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Melissa Rubini: How I Shop

The 'InStyle' Fashion Director keeps her style simple (and avoids street style photographers) so she can create characters in the pages of her celebrity editorials.
InStyle's Fashion Director Melissa Rubini. Photo: InStyle

InStyle's Fashion Director Melissa Rubini. Photo: InStyle

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend, and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in the fashion industry with our column, "How I Shop."

Melissa Rubini is surprisingly no-nonsense when it comes to her personal style. Ever since she jumped from assisting to styling on her own in her 20s, she's been dressing in black, gray and navy — shoes notwithstanding — to focus her creative impulses on her clients and shoots instead. Before landing at InStyle as fashion director in 2013, she styled campaigns for Prada, worked with actresses like Blake Lively, Scarlett Johansson and Katie Holmes and was the fashion director at Bullet magazine. As if she wasn't busy enough now, Rubini also finds time to design a children's ready-to-wear line named after her daughter, Stella, that she works on with her mother and sister back home in Brazil. 

I spoke with Rubini before Fashion Month kicked off about how she tackles one clothing category each weekend, shops exclusively online and why you'll never see her in a street style roundup. 

"I tend to shop by category. Each weekend I choose [one] and shop for that, and I do it at the same time for me and my daughter — she's 9. Maybe it's activewear, just as an example, and then I go through my closet, organize that category, I see what I need and then I do the same for her. Then I go online and I shop for what is missing. There are some categories that I have very specific stores or brands that I would [shop] — I would go to either Adidas or Nike, and that's to keep the foundation of the wardrobe going. [The categories] are like pajamas or lingerie or jeans, cashmere sweaters — and then I know that I just have to go to Uniqlo and I stock up on V-neck men's sweaters. I just tend to repeat what I wear if I know that it works. I'm always replenishing the same things. 

What other categories do I shop in that way? Jewelry, but not expensive things. There's a store called Need Supply. It has a very edited selection but great prices. You can just go and buy 10 different pieces and you have fresh things to play with, but it doesn't feel like you've made such a big investment that you're committing yourself to that purchase. I did the same at the store with shoes. I just needed comfortable shoes for summer and got at the same time a pair of flat sandals and these New Balance's and it was like — okay, done. It's very efficient. [laughing]

I edit everything down. I am usually just in black or navy or gray. I don't have color in my wardrobe so that facilitates a lot of the shopping aspect of it. Because I have to go to all the shows and appointments, I photograph things that I love, and then I started using Instagram two seasons ago. Before, it used to be just pictures and things would get lost. [Now] I create a specific hashtag, like #shoppinglist, I think the last one was #InStyleShoppingList. It has to be something very specific so nobody else does it. 

It's not available at that time [when I first see it] to buy so then it becomes kind of a wish list. I edit that down and choose a few things that are more special: my favorite shoes of the season, an amazing dress that I loved, a coat... those things that I know will be investment pieces. Those are the things that I have to start saving for [my daughter] Stella.

[This fall] the Balenciaga shoes are to die for, definitely on my list, there's this Hermes croc pair of pumps that just the edge of the top of the foot has the silhouette of the "H" — those are gorgeous. I'm obsessed with shoes, so the shoe list can go on forever. The Chloe lace-up boots. The Altuzarra lower version of the boots — those are amazing. I don't change bags much, they end up staying in my closet. I've been using a YSL one forever and I just feel like staying with that.

What else do I have my eye on? For fall specifically, I will wear tailored pants. The girls [at InStyle] know that it becomes my uniform: tailored pants in navy or gray or black with V-neck cashmere sweaters and that's it. Celine does great [pants], Marni does really good ones — Marni has a more masculine cut, Celine is a little bit more fitted. And then J.Crew has really good ones as well.

