Fashion industry leader Alison Loehnis talks taste
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My personal style signifier is a clean and tailored silhouette – my desert-island choices would be jeans and jackets. I mean, listen, I love shirts, I’ve got a big sweater collection too, but I’m probably the only person in the free world who actually liked their school blazer. It’s the versatility of a jacket that I love – you can dress things up or make them more relaxed. Saint Laurent does them in a style I love – blazer-y, fitted, not too long, not too short. And jeans – my current favourites are Re/Done, Saint Laurent and Bottega, with a higher waist and a straight leg.
My first clothing memory is of how my leotard and tights felt during ballet. Getting new ballet shoes and tights from Capezio was such a high. The other brand I was really into as a kid was Gloria Vanderbilt’s – the logo was a little black swan. (That and a Ralph Lauren sweater with a polo shirt with the collar up was my favourite thing.) I remember an ad where they had the jeans in a rainbow of different colours and to this day, from a merchandising perspective, I love seeing things in multicolours. I actually saw Gloria Vanderbilt around that time, in a New York restaurant called Serendipity 3, which is still around today. I was there, probably in my purple jeans with the swan, and my mom told me to go talk to her. She was like an angel, so warm: it gave me a reverence for designers that I still have.
The last thing I bought and loved was a Massimo Vitali photograph of Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. I’m spiritually part-Italian. We’ve spent lots of time in Sicily and I love those super-crowded beaches. They are my husband’s idea of hell.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande, which I’ve read and reread. I first read him in The New Yorker a long time ago. It’s an amazing study of end-of-life care. Gawande is a surgeon who, when his father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, realised that modern medicine hasn’t had frank discussions about death. Doctors aren’t trained to teach people how to die. This is about what happens, and what could happen better, when keeping someone alive isn’t possible. I found it at a time that I was grieving; it was enlightening.
My style icon is Lee Radziwill. Everyone’s focus has always been Jackie but, for me, it’s always been Lee. I think she was slightly less conservative. I like how clean and unembellished her look was – there’s that picture of her and Jackie, and they’re shopping in Capri or somewhere, and it’s just a good look. A simple but perfect silhouette done with precision. Also you get the sense that these pieces were in circulation; you know, they’re being reworn. She looked like she loved clothes.
The best gift I’ve given recently was a Heywood Hill subscription. It’s a wonderful bookshop that consults with the giftee and sends them a surprise book a month, based on their tastes, for a year
And the best gift I’ve received recently was an ’80s Repossi cocktail ring from my husband. It’s a cabochon ruby and pavé diamond. He got the idea from an Instagram account I follow by a jewellery collective, @thejewelgallery
The last music I downloaded was A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory. I remember loving them in the ’90s and then my son, who is really into music, was playing something and I went on a time-travel trip.
A place that means a lot to me is Pantelleria, where we have rented a house in summer for the past 16 or so years. This is going to sound a bit new age-y but there’s an energy to the island that I felt on our first visit. It’s a pain to get to, which is also a joy.
I recently rediscovered yoga. I used to do yoga a few times a week and always found myself distracted looking at the clock. So I stopped. Then, about eight months ago, I joined a friend’s private session and the time flew by. It’s with James De María, some hatha with a bit of ashtanga, I think. I do a Zoom every week – he’s based in Ibiza.
I have a collection of vintage zodiac pendants, mostly from the 1970s. I became thoroughly obsessed years and years ago when I first saw a Cartier one, which my husband’s godmother was wearing at a family party. The first I found was from Van Cleef, a Leo, which is my sign. It has to be my sign or one for someone from my family. Van Cleef did them and I’ve found a few of those. And Cartier. I wear them with a more contemporary chain.
In my fridge you’ll always find almond milk, probiotics and bottarga. Champagne – on a good day it’s a Ruinart, a nice Blanc de Blancs. There’ll always be a number of things pickling, garlic or cucumber – my husband’s a good cook and he’s a big fermentation advocate. There’ll be homemade chilli sauce or a great brand I just found in California called Rancho Gordo. And lots of vegetables.
