To sort some of this through, I approached a woman who knows about fashion. Natalie Joos is an internationally recognized casting director, fashion consultant and editor. Originally from Belgium, Natalie got her degree in Journalism and after spending some time modeling, moved to the States where she was fortunate to work with iconic fashion writer Glenn O'Brien and then with fashion photographer Craig McDean. In 2003, she opened her own casting studio. She has worked with so many amazing brands and publications, I am willing to bet that you know her work way better than you think. My Joos-fandom, however, was solidified a couple of years ago after I discovered her beautiful blog – Tales of Endearment. On the site, Natalie documents her life through visual excursions across some of the most coveted closets in fashion: her own and those of her friends. Take a look at Natalie's site if you haven't already and you will immediately know why I was so curious to talk to her. Her singular approach to fashion is both disciplined and eclectic. Her fashion diaries tell stories of character and place, conflict and resolution, background and motivation. In other words, her approach is quite literary.
What follows is a conversation about style, books and immigration. As you will see, they have more in common than you have probably imagined.
|Photography: Aram Bedrossian for Tales of Endearment|
How did you end up in the States? Was "becoming an American" an intentional choice or did it just sort of happen?
I was studying in London when I met a young designer from New York who asked me if I wanted to do her PR. She had a small store on Mulberry Street that sort of functioned as her head quarters. I moved to New York with 2 suitcases and never looked back. I had never been in New York before or never thought of moving there. And I definitely didn't intend to "become an American". I never will. I have a greencard and that's as far as my commitment will go. I am a New Yorker, not an American.
Have you found your being an immigrant to be a burden? A liberation? Both? Would it have been different if you weren't working in fashion?
I never felt anyone treating me differently because I was European. I think New York is such an open-minded city it would be hard to feel any kind of discrimination. The only obstacles I have felt are my sense of humor - it's sometimes a bit too direct and blunt for the sensitive American - and the fact that everyone has perfect nails here. I was an avid nail biter before I arrived and used to hide my hands when I was on the subway. I was so embarrassed about my hands. I've cured that by having perfect manicures now! Besides that being European has always worked in my favor I would say.
Your style is such a fantastic mixture of new and vintage, romantic and modern, girly and androgynous. You also seem to really love pieces that showcase unique handiwork– embroideries and embellishments– that seem very "old world" to me. How do you decide what to wear? How has your taste evolved during the years? How much "home" do you bring into your looks?
I really just go on instinct. It's a fun, natural process. I try things out, swap out tops and bottoms until I find the perfect match, which is usually not a match at all! I love wacky combos and pieces that would be tacky on most people. It's a challenge to make it work. I'm definitely influenced by the weather, my hair style, and the shape my body is in. I've always had the same taste but of course now I'm exposed and have access to a lot more fashion sources. More magazines, close contacts with showrooms and designers and offers from brands to collaborate. So I have a much wider range of influences than say 20 years ago when I lived in Belgium. That said, I did not bring anything from "home" in the sense that I am the furthest from the Belgian fashion sense possible. I am colorful and happy whereas Belgian designers tend to think dark and asymmetric. The only place I always carry with me though is my grandma's closet. She instilled a love for old things in me that stuck by me, across the pond and back.
Why do you enjoy working in fashion? What do you say to people who dismiss fashion as frivolous?
I am actually the first person to say Fashion is Frivolous. I don't take all this business too seriously. After all, we are not curing cancer. And if you think of the amounts of money being spent on publishing a magazine, that's just a bunch of paper with pictures in it, or a fashion show that lasts less than 15 minutes, you can't but question the sometimes-ridiculous nature of the industry. I love fashion for different reasons. It's creative, it's fun, it's self-serving and makes up your style DNA. I love vintage especially because it's the only way to feel unique. And it's the greenest form of fashion! I barely ever buy new stuff anymore. I just borrow it. Contemporary fashion is too trendy to spend money on. I'd rather buy a classic vintage piece than the latest fad dress. I think that's respectable.
What are you reading these days? What books have influenced you the most: in life and in fashion?
I am reading the Hunger Games trilogy at the moment, simply written, adventurous stories set in a post-apocalyptic world. I heard everyone talking about the movie but I preferred to read the book instead. The first one is great; I'm now at the very end of the 2nd one and biting my fingernails (there goes that manicure) to find out what will happen. My all time favorite books are One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Master and Margarita, both written in magical realism style but respectively set in South America and Moscow. Those books were captivating.
This is a question I love to ask of immigrants: do you ever get homesick and if you do, do you have special tricks that help you fight it?
I am never homesick. Except the one time this past Christmas. I was set to leave for Uruguay on Xmas eve and did a 5-day cleanse leading up to my trip. By Xmas eve I was in such a state I cried the whole day. My whole family was in Belgium, including my sister (who also lives in NY) having dinner at my parents' house. I made them switch on the Skype camera, point it at the dinner table and I just sat at my desk in Brooklyn, watching them drink champagne, eat oysters and chat. I blame the cleanse. It really wears you out and brings up raw emotions. I hadn't been homesick since I was 14 years old. So it was a long time coming.
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