I am a passport carrying, 24/7, lover of fashion and visual style. Not only for myself, but for my style clients that I dress. I don’t believe in guilt trips when it comes to caring about ones appearance. Just because fashion is another dimension to your personality, doesn’t mean you are shallow or don’t have anything valuable to say. On the contrary. What we wear is a window into our personalities: clothes express our individuality and give us confidence to face the world in our own unique way.
I have always cared about the way I look, putting passion and effort into what I wear. I love the whole process of discovery and choosing wisely, adding pieces that will integrate well with my existing wardrobe - or take it somewhere unexpected. Shopping can be a treasure hunt and I have always enjoyed unearthing unique finds on my travels. For me global experiences can go beyond the amazing history that you learn and sights you see to include something local you can take away with you or give as a gift. It’s all part of my travel experience..
I also need the creative outlet of combining different elements artfully to create an effect - say softening a bold cobalt blue blouse in sheer chiffon with very fine, dangly jewelry. Or popping on a chunky fur vest (faux or otherwise) to boost a winter outfit and add texture to wool and chic leather boots.
I can’t say, “that will do” - it’s just not in my nature. This doesn’t mean that it takes me movie star length hours to get ready. Jonathan or any of my friends would tell you that I could throw it together in 15 minutes. Granted, I don’t have one of those long-suffering, toe-tapping husbands; he loves to let me do my thing. Just as I understand that Jonathan’s ritualistic morning run fulfils a core need in him to run free under the sky, he gets that I like to look a certain way because it makes me happy.
When I wear my grandmother’s green vintage long, backless cocktail gown with cutaway sleeves (the one she bought in Capri 60 years ago, one of our favourite places on earth) I feel like I’m practically channeling the chic of a whole other era. When I find a shimmering, hand-woven silken shawl in an old mansion courtyard in Buenos Aires, and meet the weaver on site, that travel memory is woven into the piece as surely as the golden thread. That’s why the contents of my wardrobe really mean something to me, especially if I traveled far to discover them.
BE YOURSELF WITH FASHION
I am trying to teach this cardinal rule to my daughter at the tender age of 8 - be true to who you are. Even if it takes a bit of bravery. If fashion makes you happy and lets you expresses yourself visually, what does it matter what you choose to wear? It can be so easy when you live amongst your own friends and community for a woman to feel like she is always being judged. In my case it would be, “We are only going for coffee or the movies so why is she wearing that?” But that stance is mired in that ‘special occasion only’ mentality that I don’t relate to. My philosophy: I don’t have to justify why I am excited about dressing as I wish, wherever I am going.
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE - WEAR YOUR BEST CLOTHES
I am so not a ‘put the plastic on the good sofa’ and save your silk dress kind of girl. If you live in the moment, you only ever have that day; who knows what the next will bring? We waste a lot of time deferring our best pieces for a special occasion that often doesn’t come off. Let your star outfits come out to play! I say to women who I help with rebuilding their wardrobes - live for today. I bet if more women dug into their best their whole look and mood would lift.
I am not suggesting to go in your ballgown to the supermarket, but if you really feel like sliding into your softest, best cashmere and you’re only meeting the girls for lunch later, knock yourself out anyway. Who are you fearful of? Truly good friends won’t judge you.
DON’T SETTLE FOR BLAH
Sometimes women want to do something more interesting but are shy about drawing attention to themselves. Fashion is a great way to push your personality to the front a bit! If you are not being honest with yourself you miss the whole point of clothes. When you know you look good, you feel good. Women instinctively know when they are not giving their best or have given up a bit - and I’m not into that feeling. When I hit the beach I’d be miserable in a floppy, oversized T-shirt. You’ll catch me in a lightly structured caftan, or some silk harem pants!
Of course, if fashion does not matter to you then there’s no point in forcing yourself to be dressy either. It wouldn’t be true to who you are.
We are all human. Everybody has a ‘dag day’ or their secret chill out outfit for home - the uniform du jour seems to be a Juicy Couture-inspired, velour track suit. And yes, I have one too. My approach is: know how to relax, but also break through ruts, laziness, shyness or intimidation to spread your sartorial wings…
Go in new directions. Wear more flattering cuts that highlight your assets and hide a multitude of sins. Find the colours that bring your eyes to life, make your skin radiate or update your look.
I am not saying that you have to crack the whip and turn yourself out like Victoria Beckham every single minute! In fact I find that extremely off-putting. Wobbling around on towering, stilettos to tour daycare centres or shimmying around Disneyland in skin-tight, couture dresses - simply to be paparazzi-ready - seems insecure to me.
I don’t think a scowling demeanor and dying-of-starvation model figure is coming from a good place. I respond to women who are upfront and authentic no matter what shape or size, whether they are wearing a gorgeous, painted on Hervé Léger dress on the red carpet or unwinding in their favourite ripped jeans while hanging out with the kids…
So I’d say don’t be a caricature; just have fun raising your game.
