Chris in 1987 (can you tell by the hair on the woman next to him?!)
A little-known fact is that one of my biggest style influences was my brother Chris. He was just a year older than me, and we grew up together as the middles in a family of six. He was more artistic than athletic, and like me, a great observer. We moved every two years, and quickly learned to keep our mouths shut upon arrival in a new city. Because if we didn't take the first few weeks to just quietly watch what to wear or say or do, we would be tossed out of whatever public school social scene we found ourselves in. I learned this the hard way when we moved to Indianapolis and I asked where the drinking fountain was by calling it a "bubbler" – holdover slang from Pier Elementary that was definitely not in the lexicon outside of Wisconsin. I was met with open-mouthed stares. It was not a good moment.
Anyway, Chris and I remained so close over the years that I followed him to college at the University of Colorado. He promptly ditched me to head west for film school at UCLA. And that was it for him – he suddenly became the coolest, most sophisticated older brother. He was busy creating his own world in Los Angeles, but after I graduated, I forced him to take a break and go to Europe with me. I knew how naïve I was and that I needed to see the bigger world out there to help me become me... and that he could help.
Every museum and park and pub was made better by his tutelage. We spent three months bopping between all the major cities, just observing and soaking it all up. It was far from idyllic – we were both trying to grow up, and we actually argued a ton – but I really did need the time away. And as much as Chris had grown out in LA, I think it was good for him too! I came back from Europe and immediately packed up and moved to New York. In the span of a few months, I went from being a clueless young woman from the Midwest to landing a job at Conde Nast... and no one was prouder than Chris.
As for him, he was developing his own sense of style, deeply influenced by his time as a waiter and bartender at Mr. Chow in Los Angeles. He spent a great deal of time chatting with and observing (that skill again!) the incredibly stylish Mrs. Chow... Tina. I know that is a tangled web of influence to sort through, but bear with me. Tina was famous for her understated minimalism (you can Google her and see) and her signature look at this time was a menswear-style cardigan sweater layered over a crewneck t-shirt and trousers. And before long, it became Chris's uniform, too. Of course, I immediately jumped on this look. A few of the older editors at VOGUE had the same idea... and thanks to him, I got the conspiratorial nod from them in the hallway. We were all tuned into the same channel.
Style icons aside, it is an enormously practical look. In the thirty-plus years since then, I have amassed dozens of cardigan sweaters. In black, it is chic over almost any shirt – or t-shirt, à la Tina. And tossed over your shoulders, it will keep you warm at the restaurant, when you are wearing a bare little top or dress and the air conditioning is cranked up. Offices are another notoriously cold spot – I tend to freeze in mine – so I like to keep one hung on the back of my chair when the men at the meeting, usually dressed in wool suits, refuse to acknowledge the frigid air. Where else? It will go perfectly over that sleeveless dress you might wear to the wedding... sometimes it just feels more appropriate to have your shoulders covered for the ceremony, with all those saints staring down at you. And in navy, for me, it replaces my classic blue blazer (the jacket to cardigan switch made famous by the one and only Fred Rogers). It instantly makes me feel both polished AND casual, which is probably why Tina, and then Chris, adopted this look in the first place. There is no better place for this than California. Who needs a blazer in sunny LA where the lifestyle screams casual?
We typically have at least one cardigan on our line, and our newest one is made of a very lightweight fine-gauge cashmere which is the perfect thing to buy now, no matter what's going on with the weather where you live. It's got a soft v-neck, so it's menswear in style, but it is light enough to feel a little feminine... the mother-of-pearl buttons help with that, too. You can actually tie it around your neck as a sort of scarf to layer over another sweater or jacket. It's the perfect base to go minimal or maximal with accessories... you can see that Tina loved both. And if the style feels too androgynous for you (a very Tina look,) we made a very girly v-neck pullover in the same wonderful fine-gauge yarn. The sleeves bell out just ever so slightly, and it is cut close to the body to flatter your very un-boyish figure. And if you want to get really feminine, it comes in a pretty heathered pink. The cardigan is truer to the Tina-esque original (I have already snagged one myself!) but I think Chris would approve of this one, too. You need it, I promise.