An Interview With Lori Goldstein
As told to: Emily Kirkpatrick
Despite working within the brisk, mercurial sphere of fashion, Lori Goldstein has managed to create a body of work that is as ageless as it is unprecedented. For a stylist of her caliber, Goldstein has an uncommon insouciance in her approach, particularly towards the high fashion so many ignorantly and timidly revere. Her’s is a laissez-faire point of view that places a greater emphasis on the spontaneous and emotive than the overwrought and perfunctory. She believes clothing to be the medium through which we are all permitted to externalize our innermost, suppressed desires and fantastical conceptions of the self. And with this boundless expressivity comes no set of rules, no right or wrong, no uptight, predetermined definitions.
Goldstein’s life and work insist upon the fact that there is no secret style cipher to crack, no hard and fast set of calculated applications. Fashion, at it’s finest, should be as natural and organic as taking a breath or blinking an eye. Goldstein’s ability to actualize the frenetic world of her imagination sets her apart from the pack. One of the most preeminent and sought after stylists in the world, she has worked with clients as diverse as Versace and Revlon, carrying off both with ease and aplomb. The self-proclaimed outsider and rebel of fashion celebrates the unadulterated pulchritude and joy that exists in everything, from the muted gleam of a candy wrapper to the hem of a couture gown.
At what moment did you know you wanted to work in fashion?
I always knew I wanted to work in fashion. It’s what I connected with. It’s just the perfect fit for me because it’s how my brain works. It’s creative and cerebral and exciting. It’s a natural thing. I love to push myself, but I know when my brain is trying something that just doesn’t fit—I’m not that type of person. I always knew that I had a different approach to life and that I was sort of a rebel and was not going to conform to the way people wanted me or things to be. Over time, I realized that I was different, had a different approach. But in the beginning, I wasn’t aware that that was what it was. I just did it. Did it my way.
What is an aspect of your job, or fashion at large, that people tend to misunderstand?
Everything’s a job, it’s a business. We love the end result of many businesses, be it film or art, and fashion is the same thing. It’s a very hard-working, intricate, time-consuming life. So you really have to love it. I think that people over glamorize it because they think it’s just a glamorous job, it’s a glamorous life, but it’s not that, at all. Unless you are, in my perception, on the periphery of this la-di-da, go out and party, take a picture of yourself and say you’re in fashion, lifestyle. That’s not what the fashion business is to me. If anybody really studies or cares about it, you can see when something is amazing and you start looking at why it is amazing. You see the depth of every nuance and detail, as opposed to a bad picture that people are calling fashion.
What is your process like? How do you translate a concept for an editorial into the physical garments and the mood of a shoot?
Honestly, I just make stuff up. That’s the beauty of fashion, that’s why it works for my brain. This is what I want to do. Then a collaboration starts with people who I love or who I’ve wanted to collaborate with before—or people who I’ve just been thrown together with. But it’s really just a world where we can do what we want to do. Sometimes I want to get a point across, sometimes it’s something like the Steven [Meisel] days when I was obsessed with Jacqueline Susann, and then it just became this moment in time that was perfect for that.
What has been one of the most challenging shoots for you?
For me, the most challenging shoots are, no matter if it’s an editorial or an advertising job, when people aren’t willing to collaborate and listen and trust. Trust that this process is going to work itself out. It might be very difficult in the beginning, when you have clients who are so nervous that they don’t trust you and they don’t really understand the full process. We are here to make this work, if we have to stay for 24 hours, we’re going to make this work and make it amazing. That’s how much we care about our jobs. I think that’s the most challenging; it’s not one specific job.
Your work seems to transcend fleeting trends and embody this very timeless, iconic quality, yet still manages to feel very of the moment. What is the secret to keeping that balance?
