By  on September 4, 2007

From miniskirt phobias to Chloé obsessions, designers weigh in on their own personal styles.

In a climate where many female designers serve as poster girls for their own labels, Luella Bartley’s bow at her fall 2007 show was a breath of fresh air. She wasn’t wearing Luella, but a recognizable, Sofia Coppola–approved Marc Jacobs shift (as seen here). It was refreshing—a statement that a designer didn’t have to be a walking press release for her own line.

Of course, certain designers have never been their own paper dolls. The Mulleavy sisters, for example, craft exquisite gowns for Rodarte, then lay low in black T-shirts and jeans. However, most designers seem to fall somewhere between the two poles, negotiating a personal style that includes their own designs—with some exceptions.

The most notable example: The more risqué items. One of Abaeté’s best-selling dresses is a little number that hangs a precarious 16 inches from the waist. “I would never wear that! It’s too short,” laughs its creator, Laura Poretzky. But the frock has done very well for the company. “I love them and I love the way they look on other people, [but] I don’t have those stick legs,” Poretzky says.

Couture designer Anne Valérie Hash, who will wear even her most avant-garde gowns to dinner parties, has a similar fear of heights. “I love to design miniskirts,” she says, “but I don’t wear them.”

“I have a thing about being covered, and I love and adore designing bare things, but I don’t necessarily wear them myself,” says Cynthia Vincent of her designs for Twelfth Street. “So that becomes sort of a fantasy for me, and what I would absolutely love to wear, but don’t.” Now the mother of a one-year-old, Vincent eschews the fancier items from her line and has cut simple shift dresses that she wears as an everyday staple.

Meanwhile, Anna Sui says she steers clear of much color in her own wardrobe, favoring black and white, though her runways bloom with colorful folk-art prints. She prefers the tamer pieces in her line, grounding a scandalous minidress, say, with a pair of leggings. She also wears simpler pieces from Marc Jacobs, Martine Sitbon and Lanvin.

Quite a few designers find comfort in sticking to the basics. “I have a uniform,” Yeohlee Teng explains. “If you were to open my closet, it’s like: black T-shirts, blue jeans, shorts.”
Since her office and apartment are only a staircase apart, Alice Roi will throw a sweatshirt over her own top and skirt, or mix streetwear with her agnès b. Compared with her collection, “my personal [style] is a little sloppier and a little more comfort-geared.”

Then there are those who, faced with a feast, give in to their inner sartorial gluttons. Witness Rachel Roy in a Prada turban or a Balenciaga coat along with her own pieces. Or Tory Burch, who says, “I love fashion, so I wear a lot of different designers,” and name-checks Proenza, Prada, Oscar and Carolina (no last names) as favorites. The sisters behind contemporary label Secrets of Charm, Estee and Sharon Elkayam, eat up Chanel, Chloé and Vivienne Westwood.

And when it comes to jet-setters, fashion tastes roam the globe. “I dress differently when I’m in England and differently when I’m in Italy,” says London-based designer Sophia Kokosalaki. “And differently when I’m in Paris…and differently when I’m in Greece, so I need a lot of clothes.”

Such eclecticism is all very well for everyday life, but what of the party photos on and Patrick McMullan? Roi acknowledges that “going to events has a lot of pressure surrounding it.” After all, “you’re not going to show up in a notable Chanel outfit to a fashion event.” New Zealand–based designer Karen Walker sees wearing her clothes as a matter of practicing what she preaches. “If I can’t find a dress [from my line] that I want to wear to some function, I’m kind of failing at my job. If I can’t find it, my customer’s not going to be able to find it.”

Though they may wear their own labels, you’d be hard-pressed to find a female designer who admits to being her own muse. According to Burch, “I don’t ever usually have one specific muse in mind. It’s, to me, a very versatile woman, someone who’s busy, someone who has a lot going on in her life, who’s probably a mother or has a career and doesn’t have a ton of time to really think about how to put herself together.” When it’s pointed out that this description sounds like Burch herself, she replies: “Well, that’s what I know. I’m not saying I think of myself, but I do think of my lifestyle.”

Explains Sui: “There’s always that selfish thought in the back of your mind, like, ‘Well, what am I going to wear?’ So that’s the great thing about designing clothes, that you’re able to do it for yourself, too.”

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