The real goal is to identify and cultivate your own personal style - and realign all your fashion choices around that. Personally, I like beautiful things that make me feel good first and foremost. I follow that instinct, even ahead of following fashion for the sake of it. True style is not fashion, its perfecting YOUR look and wearing it with confidence.
I’LL TAKE STYLISH OVER TRENDY
I stay on top of trends (and love to see what my favourite designers are sending down the catwalk) but I pick and choose amongst them. ‘This is in’ and ‘that is out’ may be the rule of law for a fashion victim, but not a style icon (hello Katherine Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Jackie O, Diane Keaton… all the way to current role model, Kate Moss). I don’t idolize one particular look or person but I do admire women who are brave enough to stand up and do their own thing.
Truly stylish people can break through an obsession with labels and showcase their flair with everything, knowing how to mix a Top Shop shirt with a beautiful $400 pair of pants. A lot of stars today look stylist-dependent and interchangeable. Out of the current crop of actresses, Uma Thurman strikes me as someone whose style is unique and genuine. That’s what I try to achieve with my own clients: I want them to be the best version of themselves.
GO WITH THE FLOW
A confident dresser will also be able to let their appearance flow with changing moods. I play lots of different roles in life - funky, sophisticated, feminine, bold, soft, retro, low key, show stopping, busy, classic, edgy… Women are complex - it’s good to have your props ready for all incoming moods! The one thing I can predict is I rarely feel sporty: I only managed a good Juicy tracksuit because it is the nearest thing to pyjamas that is acceptable for opening the door or nipping out to buy milk. But variety is the spice of life - and much needed for our modern, multi-faceted lives - from school pick up to client dinners or five star travel. A variable wardrobe is not only more fun, but essential when you get stuck. Change gears!
THE FASHION BAILOUT
There is a knack to putting a wardrobe together. Plenty of women have an innate talent but my own experience in working as a stylist on other women’s wardrobes has shown me that this is more of an effort for some ladies than it is for others. Some feel that they need to hire someone else’s “eye” to bring out their best, which they themselves sometimes don’t see. There is a great feeling of sisterhood in being given that trust; I enjoy helping other women shine.
In tackling all sorts of wardrobes in the past, experience has shown me that certain common problems keep cropping up…
So many women don’t take advantage of their best physical features, burying them instead under wrong silhouettes or other wrong choices. PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD.
Many women make dull, uninspired choices with colour. Why buy blah when there are so many gorgeous shades across the spectrum to choose from, ranging from daringly rich jewel tones like royal blue, emerald and scarlet;, summer sorbets like pistachio, mint and lemon; neutrals like caramels, taupe, mushroom, donkey grey and sable or dramatic black with an amazing accent colour like imperial purple. 1950s aqua, ballet slipper pink. I could go on… The whole world is your oyster! USE THE POWER OF COLOUR.
When we shop on impulse we tend to buy clothes that evoke an emotional response without asking the essential questions - does it suit me? Do I need it? Am I buying this for the right reasons? It all starts from there - yes, even if it’s on sale! What would you really think, away from the store pressure and instant gratification of the moment? What will the cost per wear be? Not good if you never wear it! WALK AWAY AND THINK IT THROUGH.
Some women may hesitate to commit to investment pieces like a really knockout tailored suit (which you can dress up or down with accessories and tops) or quality shoes. But time and time again I have culled from clients wardrobes a large amount of smallish purchases that weren’t right in anyway and added it up - then almost wept to think what superb few pieces you could get for the same money. If something is reasonably priced but doesn’t work, it’s not a bargain at any price! Be selective, and prune elsewhere if necessary. It’s worth having a few, key divinely made items, such as a tapered leather jacket, quality handbag or beautifully lined little black designer dress that will stand you in good stead for years.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.
A lot of women go for all or nothing extremes - either a shambolic mess to get out the door fast in the morning for school drop off or a really formal look for after five or special occasions. It’s so much more chic now to be playful and mix up the higher and lower end of your wardrobe, so that you both integrate the better pieces more often and be more modern about how you wear your labels.
No-one really needs to do top to toe, by the book Chanel anymore. Even Karl Lagerfeld says that would bore him! Put an expensively tailored structured jacket with your favourite jeans. Wear your imported Louboutin shoes with your chain-bought maxidress. Make your black suit less corporate with a one-off, retro rock tee and ballet flats. Once top designers like Alexander McQueen and Prouenzer Schouler team with Top Shop all bets are off and stuffy old divisions no longer apply. HAVE FUN WITH HIGH/LOW. The designers certainly are!
MY THOUGHTS ON FUR ?
I totally get and respect the anti-ornamental fur movement. Passionate advocate and designer, Stella McCartney creates an entire range of fabulous clothes and accessories without using a single animal product. Personally, I am not a protected species, luxury fur coat person. I would feel too squeamish - and I find them a tad ostentatious anyway. But I can really live with using commonplace animal fur like rabbit for fashion, bare in mind, there’s always fabulous faux fur if that’s your comfort zone. Of course, it’s just an opinion. What do you all think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on our YOUSAID PAGE.
WHAT’S MY STORY?
