Nina Garcia Wants to Be Your ‘Stylist Fairy Godmother’

Though she’s best known for her roles as the fashion director of Marie Claire and judge on Project Runway, Nina Garcia is also the author of three books on style. Today, the Colombian-born fashion guru releases her fourth tome, Nina Garcia’s Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion, a 300-page guide to situational dressing illustrated by Ruben Toledo. The style advice ranges from common wardrobe dilemmas — job interviews, first dates, casual weddings — to super-specific events, like jury duty, an office Halloween party, or a Netflix night in with a guy. Now she wishes she’d had time to add another timely chapter: “What do you wear to rehab? What do you wear to go to trial?” she asks, laughing. “What if you’re Lindsay Lohan or Naomi Campbell?” We caught up with the multitasking (and pregnant!) editor to discuss her sartorial nightmares, favorite fast-fashion spots, and this season’s “fragile” Project Runway cast.

What prompted you to write your latest book?
Whenever I’m on a book tour, one of the questions I always get asked is what to wear to various occasions. I wanted to write a road map to situational dressing, almost like you had a stylist fairy godmother who says, “Oh, you’re going to your first job interview? You’re going to this wedding? Here, wear this.”

What’s the hardest situation to dress for?
Unfortunately, the trickier situations are always the more personal ones: when you have a date with a guy you really like or you have an interview for a job you really want. You get emotional and your judgment gets impaired. My nightmare of nightmares is being overdressed for a casual event — I’ve done it! You have to have a real sense of what you want to communicate.

Any tips for shopping on a budget?
Invest in a couple of really good things — a great, classic coat; a good pair of shoes; and a timeless bag — then fill in the gaps with lower-priced pieces. I don’t know why anybody would spend $300 on jeans.

Where do you go to fill in the gaps?
I love J.Crew. Also, Gap, H&M, and Target.

What’s one item every woman should have in her closet?
A little black dress. It’s effortlessly simple, but it can be mysterious and super-sophisticated.

Who are your favorite designers?
I tend to like very practical, timeless, enduring designers — those whose clothes you can buy and build on: Azzedine Alaïa, Phoebe Philo, Lanvin, Chanel.

Ruben Toledo illustrations from Nina Garcia’s Look Book.Photo: Courtesy of Voice.

What’s the first designer item you ever bought?
I grew up with a fashion-obsessed mother and an older sister, so there was a lot of fashion in my house. The first thing I remember owning was a Pierre Cardin jumpsuit when I was 9 or 10; of course I didn’t actually buy it, but I fell in love with it. When I was older and I first started working, I was obsessed with buying my first Chanel jacket. I saved up my hard-earned money, went to Barneys, and bought a little black Chanel jacket. It saw many, many job interviews and many, many events. I’m not fitting into it lately, but I still have it.

Where do you like to shop in New York?
I love the new Isabel Marant and Lanvin stores; also, Patricia von Musulin for jewelry. I shop a lot at CrewCuts for my son. I also like visiting those quirky stores like Evolution, with all the taxidermy and skeletons and interesting stones.

How would you describe your personal style?
I’m very classic and structural. I love clean lines and interesting, modern details. But I’m all about being streamlined — less is more.

What trends are you appreciating right now?
All this minimalism, like Celine and Calvin Klein. I’m so happy we’re moving toward a cleaner look.

Any trends you’re ready to see retired?
I have seen everything possible covered in studs and grommets. Also, what I call angry shoes: those platforms with the multiple buckles and studs. I think the polished girl is back.

Have you had to deal with many rehashed trends when judging Project Runway?
I’m always telling those designers, I need to know that you guys understand what’s happening in fashion. I don’t want to see them looking back, I want to see that they can look forward.

What’s one item you’re saving to buy?
The Burberry shearling coat is my must-have. I just hope I get to fit into it!

What’s something you never leave the house without?
Since I’m pregnant at the moment, I can’t leave home without Alexander Wang drapey tees. They’re easy, cool, and they make me feel a little less obviously pregnant. I wear them with Current/Elliott cargo pants.

What sets the eighth season of Project Runway apart from the rest?
Well, the episodes are 90 minutes now, so you see more behind-the-scenes stuff, more of the design-room drama. It’s been an exceptionally hot summer in New York and we have a very fragile cast — there’s been a lot of fainting.

Any new books or projects in the works?
My son is due in December, so I have babies on the brain right now.

Nina Garcia Wants to Be Your ‘Stylist Fairy Godmother’