This is really something that’s very important to get across to new [stylists]. I never reference. I think that’s huge. When you reference something from the past, you can maybe have a fresh take on the moment, but it’s still always going to have a quality that comes and goes. When you just make things up in your head and live in your own head and collaborate with the same like-minded people, it’s timeless. That’s really important to me. I don’t want to do something that’s already been done, why would I? It’s been done!
Looking forward, what direction do you see fashion moving towards? What’s something about it you’d like to completely change?
Oh, you know, that’s a loaded question. On one hand, I respect how life keeps moving and changing. That’s what’s happening in the world so, of course, it’s happening in fashion. But fashion is a craft and if anything, we’ve gotten away from that craft in this quick-minded, broad context of what is fashion. I’d like to bring it back to this great quality. What still turns me on after 4,000 years is this love and hard work and craft. I think Chanel’s a great example of what I’d like to reimagine fashion to be. [Karl Lagerfeld] totally has that respect and nuance and knows the importance of the end result, the product, and how beautiful it is! That’s why it’s so divine. It’s that love and respect, it’s not just this passing bullshit phase of fashion in parentheses. Woo, I got really passionate about that question!
You’ve worked at every level of fashion, from Vogue Italia to H&M. What do you view as some of the obstacles and rewards of working in these different arenas? Do you see one as easily translating into the other, or are they totally distinct worlds?
I don’t find any obstacles whatsoever. I really love the challenge of having a client and getting into their head and world, be it Vogue Italia, H&M, Versace, or my new role designing for QVC. If it’s something you love to do, there cannot be a right or wrong. Do I think that they’re separate worlds? I don’t think so on the level of right or wrong, or is one better than the other, absolutely not. They all are important and they all, at the end of the day, relate to a certain type of person and each person is as important as the next.
But, of course, in some ways they are separate worlds. You’re working with different materials, people have different goals. That’s where the challenge and the excitement comes in for me: Who is this woman that I’m designing for or styling for or consulting for? That’s where the points of view come in separately and I love that. I’m obviously not a Versace woman, but I love getting into that head of who is the Versace woman. My brain and my aesthetic are very close to Vogue Italia. I love the sickness in the world. I see life in a very twisted way and I love expressing that through my visual abilities. I’m in love with the woman who loves fashion and it’s not necessarily how her demographic or her friends are dressing. That turns me on as much as Vogue Italia.
And I think that love for fashion translates across high fashion, commercial, price range…
Completely. If there’s one thing that’s come from all of the sort of wreckage of this eliteness, it’s that. We all love fashion and there’s a passion for it and I think it’s fabulous that we all love it in our own way and we all should do it in our own way. I have women that are 80 years old that are calling me on QVC and saying, “You’ve changed my life, I love the way I look, and I feel so pretty!” How amazing is that?
That you could just change that woman’s life so simply.
Yeah! And she still cares at 80! And I will too. Honey, I’ll be wearing it all at 80.
What is the biggest difference between when you started working in fashion and today? Do you think the rise of bloggers and the Internet have been a great equalizer in the industry, or is it all just adding to the noise?
It’s just very fast-paced. I don’t know that the Internet and bloggers have been the great equalizers. It’s just changed and that’s fine and everybody can be a critic and all of that. You’re asking if it adds noise and chaos. Everybody in this day and age has to learn to be their own filter. It’s really important. It’s more challenging, but it’s great. This is an industry that doesn’t have an answer. It’s not right or wrong, it’s all an opinion, a point of view. You have to be even stronger in understanding your own point of view and not be swayed. That’s just growing as a person. That’s our goal in everything we do in life. It gives you more of an opportunity to be a more focused human being.
Fashion can be a very competitive and negative place, what about it keeps you going? Is it pure love for the industry or does it come from something more?
This is an interesting question because I’ve never had pure love for the industry and I do not consider myself in the industry. I have a pure love for fashion and I have been very lucky and worked very hard to maintain my autonomy in this business. I just do my own thing. I think I’m definitely too sensitive for that industry. I’m very competitive with myself, but I’m not comparing myself to other people. I try not to. It’s hard not to. It is a very negative place and I become very negative myself when I’m in it. I try to separate myself and just live in my own world as much as possible. I don’t like it.
