Some people are born with style in their blood. Others find it overwhelming. Even with a full closet, I can tell you that most women on most days are confounded with what to wear. When we think of style, we often find ourselves confused and tend to go overboard with our imaginations. But style can be simple, understated and very manageable. And that is where Priya Virmani comes in. With her natural instincts and refined skills, she steps in exactly at the point when we are ready to give up. Let’s find out more about this amazing fashion stylist, based in Short Hills, NJ.
AM: Hi Priya, and welcome to The Woman Inc. Let’s start with your background. Tell us a bit about your previous avatar!
PV: Hi Anu, thanks for this interview. Sure, my academic and work background is in Business and Finance. I did my MBA in Marketing and Product Development from Cleveland and then worked in banking in New York City for a very long time, almost 12 years. This is what I would have perhaps done forever, but destiny had other plans, as they say. I found myself moving to Paris, France as part of my husband’s career path.
AM: That sounds terribly exciting! What was the transition like?
PV: Though that sounds so exciting in theory, the reality is that I was leaving behind a job I loved, and going to a foreign country, with hardly anyone I knew, and with no idea of how to speak the language etc. I had taken a leave of absence from work, not knowing when I would return. We ended up spending 5 years in Paris, and meanwhile back home, the financial crisis hit, and I had to be let go. Initially, I was adamant that I had to work in Paris, but no company wanted to convert my immigration status to a working visa, given that I was an expat and could leave anytime. The other thing was that in France, they tend to use debit cards and withdraw directly out of the checking account, in direct contrast to the U.S. where credit cards are more popular. So, I found myself not knowing where to use my expertise.
AM: So, what did you end up doing then, to spend your time?
PV: I decided to spend some time at home. My daughter was then, only 3 months old. Soon after, I noticed that there weren’t enough Indian cuisine caterers and restaurants in Paris. I first started the catering business for dinner and then took it a step further and used my skills to create team building activities for employees, around cooking together. This was well received as foreign companies in Paris wanted team building in English and not French.
AM: How then, the transition to being a fashion stylist? I understand you started this while in Paris itself?
PV: I hosted a few Indian designers in my home while we lived in Paris. Styling has been in my blood and after all my attempts to get back into banking failed I started helping the Indian designers. I hosted their trunk shows in our home. This was a great way to network for me as well. Both my businesses were linked by my cultural heritage! My friends in Paris noticed that I had a talent and would work with me informally. I never realized how much this was helping me refine my styling process.
AM: How did you get started with this venture?
PV: I decided that I wanted to bring the Indian culture into Paris. I already had connections with designers in Delhi. So there were essentially no overhead costs.
AM: How did living abroad in Paris influence you?
PV: Comparing styles between NYC and Paris, my observation was that understated could also be beautiful. It was not about the brand name. My French friends were beautiful not because of the brand or anything gaudy, but because of who they were. They preferred muted colors and wore it with a quiet confidence – the end result looked very chic. Also, as a rule, Parisians do not discuss money or brands, it is an assumed and unspoken culture. I began to appreciate the beauty of style. I was in my early 30s and I came from a country where color and gold were louder than your personality. Maturity and France altered my aesthetic dramatically.
AM: Where do you work from, and what is your modus operandi?
PV: I have a studio at home, and I run everything out of my home office. Other than that, I guess you could say the Short Hills Mall is my office! It all depends on the client’s needs and budget. I usually pre-shop for them, select everything they need and put outfits together. From there on, it’s a lot of running back and forth between the shop and the fitting room until we get it all right.
AM: How would you describe yourself in a few sentences?
PV: I am a very positive person, and I like to surround myself with beauty – a very subjective word – because that is what inspires me. Creativity challenges me – how would I make someone look and feel good with what they have – this is what I aim for. I am also very outgoing, kind and compassionate. There is a spiritual side to me as well – I feel that in a day, if I have exhibited one act of kindness, or one thought, that makes me feel good.
AM: Who is/was your mentor and why?
PV: The one person who influenced me in a big way is my father. He is an extremely tough and very accomplished man. I have seen the number of chances he has taken, and his pursuit of hard work and excellence and that has really motivated me to give 200% of myself too in what I do. Everyone has the passion and the discipline to do what they are good at, but it depends on how well you channel it. And this is what being his daughter has taught me.
AM: Who are your typical clientele?
PV: I really like to help executive moms find their style. These ladies are managing a home, family and a career and what they really want is time in their life to look and feel their best. I work with these ladies to do a full closet assessment, a shop trip and then I create a look-book for them. This is essentially a book of 30 fully styled looks that they can tap into anytime for style inspiration. All the pieces are stuff they own. I help these ladies by also shopping online for them and occasionally delivering pieces they need right to their doorstep. I have found that these moms often hire me for their husbands and college aged kids who are entering the workforce. My hope is that my client looks and feels their best not just for work but also off duty nights out and weekends.
I have had the good fortune of meeting a variety of women, with whom I am now on a texting basis and have moved on from being a stylist to a good friend. When you spend 5 hours with a client, between closet and fitting room, that gives you enough bonding time!
AM: What causes do you believe in, and volunteer for?
PV: I have worked with Dress for Success as a volunteer, and really enjoyed working with such a reputed organization. There is this organization called SEEDS which brings in kids from charter and inner-city schools and helps them apply for private schools. They give them essay writing techniques, interview coaching, test coaching and help their families to apply to schools all over NJ. I have helped SEEDS interview potential families who want a better life for their kids, and organized care packages for these kids who go away to schools and don’t live with their families.
On that same note, since I strongly believe in education for girls, I have donated to Girls Rising, an organization in India which has a chapter here. It helps empower girls into finishing their education.
AM: Who are your favorite designers and why?
PV: I am very much into French designers, particularly Isabel Marant for her understated elegance. I like Stella McCartney for her no-cruelty, no-leather policy and her campaign to reduce waste in the fashion world by pairing with TheRealReal, a consignment store. Larger brands I like are Maje and Sandro.
AM: What is your opinion on fur in the fashion industry?
PV: I don’t believe in exotic skins or furs such as mink.
AM: How do you stay updated on trends in this ever-changing world of fashion?
PV: I soak in information from wherever I can. Social media has changed everyone’s method of news-gathering, so I rely a lot on those channels too. I follow the Fashion weeks – New York, Paris, Milan, London. I don’t particularly wait for a magazine to update myself. Instagram stories and videos are a great way to keep in touch with changing styles.
AM: How would you describe your personal style?
PV: I really can go very street in my dressing which would mean cool sneakers with a hoodie and ripped jeans or I can go classic French chic with a tailored blazer and understated jewelry. The underlying tone is uniqueness and comfort. I like to feel confident in my clothes and on different days that means different looks.
AM: Finally, what are your future plans?
PV: My website was launched in the Fall of 2016. I am just warming up but 2018 is hopefully the year where I make it. I’d like to step up, get more clients, do more media promos and events. I am open to the idea of presenting either on TV, or as part of a speaking arrangement. I want to present at a conference for working moms. I’ve had women seek me out as part of a mentorship program, and I would love to be a mentor to someone just starting out. I was a student at the paid stylist and highly recommend it for anybody trying to formalize their styling career.
Thank you so much Priya for making the time for The Woman Inc.! We wish you all the best in your styling career!
You can find more about her services and get connected to Priya at Privée by Priya.