Originally born in Barranquilla, Colombia, Nina Garcia is currently the Creative Director at Marie Claire magazine. Prior to joining Marie Claire, she served as Fashion Director at Elle and held positions at both Mirabella and Perry Ellis. But you may know her best as a judge on the critically acclaimed show Project Runway, now on its 13th season and viewed in over 13 different countries around the world. She is also a New York Times bestselling-author of four books on style: The Little Black Book of Style, The One Hundred, The Style Strategy and Nina Garcia’s Look Book.
1. I have been a huge admirer of yours and your style for years, how did you get in the fashion industry?
Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by fashion and clothing. After graduating from college I studied fashion design in New York City. At first I didn’t realize how many different ways there were to break into the industry. I thought to be in fashion meant to be a fashion designer. But I soon realized that although I could design, I was not a great designer. So I began thinking about other options. My first internship after school was at Perry Ellis in the public relations department. Of course, I started out as the assistant of the assistant of the assistant…but it was really a vital experience for me in a number of ways. It definitely helped me hone the skills necessary to survive in the industry—like developing a trained eye, working hard all the time, accepting the long hours that I would be working, etc. It was also a very exciting time in fashion. While I was there, Marc Jacobs was the Creative Director and working on his seminal grunge collection. It was during my internship there that I realized I wanted to go into publishing, and that I would be a good fashion editor as opposed to designer. I remember greeting the editors who would come by and taking their coffee orders and thinking, ‘Oh my God, how phenomenal is their job?!’ So I did some networking and applied for an assistant position at Mirabella, where I stayed for about three years until it went out of business and I moved to Elle. I have been in magazines ever since!
2. What is/are the biggest challenges you faced when you were starting up?
I think the biggest challenge was that even though I attended high school and college in the U.S., I was still a Colombian citizen. This made it more difficult to get a job. For me to get a job after school as an assistant, I needed to prove that I could perform the job better than other U.S. born candidates. It was tough getting a working visa, and working long hours for very little and sometimes no pay. From my experience here and the challenges I faced, I really sympathize with the plight that many Latin Americans face in this country, where those who want to work are often unable to.
3. Who were your mentors?
Gilles Bensimon had a huge impact on my career. It was definitely tough love, but it was so worth it. Gilles was extremely talented, and if it hadn’t been for him, I may have never made it to where I am now. Mentors are crucial. They are the ones that first believe in you and give you a chance, and they are often times the ones that will support you in the end because of the career knowledge that you’ve gained while under them.
4. What is your guide to multitasking as a mom, wife, New York Times best-selling author, Creative Director at Marie Claire, and judge on Project Runway?
I think the trick is to focus your energy. When I am at the Marie Claire office, it is all about editing pages and markets. When I am on set at Project Runway, it is all about the show and watching the contestants develop. When I am at a fashion show, there is nothing else that exists but that show. That’s how I stay sane—small bites are the trick.
5. What was it about Project Runway at the beginning when you were approached that convinced you that you should be part of it?
I was very skeptical about doing TV at first. At the time there was nothing like Project Runway on TV. Project Runway was one of the earliest reality fashion-themed shows, so there was nothing to model ourselves after. And to be honest, at the time I wasn’t sure whether fashion belonged on TV in that way. Back then fashion was very close and cliquey, so I thought the show might be cheesy and not work. But my colleagues at Elle (I was the Fashion Director there at the time) kept telling me I should do it, and the network kept asking me because they thought I brought great editing experience to the table. I think when I heard that Michael Kors was doing it, I was on board. But we still had no idea what we were getting into! It was such a huge risk. I was very nervous, but as soon as we taped the first episode all of my nerves went away and I immediately began to understand the magic of the show and why it would be such a success. I fell in love with it––with seeing all of the promising new talent and the process of how you make something out of nothing. Audiences fell in love with it too, because when the first season aired, it was huge. People in the industry, after that first episode, were obsessed. Everyone had an opinion because everybody could relate. The show was so novel because it peeled back the curtain on design and showed people what really goes on in that creative process. It was great. And it still is–tonight is the finale of Season 13!
6. What advice would you give to aspiring fashion editors? And what about to an aspiring fashion designer?
I would say two things. First, be unique and stay true to what you feel. It is really important to stand out in whatever you do. For those fashion designers out there, this is crucial. We get too hung up on trying to fit in when really it’s our differences that make us unique. From an editor’s perspective, we are always looking for those pieces and those designers that really make a statement—we aren’t so interested in the things that we have seen over and over again. Embrace the things that make you stand out. Celebrate whatever it is that people might think is odd or different. Otherwise life is boring and full of drones! Second, the best way to prepare for any career in fashion is with an internship. An internship is that jump in education that really prepares you for your career. It allows you to see what happens behind the scenes and to get a sense of what it is like to work in the industry in a realistic way. It gives you that chance to explore what the next years of your life will be like in the field, and to really figure it all out.
