Lily Mandelbaum and Elisa Goodkind, the women behind online style zine StyleLikeU, might just be fashion's most well-traveled closet-raiders. They also happen to be mother and daughter.
Mandelbaum, 23, and Goodkind, 55, founded StyleLikeU in 2009. Four years later, they've peeped into the closets of some of the country's most stylish personas--from a licensed optometrist with a love of bright colors and top hats to fashion notables like Cynthia Rowley and Tavi Gevinson. They've also published a book (in 2010), and expanded their site with a range of series, including the Round Table, where people come together to discuss cultural issues, and Second Skins, in which two people with opposite styles swap clothes for a day. In 2013, they took that a step further, and launched monthly themes on issues like sexuality, body image—topics that are relevant to everyone's personal style but do not find their necessary representation in the mainstream fashion media.
As StyleLikeU continues to widen its gaze, Lily and Elisa are finally stepping out from behind the lens to share their own personal story as mother and daughter--just in time for Mother's Day.
"We’ve been so much about everybody else the whole time," shared Elisa, "but we recognize that we have a story to tell as well and that, with our relationship, the reason we’re doing this is super deep and personal so that it’s important to also show that to the world."
Fashionista: Describe each other’s style for us. Lily: My mom’s quintessential outfit—she’s kind of wearing it right now—is a button-down men’s shirt, some jodhpur pants, and then her shoes can be a myriad of different things but usually it’s like a man-repellent shoe—you know, the real man repeller. I like when she does a little sexy heel or something, but that’s more rare. She usually does something like a creeper or Martin Margiela or something a little bit strange, but it looks amazing on her. And usually a bunch of rings--she always has her hands filled with rings—and then a scarf and jacket. Layers. Elisa: I’d say Lily is kind of quintessential nerdy chic: red ballet slippers, high-waisted skirts, crop tops... what's that Mac lipstick you like? Lily: Ruby Woo. Elisa: ...Ruby Woo Mac lipstick, and her reading glasses. She’s very kind of, cute nerdy. Lily: I dress more feminine and she dresses more masculine because I have more of a curvy physique and she’s more boyish.
How have you both influenced each other in terms of style? Lily: In terms of influencing each other, we both really respect and like each other’s style but we have really opposite body types so we don’t really play off of one another’s style too much. It’s kind of a totally separate ball game, the way we each dress. We both love each other’s style but it’s not something that would ever really work on the other one. So I wouldn’t say that we are super influenced by each other in that way.
How has StyleLikeU changed your style? Lily: The website has influenced us—I can’t even really begin to explain how much it influences us. Definitely there have been tangible fashion ideas that we get from the people we feature and that’s really exciting and cool. But more than those tangible ideas, we are inspired by the attitude and self-confidence of the people we feature. We never feel there’s an excuse to feel shitty about ourselves because we just see these people who, no matter what their size, shape, or economic class, they all bring their clothing to life in a really amazing way because they’re being so true to themselves. We’re inspired by that kind of spirit, wanting to access that in ourselves. And we have both overcome some insecurities and gotten a little bit bolder.
You’ve been a mother-daughter team for a while now. How has working together transformed your relationship with each other? Lily: It has greatly deepened our relationship because we're together everyday and that forces us to have to be very open and honest with each other. We've also gone through so much together with [the site], so many extreme ups and downs, and both of us feel we could never have gotten through all of this without each other.
But I would say that [the relationship is] complex. The lines get blurred between whether we’re mother-and-daughter or business partners. It's like, how do we respond to all of these different situations: Like a mother and daughter or like business partners? So it’s very challenging and it can be somewhat out of the norm of what people are used to dealing with. But it’s definitely seriously deepened and enhanced our relationship.
What are the specific challenges of working together as a mother-daughter team? Lily: StyleLikeU is so much a part of our lives, there’s not really a separation between StyleLikeU and our personal lives--it’s all intertwined. So a challenge has been trying to create some boundaries. For example, we work slightly different hours and that can be stressful. In the morning my mom starts early, before me, and I continue after her, but she might start texting me early in the morning, stressing me out, when I’m still sleeping. Boundaries [when you're mother and daughter] are much more complex than if we were just straightforward business partners and [the site] was separate from our personal lives. But at the same time, we both care about this so deeply and in the exact same way, that we understand and we try to do it all as best we can.
Elisa: I just think it’s kind of the complicated issue of: you’re a mother and daughter but at the same time you’re working together and doing something that’s very consumer, so the lines get blurred and it can get a little complicated. There’s been times where it’s like, she can’t be “the daughter,” she has to be “the partner” and that can be really hard. Conversely, she’s really blossomed and grown enormously and grown into a position of authority here. She’s very talented and she’s very good at a lot of things that I’m not good at--business things and marketing and all that stuff. She’s really evolved, more or less, I think into the boss--which is fine with me and I completely respect it and I think it’s healthy and good.
Lily: The issue with that is that sometimes I can be too bossy to my mom. Because, you know how you can sometimes talk to your mom in a certain way and be like, “No, I don’t like your idea,” or be a little bit rude because it's your mom and you know they love you, so it’s okay? Sometimes I do that a little bit too much in front of the team where I should be a little bit more toned down about my authoritative tendency. Elisa: I think that’s essentially a really healthy aspect about the company because there's that deep family bond there, and people that work here really love that. The flip side of that is that you have to be super aware of the boundaries--it's important not to mix all of the emotions up with work. And structure is important too.
What do you find most inspirational about each other? Lily: I’m inspired by many things. One, how detail-oriented my mom is. I tend to be way more about multi-tasking, doing a bunch of things and doing them well but perhaps overlooking certain details that would make them super special. On a more personal level, I’m inspired by how she’s super, super empathetic. She’ll really drop anything to help somebody else if they’re going through something--anyone, it doesn't matter who it is. With me, she’s very giving in that way. She doesn’t get rigid, she always makes time for me even though she is doing a million things. I’m always mesmerized and shocked that she isn’t irritated with my brother and me—with her children. She doesn’t get sick of hearing about our issues. She’s never diminished anyone’s feelings, ever.
I also admire how she’s very loyal. She's a very dedicated and committed person even though she’s pretty eccentric and 'out-there' in many ways. I admire the balance of that. I think that a lot of people might assume that because she dresses really crazy or is a little bit more artistic and creative and less rational that she might be flaky. But she’s a really dedicated, committed person so I think that’s cool.
Elisa: And for me, I would say that I’m totally in awe of Lily’s ability to see the big picture, to get things done, to handle problems and solve them, in a really calm and logical way, which I am completely incapable of doing. And that’s one of the things that, working together, we’re so similar in certain ways but then in other ways our mental wiring is so opposite. Working with her has made me realize that there actually are things that I definitely cannot do and she definitely can. She’s extremely competent and fearless at jumping into situations which, to me, seem extremely overwhelming and daunting and I really admire that.
And I admire how funny she is, and her sense of humor—she laughs at a lot of things and she’s got a super light side and I don’t have that at all. I love her light humor and her ability to be silly, especially in a stressful situation. She’s also very caring, kind, and generous—and a sweet person. She’s very understanding of people, but then that's another way we balance each other out because she cares so much about how the other person feels, and that doesn't always work in business.