Rachel Levin of Garrison, a former director at Saks Fifth Avenue, is a personal stylist. She blogs at rachellevinstyle.com.
Why does style matter?
It’s a powerful tool for communication. While you do have chances with content to correct a first impression, if you’re not aligned visually, it’s going to distract.
You spent 10 years in luxury retail. What kind of markup is there?
You mean, are customers paying a premium for luxury? Whether you’re talking moderate or luxury, once stores hit the first major markdown they’re making pennies on the dollar. Some companies, such as the Doen Collection and Tibi, are trying to maintain their margins and pay a living wage and be sustainable instead of being part of the markdown culture we live in.
Were you fashionable as a kid?
I like to think so, yeah, but I was more interested in other people wearing the clothing. I had my first job in fashion retail at age 14, helping to run a boutique at a tennis club. At age 19 I went to work for Saks in Cleveland as the company’s youngest designer sales associate, and my first job when I moved to New York was overseeing a $6 million department for them. But I missed working with clients one-on-one.
A woman comes to you for styling. What is the first thing you ask?
What’s going on in her life and in her closet, and what motivated her to call. I usually hear from people in the midst of a personal or professional change that prompts them to think about other things that have to shift. I love to start in the closet because it’s a way to understand the editing and re-evaluation that has to be done. My favorite scenario is where I say, “It’d be great if you had X or Y,” and we find the piece stuffed in the back. If there’s been complete neglect and I have to start from scratch, it’s incredibly stressful for myself and the client.
What is usually the first thing to go?
Anything “well-loved.” Listen, I appreciate that you have your favorite black sweater, but life is too good to wear things with holes. But I understand. After I moved to New York, I had to downsize and had a girlfriend and my mother help me with my first closet cleanout. It took a week, and I felt physically ill. I tell clients, “If it’s truly sentimental, keep it. But never leave the house wearing it.”