Nina Garcia is a woman of seeming contradictions. The famously tough Project Runway judge who is a self-proclaimed “softy.” The Fashion Director of trend-effusing Elle magazine, but who reveals that the secret to great style is to not follow trends.
We chatted with the endlessly chic new author of The Little Black Book of Stlye (Collins, 2007) to find out more — her style secrets, favorite haute spots, advice for up-and-coming designers and what she absolutely cannot live without. Read on to discover the real Nina Garcia. by kelly lee
{Secrets of a Fabulous Life}
BB: What can you absolutely not live without?
NG: High heels, a black motorcycle jacket, moisturizer and my Blackberry.
BB: We know you love your shoes and think they are well worth the splurge. But if you only had $50, what shoes would you buy from where and why?
NG: If I only had $50 to buy a pair of shoes, I would go to Nine West. They have the most adorable selections that I have often mistaken for shoes ten times their price.
BB: What’s the best way to get chic on the cheap?
NG: The best way to get chic on the cheap is to look for classic pieces at a price and invest in good accessories to take your look to the next level. The little black dress, trench coat, button down, etc. can be found at a variety of price points. H&M, Zara and J.Crew are a few stores that have amazing selections of basics that look chic yet won’t break the bank.
BB: What’s your favorite secret spot in your favorite city?
NG: Belmelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.
BB: Favorite getaway?
NG: South of France and the Amalfi Coast.
BB: Favorite film for style inspiration?
NG: My favorite films for style inspiration are Belle du Jour, Funny Face and The Thomas Crown Affair with Faye Dunaway.
{Industry Advice}
BB: What underground advice would you give to an up-and-coming designer regarding how to get their designs featured in ELLE?
NG: In a celebrity driven culture, I think an excellent way for a designer to garner exposure that would capture the attention of ELLE would be for them to align themselves with an “It” girl who can wear their clothes for press junkets, premiers and other events. These girls are tastemakers that our readers are interested in, so when we see these young ingenues wearing an underground designer, we take notice. I get an extraordinary amount of mail daily; mostly lookbooks from young designers. When going through them, I find that the ones that stand out the most to me are not ones that are overly styled and artistically photographed but clean, straightforward photographs where you can see the product and the design speaks for itself.
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BB: What consistent mistakes do young designers make?
NG: I find that young designers often try too hard to imitate what others do and have difficulty forming an authentic aesthetic.
BB: What is the best lesson you have learned by working in the fashion industry?
NG: The best lesson that I have learned after years in fashion is first and foremost to be humble. It is an ego-driven industry and easy to get caught up in the dramatics. I think the important thing is to keep your personal life separate from your professional life.
BB: With the popularity of blogging and everyone having instant access to Fashion Week videos, do you think Fashion Week is becoming obsolete?
NG: I do not think that the role of the internet has caused Fashion Week to become obsolete. On the contrary, I think that the accessibility of Fashion Week has garnered more interest than ever. What once was a presentation for editors has grown to be a media spectacle that attracts the likes of celebrities and socialites, almost like a competitive sport. I am just waiting for the day that the tents move from Bryant Park to Yankee Stadium.
BB: What are your favorite fashion blogs, websites and newsletters?
NG: Fashion Week Daily and Fashionwire are where I get my daily fashion news fix. For shopping, I love — they have the best selection of clothing and accessories that no one else has. Also some of my favorite sites to browse are, and

{Project Runway}
BB: How did the Project Runway opportunity arise? Did they approach you or were you looking into getting into television?
NG: When the first thoughts of Project Runway were conceived they came to ELLE and approached me about being a judge. Project Runway and ELLE seemed like a natural fit because ELLE has always supported and profiled young designers and Project Runway was a platform for those designers to display their talent and earn a chance to start a career in the fashion industry. Up to that moment the thought of doing television never crossed my mind.
BB: Going from print to television must have been an adjustment. How do you feel about being a public persona and how has life changed since becoming one? Also, what do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
NG: Being a public persona has changed my life greatly. Being on Project Runway has been an excellent way for me to connect with our readers. They feel that they can approach me and I love being able to hear what they think of the show and the magazine. The biggest misconception that people have of me is that I am a really mean and tough person. My role is to be a judge and I want to help drive the designers to reach their fullest potential and unfortunately you have to be a little bit on the tougher side. In real life though, I am a softy.
BB: What is your number one tip for looking great on camera? And for dealing with becoming a public persona?
NG: My number one tip for looking great on camera is confidence and to be yourself. The same holds true for how my life has evolved since Project Runway — just be yourself.
BB: Who do you think are the most promising up-and-coming designers today?
NG: Some of my favorite up-and-coming designers to watch out for are 3.1 Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, Chris Benz, Mario Schwab from London and 6267 from Milan .
BB: Who has been your favorite Project Runway designer and why?
NG: I cannot say who has been my favorite Project Runway designer. It would be like asking me to choose which one of my children was my favorite! Fashion Chateau Holiday Look Book
{The Little Black Book of Style}
BB: What’s your secret to achieving great personal style?
NG: Great personal style is all about confidence; they go hand in hand. Understanding your body and what works best on you are the first steps to achieving great personal style. Do not allow trends to dictate your style but instead use them as a platform for inspiration using them correctly and wisely.
BB: Who is your style icon?
NG: My mother.
BB: What is your favorite source of style inspiration?
NG: My style inspiration is derived from great films (new and old), art, music, street style, iconic women and vintage photographs.
BB: What is one item should every woman own?
NG: Without sounding cliche, I think the one item that every woman should own is a little black dress. A little black dress looks great on a variety of body types, is polished, slimming and versatile. It is a blank canvas that can take you from day to evening simply by changing out the accessories. Also, the little black dress is understated, provocative, simple, mysterious and endlessly chic.
BB: What is the key to looking great at any age?
I think the key to looking great at any age is to wear clothes that work with your body and to stay away from trendier pieces and stick to the classic pieces, which look great on women of any age.

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