The Hunt for Style by Erin Hazelton

With Giovanna Battaglia on the way to a show in les Tuileries

When I was a kid all I did was look for inspiration; beauty. I religiously flipped through my mother’s monthly Better Homes and Gardens and her occasional Town & Country picking out the prettiest girls, the best dresses and the nicest rooms. I made it a game and I’d challenge my mother to see if she had the same ability as me to select the “right one.”

I subjected my Barbie dolls to the same sort of competition, laying them side-by-side in their outfits, flinging the “ugly” ones off to the side. I only wanted storybooks with beautiful illustrations and charming characters. Even the flowers in my neighbor’s gardens were subject to my quality control: I’d pluck the most perfect buds before they’d die and trot home with a bouquet for my mother, who would in turn scold me because Mrs. So-and-so called saying she saw me, again, destroying her garden.

My select tastes were reflected in my wardrobe. I was mostly concerned with wearing as many “pretty” things as possible and all at the same time. My favorite dress (usually my Christmas dress) didn’t necessarily match my favorite pink tights nor did any of it go with my turquoise suede loafers or my white Easter hat. But I liked each piece and was convinced they stood on their own, so I was only making a more interesting outfit by wearing them together. And so I did.

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Mary Jane Russell in an oriental inspired pantsuit, 1953. Photo by John Rawlings.

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As I grew up, I became more concerned with melding the overall look, but I was still teased for my fashion sense. Oddly enough, I never let the other kids’ comments deter me. If fitting in meant melding into a homogenous group of Gap-clad kids, I didn’t want to. Eventually they accepted my eccentricities and I forgave them finally acknowledging that fashion wasn’t for everybody.

This difference was one of the main reasons I moved to New York when I was eighteen. I had been accepted to a few different universities, but NYU was in the middle of Manhattan and I knew that’s where all the magazines were, where all the designers lived and where all the crazies went to embrace their craziness. I knew I’d be able to fully splay my fashion feathers and I wouldn’t look like a weirdo doing it.

And so I did. The sidewalks became my runway and for the first time I knew people were looking at me because they liked my look; because I was a little out of the ordinary and it was interesting, not intimidating. So I pushed things a little further. I’d try my best to translate what I saw in the pages of Vogue and I’d wear necklines that were a little too deep (“But I don’t have big boobs, so it isn’t vulgar!”). I wore pointy shoes when most college kids didn’t realize they were chic just yet… just a little witchy. My Gucci bellbottoms? People were still a little confused, but maybe I was cool? And my bright red Dolce & Gabbana military coat? As conservative as it was – it was a calf-length coat! – it’s brazen color was like a wearing a red light, and I suddenly found myself accosted by a bunch of would-be johns. A pair of multi-color, wide-leg Tuleh trousers fresh off the runway? Apparently they belonged on a curtain rod according to a young man I passed on the street in Paris one day.

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W Magazine's Stefano Tonchi and Giovanna Battaglia
W Magazine’s Stefano Tonchi and Giovanna Battaglia

I liked to take chances and to figure out what made me feel best. Or what made me feel confident, or sexy, or intelligent, or cool, or whatever way I wanted to feel. These days, with street fashion and blogs, everyone is on top of fashion. The world is a runway and everyone wants to stand out. Okay, not everyone, but a lot of people. Even where I live, in a small village in the French Alps, people seem to get it. I’m not saying they all get it, I’ve seen some purple highlights, numerous facial piercings and some really bad shoes in the parking lot at my son’s school, but I have felt, on several occasions, a bit sorry that I didn’t try harder with my outfit when it came time to pick-up my son.

That said, because fashion is becoming more mainstream, I suddenly find it less inspiring. I’m not floored like I used to be by magazine editorials. And I really miss Carine Roitfeld at French Vogue! Now I pretty much look to my friend, the stylist and street style icon, Giovanna Battaglia for inspiration… literally and figuratively. She always looks perfectly polished, yet not too uptown lady. She’s cool and funny and incredibly chic. She does fashion in a real way and doesn’t (often) look like a fashion superhero like so many other newly minted street fashion stars do.

So I started to do what Giovanna – and every real stylist – does when she’s preparing for a shoot: I started pulling out books and old magazines for inspiration. I ordered Diana Vreeland’s The Eye Has to Travel, Guy Bourdin’s In Between and every other book containing his images, Marisa Berenson: A Life in Portraits, and Bals: Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century. I began scouring the Internet for 1950’s and 60’s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar images. I went through my mother-in-law’s modeling portfolio from the late 60’s/early 70’s. I began following “shrimptoncouture” on instagram and her daily feeds of vintage images became part of my fashion sustenance.




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The elegance and ingenuity of all of these old images, the quiet sensuality (and perhaps not so quiet in the Bourdin images) invigorated me. The hell with trends, I began to think, I just want to metamorphasize into these images. I’m not saying I’m only going to wear vintage, but I’m definitely bringing the old Bill Blass dress and jacket set that is a size or two too big to the tailor tomorrow, along with the amazing 60’s Geoffrey Beene ensemble I found at Patina last weekend in New York (I really, really wish Lenore Newman wasn’t closing that store!). I’m also going to save my pennies and invest in the latest Valentino, Rochas, Thom Browne and Oscar de la Renta collections, where femininity is embraced and accentuated.

Lanvin leather coat and belt, two vintage Geoffrey Beene dresses and Azzedine Alaia in my closet

I’m done with trying to find myself. I can express who I am, how I’m feeling within a tighter fashion vocabulary. I’m all grown up now and as much as my childhood tendency for piling on as many fads as possible, and as much as I want to try out every new style that pops out of the fashion machine every time I walk past a Zara, I’ve finally stylistically matured.

From now on I will be a lady. I will embrace my waist. I will show off my neck. I will knot my hair into tidy chignons. I will utilize my jewelry with unfettered abandon. I will not be scared of full skirts, nor will I shy away from a pencil skirt, even if she makes it difficult for me to walk. I will tuck my turtlenecks into my high-waisted trousers and skirts. I will wear clutches even in the day, if, of course, there is a reason for it (which usually only means during fashion week). I may even buy a cape.  I’ll never say no to an evening glove and in a few years, when I’m officially old, I’ll probably start wearing hats.

I will never be boring, nor will I look like an old lady that lives in the Upper East Side, or Geneva, for that matter (it’s closer to home now), though I will look to them for inspiration. You better believe my jewelry will be big and that my shoes will always be bold and over-embellished. I will always wear leopard prints… any animal print, for that matter.

Harper’s Bazaar cover; March 1959, Photo by Ben Rose, art director Henry Wolf.
Harper’s Bazaar cover; March 1959, Photo by Ben Rose, art director Henry Wolf.

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Giovanna Battaglia in two trends of the season, animal prints and a cape
Giovanna Battaglia in two trends of the season, animal prints and a cape

I will continue to unearth the past and yank it into the future. I will make the little girl I used to be proud of whom she’s become.


The Gilded Owl is honored and excited to have Erin Hazelton as its contributing fashion editor – always on the hunt for style!  Erin also writes about people influencing fashion, design, culture and more on her brilliant blog The People I Like.

2 Responses to “The Hunt for Style by Erin Hazelton”

  1. Carl Lana

    Well, Erin, I look forward to your posts on The Gilded Owl. Your introductory article above is leaving me panting for more of your musings and antedotes and tips….you have a unique sense of style and it shows in all of your references. Brava, my dear… have your first devoteé.


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