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How I Shop: Nina Garcia

The "Elle" EIC and longtime "Project Runway" judge also shares where you can cop her gently worn designer goods.
Nina Garcia at Paris Fashion Week in September 2019 in her classic black sweater and Prada investment purchase.

Nina Garcia at Paris Fashion Week in September 2019 in her classic black sweater and Prada investment purchase.

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 our column "How I Shop."

Nina Garcia basically embodies the term "arbiter of fashion." Editor-in-chief of Elle since 2017, she meticulously filters all of the options available in fashion to help us refine our own tastes and preferences. (We still have not risen from the dead after seeing Zoë Kravitz on the magazine's February 2020 cover.) Before taking the helm of the magazine, Garcia influenced style obsessives for nearly two decades as a Fashion Director and Creative Director at Elle and Marie Claire, respectively.

But the greater public likely recognizes Garcia as the longest-serving judge (18 seasons and counting!) on the definitive fashion reality competition show, "Project Runway." She's shared her discerning viewpoints and expertise since the program's debut in 2004, followed the transition to Lifetime and finally, triumphantly returned to Bravo last year. While fellow judge from the first 10 runs (and later guest) Michael Kors made waves with his quippy shade, Garcia regularly comes through with her zero-B.S., industry-honed realness to guide the fledgling designers into the cutthroat fashion world. 

On our pocket-size screens, over 591K Instagram followers vicariously enjoy Garcia's fashion month front-row views (J. Lo closing out Versace, omg), track her glamorous travels to far-flung locales and virtually join get-togethers with luminaries like Lena Waithe, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, who've graced the pages (and covers) of Elle

The Colombian-American editor's devastatingly chic international style feels just as expertly edited as the glossy pages of her magazine. As Garcia famously said on the second season of "Project Runway": "Pretty can be boring." She prides herself in holding onto her "classic" staples, but adding her own personal (and professional) twist, as she'll explain below. 

Fashionista caught up with the EIC right before the start of New York Fashion Week, as she geared up for a near month of travel, to learn all about her shopping habits. Before She also shared why she's a proud outfit repeater, what she regrets purging (Old Céline, sob) and where you can cop her gently-worn designer goods.

Garcia at the Johanna Ortiz Resort 2020 show in June 2019.

Garcia at the Johanna Ortiz Resort 2020 show in June 2019.

"I live with a fantasy that I can go to the shows with a carry-on bag. I've tried and it hasn't worked. That's the editor in me thinking I can edit down. But it's like a high-stakes game of fashion Tetris, trying to fit everything in one little roll-up bag that you're not going to check in.

"Classics are the backbone of my wardrobe — I know that sounds really generic and boring — but then I like to sprinkle in some edge or something surprising. I don't think I will ever wear a head-to-toe runway outfit, but I like to shop [items from] the runway and make them my own with my classic pieces.

"I have a bunch of pieces that I consider my wardrobe staples: a sharp jacket or a light button-down shirt or a knit cashmere sweater, an A-line skirt or a tuxedo for evening. Then, I will mix in something very fashionable or very surprising. Maybe it's with the accessory or shoe. Or it's an embellished skirt or jacket. But it's very important when you wear clothing, to make it your own, so that it doesn't speak for you.

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"I recently bought a Prada apple green leather skirt with a pink flower on it [pictured, top]. That was on the [Fall 2019] runway. It's a standout piece and I wear it with something I've had for years and wear a lot: a Michael Kors ribbed lightweight cashmere sweater. I have it in every color, but I wear it quite often in black. 

"People who know me and work with me know that I have this uniform. When the season starts, I will maybe not shop for quantity, but I will shop for quality. I buy a few standout pieces and wear them repeatedly. I really believe in repeating your looks. As women, we're like, 'I'll wear it once,' and then you've been seen in it and not wear it again. That's so crazy for so many reasons. Men wear uniforms and suits all the time and they can repeat without a problem.

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"I do wear a lot of pieces that I've had for a long time, like this very tailored, two-button princess coat in double-faced wool by Prada. It's a simple coat, but I love it. An editor who used to work with me in my past life and I were at a resort appointment and the designer Joseph Altuzarra all of a sudden pointed out, 'Oh my god, what a great coat you're wearing!' She's like, 'Yup, she's had it for over 15 years.' But it looks really good and, if you see it, you would think it's a new coat. I put it away for a few years and then I will take it out to wear again. I have a lot of pieces that will come and go because it's all cyclical. Think about it. Trends come and go. Keep your good pieces.

