Auto executive Julia Steyn lives life in the fast lane. Born in Russia, the former Goldman Sachs vice president heads Maven, a car-sharing app from General Motors that provides users on-demand access to GM vehicles in 14 cities throughout the U.S. with expansion to the Hamptons expected this summer. But for Steyn, who splits her time between homes in Detroit, Manhattan and East Hampton, adjusting to Maven’s start-up mentality has meant shifting her sensibilities when it comes to dressing for work.
“Frankly, before taking this job I never owned a pair of jeans,” admitted Steyn from her glass-walled offices atop Cadillac House in New York. “We have a very different work environment at Maven and [my wardrobe] ranges from really formalwear to jeans. Finally in my 40s, I get to try a new piece of clothing.”
Steyn — who often pairs her looks with bold accessories from her extensive jewelry collection — takes a philosophical approach when it comes to choosing her designer duds.
“Clothes are not just a reflection of your environment and what you want to project,” explains the trained concert pianist. “They are an intimate expression of your spiritual essence as well — as close as you can come to visually communicating it with others.”
Here, the businesswoman tells WWD how she seamlessly transitions from boardroom meetings to cocktail receptions while remaining fashion-forward.
WWD: How do you dress for work now compared with five years ago?
Julia Steyn: [I wear] fewer suits for sure. You can express yourself with statement jewelry, which I absolutely love. I collect anything from unusual gold pieces to vintage pieces. Probably half of our team is female and that’s inspiring because I get to take the trends from my team.
WWD: What’s been the catalyst for change in terms of the way that you dress in your industry?
J.S.: Inherently, there’s so much design with cars. It’s humbling when you walk into our design building and talk to the artists who make these amazing machines. I take a lot of inspiration from that. It means structural elements, it means leather, it means a very bold color. We are changing because the whole [automotive] industry is changing. We are merging a lot of things that we were really good at for 100 years — hardware, scalable business, beautiful cars with the software. We are in this cusp of completely changing cultures. Maven is exactly that middle point.
WWD: Who is your biggest influence when it comes to your at-work wardrobe?
J.S.: I take a lot of advice and inspiration from my family. It doesn’t matter how senior I get in my career, I don’t walk out the door without my mom and my nine-year-old son approving it. Russian women are very particular about their clothes. My mom was a concert pianist and it’s in the DNA. She absolutely loves fashion and she pushes me to be much more edgy than I sometimes feel comfortable, which I like.
WWD: Do you follow fashion trends?
J.S.: I enjoy looking at what’s out there. I think about the way I shop and it’s really Net-a-porter, Moda Operandi and Farfetch. It’s cool because you get to see designers from all over the globe. You can sit in a meeting and if you’re really not paying attention, you can do a lot of damage on Net-a-porter delivered to your doorstep very easily.
WWD: How often do you have new clothes delivered?
J.S.: It’s a secret — my husband would not appreciate.
WWD: Do you have any favorite designers or brands?
J.S.: I love Maria Dobreva who designed the choker I wore today. It’s really fun. Asher Levine is doing really interesting cutting-edge things with leather. It’s very technical what you can actually do with the pieces. I love Tome because it’s so feminine and appropriate to transition between day and evening. Of course, Valentino, Chanel, Givenchy — how can I say no? It’s nice to see established brands also being current and modern and interesting.
WWD: Does what you wear impact your work at all?
J.S.: I wear a lot of things that can transition from day to evening. I like a lot of leather jackets because I travel a lot and they’re wonderful because they don’t wrinkle.
WWD: You seem to really appreciate fashion.
J.S.: People in the business world [often] shy away from being passionate about their clothes. You’re supposed to be able to express yourself and I just appreciate the art and the labor and vision that goes into this. Every time I put on a piece of designer clothing I know how much passion went into it so it inspires me everyday to be more passionate in what I do. When you start a new brand like Maven in a very old industry, you’ve got to be passionate.
WWD: If given the choice would you prefer to dress more casually or more formally?
J.S.: I’m the kind of girl who believes you can never be overdressed.
WWD: How does your style shift from Detroit to New York to the Hamptons since you’re in all three places regularly?
J.S.: Detroit is fun because you get to try a really edgy wardrobe there and people appreciate it. Detroit is an opportunity to experiment. New York is an opportunity to really take your day-to-evening looks out. In the Hamptons, it’s fun and casual and flowing.
WWD: What’s your favorite purchase of the past few months?
J.S.: I just got a brand new red Tome dress for the Hamptons and I’ll wear it on my birthday, which is the Fourth of July.