Posted on November 18 2019
After working as a fashion designer for 15 years, Tania Sterl found her calling as a personal wardrobe stylist and launched her company, Sterl on Style. We recently chatted with Tania about the most challenging parts of her job, her own go-to wardrobe pieces and her advice for those who want to update their wardrobe but don't know where to start.
ALLY: Tell us about yourself. What were you doing prior to launching Sterl on Style?
Tania Sterl: I worked as a fashion designer for women's wear collections for 18 years in New York City. I mastered the principles of high quality fabrics, learned from the best pattern-makers about perfecting fit, and what makes a high quality garment inside and out. While designing, I started to co-host trunk shows at boutiques with the collection I was designing for, and that turned into styling women from head to toe. They would come in to the store tired and feeling drab, until I put them in an outfit and then I would ask the sales staff to grab me shoes and a bag and a coat and the right accessories to style a complete look for that woman. The look that the woman would have as she gazed in the mirror was that of confidence, her posture would straighten up. That's when I had my ah-ha moment. How can I help empower women with style? As a personal stylist. So I left my 18 years of behind the scenes as a fashion designer and launched my personal styling business, Sterl on Style. I went on to do seminars and speaking engagements as well.
ALLY: As personal wardrobe stylist, what is the most challenging part of your job?
Tania Sterl: One of the most challenging parts of my job I think is actually explaining what I do as a personal stylist. It's not about the shopping. It's about a woman who wants to change her look and she doesn't know where to start. I become like her mirror, showing her the fully expressed version of herself. And that cannot be taught. Yes it's about colors and prints and patterns and balancing her style from head to toe and figure-flattering rules. But also I am very intuitive and creative and can sense and see things she cannot. I am there to translate their desired look, so they can dress in a way that feels just right to them, and also sends a message "here I am" "see me" and they are seen in the best light.
ALLY: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Tania Sterl: Another challenging yet rewarding part is holding space for a woman to really let her feel safe to express what she is not happy about with her body or her wardrobe. Every woman is so uniquely different so the challenge is really making sure that the way I style each individual woman is catering to her unique role and lifestyle. People will say to me "oh if you see something for me while you're shopping...". That's not how it works. I only shop for ONE client at a time. I move through the store as if I am her. I remove myself. How does she want to look, how does she want to move, how does she want to feel in her clothes? And that is different for every woman, every body type, every color palette, every different job and role and based on her events. I style everyone from an opera singer to a fitness expert to a partner in a law firm to a motivational speaker. I can "design" her look in my head, but then I need to actually go to all the stores and showrooms and look through racks and racks of clothing to find what is just right. Each client I handle with a lot of attention, and that is very high touch service which takes a lot of focus and energy. And I love it when the look comes together and the woman just lights up! When she sends me a photo of herself in her new outfit right before she goes into that interview, or walks on that stage for her Ted Talk, and says "thank you. I feel dressed and ready. Powerful and confident."
ALLY: You say that "style is not just a look, it's a feeling" - what are your go-to wardrobe pieces that make you feel (and look) stylish?
Tania Sterl: Me personally, I am such a "fashionista" and a "collector" I use clothing to express all the different creative ways I like to dress. And I do dress based on my mood. What mood am I in today? Do I want to project soft approachability or a little more hard-edge for authority. I like to experiment. And what is right for me may not be right for everyone. That is why it's so individualized. Personally, one day I love a statement jacket with strong shoulders, a soft blouse, and tight black jeans and booties. Another day I love a midi skirt with tall boots and a cropped sweater. I am a bit 80s rocker meets Art Deco, a hint avant-garde, a hint minimal, and I like to juxtapose soft with structured, high contrast colors or textures. It's fun to help others define this for themselves too!
ALLY: What advice would you give a friend who wants to update her wardrobe but doesn't know where to start?
Tania Sterl: Start with a Style Vision Board. Pour yourself a glass of wine, devote an hour to just exploring your "fashion fantasy". Tear through magazines. Pull out anything that catches your eye. It could be a color, a coat, a theme, a texture, the way it's put together. I prefer going through magazines, but you can also make a "My Style" Pinterest Board. This is always where I start with a new client. Before I can shop for her, before I can look at her closet, you need a CLEAR VISION for your style so you can look at your closet or shopping through the lens of this clearly defined style. Then all of a sudden it's like "I need a bomber jacket for all these jeans I have." And then you can shop more focused and strategically. You can edit things out of your closet that don't level up to this Style vision board you've created. You can even start in vintage or resale shops to save money. It's about finding those gems that will light you up!