Interview. Clinton Kelly Dishes How To Make Over America!

October 13, 2009 • Fashion

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Last week, I was psyched to find out I would be talking to stylist and makeover extraordinaire Clinton Kelly in anticipation of his appearance here in Chicago over the weekend. Kelly was cruising through town as part of the Chicago leg of his collaborative style tour with Macy's, 'Makeover America'. Through the 'Makeover America' tour, fifteen cities are visited by Kelly and his style team, armed and ready to assist the fashionably unable. Prospective contestants were allowed to upload photos or video answering questions on why they should be selected onto Macy' Fifteen winners are then picked in each city by Kelly and his team, and receive a head to toe makeover by his style arsenal; one lucky winner from any of the cities will even be selected for an ultimate Clinton Kelly makeover and shopping spree at Macy's Herald Square in New York City. Kelly hosted the Chicago chapter finale last Saturday with a reveal of the fifteen winners and a fashion show of their new looks at Macy's on State Street.

So needless to say, the former editor for Mademoiselle and Marie Claire has been pretty busy lately, what with the contest on top pf his regular filming schedule for his hit show of the past seven years, TLC's 'What Not To Wear'. On the show Kelly, along with his co host Stacy London, plucks some of the tragically unhip out of all parts of America for a similar brand of style intervention. He was all too kind to take some time out of filming 'WNTW' in New York to talk to me about the 'Makeover America' project, why he thinks his show has remained a success for almost a decade, and his personal (and invaluable!) style tips for the season.

SCS: Hi Clinton, thank you so much for taking the time to to talk with me! So you're coming to Chicago for the big reveal of the city's fifteen winners. Where did the idea come from for the 'Makeover America' tour?

CK: Well, I've been working with Macy's for the past three years doing all sorts of style seminars. I had done some really focused topics like fashion for petites, plus-sized women, and all different types of body types, but we would show the fashions being discussed on models, typical model-sized models. So I thought, why don't we use real women to show off the fashions that are best for their body type? So I will take some credit! I pitched the idea and Macy's liked it. I mean, I wanted to illustrate that every women's body shape can look fabulous.

SCS: And how is the process of 'Makeover America' different, if at all, from "What Not To Wear"?

CK: It's obviously the same concept as 'What Not To Wear' but quicker and with more people involved! Each winner got things like a professional bra fitting, and time with a tailor in order to perfect their outfits. We've been following the same general outline from "What Not To Wear," which is: find undergarments, try on clothes, shoes, tailor, and then accessories. I've been working with no less than three women at a time in each city. And it's been a huge undertaking but it's also been great—I love making over real women and through this project, I'm really trying to help them with their overall personal style, not just fashion. My favorite part of doing this is helping a woman break out of a rut and rediscover the confidence she has to show the world she's beautiful.

SCS: I had the opportunity to meet both Stacy London and Ted Gibson ("What Not To Wear's" new hair stylist) at New York Fashion Week. What is it that makes you and Stacy work together so well as a team after all these years?

CK: Stacy and I have very similar tastes in fashion and identical senses of humor so though we are very different in almost every other way, those two things are what keep us working side by side so well. We just have a great time together and are always trying to take the joke to the next level. Like today, we've been filming one of the shopping days in New York so much of me and Stacy's day is sitting in a room watching video footage. We were just belly-laughing at each other and being absurd. We just always seem to go to that same funny place together. And professionally, she is extremely hard working and dedicated to her job. We also have that in common—our careers are very important to both of us and I think we both give everything we can. Plus, we have this weird thing where we were both obsessed with the same movies when we were young, like Poltergeist, for example, and 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton.

SCS: Has the show changed at all since Ted replaced Nick (Arrojo) on the show?

CK: I rarely see Ted but he is so great, I wish I got to see him more! We're just rarely at the studio at the same time since he only comes on the reveal day in the morning. The schedule for the reveal day is hair in the morning, makeup (with "What Not To Wear's makeup artist Carmindy) in the afternoon, and then Stacy and I come in in the evening for the final review of the clothes and everything. So Ted is usually gone before I get in but the few times I have seen him have been great, he is so nice, and everyone has just been raving on set about him as well so we're really glad to have him.

SCS: Now you went to Northwestern for your masters in journalism and you used to write for the Chicago Red Eye so you're well-versed in the Chicago fashion scene. How do you think Chicago stands out as a style capital?

CK: Yes, I love Chicago, I love coming to Chicago, I love shopping in Chicago. Chicago is a city of extremes. There are a lot of incredibly stylish people in this city, and also a lot of incredibly not stylish people as well. But overall, Chicago is one of the better dressed cities, I would say, in the entire country. My top three best dressed cities I would have to say would be New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. And Chicago is more innovative with fashion that most because of the cold! It takes a lot of invention to pull off looking great under five layers of clothes. I remember my first day at Northwestern—I was wearing a blue cashmere sweater, a wool jacket with the patches on the elbows, a great pair of jeans, and brown boots, and I just thought I looked amazing. It took me about one day to realize that that wasn't going to work. So now, whenever I come back to Chicago I look forward to the shopping and trend-spotting I get to do, but after living here I now know that you better bundle up!

< strong>SCS: What are some of the style faux pas that have been prevalent throughout the various cities involved in the 'Makeover America' tour?

CK: I would have to say the one look that seems to be consistent across the board is people dressing down so much they're almost in a coma. There's been a lot of hoodies and sweatshirts, a lot of light wash jeans, and a lot of, ugh, white Reeboks. Its like this ubiquitous American look that I am trying to destroy, this look of complete disregard for personal style. It is an unfortunate American uniform. So what I've found is that a lot of time this way of dressing—when there is no interest in maintaining a minimum level of personal style—does reflect some kind insecurity or some issues with self-esteem and that is what I try to help. I like helping people feel better about themselves and yes I am trying to rid the world of white Reebok crosstrainers forever.

SCS: And we all hope that you do! Let us know if there is any way we can help. So having defined some 'Donts', what do you suggest are the three must have items we should all run out and get for fall?

CK: Well, I can make things even easier and give you some of the chic alternatives to the 'Donts' I just mentioned. Instead of a hoodie or sweater, choose a jacket in a knit or cotton that can translate to any season, over a blouse with a seam so that it actually fits in the right places. Get rid of the light wash jeans for a dark wash, any cut, its that simple. Instead of an awful sneaker, there are tons of options for footwear! If you don't want a heel then there are so many choices of cute flats for fall. And also, we're entering boot season, which is one of my all time favorite things to wear. Invest in a stylish pair of flats or boots and it will be well, well worth it. And that's it! A few key pieces can lead to a dramatic transformation so there's really no excuse to not try them if you're looking for a change.

SCS: Well thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us! I have nurtured a longtime obsession with 'What Not To Wear' and plan on doing so for as long as there are people for you and Stacy to make over. Thank you again for all the time and effort you dedicate to this cause!

CK: Yeah, fashion is really like a changing puzzle. It's always evolving and changing which allows me to stay fresh in the ways I can help people. I hope to be doing this for a long, long time! But I have to get back to filming so I'll see you all in Chicago! Thank you!

Photo Source: Steve Starr
-Alia Rajput

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