Stacy London’s new book, “The Truth About Style,” is a memoir disguised as a self-help book for the style challenged.
The premise: nine “real” women with different emotional and physical issues meet with London separately in the hope that they will better embrace their bodies and dress in a way that celebrates who they really are.
There is the fashion blogger who doesn’t fit into designer looks from the runway. Another woman is learning what looks best on her body following a mastectomy and hormone replacement. There’s the young professional who wants to find an outfit for a job interview.
These stories are an extension of the London viewers have come to know during her 10-year run on TLC’s “What Not to Wear.” She’s the brazen, quick-witted stylist who never hesitates to tell a stranger to ditch the mom jeans. On the show, she surprises women with makeovers and style overhauls. London could be described as the Dr. Phil of fashion — telling it like it is.
While London, 43, has dished out plenty of advice, now she’s ready to peel back the layers of her own life. The stories of the women she writes about and the problems they face provide a context to share her personal journey, one often plagued with insecurities.
In the book, London reveals her struggle with psoriasis, a disease she was diagnosed with at the age of four. “It instilled a lot of anxiety and fear very early on,” the native New Yorker says during an interview at Sanctuary T on West Broadway in Manhattan. “My parents didn’t know what to do. I felt like an alien as a little kid. I kept feeling like I was inside this body, but I couldn’t directly connect to people.”
With her skin peeling, she covered up. “Being able to choose the skin I live in was the draw of fashion,” she admits.
At first, she had a flair for the dramatic. She loved Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” She also had self-described “drag queen” tendencies.
In junior high, London found a medication that cleared up her psoriasis, but the emotional scars from the disease were not as easily treated. During college at Vassar, she developed an eating disorder, which she eventually overcame, but then she began to overeat. The 5-foot, 7-inch stylist went from 90 pounds while interviewing with Vogue magazine to 180 pounds when she started the job. “I’m not sure they recognized me on my first day,” she says. “I was extremely self-conscious and nervous and didn’t think I would fit in. I wanted to be like all the perfect editors at Vogue, who never seemed to have a hair out of place.”
Her personal struggles didn’t seem to take a toll on her career, though, as she moved from Vogue to Mademoiselle — where she was fired when Mandi Norwood took over as editor in chief — to striking out on her own as a freelance stylist. She then beat out nearly ever other stylist in New York to host TLC’s “What Not to Wear.”
And she’s clearly a household name. On this particularly humid day in New York City, London sits next to the window of Sanctuary T. Her surprise appearance at the restaurant has guests whispering. “She’s on TV,” says one woman finishing up her lunch. “I didn’t know there was going to be a celebrity here,” mumbles another patron at a nearby table who is sipping tea.
The restaurant manager practically rolls out the red carpet for London, offering her free goodies and closely monitoring her every move. “Can we tweet that you were here?” he asks. London says it’s fine.
She looks perfectly put together in a Sandro top paired with Stella & Dot accessories.
“I get to participate in the transformation of women,” London says. “Not one person I know isn’t concerned with their appearance. To trivialize fashion is to rob ourselves of a great tool.”
She doesn’t tire of talking about style and its place in society.
“Style applies to a lifestyle,” she says. “It’s not about being told this is trendy, you must do it. Now people have more access than ever before. You can watch a runway show streaming live, when Anna [Wintour] is watching it.”
She’s less convinced of the need for fashion bloggers. “At one point, they seemed reasonable,” London says. “But now it’s hard to tell if they have a knowledge of fashion or just a lot of money.”
She points to The Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine as one of the blogs still worth reading: “The premise of her blog is about joy and choice. She weaves these wonderful yarns. I find myself laughing out loud. That is fashion evolution as opposed to ‘Hey, look at the outfit I’m wearing.’ ”
With London’s candor —from psoriasis to being fired to dealing with an eating disorder — it’s surprising to read that the toughest sentence she had to write involved the fact that she is a never-married, childless single woman.
“My life doesn’t feel in front of me anymore,” she admits. “I’ve had my head down, with blinders on. I have no idea what that person would look like if I found him. I want to sit with my cat and have my tea. I’m tired. But, you know, even though my cat is an amazing listener, I don’t get a lot of feedback.”
We received no comment from the cat.