Interview: Stacy London Connects the Dots on Aging, Fashion, and Self Acceptance
A couple of weeks ago, I attended FashionSpeak 2017 a fashion conference presented by Detroit Garment Group and Taubman. This Detroit fashion conference is the only fashion conference in Michigan and has become bigger and better each year. The event brings together nationally recognized fashion experts in five different fields crucial to the success of the fashion industry and Detroit’s fashion community. Each speaker typically conducts their own 70-minute workshop with a strong focus on the business of fashion.
The conference usually finishes off with a celebrity keynote speaker from the fashion industry. This year, Stacy London was the special guest and I was able to collaborate with fellow blogger Haneen Matt of Haneen’s Haven and chat with London about her career, her personal style and her feelings on “pro-aging”. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I do.
Stacy London Speaks the Truth:
Lazovski: You have been giving fashion advice for years. For the millennials, how long have you been in the fashion and television industry?
London: Longer than most of them have been alive. (laughs) I graduated from Vasser then I went to Vogue. I was 21 when I started and that was… 27 years ago.
HH: Speaking of college, I know you double majored in Philosophy and German Literature… I was wondering how you then transitioned into fashion.
London: Well, I always wanted to do fashion. Every summer that I was in Vasser I did something either in the fashion industry or the magazine industry. I did every internship I could get my hands on. The crown in that formation was working for Dior in Paris right before my junior year. And that put me in the line that I wanted to be in. I worked in PR at Dior in Paris and what was incredible about that is I got to see that work close up and to also understand the PR side of things. I was getting a much broader prospective of what that looks like which would be the technical stuff. But, to get back to your question, my dad paid for my college education. I’m very, very lucky. I don’t take that for granted. And one of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me was to not go to college for your career. Go to college to learn how to think, how to write critically and how to speak well, and you can take all of that with you no matter where you go. You know, That’s my dad! (laughs).
It was great because I didn’t realize how the dots were going to get connected. Until I got to What Not To Wear, I didn’t see a connection… real connection, between being in fashion magazines and being a stylist and fashion editor. But it still didn’t hurt me to have those things, because I was eloquent. (I still am, but I ramble a bit….) (laughs) That stuff would’ve helped me no matter what I went into. But, I was always, always gunning for Vogue. That was my first choice. So to get that job straights out of college, there was this moment where I thought, had I not gone to college, I would’ve been editor in chief by now! Why did I bother with college? (laughs) But fortunately, a lot of psychology and philosophy really played a part when I got to What Not To Wear. It played a part in how to talk to people, played a part in me being compassionate with other people… that was all based on, sort of, the philosophy of the world; the way that I want to see it, and people’s problems with it, and the way that we see ourselves and the way we see other people. So again, I would say to answer your question, it really was about my dad’s advice. I was always going to do something in fashion.
Lazovski: So on that note, what has been your favorite job or your favorite opportunity after all these years since you’ve worn so many hats?
London: It’s true. That’s really hard to say. I loved doing Pantene. I did Pantene for three years. That was wonderful. I loved doing Oprah. When she had her show, because who doesn’t love doing Oprah? It’s funny, I was looking at one of the questions I’m going to be asked today, and one was, “What’s your biggest regret and why?” And maybe it isn’t regret, but failure. The one thing that I failed at that I loved more than anything was my talk show. It was unfortunate how little I knew about what I needed to be doing. As an executive producer, I was responsible for all of the content. It never occurred to me that the people who were watching TLC already wouldn’t necessarily be interested in all of the things I was interested in. I do see that as kind of a failure. But at the same time, I’ve never loved anything more. So, it was hard for me. It was hard to watch that not work, but at the same time, I learned a lot. You have to be willing to face plant every single day to get anywhere. You have to be willing to be embarrassed and uncomfortable and all of those things. That would definitely be one of my favorite job experiences even though it didn’t have a happy ending.
HH: I had also heard you say, “Great style starts with being self aware.” Can you expand on that?
London: I can. Yes! Self awareness is something that a lot of people think they have and don’t. It’s amazing how well we can convince ourselves that we believe something that we know is not true, right? And one of the things that I think happens a great deal with people is that the same critical eye we have towards others that we can be more objective about tends to disappear when it comes to ourselves. Because you’re not just using your eyes. Your brain is using everything it uses to look at you.
Lazovski: This is where your philosophy comes in!
London: Exactly! It’s cognitive therapy, really! Everything you’ve ever learned about yourself through other people that you’ve internalized, is now part of the way you see yourself. So, “I can’t, I never, I won’t” are three word you hear because somebody told you this when you were five, “You shouldn’t wear green” or “Prints make you look bigger.” You have to kind of disseminate what you know to be true and really put it up against the light and see if it holds true for you. Or if it’s something that was somehow communicated to you that isn’t actually about who you are, or that isn’t part of your self awareness, that takes a second, right? I mean, it takes a second to think, “Oh, everybody told me I was so pretty…” One, how do you react to that? How does that make you feel? And two, I always ask women to stand in front of their full length mirror naked. Everybody better have one, because if you don’t, then no more advice from me. The point of that is, we say we’re self aware, but then we beat ourselves up for not looking the way we think we’re suppose to look or supposed to be. Instead of saying, “This is the raw material I’m working with.” I’m going to be honest. I’m going to look at this body, look at my shape, look at my hair and eye color, everything. And I’m going to make an objective assessment. And even in that objectivity, you can say, “I love my boobs and I hate my ass.” I don’t care! Be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t like. For somebody to say, “I love everything” is as ridiculous to say as if it was said, “I hate everything”. Those kind of absolutes don’t really work.
