Bay Area-stylist Mary Gonsalves Kinney’s work regularly has her embedded in the closets of the tech world’s most plugged-in movers and shakers. Professional discretion prevents her from naming names, but they work at companies like Google and Dropbox. For seven years she’s had a front-row seat to the area’s shifting sartorial inclinations. Here, she talks to WWD about how the Silicon Valley elite like to look.
What kinds of clients do you work with? In this town, isn’t everyone connected to tech?
Most are high-profile, from running major companies to film producers, doctors or philanthropists. I work with venture capitalists and executives throughout Silicon Valley, so I see a lot of these revolutionary ideas transpire while I dress people. It is very inspiring.
What’s the process of working with clients here?
It starts with a closet consultation — then, based on that, how they can supplement their wardrobe.
It becomes a relationship about building the proper image. Some love fashion, some couldn’t care less. For male clients, especially in tech, they are like, “I need to look put-together and I don’t want to look like I care that much,” unless it’s a major speaking engagement or a black tie affair.
My female clients are a little different. Call it a double standard, but they’re a little more inclined to push the envelope because they can without getting frowned upon.
There’s still a bit of an antifashion backlash in tech. There can be a perception that it somehow belittles the work that they do. This is changing gradually as more companies venture into fast-fashion and online retail. The “cool kids” in tech get this and are changing the standard.
What are clients looking for?
Some are looking to transition from a work look to an event. Some are traveling and they want a different wardrobe from their work-life and want to feel high-fashion and cool and edgy. Once they leave the Bay Area, they are more adventurous. I’m not sure why that is.
We’re on the cusp of a fashion revolution in the Bay Area and of selling the idea that you can still care about fashion and be this amazing powerhouse businessperson. The difference with tech is that a downplayed fashion image is more accepted. But trust me, this image is as equally strategic and thoughtful as the alternative.
San Francisco is known for being a progressive and independent city and their dress should reflect that. I encourage clients to wear and promote burgeoning designers as they have the platform to really elevate a brand.
What are some of your favorite sources?
Department stores like Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus, but I don’t just pull off the floor — I have pieces called in. And I call in from boutiques and stores such as Valentino and Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Marni. I also work with online retailers. I love designers like Adam Lippes, Altuzarra, Rosie Assoulin, Ellery and jewelry designers like Designs by Alina, Charlene Court and Tara Hirshberg in L.A.
People might think we are limited in San Francisco, but we’re not. You just can’t be lazy here. Introducing designers to my clients is so cool because people want something that no one else has.
Some clients want to wear head-to-toe Brunello Cucinelli, so you style it in a different way. Brunello is so beautiful and luxe and does well in Silicon Valley because it’s easy, neutral and understated. As a stylist, I want to be a little more adventurous, so I’ll pair a Brunello button-up with vintage Gaultier gaucho pants or a high-waisted skirt from The Row.
How do the designers respond when you tell them you’re working with Silicon Valley clients?
Some designers are like, “Oh, absolutely,” because it’s a world they haven’t captured yet. There are some designers who don’t quite get it because they aren’t immersed or they haven’t tapped into this market yet.
European designers are more excited and intrigued. Some in the U.S. are excited, but as far as dressing people like they do in L.A., where they get clothes for free, it’s rare here. It’s a new concept for the Bay Area, but it’s changing. It depends who the person is. For tech execs who are high up but maybe not chief executive officer, we work with emerging designers. They catapult some of these designers into a different demographic.
Do most of your clients buy, or do they borrow?
Most of my clients will buy. It’s not a problem. What we’ll see is that more designers will be offering to dress clients, and not so much me going and asking or trying to set a new precedent.
I also am a big fan of pieces instead of doing a dress for my female clients, all of which they can wear in different ways — which is such a San Francisco thing.
Where is tech-world style headed?
In the time that I’ve been a stylist, I’ve seen so many changes. When I started, people were confused with what I did. They thought I was a personal shopper.
There is still a lot of change that needs to happen and a lot of that relates to attitude. There are different categories: People who only go to fashion events and wear head-to-toe designer and really like to show their clothes. Then there’s a category that is super understated and doesn’t want to look like they care at all, because they think it’s gauche — but they’ll wear a designer that people don’t know. And then there’s a category that just doesn’t care at all.
Any designer, store owner or retail house will tell you it’s one of the hardest markets to figure out because there is a huge amount of money here, but it’s figuring out what those people want and what they are going to buy.
I think as people become more important, they will bring in stylists.