I have 13 years experience as an interior designer and a further 5 years in the fashion business - and an adult lifetime gallivanting around the world with a husband who has a bad case of wanderlust!
This is all in contrast to my very sensible background as a Doctor’s daughter growing up in the 70s and 80s in Sydney, Australia. My Dad is a rock: a man of great integrity with a work and family ethic that I hope has rubbed off on me. My mother certainly wasn’t in the shadows either. As a stylish woman who was focused on her family, fashion resonated with her, but only in a conversational way. Her central interests were in art and culture.
I took after her and didn’t go the science route, but was drawn to people and what made them tick: the humanities. At University I did an Arts degree with a major in sociology, thriving on all the tutorials, lectures, and debate about politics. To this day I love to mull over every angle.
When Jonathan and I got together (we met on one of Sydney’s most beautiful beaches, Camp Cove, Watsons Bay) he was over the whole world of stockbroking; he wanted to unchain from a desk and be more freed up. So we set up our own business, sourcing fashion jewelry overseas and importing it to Australia. It was a brilliant way to tap into our passion for getting out there to see the world and, as creative director and head buyer, for me to start to use my visual sense and aesthetic in a commercial forum.
We then moved in the direction of homewares, and started importing some really unique lines from Mexico and Asia. Even though we were in a successful business, I was still interested in doing something for myself. When we built our own house it was the most natural thing in the world for me to collaborate and be involved with the scale, spatial feeling and decor. Jonathan and I are both visually oriented people so we cared about every brick and bolt of fabric that went into that place.
My interior design business began organically, out of my genuine passion and hobby, which is a great way to start a business - and I ran it for 13 years. I did houses, restaurants and all sorts of interesting projects (including a string of three houses together). It is an amazingly creative outlet and made work more like fun. That’s all I could ever wish for my kids: do what you love.
My love of fashion was always there, during this time, a grace note to my other visual focus, interiors. If I had any spare time I would always be browsing through shops, finding hidden or not-so-hidden treasures for myself and putting my own looks together; keeping on top of what was happening in the world of fashion; discovering new stores or who is on the scene in Sydney or on visits to Europe, Africa and America.
A lot of the clients I had in the interiors business used to ask me to help them buy clothes. I did not have the time to split focus and do both. And at the time fashion was a very personal interest, but the idea stayed on my radar. People in different aspects of my life kept asking, “Where do I buy jeans?” “I need a new look.” “Where did you get that top you’re wearing, I have never seen anything like it?” The demand kept growing. And again, so did I! I was pregnant with my third child. I was proud of what I had achieved with architectural spaces and decided that the time was ripe to make the change to the more intimate visual scale of fashion. So my styling business just organically evolved the same way, doing something I loved.
THE SHEIRA EFFECT - MY PROCESS
WHO ARE YOU? I get together with my clients and become acquainted with the most important part: what’s going on under the surface. I need to know a little about their heart and soul that is ready to shine through, and be expressed through fashion a little more effectively.
LIFESTYLE We then talk through her personal needs, including work commitments, social needs and family requirements. Her life is my blueprint and I need to build on that.
BAD HABITS We look at the nuts and bolts difficulties of the existing wardrobe, whether it’s fashion mistakes, solving storage problems or identifying compulsions and patterns that we can address and correct. Sometimes it’s not just our wardrobes that are cluttered; it’s our mind!
YOU’RE OUTTA HERE! The fun part is overhauling the look. My clients crave honesty and if they are dressing like a missionary or overdosing on the manmade fabrics, I’ll tell them! It’s like a comedy - it’s so liberating to eliminate all the unsuitable items that are clogging up their closet space and their life, not to mention getting in the way. I want to clear space for the great, new stuff.
RETAIL THERAPY Then we shop (how fun is this job!) and I build a successful and gorgeous, flattering wardrobe of clothes, shoes, handbags and accessories. It really is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and nothing is more gratifying than delivering that. I am more than happy to apply my process to husbands, children and teenagers too - each comes with its own set of issues and challenges, but the principles are the same.
JONATHAN ON SHEIRA’S STYLE
One of the things I love most about Sheira is the way that her own strong, powerful style is stamped on everything she does, from throwing a dinner party, decorating our home, to putting on jewelry and making it work. She is one of those rare women who goes beyond being really clever or savvy about trends; she is a trendsetter.
She already had knockout style when we met as young twenty-somethings.. Sheira is this family matriarch,our rock, always there for us no matter what, always making our family life tick over. Yet somehow she pulls that off with the effortless,visual flair and glamour of a lady of leisure who peels grapes on a chaise lounge all day! She truly is one of the best mums I know - yet a sophisticated, polished, exquisitely put together one. She has raised the bar high for our boys…
She is ahead of her time, which is easily recognized by her own peers, but even our son Josh’s friends, hip, happening 18 or 19 year old girls, look up to Sheira as a style icon. I’m pretty proud that she defies the generation gap and inspires all kinds of women. If a leather jacket or a bag she’s wearing can cut it with picky teenagers and uptown matrons then she must be onto something! And I want her to share it with you here at SHEIRA SAID on jonathansaid.com