If Ann Kasper was a Venn diagram, she would emerge in the brightly colored area where three things overlap: a cellular-level love of fashion, luxury retailer management experience and devotion to a blind pug named Stella who wears a metal halo to help her get around. Kasper ran the Saks Fifth Avenue store here in Austin and has worked with numerous others, including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Anthropologie. She got her fashion start in Los Angeles, learning the cashmere sweater business from her uncle, and counts Eileen Fisher as a mentor. She and Ms. Fisher are still close. No surprise, Ann loves to shop.
Kasper lives in a modern garden home just east of I-35 with her husband Lee Einsweiler, an urban planning consultant. Their home is filled with lots of natural light, art and family photos. A crystal chandelier hangs over a table on the outdoor patio. We sat down with her to talk about fall fashion, developing a personal style and if bandage dresses will ever be moving from the catwalk to a gangplank.
Kasper On Developing Your Own Style
Most people have locked in the foundation of their style by the time they are 34. You kind of know what you’re wearing to parties, and to work. Your 20s are for experimenting. Trying different things, living life to the fullest; your clothes change with your experiences, your lifestyle.
It’s not about spending a lot of money; it’s about finding your fashion zone. You are more confident when you are in your fashion zone. And it’s not about being flamboyant. You can be quiet in your fashion, too. It’s about bringing out the essence of you.
It’s important to have your core wardrobe and have those fun, “wow” items that make you laugh and smile. You know what? Maybe you’ll wear those once, maybe you’ll wear those 20 times because that’s what fashion is all about. It could be a splurge, or not, but it gives you great joy.
Pay attention to how you feel in the clothes. If we put things on and take them off before we go out the door for an event, or at the end of the day or evening you are squirming in the clothing and can’t wait to come home and take it off, it’s a sign that you’re probably wearing something that is not your style. When you are uncomfortable, it doesn’t allow your personality to shine through. Your mind is focused on fussing with your clothing or thinking about how you are going to sit, or stand or go to the bathroom because you have so many layers of Spanx on. No modern day woman should have to worry about those things.
Pay attention to what you get complimented on. Most people find that when they go shopping, they get excited and buy things but they never wear them. That should be a cue and a sign that it’s not your style. If you have a sister, girlfriend, stylist, personal shopper who will be honest with you – not everyone’s honest – get them in a room with you and your clothes.
I truly believe women dress for themselves and their girlfriends. The core of fashion is when your girlfriends flock to you when you walk in to a party and say, “I love that dress, you look great!” We all love that acknowledgement.
We all remember certain moments in our lives and what we wore: you know, those big moments.
Tailoring is Your Secret Weapon
A lot of people talk about tailoring, but few realize the difference that a small hem or minor tuck makes to give your clothing a little bit of shape. Nothing coming off the rack is going to fit you perfectly unless it’s some oversized tunic. I always tell people to “find a good seamstress or good tailor.” The majority of us always grab those same five items in our closets, even though you may have 100 items in your closet. When a garment fits you well, you wear it.
It’s amazing what a side slit will do for the proportion. Or raising or lowering a hem based on your legs. If you are short, bringing that hem up right above the knee makes a huge difference. Otherwise, it pulls you down and you look shorter.
Little Known Fact: Handbags and Shoes Dictate the Seasons’ Colors
There’s this little secret in the fashion industry: color really starts with handbags and shoes because they have a longer lead time to production. So colors are chosen, then all the designers work off those colors in their collection. Freelance fashionistas and the press are constantly talking to each other and throwing out ideas, so by the time the runway shows are shown and things come out, you see the majority of people saying the same fashion story. So it’s rare to have someone too offbeat or too off-center. Once you become a successful designer, the goal is to stay true to your creativity but also be successful. Because, after all, it is a business.
Put Your Money in the Bags (& Shoes)
You can mix high and low as long as you have great accessories. Like your mother always told you, “have a great handbag and a great pair of shoes.” Putting your money there is my recommendation for someone just out of school starting their careers. Invest in a couple pairs of great shoes and a great handbag.
On Investment Dressing
Focus part of your wardrobe on what they always call investment dressing: pieces that can be on trend, but won’t really go out of style. You can have those pieces for a good 20 years. There are a lot of women who know what I ‘m talking about when they mine their mothers’ closets – shift dresses, great simple gold bangles. Chanel handbag, Hermes scarf – those things never go out of style. Blazers are a little harder because of the shoulder-pad factor. But certainly a great trench coat? Never goes out of style.