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I think Net-a-Porter overall has the best, not just selection, but shopping experience, from browsing, to receiving the merchandise, returns, everything. It's extremely well-done and then Outnet, the same. On Outnet I don't browse the whole thing, I just select the designers that I know work for me. I fear that if I start browsing the whole thing, I would end up buying things that are not what I should be buying — 'Such a a great deal! I should buy this!' I usually do the Outnet when I'm in Paris for the shows because I have to do New York, London, Milan and by the time I get to Paris, I'm like, 'I can't take this suitcase anymore.' So they just deliver to the hotel and I have fresh things to wear there. 

[For Fashion Month] I basically just put in the suitcase what I like. I don't like to be photographed, I'm not standing outside of the shows waiting for street style to find me. My schedule is extremely packed. I'm there for work, really, and being photographed is not my priority. The girls that do that, they do that extremely well and it's super fun to watch. I don't have that pressure — it's a conscious decision. And I hate to have my picture taken. [laughing] People love to do that, I guess it becomes natural for them. Therefore my wardrobe doesn't have to be so over the top for the kids to photograph me. I don't really care about that.

I don't know if I would know exactly how to describe [my personal style]. It's crystal clear in my mind — when it works and when it doesn't. When I'm shopping, it's very easy for me to edit quickly, it's part of my job. But I would say, during the day, there's a lot of black dresses. I don't really have a style per se of black dresses that I like, like this one [I'm wearing today] is a lot more feminine than what I would [normally wear]. This is very old Balenciaga from Nicolas [Ghesquiere]. And then the tailored pieces — kind of masculine tailoring. For evening I go a little, I wouldn't say sexy, but just a little more feminine. Not girlie, girlie doesn't work for me. And then shoes. Because everything is so basic, I tend to go have fun with that. 

[Shopping for my daughter, Stella] is becoming a little complicated. She's 9 now, so up until now it was pretty much my decision; but every season before I would go shopping, I would ask what her favorite color [was] so I could narrow it down to a certain direction for her. I don't spend much money on it, she's a kid. So it's a mix of Zara and Gap and definitely J.Crew kids, which is her favorite. Ralph Lauren has really cute kids clothes. 

[Her children's collection, Stella Rubini] is very small. It's just in Brazil at this moment because I don't have time to spend, so it's a pet project that could become bigger when the time comes. It's from size 1 through 10 and only for girls right now. It can be influenced by runway stuff and we take it into a children's feeling. My mom does all the illustrations and we are doing the interior design part now so kids can have the dress and then the whole bedroom, bedspreads. I work with Stella on it — she decides looks and draws dresses, too — and then my mom. That's basically why I started it. My sister is an art director so she also is part of it, it's an all-girls club business. We also wanted to give back somehow, so with the company growing, we give preference to hiring women and single mothers. And we revert money to orphanages — my mom goes and gives art classes to them and art supplies. 

I'm not that attached to things. For me to do a photoshoot and use those things, I love much more than actually having [them]. I'm not big on having to have things — having a lot of things gives me anxiety. My apartment is super clean. So I guess that's why I love fashion. A way that I found to solve that issue is to do the photoshoots instead of having to pile everything on myself.

I don't think there is anything that I would say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't live without that.' I don't have that feeling about things. There are things that are extremely beautiful and breathtaking that perhaps, if I had an endless amount of money… but even then, I don't think that I would be spending money in that way. It's just not my personality to go there.

I love styling in a way that I'm putting characters together. I think about who this woman is and which movies she would watch and a playlist and the brands that she would have in her wardrobe. It becomes that actual character for a little while... while I'm producing the shoot and so it lives in my mind.

I tend to separate myself from trends. It would be way too psychotic to have this ongoing change in my life and it would influence my work too much as well. When you look at designers and they come out after a show, they are always wearing the same thing. It is something that naturally happens after working for awhile. When you start, you're excited and you're young and you're trying out all these crazy, trendy things. And then it comes to a point where you remove yourself a little bit from what you're doing. I still have all these women inside of my head, I have all of these characters, I could be all of them, but they come out through the stories that I style and through the jobs that I'm doing. Instead of experimenting on myself, I use other women."

This interview has been edited and condensed.