When I first ran into Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, it was in the halls of Vogue in 1998. She had just arrived from Sotheby’s to take a job as the magazine’s P.R. manager, and, at six foot one, she was already a great presence in the office. She was also beautiful, extraordinarily efficient, and almost shockingly nice. After being promoted to director of special events, she went on to produce everything from small dinners (for the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Manolo Blahnik) to the annual 7th on Sale shopping event. But it was her flawless leadership of the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala that made it the most important and exciting event on the social/cultural/fashion calendar and showcased the talents that led to her current post.
When she left Vogue after eleven years, it was to spend more time with her young family. In 2000, she married David Wolkoff, a real estate developer who is a convenient and dashing six foot six, and they have three adorable children, two boys and a girl. But when the Lincoln Center job beckoned, Stephanie couldn’t resist. Challenges are her thing and stamina is not an issue- she has a black belt in karate and was a Division 1 basketball player at Fordham University. Typically, she made sure that last fall’s transition of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week from the tents at Bryant Park to Damrosch Park went off without a single hitch. Now, about to enter her second year on the job, she’s widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the fashion industry, not far behind her former boss and mentor Anna Wintour.
These days, when I run into Stephanie, it’s usually at the John Barrett salon atop Bergdorf Goodman, where we both get our hair done. Recently, we made time to chat about everything from how she manages to stay so unflappable to her favorite restaurants in Manhattan.
You’ve been tasked with no less than elevating fashion to the same level as music, dance, and theater at Lincoln Center. What do you see as your greatest challenge?
There’s no question that in finding its home at Damrosch Park, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week has moved into the most highly regarded zip code for the arts in New York City! The design industry belongs in the company of the city’s finest arts-oriented institutions. As far as challenges go, last September, the logistical considerations alone required the attention of a small army, but the trials, whatever they may be, lose a little of their opacity once the seven-day extravaganza begins. The results “the beauty, the magic, the artistry” make it all worth it.
I’ve seen your extraordinary organizational abilities up close. What is your secret?
Micro-management, Post-its, and lots of folders!
In your role as Vogue’s special events director, you put on some of the most glamorous events in Manhattan. In your new role, you’re on everyone’s guest list. But I know you are a home body at heart. What’s your idea of a dream night?
There is no greater perfection than an evening spent hanging out with my kids, watching a movie, or just playing. No blockbuster film premiere, no stellar restaurant, no fabulous soiree can match their boundless creativity. I’m obviously completely unbiased. And if after the kids get generously and endlessly tucked into bed, Mom and Dad get to sneak out for a few hours, well I wouldn’t say no to that either.
When you do go out, do you have some favorite spots in the city?
The fashion industry is full of achingly chic downtown night owls and East Village artists, but I’m an unabashed uptown girl. I love Bar Italia and breakfast at Sant Ambroeus. When I do venture slightly farther south, I adore the delicious, straightforward approach at ABC Kitchen and the unbeatable sushi at Nobu.
You probably have more access to the collections than anyone in the biz (except maybe your old boss Anna). I know you have said you have to be “Switzerland” as far as playing favorites with designers, but are there some specific trends that caught your eye for fall? Any must-have pieces you want to name?
The parenting principle against playing favorites rings true both at home and at work. Still, though I might admire the collections of many designers, I would never attempt to incorporate everything that they send down the runways into my wardrobe! I’m devoutly loyal to certain silhouettes jackets enhanced by elaborate collars or hems, modified trousers like the ones that Derek Lam and Michael Kors subtly update season after season. The revival of the jumpsuit has overhauled my closet! I’ve assembled quite a collection of one-pieces in unfussy, easy fabrics. Where maxi dresses are concerned, I’ve become a T by Alexander Wang disciple. His recent CFDA award for womenswear proved it: the man can do no wrong.
The one area of fashion where you can really play is accessories and jewels. Given your family, you have plenty of the real thing (Stephanie’s grandfather was Harry Winston and her father Bruce is an owner of the company), but I see that when you chose some of your favorite items from Taigan, you included a vintage YSL red collar necklace from House of Lavande. What do you plan to pair that with this summer?
Unlike those who get to sneak away from the city for long stretches of July and August, I’m all but tethered to the George Washington Bridge. So I have to make my wardrobe functional within the realities of Manhattan summer weather. In the midst of New York’s humidity, I can’t bring myself to sport my usual armor of tailored trousers and sky-high heels, but I also refuse to completely abdicate style for summer’s sake. Breezy dresses have become an easy warm-weather uniform, and I appreciate the timelessness of the classic white shirt, especially when used as a canvas for accessories like the necklaces to shine.
I see you also chose a work-out jacket from Anatomie. What do you do these days to keep so amazingly fit?
David Kirsch is basically my demi-god, so if blindly following his every suggestion counts as “doing” than that pretty much covers it! I also have regular appointments with Dr. Oz Garcia, who monitors my nutrition based on his keen understanding of the way different foods affect the body. As for my workout wear tastes, my fitness uniform is variations on an unbeatable theme: Lululemon stretch pants paired with Anatomie jackets.
What is your cannot do without gadget?
My Blackberry. I’ve heard rumblings that the Blackberry is being rendered archaic by the admittedly sleeker iPhone, but I will be its most steadfast hold out. My whole office is addicted. I may as well have it surgically glued to my palm.
Is there a cannot-do-without accessory?
I’m a late adopter (see my iPhone reluctance above) so the concept of doing away with pen-and-paper is totally repellant to me. I couldn’t come to the office without my Hermes scheduler. I love being able to map out my days with it in a way that’s linear and tactile. Accomplishing tasks just isn’t as much fun unless you can whip out a serious looking red pen and cross them off your to-do list.
Finally, I know August is one of your absolute busiest months. But when you and your family do find a day or two to steal away, where do you head off to? Would you describe perfect summer day there?
The family house in the Hamptons is our retreat from Manhattan’s daily grind. Even when I have to take work out with me on the weekends, my internal metronome slows down to what I suspect is a “normal” pace. All week long I operate on high-frequency, picking up on the details and intricacies that others might dismiss. So if I get to zone out for a few hours with my kids and leave my Blackberry in another room, I’ve achieved nirvana.
Pictured above, from left: Stephanie Winston Wolkoff at a 2010 Mercedes Fashion Week event with Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester; Stephanie with former Vogue colleague Andre Leon Talley; in a white sleeveless shirt, much like the linen version from 100% Capri she chose as one of her Taigan Summer Finds; Stephanie with husband David Wolkoff during one of their rare glittery nights out.
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