more simply into a total look.

3. What are the most important elements of your signature style

Whether I’m dressing casually or going out for the night, my statement elements are the same: A bold color lipstick. Something that sparkles (be it jewelry, a studded belt, or glitter on my eyelids), one dynamic piece (a crazy mixed print, or a texture like faux fur or stretchy Lycra)

So even if I’m wearing jeans and a shirt (vintage orange tab Levi’s and an old band tee of course), it’s always jazzed up by my lipstick choice or a funky belt, or a fuzzy sweater!

4. What are your top sources for this style (brands, stores, items)

My current style is a true mix of Vintage and New. Since I’m in the vintage biz, I source my looks from all over the world. I’ve treasure hunted in dusty flea markets, estate sales, and even good ol’ eBay to find some of the most unique pieces. From a rare Skid Row tee-shirt found at a flea in Nashville, to a Mod psychedelic dress scored in Brick Lane, London, or a fabulous bejeweled sweater plucked from the very closet of designer Bonnie Boerer’s private estate, I have truly scoured the planet for my signature vintage looks! Sometimes I’ll pair these fabulous vintage things with new pieces from current designers like Mara Hoffman and Jeremy Scott to create a layered look.

5. Who is your style inspiration

How do I pick just one??!!

Since I worked for her for years, I have to credit the One and Only Betsey Johnson for instilling in me the importance of color, pattern and fearless fashion choices.

My Rock n Roll hero of over 23 years, Courtney Love, continues to inspire me with her signature tattered baby doll looks.

And Pop Culture TV Characters from the ’90s like “Fran Fine” on the Nanny (played by Fran Drescher) and “Kelly Bundy” from Married with Children (played by Christina Applegate) constantly give me so many ideas on how to bring back those signature looks with new gusto and pizzazz!

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