I don’t care what anybody says, we all have our insecure moments – even Iris Apfel, whom we all love and adore … she throws it on with abandonment. I’m sure there are times she’ll take something off based on what a friend said.
You have $500. What to Buy This Fall?
Buy a top or a jacket. I believe pants you can buy anywhere. You get a little more bang for your dollar with a top or a jacket. I’ve already bought a couple of jackets in Paris for the fall: one, of course, is black. Another is a striped day jacket that comes down to above the knee. I love it because I can wear it with jeans or black pants. I will probably buy something brocade or velvet, too. Because I’m shorter in stature, I don’t wear a lot of plaid.
If you see something in a magazine or in a luxury store that you love … most likely, if you have time to shop, you will find something similar at a lower price. In today’s world, things get copied immediately. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of time between the runway and the stores.
The luxury outlet stores will usually have some of the top sellers that the regular price stores have 30 days later. So if you can shop on a regular basis, you will find some really wonderful, on trend items. Especially from contemporary brands like Vince, Diane von Furstenberg. She keeps reinventing herself: she’s amazing. Eileen Fisher. Rag and Bone.
Otherwise, the best thing to do is connect with a great sales person from one of Austin’s top specialty stores and shop when they have their designer sales: make sure you are there. The only caveat is if there is one item and you love it and they have it in your size, you should buy it. Guaranteed it won’t be there when the sales come.
It’s okay to say every fall I’m going to spend X amount of money on my wardrobe. You have your little chunk of money and you go buy. That’s the way the Europeans do it.
The 24-hour Shopping Rule
Some people have the 24-hour rule. You see it, you love it. if you go home, can’t sleep and still have that same feeling about it, then you go and buy it. Those people are ultimately happier with their purchases because hopefully, they’ll truly love it. It’s great to find something on sale, but if you find something regular price and it’s right for you and you wear it … better than to have five that are maybe so-so and you spent all this time trying to find things on sale.
Her Designer BFFs
In today’s market, fashionistas get paid to wear things. They are all working with stylists and brands. Instead, I follow designers and brands. I’m a huge fan of Etro from a creative and artistic standpoint. Love what Gucci’s doing to turn that brand around. I like Max Mara, too, even though they are a little classic. Vetements has been doing a lot of really amazing things, too. I love Celine and Dolce & Gabbana. I buy Akris for myself; I bought a jumpsuit from them. I put it on and it fit and I didn’t care what the price was.
The Age of Athleisure?
Fashion really starts from the street and from art and culture and trickles down and flows up. The whole athletic trend, which is now a lifestyle, really came from the street and most of the urban kids wore inexpensive track pants, hoodies and they sort of made it their own. Athleisure. It’s absolutely going to be here to stay. It’s only been around a few years now, but it’s only building momentum.
Never, ever, ever toss anything animal print in any category because it never goes out of style. Especially the leopard.
If Someone Never Wears This Again, It Will Be Okay With Me.
I would be pleased to never see stirrup pants again. But they were on the runway this year and we’ll see what happens to them. Don’t like bomber jackets; I don’t think they look good on anyone. I don’t like the big five-inch heels with the big platforms. They are not flattering to a woman’s leg and they are dangerous to walk in. A high heel at three to three-and-a half inches is probably as high as a woman should go and even those I call a taxi-to-table shoe.
Pantsuits will be popular again. It’s been a number of years: that look that was very popular in the 70s. It’s time for it to roll back around and be reinvented.
We’ll definitely see more of them, but again tailoring is so important. Hillary could use some good tailoring.
Finding Your Style Tribe
There’s a trend of lifestyle shops with an edited point of view. Shops are now offering truly edited point of view clothing, furnishings, stationary, dining. It’s really what Barney’s used to be and what they are trying to be again. Restoration Hardware is coming out with clothing because they consider themselves a lifestyle brand.
Just as in life, you have to be open to the possibilities and open to the surprises. It’s not about the brand, it’s not about the label, it’s not about the price. It’s about, “Is it the right thing for you?”
Denim Reigns (again) and Austin Breathes a Collective Sigh
One of the things I love about Austin is you can wear denim 24/7, and it’s one of the HUGE trends for fall. You can mix with a Chanel jacket, a great pair of shoes. I think we all know shoes and jewelry make the outfit.
Bandage Dresses — Will They Ever Be Banished?
No, as long as we have New Jersey, Atlanta and Orange County. If you have a figure, they are very forgiving. It’s Spanx in a dress. No judgment.
Read more from the Style Issue | September 2016