A woman of style and substance

Stylist Stacy London is one honest woman. She’s honest about the successful battles with psoriasis and an eating disorder that have helped forge her character. She’s honest about the fact that men and women can’t have it all unless they have lots of help. (And even then they don’t necessarily have it all. She, a single woman who puts a lot of work into a multifaceted career, doesn’t.) She’s honest about the illusions of reality TV and the fashion industry.

And she’s honest about bulky, artsy-craftsy crochet as a cover-up. Not a fan.

“I’d rather have a macramé plant-holder than a crochet sweater,” she says – a remark that sends the reporter’s mind momentarily scurrying to her own closet.

It’s an honesty born of a hard-won confidence that’s not afraid to be saucy – as the playful photographs of her in her new book, “The Truth About Style” (Viking, $32.95, 215 pages), demonstrate. But it’s also the honesty of a woman on a mission – to help women look and dress their best, not as they fantasize, not as Hollywood and Seventh Avenue dictate, but as they can right now.

“Concentrate on your strengths,” Stacy says, “and live alongside your weaknesses. You might like your boobs better than your hips. But that doesn’t make your hips bad.”

It’s the kind of advice she and co-host Clinton Kelly might dispense to style-seeking contestants on their addictive hit TLC series, “What Not to Wear,” for which Stacy puts in many a 16-hour day. Recently, she’s been shooting the last 13 episodes of the 10-year-old series. (They’ll begin running in June.) And while she’s sad that it’s ending, she’s working like mad to make sure the series goes out on a high note.

“It’s a little more complicated this year,” she says in a phone interview, “a new level of crazy. Clinton and I are going to style separately and compete. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And it’s a way to give our fans, who’ve been so loyal to us, something to remember us by. Very few shows are fortunate enough to know they’re going to end. We wanted to use (this season) to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Stacy acknowledges that she wasn’t always so polite and considerate of others’ feelings.

“I think when I first started, people thought I was a real bitch. I think being on TV long enough, opinions changed. And I changed. I’ve learned to be empathetic with people.”

Silver lining

Reading Stacy’s life story – which she describes in “The Truth About Style” as if she were sharing it with you over coffee – you might think that her sisterly compassion was the noblesse oblige of a privileged New York City upbringing. Venture capitalist mother. Academic father (founding dean of the New York University Gallatin School). Education at Trinity and Vassar colleges. Stints at Mademoiselle and Vogue, the latter giving her the opportunity to observe the likes of Kate Moss, the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and, of course, Anna Wintour.

Or you might think that Stacy’s compassion resulted from the challenges she’s endured, beginning at age 11 with a case of psoriasis so severe that classmates compared her to the Elephant Man. (Ah, children – so gracious.) With time and the use of the topical steroid Diprosone, the psoriasis went away but not the scars – particularly the emotional ones – or the distinctive Lily Munster silver streak that blazes from her right temple through her dark hair and that may have been a reaction to the psoriasis treatment.

While she was at Vassar, she battled anorexia, which she calls “the darkest, blackest place imaginable,” then entered a period in which she couldn’t stop eating. At 5 feet, 7 inches, Stacy went from 89 to 180 pounds.

She got through Vogue – where size 4 is a large – with flannel shirts and flowing skirts. (It was 1992 and the grunge era.)

“Thank you, Marc Jacobs,” she says.

It took a while for Stacy to accept what she’d been through, to see the light scarring from psoriasis as a souvenir of what she endured, to arrive at the moment when she recognized the white streak in her hair as “as a badge of honor.”

“I think at first (those challenges) made me less compassionate,” she says. “I hated that little girl covered in red scabs. But the more I started to forgive myself, the more power I found in sharing my story with others.”

“I always had a thing for fashion, more as armor for me,” she says. “I think when I gravitated to style, fashion changed for me. I used to think I had to be perfect, that if I showed weakness, people wouldn’t trust me. But real trust comes from being able to show your flaws.”

Coming into her own

Today, Stacy is here to say she’s been there and, in the words of her book, “I get it.” She understands that for many women, who don’t think they’re rich, thin or beautiful enough, fashion is intimidating.

But, she says, fashion is fleeting. Style is timeless.

“Fashion is just what the industry turns out year after year. It’s the only industry that affects women’s self-esteem. Do you care if the Mini Cooper comes out in a color that’s not flattering to you? No, of course not. But we care what Saint Laurent Paris is doing.”

Rather than worrying about that, Stacy says, we should be listening to ourselves, our bodies and our tastes.

“Style is all about your individual sense of how you want to present yourself to the world. It’s about loving what you’ve got instead of wishing for what you’re not. It’s so easy and so difficult.”

This is what Stacy wants to impart. This is why she’s founded her own TV production company – “a lot of what we see on reality TV scares me” – and why she’s co-founded Style for Hire, a personal styling company for which she serves as stylist-in-chief and the clients are co-creators.

“I tell people (Style for Hire) is not about my creating you but teaching you what you can do for yourself, shopping and spending your money wisely.”

Stacy’s approach is sisterly, both in the universal and feminist senses of the word. Biology may have dictated the competition among women for male providers and fathers of their children. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Instead, we can be nurturing, caring supporters of women and men,” she says. “We can be mentors, great sisters. …I feel fortunate to live in a time when women are coming into our own.”

Stacy wants to make sure her voice is heard at this moment but not in a scolding way.

“I’d like to be the voice of reassurance,” she says. “Whatever you’re doing now, you’re doing good, you’re doing OK.”

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