Street-Style Star Caroline Issa on Her New Line, Fashion Week Tips, and More

Caroline Issa in her collection for Nordstrom. Photo: courtesy of Nordstrom

As far as street-style stars go, Caroline Issa is consistently one of the best. The creative consultant and current fashion director of Tank magazine is always impeccably dressed in a mix of bright colors and perfectly tailored jackets. Her style feels innate — you could easily imagine Issa wearing these clothes in her past life as a management consultant — but still stylish enough to grab the attention of street-style photographers.

Now, you can actually dress like Issa: She’s collaborating with Nordstrom on a 28-piece collection that launches today. Consisting of tailored jackets, cashmere sweaters, and airy printed chiffon separates, the line ranges from $195 to $2,995. Each piece feels substantial, with cashmere sourced from the same factories as Loro Piana and leather jackets that are buttery to the touch.

The Cut caught up with the street-style star to chat about her foray into design, how she preps for Fashion Week, and a few of her favorite styling tips.

How did your partnership with Nordstrom come about?
Funnily enough, the first time I properly interacted with Nordstrom was literally 15 years ago, when I, in my previous incarnation of a career, was a management consultant. [The company was] actually my first direct-consultation client. Fast-forward almost 16 years later and it felt super-natural to do this with them. It’s full circle for me.

What are the plans for the Caroline Issa collection?
It’s four collections a year over the next couple of years. I really wanted to make sure (and they did, too) that this was properly invested in and not a one-off. We would develop who the Nordstrom Signature x Caroline Issa woman was, what she could find every season.

And what does it consist of?
[The first launch] is a 28-piece collection. It varies between 28 and 32 pieces, actually up to 35, maybe, in the fall. So it’s substantial and proper, with shirting, tailoring, and dresses.

Do you tailor it to the Nordstrom customer versus your own aesthetic, or do you think it’s a happy medium between the two?
I am the Nordstrom customer, in a sense. It’s for a woman who is on the go, is incredibly active, but wants to wear something beautiful, well-made, and at a great price point. I mean, I’m a fashion editor. I’ve spent the last 13 years going to the shows, so definitely there’s an element of fashion to this. But at the same time, it’s great tailoring for somebody who doesn’t want something super-complicated. This was not about weird zips and “How do I get this on?” I’m not Junya [Watanabe].

I see you have a lot of these little details that you incorporate from your own styling tricks.
Exactly. [For the pencil skirt there’s a] little button so you can either keep it closed or go a little sexy with the front. The dress is based on Lauren Bacall. She was definitely the inspiration for this dress, which I love, because you can wear it to the office with a jacket on top. The Spencer jacket is fun, but when you pop up the collar (which I like to do) you get the black detail.

And what about the shirts?
On the shirts we have extra-long cuffs. You can wear it a little bit longer so it peeks out. Or, it’s really easy to cuff up. You can also hike up the sleeve and keep the cuff down to make a nice bell shape.

Do you think your prior career as a management consultant influences the way you dress?
Definitely. I mean, I’m wearing [a printed suit from my collection]! Suiting was where I started from, and I love it. I still, to this day, even when I’m going to the shows, wear a lot of it. But I want to say, you can do a printed suit with a hoodie and actually it’s not so crazy. It’s not too intimidating, it’s a really easy thing.

Some people are more into crazy or over-revealing looks when they’re dressing for the shows. Do you feel like you’re at the other end of the spectrum?
I obviously love fashion. We do, that’s why we’re in this business. But I think if you look at my pictures that have consistently been out (whether I want it or not), I think my style has been consistently practical with a hint of fashion, color, print, and things I love.

Do you have any outfit regrets?
Usually by Paris, I can tell when I’m so tired that I’m not thinking anymore. On my last day, I put on a blue trouser and a shirt. That was all I think I had left in my wardrobe to wear.

You don’t plan out the entire month?
I think the point is that you have key essentials. I always bring a great suit, and lots of shirting. For me, I think you have to wake up and it’s how you feel that morning.

No Excel sheet then?
God, no. If I were that organized, that would be an amazing thing.

What are the styling tricks you rely on during Fashion Month?
I think red lipstick makes everything better, so always have it in your bag. It’s the only makeup I know how to put on. I love the idea of changing the shape of a jacket by literally upturning the collar. Also, unexpected things like wearing a hoodie — a cashmere hoodie of course — under a suit to make it a little less strict and more sportswear-like. And then for shirting and sweaters, belting. Cinching the waist is a super-easy way of making something a little more elegant. So, for me, with the hoodie, I can also cinch it and put it on top of a pair of trousers. Then, all of a sudden, you’ve got a different silhouette.

This interview has been edited and condensed

A Street-Style Star Shares Her Fashion Week Tips