Do you think a sense of style that’s truly unique and original is something that can be taught or is it something that has to come organically, from within?
If you asked me that question several years ago, I would have said it’s something organic, and I still very much believe that. But I also think, if you have that strong desire and you love fashion so much, it’s something that you can learn a lot about. The more you work on something and the more you’re focused on something, the more you absolutely learn—and there’s so much you can learn. But if it’s in you, you’re definitely going to succeed because it’s who you are. You don’t have that thinking of, does this go together, is this right or wrong? Who cares? Just do it.
Personally, how do you go about expanding your own imagination and seeking out new sources of inspiration?
I’m crazy so I get inspired everywhere. I get inspired in my own head. I just get inspired and stimulated by visual things, beautiful, ugly, whatever. Obviously, I live in New York City and it’s all around me and I love it. I also get inspired by total stillness. I think inspiration is everywhere—and it is. I mean, how can you think it’s not?
Who’s someone you’d still like to work with or a stereotype in fashion you’d still like to break down through your work?
Well, I mean, there’s obvious people, like when I think about the opportunities I had to work with a Helmut [Newton] or an Irving Penn or even a [Francesco] Scavullo. They were amazing, but I never live for what I haven’t done. What’s a taboo or stereotype I’d like to break down? The pretty girl, the perfect girl, the rich girl. All those things that certain magazines tout and think are fabulous. I’m sure, through my work, you can see I’m sort of the anti-that. If there’s any stereotype I’d constantly like to break down it’s that pretty, blonde girl that everybody thinks they want to be. No, I think we’re all gorgeous in our own way and the freakier the better in my eyes. I hope I’ve helped to do that a little bit in my career.
How did you get involved with QVC? Was it something you always wanted to pursue or something that just developed naturally out of your career?
Without really knowing it all those years, it is something I’ve always been interested in doing. I just love people being true to themselves and individuals, and I saw that for QVC. I also relate to that woman. I grew up in Ohio and I was sort of an outcast. I was definitely non-conformist and sort of a freak in that world. I’ve always rooted for the underdog. It’s really a pattern of mine from fashion to politics. QVC’s just that grounding, great place where I’m involved in every aspect of the business. I’m just so passionate about it and I guess I have this secret desire to change the world to help women be who they want to be in fashion.
You’re known for your ability to mix anything together, is there anything you think should never be paired together? Are there any fads or trends you can’t imagine working into your aesthetic?
I really don’t live by any fads or trends. Those words are really not in my vocabulary. Everything else you said, if you think they go together then they do. We’re just living, we’re here to delight ourselves, go for it! I think—if I wanted to get down to a real scientific sort of business—you definitely start seeing that there is a method to the madness. And I think again, that’s how you learn, by doing. If you don’t do it, you’re not going to know. You can take something too far or it may not be the right proportion, but nobody’s going to get hurt, so try it. For me, honestly, it’s crazy. I look in the mirror and I just start putting on whatever I feel like and I walk out the door and it’s like, Wow. This is nuts. And I love it. If the shoe matches the scarf, it doesn’t work for me. To me, more is more. That’s what I like.
And as you said before, I think there is something freeing to that.
It’s so freeing. That’s what it’s about. Because we have to get dressed everyday, and when you do that, it really starts seeping into other aspects of your life. It allows you to become an individual. That’s always been my goal for myself, and for others. Be true to who you are. That’s all we can be. We can grow and we can learn and we can adapt and we can listen to each other, but we’re not each other. We’re all individuals and I think that’s what makes everyone amazing.
What is your WILD Wish?
For everyone to be free with themselves. To just be able to freely express who they are and for everyone to accept that in each other. That would be a perfect world for me.