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In Favor of the Anti-Fashion Icon

Why I prefer to take style cues from those behind the scenes.
Veronika Heilbrunner at Paris Fashion Week. Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Veronika Heilbrunner at Paris Fashion Week. Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee — a city that always felt light years away from New York, although technically it's just 759 miles — I spent practically every free moment on TheFashionSpot. I mostly pored over the site's never-ending forums, which had their heyday in the early 2000s. Thousands of fans would meticulously track every model street style photo, celebrity outfit and tidbit of industry gossip, which I lived for as a teen. But although red carpet photos and "peacocking" Fashion Week shots of wealthy "It" girls were great for dreamy inspiration, I would get lost for hours memorizing the players behind the scenes.

It started with Lawren Howell, who I first discovered via (where else?) "The Hills." While the exact memory is admittedly a little hazy, the former Teen Vogue stylist's classic trousers and no-makeup look from her brief season two cameos made an impression, even a decade later. Howell perfectly epitomized the cool, no-BS antidote to Whitney and Lauren's trendy, girlie outfits. Although she was the creative mastermind behind the publication's glossy photo shoots, Howell's actual style was refreshingly down-to-earth (even while on an MTV reality show).

Especially in today's fashion climate, where it seems that everyone wants to be street style bait (or at the very least, an Instagram "influencer"), unfussy minimalism feels like a breath of fresh air. I'm not talking about wearing a basic white T-shirt and jeans everyday, either — although some key stylists can pull it off. Rather, my favorite under-the-radar fashion players flawlessly tread the line between dressing for their busy lifestyle and showing off their individuality. Stylists' job requirements include everything from steaming shirts to pulling designer items to physically dressing celebrities, and they've got to look the part for all of it. 

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Just take Ada Kokosar, whose minimalist aesthetic (thankfully!) convinced me years ago that I didn't necessarily need to buy an entirely new neon wardrobe for my first New York Fashion Week. The Slovenian-Italian stylist and consultant prefers jumpsuits, midi-dresses and oversized duster coats — in a color palette of mostly neutrals — which she pairs with sneakers, boots and chunky brogues. As someone whose personal dream wardrobe is more Acne than Herve Leger, Kokosar is proof that one doesn't need to squeeze into bandage dresses in order to be "sexy" or "cool."

Another proud member of this tomboyish school of dressing is Veronika Heilbrunner of Hey Woman. Sure, you can find her in a gown at fancy events, but more often than not this German stylist is wearing sneakers — whether she pairs them with Levi's 501 jeans or a dress depends on the occasion. Then there's Kate Brien, a California-based stylist who shares outfits with her husband and has the unique talent making something as basic as a white tee and mom jeans look interesting. Her @viewfromthetopp Instagram shows off the bottom half of her look, which more often than not includes denim and flats. But that casual simplicity doesn't stop her 80K followers from coming back (not to mention, securing brand partnerships with retailers like Gap). 

On the celebrity stylist front, I love how Kate Young dresses Selena Gomez, Michelle Williams and Dakota Johnson in formal Mugler and Marni for appearances, but keeps her own outfits low-key professional with an edgy twist. Women like Marina Muñoz introduced the importance of a signature piece, like a great hat; Alicia Vikander's stylist Victori Sekrier's unbrushed hair inspired me to put down the comb; and Stevie Dance, the Australian stylist and fashion director of Pop magazine, showed me how high-waisted jean shorts can (sometimes) be work-appropriate. It all boils down to having creativity, confidence and a wardrobe you feel comfortable in.

Since stylists work with clothes all day long, it's really not surprising that they go for pared-down pieces IRL. Qualities like cut and fit usually matter more than loud patterns or expensive statement pieces right off the runway — but you don't necessarily need to be a wallflower to appreciate them. After all, as these women prove, just because you might not have on the highest heels, the latest "It" bag or the brightest-colored dress in the room doesn't make you any less stylish. And that's the ultimate sartorial lesson to live by.