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Arts & Culture

King of Fab Says Work It Your Way

ALISON STEWART, host:

Last week in Dallas, our next guest, well, he showed up to one of his book events in a great-looking white dinner jacket, a black tie, black pants, and three-inch high heels. He took no biblio-prisioners when he told the crowd, quote, "Throw away that copy of 'The Secret,' those Kabbalah books and that cheesy Dr. Phil book." And instead, buy his new book, "Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You."

From anyone other than Simon Doonan, the New York creative director of Barneys, that would seem just a little bit cheeky. But Doonan, a bestselling author and columnist and fashionista in the best sense of the word, actually wants you to be just you, an insanely more fabulous you, of course. And ignore what he says are the "hideously false examples of glamour" out there today. Simon Doonan joins us in studio. Nice to see you.

Mr. SIMON DOONAN (Creative Director, Barneys New York; Author, "Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You"): How are you?

STEWART: I'm doing great. So, Simon, as I was reading your book, I'm wondering, is this for men? Is this for women? Is this for women of a certain age?

Mr. DOONAN: I think my goal was really to sort of take the pressure off women and make them feel like clothing was a form of self-expression, and that there were no rules, there were no faux pas. And that, you know, figure out you are and then dress the part. And don't worry about what other people think.

STEWART: Did you see something or encounter something in your business that made you think this is right time to write this book? Were you channel surfing, and you just saw something hideous? Or...

Mr. DOONAN: Well, there are actually two very worrying trends. Very worrying.

STEWART: I can tell. Your brow is a little furrowed.

Mr. DOONAN: Yes, they were keeping me up at night, these trends. And also they were six-inch heels, not three-inch heels. I wouldn't be trotting around in three. Anyway, there were two horrible trends. Number one, gun-shy celebrities.

On the one hand, you know we have all these red-carpet people purporting to wear "fashion," quote, unquote, but they're so gun-shy, so terrified of any experimentation, that they actually look like dreary bourgeois women on their way to the country club. Then at the other trend, which is even more frightening, even more horrible...

STEWART: Yes?

Mr. DOONAN: Is the slut trend.

STEWART: Oh, that is bad.

Mr. DOONAN: And not only is it bad, but it's totally ubiquitous. You know, we live in an age of transformation, and you can transform yourself into anything you want. But wouldn't you rather transform yourself into Audrey Hepburn than into some '80s porn star? I mean, I cannot believe I lived long enough to see women turn into blow-up dolls. What was the feminist movement all about?

Now women, you know they've got a few bucks and all they think about is getting fake hair, fake lips, fake everything, and you know interestingly, Allure Magazine did this survey and they interviewed all these women who'd had breast surgery, lip, fake tan, fake hair, fake everything, and all the women characterized that look as the natural look.

STEWART: Oh, stop it.

Mr. DOONAN: Oh, I'm serious, honey.

STEWART: You say you have to start with a concept, get a concept. There are three types of categories you might want to start with. You talk about the socialite, the existentialist and the gypsy. Could you explain each one briefly?

Mr. DOONAN: Well, the thing is, you know, if you're looking to transform yourself, update your look, revamp your look, blah, blah, blah, look inside, see who you really are. Are you an edgy provocateur like a Tilda Swinton or Susie Sue? Or even, you know, Audrey Hepburn in her slightly edgy chic?

Or are you a gypsy? Are you, you know, Stevie Nicks? Are you a bohemian, the gypsy-bohemian? Or are you just interested in looking turned out and glamorous? You know, you love designer clothes and you know, maybe you have a glamorous job, you can't dress like a gypsy. You know, if you work for Anna Winter, don't turn up in a big old dirndl skirt looking like a hippie mama.

So those are three alternative routes to dressing like a tramp. You know, if Oscar Wilde was alive today, I think he would have said, you know, to expose one cleavage seems like misfortune. To expose two seems like callousness!

STEWART: Our editor Tricia, who you met, is quite fabulous. She wants to know, can you be lazy and go through this makeover? Like, do you have to really put all the effort into it?

Mr. DOONAN: I'm with her, actually. I'm lazy, and I would say the key is, for someone like Patricia, is to get a simple idea down and just repeat it. You know, she's wearing that pink sweater. She's quite girly. If I was her, she's working at NPR, she could be a little more existential.

I'd like to see more of a black turtleneck, and then maybe she injects her shoe choices with some eccentricity. Simple, simple, simple with the black turtleneck, and the, you know, grey skirt, pants, but whacky...

STEWART: She's showing us her sneakers.

Mr. DOONAN: But also in my book I say, you know, if you are seriously not interested, then fine. But I kind of think you're missing out if you don't. Adornment is a very positive thing. I don't see it as a superficial thing. Use it as a creative enterprise.

STEWART: I think you're right. If you're not interested in this, just grab a muumuu, a bag of Doritos, and sit on the sidelines then.

Mr. DOONAN: Well, that's also about being a mom. You know, a lot of women have to put their self-involvement on the back burner when they have kids, but then once those kids are starting to grow up, actually, there's no excuse. My mom, you know, even when we had no money and she worked two jobs, she was always done up like Lana Turner, and it was great to grow up around. That was very positive, life affirming, life enhancing...

STEWART: Because you knew your mom also cared about herself. There's the sense that "my mom knows who she is."

Mr. DOONAN: Total.

STEWART: We're talking to Simon Doonan and the name of his new book is "Eccentric Glamour." In the book, you have profiles of people who you think fall into this category or who exude this kind of glamour.

One of them is Tilda Swinton, who, when we were covering the Oscars here, we put her picture up on our website and asked people to comment on what she was wearing. We got 76 comments. The winning caption was the "ambassador from planet Bowie arrives at the Academy Awards."

Mr. DOONAN: Well, that's actually strangely accurate. That Bowie album "Low" from the '70s, she looks exactly like the cover image. But what I would like to see people do, instead of jumping all over Tilda Swinton and saying what they think about it, is to step back and say listen, not my taste, but props, darling.

STEWART: Also in your book, one of the eccentric that you talk about, people of glamour, is Malcolm Gladwell, which I find really interesting. He described himself as a dork, though, when you talked to him.

Mr. DOONAN: Malcolm Gladwell doesn't want people to think that he's, you know, spending hours fluffing at home and obsessing about his personal style, so he's diffident about it. Hey, I'm not a glamorous eccentric, but believe me, there's some creativity and thought there, and most importantly, personal expression.

STEWART: You believe very deeply in this because the final chapter in your book is titled "Dressing Down is a Crime against Humanity." How so?

Mr. DOONAN: Well, I got this idea remembering my mom, when we would go visit our relatives in Ireland, and they lived in an extreme rural island. No gas, no electricity, and my mother would take off her nail varnish and her jangly jewelry and her charm bracelets and her whole Lana Turner look would go.

And she would - this weird muted version of her would be presented to our long-lost relatives. No smoking, you know, she'd be gasping for a cigarette and wait until we got back on the bus. And I thought what a drag, because they would have loved the real her.

STEWART: Simon Doonan is the author of "Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You," out this week. Congratulations on your book, Simon.

Mr. DOONAN: Thank you.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, don't go anywhere. It's Tuesday, New Music Tuesday, Alison.

STEWART: Very excited. The Breeders are back. They brought their same attitude with them. Wait until you hear a piece of an interview they gave to a U.K. interviewer, poor guy.

MARTIN: Uh-oh, Andy Langer, friend of the BPP and music critic for Esquire Magazine will be here to go through all the new stuff out today. This is the BPP from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.