In her book, a hybrid of a memoir and what a style guide, Ms. London shares her struggles with psoriasis and eating disorders, then gives transformative “startovers” to nine women she found through Facebook and Twitter. She seems nothing if not approachable.
On the appointed day, I headed to her Brooklyn apartment wearing whatever I wanted. It was the tail end of a blustery Northeaster, so functional coziness was in order: gray and silver-speckled cashmere sweater vest, black long-sleeved T-shirt, dark-washed jeans, brown braided leather belt, gold jewelry, and knee-high black suede wedge-heeled weather boots, a style-over-nature secret weapon.
I arrived just as a photographer was leaving. I barely took in the loftlike space with its Carrie Bradshaw-meets-Auntie Mame décor — full of bold art, mirrored surfaces and geometric-wallpapered accent walls — before registering what Ms. London was telling the photographer by way of goodbye.
“I know you think you’re covering your butt with that shirt,” she was saying, “but what you’re really doing is saying to the world, ‘I don’t like my butt.’ ”
Ms. London then dropped to her knees and began lifting and tucking the bottom of the photographer’s shirt to illustrate the proper shirt bottom. “This is the kind of thing you need. Something that hits here gives you more of a waist and hips. It’s about proportion. It’s just a better line.”
I removed my jacket with a sense of foreboding and headed to her Jonathan Adler couch.
Ms. London had just returned from a monthlong book tour. “I felt this great desire to dimensionalize myself from what you think you know about me from television,” she said, explaining the impetus for writing the book. “I wanted to say, I’m not giving advice from high on the mount. I’m taking from what I know to be true from my life experience.Photo
“And then I wanted to find other women to share their stories as a way of talking about these universal struggles, to show that style is a tool we all have to project the change we want to see in ourselves.”
Ms. London features those women in the startovers. “I really should have called them jump-starts,” she said. “Because it’s only one look. It’s the jumping-off point.”
The talk turned to her background. Born and bred in Manhattan to an academic father (the founding dean of the New York University Gallatin School) and a venture capitalist mother (“a total trailblazer,” Ms. London said), who divorced when she was 4, Ms. London lived on Bleecker Street until she was 9, then moved with her mother and younger sister to East 71st Street.
At age 11, a previously diagnosed case of psoriasis progressed from mild to severe, making Ms. London uncomfortable in her own skin. Her scalp was “so thick and brittle,” she said, “we had to put tar on it, and we had to use boric acid to get the tar off.”
Two years later, the psoriasis was under control. But Ms. London was permanently changed by the malady — emotionally and physically. Either the psoriasis itself or the tar and acid treatments caused a streak of her hair to grow in gray, a distinction that has become somewhat of a trademark.
“I never tried to hide it,” she said. Even during her three years as a spokeswoman for Pantene, she said, “I had a clause in my contract that said they couldn’t dye the gray.”
She studied at Trinity, then at Vassar, where she struggled with anorexia. She went from Vassar to a coveted job in the fashion department of Vogue. Though her anorexia was under control, Ms. London had begun to put on weight. She started her job 40 pounds heavier than she had been when was interviewed, and was 40 pounds heavier still when she left the magazine two years later.
“I was a whale among X-rays,” she said. “But I was lucky: grunge had just come in. I could hide in long flowy skirts and flannels.”
She speaks of this now almost with glibness, as if having an eating disorder while working at a fashion magazine is, if not quite par for the course, at least some kind of trope. But it is clear that hers was a very real struggle. “I wound up being a monster yet again working there at a size 16,” she said, “when I’d been a lizard at age 11.”
Eventually her weight stabilized. And after 10 years in magazines and then as a freelance stylist, she landed the job at “What Not to Wear.”
Ms. London said she had no idea how rewarding it would be finding a pair of jeans for a mother of three who works full time that made her rear end look great.Photo Stacy London signing books in Miami Beach in October. Credit Aaron Davidson/Getty Images
Ms. London seems truly content, except perhaps in one area. “At 42, I’m a never-married, childless single woman,” she said in her book. “That is the hardest sentence I’ve written thus far.”
She added: “The psoriasis, the anorexia — those are the past. This is something that’s true for me now. I just have to own it.
“On book tour, I had people coming up to me saying, ‘Don’t worry, I didn’t find my husband until I was 45,’ ” Ms. London said. “But I’m not worried. I’m just noticing. It’s not like I ever said ‘I must have children,’ but no longer having the biological option feels weird. I always thought I’d get married in my 30s because that’s when you figure it out. I just didn’t.”
And while she would like to find a partner, she is happy in her life and worries about being able to change to accommodate one. “Like this apartment,” the decoration of which has clearly been a labor of love. “If I ever lived here with a guy, I’d have to go all midcentury modern. It’d be a lot more neutral colors. Maybe a chandelier — one chandelier — would have to go.”
We moved from the personal to her stance against black. “People use it to be invisible. Black has become an excuse not to try, and that is what I don’t like.”
And then the inevitable happened.
Ms. London was telling me that all of the women in her book came in to their startovers in variations of the same outfit. What was that outfit, you ask (as did I).
She pursed her lips and let out a little sigh. “A black top and jeans.”
I was wearing a black top and jeans. But it was only so I could wear my cozy-yet-rock-star sweater. In a Northeaster.
“The knit is yummy,” Ms. London conceded.
She also gave me points for my accessories (“they look intentional”), my boots (“good and functional”) and, gratifyingly, for my jeans themselves (“great color wash, the pockets hit in the right place and the rise is a perfect two fingers below your belly button — but they could stand 15 minutes in the dryer.”)
The real culprit was the black T-shirt. “It’s been driving me crazy the whole time,” Ms. London said.
On television, Stacy London seems to be the kind of person who would give you the shirt off her back to make you look better. I can report that in life, she just might.
“Do you mind coming downstairs with me?” she said, leading the way to her bedroom-size, “Real Housewife” style, shiny white Lucite fantasyland of a closet. She opened a door and pulled out a white silk J. Crew blouse with gray polka dots.
“This is the shirt you should be wearing,” she said.
I held it up and looked in the mirror.
She was absolutely right.
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