Photo: Jamar Stephens

Photo: Jamar Stephens

Afiya Francisco is a Style Expert, television and fashion personality, speaker, and brand ambassador. The Style House is a multimedia platform designed to help women approach their personal style with confidence, simplicity & joy. 

Nathalie Atkinson

Nathalie at Jason Wu.

Nathalie at Jason Wu.

"I don’t believe there is any ‘looking the part’ – whatever that means – to the part of the fashion writer."

Columnist & Style editor, National Post
Personality: Fred Astaire. Album: Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Miss America. Designer: Travis Banton, the studio costumer. Colour: White, preferably in black and white. Astrological Sign: Sagittarius

An arts and culture journalist, with an interest in fashion, Nathalie's perspective on both subjects is among the most respected in the industry. Known for her thought-provoking coverage with a flair for, perhaps, unconventional references (she cites A&E, Masterpiece Theatre dramas and Elwy Yostshe [Saturday Night at the Movies] as her unofficial sartorial education), Nathalie shares the details of her personal style with The Style House.

Do you prefer to dress for an occasion or for everyday?

If I didn’t have my casual daily uniform and had to dress like people imagine a fashion magazine editor does, I would be flummoxed every morning; dressing what I consider ‘up’ for fashion stuff is rarer and therefore easier and more fun.

Would you rather be overdressed or underdressed?

Underdressed. Because I usually am.

Do you have a signature style or prefer to keep 'em guessing?

Pattern, colour and eyeglasses, lately almond cat’s eyes and usually from Rapp; Mel and Julia named a cat’s eye frame for me last year. Toppers and tunics and trousers. I like my slouchy Smythe jackets – this fall it’s the Sack blazer in tweedy flannel, and I don’t like full-length pants – all my trousers and jeans are cropped. I own every colour J.Crew’s Minnie pant has come in. In the warmer weather, tabi or slip-on flats with bare ankles, in cooler climes then Roots cabin socks fill the gap between cuff and ankle boot. My staple Yoga jeans once came in a cropped ankle version, and I have since had all subsequent pairs I’ve bought cut that way. I don’t know why but I like the proportion better. In summertime, it’s dresses with ankle socks, derbys and no jewellery except the Cinelli & Maillet blowfish ring I’ve worn every day for ten years. What my mother might call frumpy, I prefer to call artsy.

Name your all-time favourite outfits:

There is a Comme des Garçons zigzag black and white print dress that I think of as suit of armour, of sorts, for days when I need to not be thinking about clothes.  I’ve worn it to interview people like Whit Stillman, Joe Zee, Audrey Tautou. I call it my 1920s lawn bowling dress and wear it with thick-soled Junya Watanabe for Comme [des Garcons] frankenshoes (which look a lot like the ones Simon Rocha just showed at LFW) and lacy Japanese ankle socks. It’s not that it’s flattering – it isn’t, it’s a sort of long dropwaist sack with pockets, and sheer so I wear it over a vintage-style Maggie the Cat slip (Comrags makes the perfect Fifties microfiber slips and they are a closet staple for under everything filmy). It’s the only thing I dry-clean and if it’s at the cleaners when an important interview came up on short notice, I might panic.

I can’t fit into vintage dresses so I collect vintage novelty day-dress coats and my absolute favourite thing in my closet is a vintage-looking one by Comrags that I tend to wear for evening designer-meeting things, with rolled-up jeans or cigarette pants. To meet Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung ... It’s a plainly-cut topper in a gorgeous glossy coated metallic gold French eyelet. Inès de la Fressange admired it when I met her (she thought it was Dries or vintage) and I my teen self just about died of girl crush. I love the coat so much I have to resist wearing it every day. It makes me happy.

Heels or Flats?

I have no patience for teetering and mincing steps but even if I could master them physically and had a Town Car lifestyle, psychologically I just cant get anything done in heels. Roots derbys, Fluevog oxfords, Church's classic brogues, metallic penny loafers, Bass saddle shoes are what are in my closet...Flats, almost always flats! And when they’re not, Chie Mihara shoes or professional dancer footwear  by Canadian outfitter Bella Dance Shoes. I like heels that could pass for vintage, but aren’t –

like Marni’s strappy fall ones. My favourite style era is the 1930s as interpreted through tony Hollywood studio pictures.

Will you suffer for fashion or should it be comfortable?

Ease and style are modern. Suffering for style is retrograde. I can understand personal discipline in the interest of fashion, but not suffering. It took centuries for women to be liberated from hobble skirts and panniers and stomachers and whale boning and painful corset stays and constricting girdles, and Spanx are just girdles by another name. Would I personally suffer for fashion? I won’t really even exercise for fashion...

Is there an occasion that you will break this rule?

Only for those rare times when I do traditional evening gown dress-up, for charity dinners like AmFar where a seat at the table costs more than a Vera Wang wedding gown. I might break the rule and put on full-body shapewear, sure, or wear uncomfortable shoes or less-than-comfortable clothes. And only then do I dust off the really high heels. At Suzanne Rogers’ fashion fundraiser for Marchesa, for example, I wore a pair of 140mm-high Rupert Sanderson spiky stilettos from The Room that were so out of character for those who know me, my friends demanded photographic proof.

Nathalie in Marchesa. Photography, George Pimentel

Nathalie in Marchesa. Photography, George Pimentel

Always stylish or does even fashion need to take a break? Any exceptions?

There are a two sides and my dominant one is almost never what any style would ever call ‘fashionable.’

I joke that it’s my strategy to go incognito but in truth that's an ongoing discussion – that you don’t have to cook like a Michelin chef to be a restaurant critic and in fashion I don’t believe there is any ‘looking the part’ – whatever that means – to the part of the fashion writer. (Or designer. Look at what Sarah Burton wears for example!) Maybe being a fashion magazine editor is perceived differently and there are expectations because of the way pop culture has cultivated that persona but I’m a newspaper journalist and culture writer, not Miranda Priestly or Maggie Prescott. That said, when required other 25% of the time I do know how to properly get dressed and appreciate that yes, I have some very nice clothes. I enjoy getting dressed for an occasion, just not every day.

Team Anna (Wintour) or Team Carine (Roitfeld)

Team Alexandra (Schulman), of British Vogue. She’s the thinking woman’s Vogue editor. (Hers is the even the best of the Vogue iPad apps.) Not only did Schulman sit on the Orange Prize literary jury, her own debut novel Can We Still Be Friends? is very good.

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