As a fashion stylist and brand consultant for more than 15 years, it’s not surprising that Kate Schelter is creative in more ways that one. Five years ago, some of her clients—an impressive roster that includes Toyota, Bonpoint, TOMS, Vanity Fair, and Architectural Digest—tapped into her innate artistic sensibility and began asking her to do illustrations. “From there, the illustration work took off,” recalls Schelter, a New Yorker who lives part time on Cape Cod. “Other people began seeing my paintings and were interested in them.”
Schelter’s captivating watercolors were showcased in a solo exhibit, and following the show’s success, her agent suggested she work on a book. Classic Style: Hand it Down, Dress it Up, Wear it Out (Grand Central Publishing) is available beginning May 30.
At its core, the book is an illustrated guide to “the classics”—the clothes, objects, and other essentials that exude timeless American style. The book is also very much a reflection of Schelter’s personal life with great detail on how her own personal style has evolved. It’s a very relatable book, filled with her gorgeous illustrations and plenty of pithy narrative.
There are hilarious passages, nostalgic remembrances, and tips readers can use to shape their personal style. But by no means is the book just about fashion. “It encompasses my larger philosophies on design and art and touches on wardrobe, food, and entertainment,” says Schelter. “The main thread is fashion, but it touches on all aspects of my personality.”
“I really wanted readers to connect with the book. I want them to laugh at some of my real stories,” says Schelter, who calls the book an “open love letter to my entire family and dear friends, and all the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years.”
Certain articles of clothing and objects are deeply meaningful to Schelter, and while she highlights several of these in the book as “classics,” she points out that classics can be different for everyone. Above all, the book is meant to stress her belief in the importance of being yourself and of finding what you love. “People who have great style have it because it’s apparent that it represents who are they are on the inside,” says Schelter.
Read on for some of Schelter’s ideas, insights, and essentials for a well-lived life.
Schelter’s favorite things
While a classic black stiletto and a Weber charcoal grill may not appear to have any similarities on the surface—other than that they both bring Schelter joy—looking deeper, she says, they have common ground. Easily recognizable and functional in their form, they are deeply simple yet also a combination of art, and maybe even a touch of perfection. They’re classics.
Love what you use every day.
Among Schelter’s classics are the tried and true essentials she has been using every day for years including La Mer moisturizer, Clinique foundation, and Burt’s Bees lip balm.
Shop like an editor.
As big part of Schelter’s work as a stylist involves being a considerate and studied shopper. “I am intrepid in my search for the perfect ‘thing,’ and I love the hunt,” she writes. “Aim to eliminate as much as possible and find the needle in the haystack, especially when the haystack is a pile of fabulous items. Hunt the one special piece that you’ll never tire of—that you’ll wear out.” When you tune into yourself, says Schelter, you’ll realize you really don’t need that much. “I don’t believe in fast fashion; I believe in eternal style.”
Get rid of storage: one in; one out.
Another one of Schelter’s die-hard fashion rules is “one in, one out.” “Simplify your life. If it’s out of sight or reach, it’s out of wear. You’ll never use it,” she writes, pointing out that the only article of clothing she “stores” is her wedding dress. In New York City, space constraints are a fact of life. “If I buy something new, it either replaces something older or takes the place of something else…it’s the best way to keep your closet fresh and to avoid clutter.”
Take the phone off the hook.
Schelter grew up as the youngest of four kids, and her family always ate dinner together. Every night, the phone was unplugged. “This sent a lasting signal to us that there was nothing more important in that moment than the six of us sitting together and talking. All attention was upon us, no interruptions,” she writes. “Take the phone off the hook. You’re missing the good stuff.”
Simplicity by design
Schelter’s three-year-old daughter has immersed her in the bold, graphic world of children. ”When we play toys and read books together, I can see what she responds too—she points to images that jump off the page and identifies basic shapes,” writes Schelter. “A yellow circle is a duck; a red rectangle is a car. Toys with the plainest shapes remarkably convey nuanced concepts…the classic books and toys I like are not overdone, and they convey meaning simply and clearly—they are playful, specific, and they don’t talk down to their audience.”
According to Schelter, to be lucky, you must show up. “People who put themselves out there tend to be the lucky ones, because they bump into opportunities, they reach for them, they say yes to them. Luck doesn’t happen without effort. Luck is not gambling. Luck is giving yourself to a situation that asks you to take a risk, accept a challenge from someone, rise to the occasion, take the baton. Luck is embracing change, and knowing you are in the right place at the right time.”
When it comes to cultivating personal style, Schelter advises others to mirror her practice of working at her own pace and honoring her own process. “When I didn’t know what I was doing, I followed what I knew first and let the rest come,” she writes. “Go with what you know. Let yourself learn. Mix it up.” And give yourself permission to switch gears. “Permission to slow down. Permission to change. Permission to be yourself and go inside for a little bit…Uncertainty is ok,” she writes. “You have everything you need.”