I met Ellen Lubin-Sherman recently at Talbots; she had come to shop for a white blouse for a friend. After spending just a few moments with her it was clear to me that Ellen was sophisticated and talented with exquisite taste and a strong sense of self. Ellen knew what she liked and how to express herself through clothes. We had a conversation about why she loved Japanese fashion, the necessity of having a proper tailor in one’s arsenal, and why, when it comes to style, labels aren’t what matter most. Here is more from Ellen …
MKG: What is it about Japanese fashion and its fashion culture that you find so appealing?
EL-S: I fell under the spell of Japanese fashion about six years ago. I was visiting L.A. and stayed in Santa Monica. I discovered a marvelous shop called “Weathervane.” Evidently, the owner has a love affair with Japanese designers and my ace saleswoman/stylist introduced me to the concept of wearing pieces that don’t accentuate the body but rather establish an idiosyncratic look that’s original and quirky. I’ve been “quirky” for the last 10 years in terms of my style but these clothes — the oversized shirts, the selvage baggy jeans, the unfinished hems on a skirt — spoke to me.
MKG: You spoke to me about the fact that Japanese fashion is made without labels; why is this important to you? What has happened to American culture, that we follow labels?
EL-S: I totally get it when it comes to wearing a label. It’s comfortable, non-threatening, and indicates the kind of money you can spend on a handbag or a pair of glasses or a shirt. These “labels” are, unfortunately, a result of insecurity. It’s hard to wear clothing and accessories that don’t “shout” your financial wealth. Most of the designers — Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Kate Spade — make a deliberate effort to keep the labels front and center. They’re very much aware that people prefer to be in a “community” of like-minded people so they feel as if they belong. Clothes that are label-free are what I call “stealth.” They’re under-the-radar and mysterious and confident.
EL-S: Japanese clothing by the high-end designers is very expensive. It’s crazy, too, because most of the clothes are black and very droopy, especially on the hanger. Since the high-end collections are pricey, I end up building my wardrobe consciously and carefully, adding one or two pieces a season. There are also small, indie companies that don’t have a lot of name recognition but are fabulous: I do a lot of shopping at Weathervane, where the buyers like “exclusivity,” (my stylist sends me photos via email and if I like something I buy it and have the option to return it). Yes, I love Comme des Garcons; I also love the very well-priced “Cauliflower” collection by Isey Miyake, and I love Y3, the sport line from Yohji Yamamoto.
MKG: Describe your perfect outfit. What makes it so?
EL-S: I just purchased a marine blue “crumpled” skirt from Comme des Garcons that has a wide black silk band at the botton. It will look smashing with a patterned knee sock and high-heeled oxford pump. I will wear the skirt with either a black cashmere crewneck or a very starched white shirt since the skirt itself is meant to be worn crumpled. For an upcoming wedding I will be wearing the same skirt in white with a cardigan sweater that is elegant and quirky (the sweater is very fitted so you wear it without a shirt). The skirt is Comme des Garcons and the sweater is by a small Japanese company. I don’t remember the name and that’s the beauty of confidence — you don’t need a label to convince yourself it’s a must-have.
MKG: What are the key pieces everyone should own?
EL-S: The essentials: a perfect white shirt that can be worn for an evening party; a perfect white shirt for daytime; gray wool pants; a black skirt that’s mid-calf; a classic raincoat that hits at the knee; a cape, preferably in wool, rather than a winter coat; soft, long scarves that can be wrapped around the neck instead of a turtleneck; oxfords; a hat that’s soft enough to fit into a handbag for cold winter days; driving gloves; and of course a few necklaces that are not “serious jewelry” but great statement pieces.
MKG: What is the importance of using a proper tailor?
EL-S: There is no way you can have a sensational wardrobe without a tailor who knows the trends. Pant lengths are always changing — I just shortened all of my pants because they look cleaner and leaner hitting the ankle. Some of my older clothing is tight around the waist and the tailor knows how to let out the skirt or even add a piece of fabric. Some of my clothing can be worn the day after I purchase it but most of my pieces need a little work — shortening the sleeves of a coat, adding cuffs to a pair of pants — to make them look perfect.
MKG: Do you see a connection between fashion and self expression, self-esteem?
EL-S: I dress to express not to impress. My clothing is a direct link to my sensibility. I want to be accessible by eschewing labels. I love the idea of using clothing to communicate my point-of-view as well as my confidence. People who put little effort into the way they present themselves are depriving themselves the opportunity to look younger, savvier, and tell people they are passionate about living.
Ellen-Lubin Sherman is an executive coach, consultant, speaker, and author of the book, The Essentials of Fabulous, a 159-page manifesto for living—in style.
The Essentials of Fabulous is available now at Amazon.com.