My favourite website is Eat Your Books, which indexes all your cookbooks in one place so you can find that recipe for coronation chicken.
The one thing I couldn’t do without is my Bialetti Moka, the one for induction hobs. We’ve had ours for a long time – sometimes you have to redo the rubber.
The first fashion purchase I ever made was maybe a The Police band T-shirt at camp. I don’t remember where I bought it but I still have it. So I guess it’s vintage now – gold dust. There was also an Agnès B sweatshirt cardigan that closed with snaps – I saved up my babysitting money for that.
The beauty staple I’m never without is Frédéric Malle’s Carnal Flower fragrance, which I’ve worn for about 17 years. I’m pretty convinced I could have been a nose in my other life. £275 for 100ml EDP
An object I would never part with is a Tom Ford for Saint Laurent emerald silk jacket that was my mom’s. She was super-stylish and loved fashion. And I remember that jacket in the campaign, even though I was pretty young, so I thought it was awesome that she actually had it.
An indulgence I would never forgo is Loretta Caponi nightgowns. I don’t do the high-neck ones and I don’t do off-the-shoulder – I just like the white cotton ones with lace. I’ve worn them forever. I also love a Charvet pyjama.
The last accessory I added to my wardrobe was a The Row chocolate brown leather tote. I think it’s called Jasper. It’s very large, so great for travel, and the leather is amazing. Even though it’s large, it’s soft enough that even if you fill it, it doesn’t look like you’re walking around with a refrigerator.
My make-up and skincare essentials are Dr Barbara Sturm’s Enzyme cleanser, Augustinus Bader’s The Cream, and Tata Harper’s eye serum, the one in the gold packaging. I use Macrene Actives High Performance Neck and Décolletage Treatment, which is really fantastic for that area. Then either Sturm or Bader for body cream. My favourite lip balm is by Sisley. I love eyeliners: Sisley Phyto Kohl Pencil, By Terry’s Crayon Khol Terrybly or Hourglass. And Tom Ford mascara. For hair, I love Oribe shampoo and conditioner, and I quite like Virtue as well. I love a hair mask – Davines or Philip Kingsley are awesome.
My favourite building is Geoffrey Bawa’s former home Lunuganga in Bentota. It was originally a rubber plantation. I remember the first time we went to Sri Lanka and got to see it, what an unbelievably rich and tropical feeling it had. It’s so well thought out in a beautifully natural way. It’s phenomenal.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is capers from Pantelleria. I have a salty tooth. It began at a caper festival in the Aeolian Islands. We now have a household obsession – we’ve even bought a caper holder.
My first fashion memory is of going with my mom, who took real joy in fashion, to a store in New York that was called Charivari. It was around, if I’m not mistaken, from the late 1960s to the late ’90s. It was started by a family called the Weisers and was considered incredibly avant-garde at the time: it was multi-brand and they brought onboard Alaïa, Armani, Dolce… all these European houses. They also had some of the Japanese brands, it was just super interesting. Unwittingly, I think I learned a little bit about clienteling there because when I visited they had these chic black balloons. It wouldn’t be remotely eco now, but my memory is of walking in and being given one of these balloons. They knew their audience – they knew they needed to keep me happy while my mom shopped.
The podcast I’m listening to is SmartLess, with Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes. The premise is that they’re not clever, though of course they absolutely are. Their guests range from Dana Carvey to Joe Biden. The dynamic and the banter between them is really funny.
Some of my best ideas have come from going out for a run down by the river – I often run down by Chiswick Mall. It clears the paths a bit.
In another life I would have been an archaeologist. I was a history of art major at Brown and I’ve always loved this idea of the discovery and the find. I spent a lot of time in ancient buildings and churches – I would be the person at the catacombs with my head sticking through the bars trying to see what was inside.
The best bit of advice I ever received was to accept a compliment, because if you reject a compliment it’s like returning a gift. If someone has taken the time to say something nice to you, the gracious thing is just to say thank you.