As you’re able to look more objectively, you can say, “Ok, I have a little bit of a tummy. I don’t like my thighs”, or whatever it is. Then you can kind of come to terms with that feeling. You have to let the emotion associated with that observation burn away, and you have to stand there as long as it takes. Once you look long enough, all of that feeling does burn away. And you can kind of take a second and be like, objectively speaking, “If I don’t like my tush, I’m not going to hide it. I’m going to be an active participant in consciously camouflaging what I don’t like. And be an active participant in highlighting what I do like.” That’s not running away from a part of your body that you don’t want to deal with, and it’s not over compensating with a part of your body that you do want to deal with. It’s really about the totality of the person, and understanding and being able to look from the sidelines and be like, “Oh, that’s me hating myself. That’s me hating a body part. That’s me hating this sense of why I don’t think I can be successful in…something, whatever it is.” But you kind of almost have to be sitting on your own shoulder, watching you have those emotions. You should observe your emotions. Based on that, that’s what I believe to be true self awareness. Just take the time to notice all of the things that you have a prejudice against or judgement towards; whatever it is when you look at yourself. If you can get past that, then I really think your style is in the bag.
Lazovski: I’d like to know more about you and your self awareness. You’ve been giving fashion advice and guidelines, and throwing clothes away from people’s closets for a really long time. What kind of guidelines do you give yourself? As you are very self aware…
London: I try to be. Sometimes it’s realIy easy to hide in things you don’t want to be true about you. I would say, the biggest thing I’ve been dealing with over the past year is my body changing as I get older. So age has become a real issue for me. Not because I’m not fascinated by it, I’m actually fascinated by getting older. But it is scary! It’s scary to be in it. When you’re like, “Oh, my body doesn’t do this anymore, and it’s never gonna look that way again.”
Lazovski: Is it changing your fashion sense and how you dress yourself?
London: Absolutely.100%. I wrote an article about it over a year ago and I’m planning to base a book on it if I ever get around to it. But it is the idea that my style has evolved, way far away from where it was even when I did What Not To Wear; even Love Lust. I don’t really wear pencil skirts anymore and I don’t really like floral prints. I would say my style’s gotten a lot tougher. I always have that thing between being on tv and being off tv. So, I have my “make everybody happy” outfit on the show, and then I would wear leather jeans home. It was a dichotomy for me… towards the end I was so sick of looking like this person that I’m not anymore. That was hard for me. And it was also hard for me to kind of turn around and realize my style was evolving and that I might be disappointing fans. Because I started wearing a lot of suits. I found a designer who makes only female suits (suits for women) and I had her make me four of them. It’s a new thing for me. There’s a certain kind of gravitas that I want my presence to have, and that is hard to do when you’re being too frivolous with your clothes. Not that you shouldn’t be. I believe in frivolity, but for me, I went from being, not frivolous, but so kind of girly, to wanting something that felt more androgynous, and have more weight to it. Like, all of a sudden, pencil skirts, even full skirts, felt too girly. I mean, I’m not always in a suit. I’ll do a jumpsuit, as oppose to a dress. And you know, there is no alternative to aging, right? It has really been of great interest to me- what am I afraid of? Am I going to be irrelevant? Am I going to be forgotten? But wait, you’re putting those parameters on yourself. And that’s the thing. All of those associations we have with aging are about trying to avoid it! If I see one more product that’s “anti-aging” … I want to do a “pro-aging” line. I mean, “anti-aging”… what is the opposite?? There’s a company doing something called “age well” … now that’s better. It’s so important to acknowledge that we never stop evolving. Of course your style is not going to stay static! You can’t expect that of me, even if you’ve known me in your living room for ten years or if you haven’t. Our styles change, and again, that has to do a lot with self awareness.
Lazovski: Do you ever feel like you have to be “on” all the time as a fashion expert and as a celebrity?
London: Of course. Sometimes you just want to be like, “I don’t care.”
Lazovski: Do you ever just want to throw your hair up in a bun?
London: Oh, I do! I’m over that stage where people would stop me and be like, “You’re not allowed to do that!” And I’d be like, “I’m going to the gym!” But, because I’m older and I’ve been doing this a long time and because I’ve given myself the gift of compassion because I was able to look at so many other women, I was able to take some of that and put it back on myself. I’m kinder to myself than I was. So yes, I do feel that pressure, but I don’t always adhere to that pressure.
Lazovski: I love that, Stacy. That’s strength and maturity. I think that takes a strong woman.
London: Awww, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that. Maturity is actually super key to it. One of the reasons that I love aging, is that I have a sense of myself that I could never have had at 25. I couldn’t have even had it at 35. And there’s something magical about that. That’s one of the things that makes it such a pleasure. It’s on my terms. It’s not that I’m trying to please a demographic and it feels different. It feels much more open-ended. For me, that’s much more in keeping with my beliefs about style then on What Not To Wear when we were giving these hard and fast rules with no exceptions. But, there’s exceptions to every rule.
Lazovski: Can you tell us something special about yourself that nobody knows?
London: I’m a Star Wars nerd. I love Blade Runner. I’m obsessed with Sci-fi. I love Battlestar Galactica. I’m double jointed everywhere. (laughs) I also love dinosaurs. These are the things that come to mind because I’m passionate about them. I have lots of toys, books, photos and everything of Darth Vader.
Lazovski: Very fun, thank you!
HH: Thank you so much!
London: You’re welcome. Thank you!