"There's an Alaïa coat with fringe that I've had for awhile that I want to break out again. I have a lot of Alaïa pieces. [The designer Azzedine Alaïa] passed away in 2017, so maybe those are ready to be taken out again. 

"Organizing my wardrobe is always in progress. I wish I had endless closets. I will try to store the spring/summer and then switch around to fall/winter, but I like to see everything. I like to keep things, but I do also purge of things that no longer fit and they will never fit. Like Dolce & Gabbana mini-skirts from 20 years ago definitely have been purged. My lifestyle has changed.

"It’s hard for me to let go because some of the pieces have a lot of memories attached to them. I have two boys, so they're not interested in any hand-me-downs. There's only so much you can store. I do keep a lot of special pieces, but some I give away or if I make a mistake — sometimes it happens, I will make a mistake — then I will sell it. I'll do The RealReal or Thredup. The fact that you can recycle your clothes like that is so important for the environment; that we're not just tossing things. I like to invest in good things and I hope they find a home with somebody that likes them or it fits them.

"Yes! Of course, [I have regretted purging certain items]. Celine. Please, Old Céline. I let go of some very good old Céline thinking that it was going to be there forever and now it isn't there forever and it's probably in somebody's [haul] from The RealReal. I did save and still wear a lot of my Old Céline, but there might have been moments of, 'I don't know what I was thinking.' I sold it and it's gone.

"I like to shop online, but I also like to shop in the stores. I do a lot of Net-a-Porter, Matchesfashion, Mytheresa. But then I also work a few blocks away from Nordstrom — and I enjoy their new restaurants — and I go shopping in their shoe bar. I love Bergdorf Goodman. It's just such a delight of a store. I'm also a huge fan of Saks Fifth Avenue. When I have time off or it's the weekend and I'm looking for something important, that's when I really will go into a department store and get it all done. If I'm shopping for fashion week or a particular event, I will go to Saks and I know that I'm going to see everybody. I'm going to get the best from the best.

"Retail has really changed and everybody has upped their ante, so the shopping experiences have become so personalized and so much better. You walk in and you're immediately offered a drink. You might know the sales person. They’ve already put away things they think you may be interested in. That all works for me. I have a busy job, I have kids at home, I have very little time. So if I can walk into Nordstrom or Saks and have them already know that I am arriving and have these brands I usually shop for all ready for me to glance at, that just takes a lot of time off the busy work. 

"Not that I don't know what I'm going for, but I still enjoy going into to a store and being surprised or finding something that I didn't expect. It's scary when the [sales associates] at the stores are your friends because you go there so often! But it's part of what I do. I love fashion. I have to see it. I like to experience fashion in all its dimensions. 

Garcia stunting in her Marrakesh work trip purchase. 

Garcia stunting in her Marrakesh work trip purchase. 

"I don't like to shop on impulse. Due to the nature of my job, I have the opportunity to see [fashion] and work with it closely so much ahead of time. So I have more time to think about the investment. But we all now have the ability and privilege to see the shows online so much quicker. You can see things way before they go on sale and you can have more time to think about how that would work in your closet. But the fact that I have the opportunity to see it, to try it on real women or celebrities or models, or to work with it in the offices of Elle, it gives me a little bit of an edge. Maybe the designer has a backstory to it, so you fall in love even more because it's made with this inspiration of whatever.

"I have a white eyelet dress from Oscar de la Renta. This must be 20 years ago and I still have it because it was an important dress from Mr. de la Renta and I don't think I fit in it, but I still have it because I wore it for many years. It was a unique piece and I know it was a special piece. With Karl [Lagerfeld], right before his passing, he held his Paris New York 2019 Métiers d'Art show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art [in December 2018]. Chanel asked me to pick a piece from that collection as a gift. [I chose] a gold and black three-quarter-sleeve jacket. That holds special meaning.

"I do love to be able to travel and, if I have a little break between shows or appointments, I love to explore what the city has to offer. Be it Milan, Paris or London. Recently, I went to Marrakesh for the Dior Cruise 2020 runway show and just being able to shop the markets and find an unusual necklace, plate or item. I ended up buying a beautiful caftan [above] that I wear quite often. It's colorful. It's unique. I wear it around the house. I'll wear it at the beach as a cover-up. I'll wear it in my travels. Everybody that sees it 'oohs' and 'ahs' because it's really one of those extraordinary pieces and I would have only been able to find it in Marrakesh. It's a piece that has a lot of craftsmanship and I know that I will have it forever."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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