7. Can you give us your definition of “boho chic”?
I think boho chic style is really what the name says: part bohemian and part chic. It draws on various hippie influences without going overboard. It’s very rich and layered in terms of colors, textures, and patterns, and there is a carefree, globally-inspired element to it. Think fringed accessories, long floaty dresses, appliqué and folksy embroidery. Think plaited leather belts, crochet and macramé. In terms of the boho chic woman, she is cultured, artsy…but sophisticated and put together. She mixes pieces effortlessly to create this very unique look, but she doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it.
8. What is the allure of boho chic?
It’s alluring because it suggests a woman who is eclectic, intriguing. She has fun with fashion, but doesn’t think about it too much. The style reads very effortless, almost like she wakes up and puts together an outfit without much thought, but it ends up very expressive. There is something very inspiring about that kind of woman.
9. How can one rock the look without looking costumey?
Keep it simple. An element of boho is great, but too much can be a disaster. And keep it luxe. Pare it down to just a few strong pieces like an embroidered blouse, a floral maxi dress, a patterned cape, a fringed leather bag, or a pair of suede boots. And while mixing different patterns and textures is essential to the boho chic look, this is where it can get dangerous and veer into costume territory. Don’t wear head-to-toe boho. Instead, choose a few luxe pieces that have bohemian flair and balance out the look by making the rest more understated and simple. It’s all about the mix.
10. The boho aesthetic has changed through the years and I’m surprised that I can see Burberry Prorsum Fall 2014 as kind of “boho luxe.” What is your take?
I would agree that Burberry’s Fall/Winter collection was very bohemian chic. I particularly loved the delicate floral dresses and blouses mixed with heavy suede and shearling jackets, and the colorful patterned detailing Christopher Bailey added onto some of the outerwear. Mixed with hand-painted bags and shoes and rich scarves, the look was indeed very boho, free-spirited, and artistic. There was a sense of fun being had.
11. Boho Chic doesn’t have to be full on color, as I’m loving Michael Kors’ Fall 2014 greyish version. Are you a purist who would say that Kors is not a boho chic look but has a 70’s vibe?
I think Michael Kors’ fall collection did have a distinct 70s feel, with billowy sleeves, shaggy furs, and lots of suede fringe. But that doesn’t mean it did not also have a bohemian chic vibe. In fact, there are many 70s-era style elements––like mixing rich textures and patterns, flowing shapes, and more neutral tones and colors––that are inherent to bohemian style as well.
12. Who are the pioneers of this look?
I think Isabel Marant would be the go-to designer for this bohemian chic look. But others would be Etro, Michael Kors, Missoni, Roberto Cavalli, Anna Sui. Gucci, Valentino, and Altuzarra have also produced some fabulous bohemian-inspired collections recently, although that aesthetic doesn’t so much define those brands.
13. What celebrity or otherwise who embodies this look?
Talitha Getty was the epitome of bohemian chic. She incorporated exotic elements and ethnic fabrics into her sophisticated personal style, and ushered in the “gypset” look: a blend of gypsy free-spiritedness and jet set glamour. I would also say others like Kate Moss and Sienna Miller are very boho chic in their personal style.
14. Which pieces from Fall 2014 you would you suggest one to splurge on to achieve this look?
I would suggest splurging on a suede or leather coat with fur or shearling details. I also loved the delicately-layered dresses at Valentino, and the luxurious, pastel-colored furs that Gucci sent down the runway. Of course the ethereal floral dresses and patterned wool capes at Burberry this season are to die for, and an easy way to just throw on the boho chic look.
15. How does accessory play into this vibe?
Accessories are key. They have to be part of the look, nothing too structured or austere. Think supple leather bags, dangling gold earrings, and shoes in casual luxe fabrics like suede or leather.
16. What are you coveting from this Fall 2014 fashion abundance?
As I mentioned, I thought the Valentino show was absolutely extraordinary. I am coveting one of the embellished mini dresses.
17. Christmas is around the corner. What would you suggest as a gift to the girl who loves/lives for boho luxe?
I would suggest one of Burberry’s flowing floral chiffon dresses, Isabel Marant’s shearling gilet, a Gucci suede fringed bag, or Ancient Greek gladiator sandals.
Gucci Fringed Bag