Plagued by a false image of conservativism when it comes to style, DC’s self-described rep as an emerging fashion capital is often a controversial one. Personally, we feel its rapid spike in local labels with an increasingly edgy, entreprenurial lean (not to mention the roster of powerhouse designers that have come our way lately) has our city on its way to said status, but, alas, non-Washingtonians hardly see it that way. That's where Elaine Mensah comes in.
In her just-finished documentary The Politics of Fashion (produced by Svelte), Mensah aims to challenge the public's impression that DC lacks authority in the fashion department. The local-star-studded picture pulls together the city’s most powerful forces in style—including our own fashion editor, Kate Glassman Bennett—to offer the public some insight into DC's increasingly influential fashion scene. The remaining cast is a mix of creative talents that make up all facets of local style, from Pulizer-winning critic Robin Givhan, to the young founder of Worn Creative, Nicole Aguirre, to luxury public relations pro Aba Kwawu. A slew of bloggers, shop-owners, designers, and more also make an appearance. The film premieres tonight during a kickoff celebration at Mazza Gallerie; tickets are sold out, but guests can add themselves to a waitlist via Eventbrite. Take a peek at the trailer below.
Ask Andre Spearman to name trends he’s excited about—a question that fashion types typically answer with a calculated response—and he doesn’t have a reply. Instead, this shopping expert at one of Washington’s most exclusive retailers chuckles—trend-watching, he says, is a practice much too young for his age and taste—and instead describes a love for the classic minimalism that defined the 1950s and early ’60s. “Look at Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” he says. “It’s perfect. She’s got the little black dress, a black gown, a trench coat. She is just impeccably dressed. It’s not a lot of things, just the right things.”
Even in a city that has seen a surge of emerging indie brands and edgy, modern fashions—far from Spearman’s aesthetic—an appointment with this Neiman Marcus personal shopper remains one of the area’s most sought-after style meetings. His decades-loyal clientele ranges from trendsetting socialites to gala-going politicos. Spearman has two particular passions: “I love beautiful evening gowns and great-looking suits.”
Spearman on Current Styles
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear . . .
“Not for most.”
“Ultra-feminine, when done right.”
“Fabric crossover, not cross-dressing.”
“With restraint, big fan—along with feathers.”
“Trim, lining, coat—all good.”
“That’s a tough one.”
“I prefer a straight leg.”
“Best in a narrow silhouette. Fuller skirts look a little clumsy to me.”
Behind a chandelier and glass doors on the second floor of Neiman Marcus’s Mazza Gallerie store is where you’ll find Spearman, 54, who has been with the company for 32 years. The walls above his desk, tucked into a nook of a back room, are crowded with fashion-magazine clippings. Racks of couture and a full-length, three-way mirror also fill the space. Spearman spends his days chatting with clients to get to know them, their style, and their needs. He then pulls clothes for them to try on. The service is free.
“I first came to DC when I was 13, on a field trip, and I loved it. So I decided I was going to live here someday. When I was applying to college, my brother suggested American University—and that’s how I got here. I studied political science. By senior year, I had fulfilled a lot of my requirements and had extra time, so I wanted a part-time job. A friend said, ‘Why don’t you try Neiman Marcus?’ It’s so funny because I didn’t know what Neiman Marcus was. When I went in, it was scary—everyone was dressed so well and it was so quiet. I filled out an application and they said, ‘We’ll call you.’ ”
Finding a Niche
“I started out selling stationery, luggage, and electronics. I graduated from college in ’81 and initially wanted to go to law school, but I decided to take a year off and think about it. So I worked at the store. At the time, the manager took care of the best customers. I was her assistant, so when she had someone coming in, I’d set up the room. Women would come in and you’d drink coffee and chitchat and look at clothes. Eventually, the boss would say, ‘Andre, this client seems to like you—why don’t you take care of her?’ That was my entry into personal shopping.”
“I’ve known some incredible women. It wasn’t just that they had great style; it was that when they shopped, it was a pleasure. Shopping should be. When you’re buying these kinds of things, it should be fun. If you come to me, I want you to look your best. Because when you look good, you feel good.”
“There’s a lot of style in Washington, but the reputation is sort of stuck in the past. Before, people would always say that whatever you wanted to get, you’d have to go to New York. But you don’t have to. If there’s something you want that I don’t have, I can get it. This town is conservative, but it’s not dead.”
“Every woman in Washington should have in her closet a great black dress. I’m also a fan of gray flannel pants. You can wear gray flannel with any number of things, and everything will look great, from a sweatshirt to a satin blouse. Bill Blass used to do that [in his designs].” Spearman particularly likes the Valentino bicolor fluted sleeveless dress above. As for flannel pants, he recommends Giorgio Armani mélange straight-leg pants in gray-blue ($1,995). Both are at Neiman Marcus.
This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Vanity Fair magazine, arbiter of the International Best Dressed List, has released its choices for the best dressed attendees at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, held Saturday at the Washington Hilton. Only two DC residents made the cut: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. We know Washington is famous for being low on the fashion scale, but really, only two (and an obvious two) out of more than 2,000 dinner guests, most of them locals?
In fairness to the salaried media scribes and Hill and government wonks who are the dinner’s base, it’s not easy to match the big-bucks looks of actresses Lupita Nyong’o (in Oscar de la Renta) and Sofia Vergara (in Romona Keveza), to name two who made the list. Besides, there’s a good chance they were dressed by stylists in gowns that were made available courtesy of a design house.
A suggestion for Vanity Fair: If the publication returns next year to attend and cover the dinner, maybe level the playing field and have one list of out-of-towners and another of bona-fide Washingtonians.
Here’s who else made the list of WHCAD best dressed: Freida Pinto (Thakoon), AnnaSophia Robb, Ronan Farrow, Taylor Schilling (Zuhair Murad), Olivia Munn (J. Mendel), Katharine McPhee (Paule Ka), Tony Goldwyn (Brooks Brothers), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Antonio Berardi). The First Lady wore Marchesa.
1. Eres “Puzzle” one-piece, $415 at Sylene (4407 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-654-4200)
2. Cat-eye sunglasses in dark tortoise, $175 at Tory Burch (1211 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-337-1410)
3. Blush Blends Sun-tastic SPF 45 protector, $50 at Blush Med Institute (4915 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-312-6728)
Click through our slideshow to see more.
This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Washingtonian.