Grazia Walker calls herself a citizen of the world. Born in Varese, Italy, near Lake Como, she came to the United States in 1964 on two scholarships to the Iowa State Teachers College. She was chosen based on her thesis on cellular respiration. Walker, 77, and her husband then traveled the world, teaching at U.S. military bases, from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Okinawa, Japan, where they spent 19 years. She moved to Charlotte in 2013. Teaching is her passion, and in addition to continuing to educate around the world, she teaches Italian in Charlotte.
Q. Was your mother fashionable?
A. She was a scientist. Her degree was in theoretical physics. She was very warm, very interested in people, very religious, and at the same time very elegant. She entertained a lot.
Q. What did she teach you about style?
Never miss a local story.
A. When I was 40, she told me after you are 40, you have to decide if you want a nice body or to keep a nice face.
Q. Why do you have to choose?
A. If you are slender, like I am, you have a lot of wrinkles. If you are plump, you don’t have the wrinkles, but you don’t have such a beautiful body.
Q. What did you choose?
A. I chose the body, because it was easier, because naturally I am thin. But I have a test. It’s the zipper test. When the zipper doesn’t go up as well as the day before, I am careful about what I eat.
Q. How did you develop your own style?
A. Very slowly. Before I was not as comfortable as I am now in my own clothes. In Japan and the military bases, I was wearing very common things.
Q. What’s the key for your style?
A. I have to love what I am wearing. And then I feel so comfortable that people get the energy from me. When I dress in the morning I think about one article that I have to feature. It could be a jacket, a skirt, a pin, it doesn’t matter. And then I get everything that fits with it.
Q. Who is your favorite designer and why?
A. Armani, because, first of all, it fits me: 38 is my size. It is classic, and it lasts forever. I buy it in an outlet near Venice. And it’s a real Armani Collezioni. Some outlets are not.
Q. What else do you buy in Italy?
A. Sergio Rossi shoes. But now I buy United Nude shoes online, and their number 37 fits me perfectly. Some of them are crazy.
Q. What would surprise people about your style choices?
A. That I always dress up. I do it for me. Because it makes me feel good. I like clothes, I buy them, I have them, so I wear them.
Q. What’s a fashion mistake many make?
A. It is boring to have shoes and bag the same color. That’s an Italian point of view. Also clothing that is too loose.
Q. What is always in your purse?
A. A billfold, Kleenexes and keys. No makeup.
Q. Tell me two staples of your wardrobe.
A. Abercrombie & Fitch blue jeans, and I wear them with boots or booties. And furs.
Q. What kind of furs do you have?
A. Mink, fox with leather. One mink coat was my mother’s. Furs last forever. Even though it is an animal, environmentally it is better than something that is made of synthetic. They last not very long, and impact the environment. The animals that are giving the fur are treated very well, and second, everything is used from the animal. I buy carcasses that are sent to the Carolina Biological Supply Company to use in biology dissection. Nothing is wasted.
Q. Has anyone given you a hard time when you wore a fur?
A. No, but I know some people are against it. But what about shoes and coats that are made of leather? We are omnivorous.
Q. What scent do you wear?
A. I wear Chanel Mademoiselle.
Q. What’s the last thing you bought?
A. I went to Saks Off 5th and I bought a gray cashmere cape. It was $69.
Q. What’s next on your list to buy?
A. I am looking for a silk white blouse because I had one from Armani and finally it gave up. I want a traditional classic one with a collar, and now I find only ones with no collar. I want a very soft silk.
Q. Tell me about a favorite piece of jewelry.
A. White pearls. I like pearls because they give light. And because I was in Japan for many years so I accumulated them. And if I wear a metal it has to be silver and sparkly. I like my jewelry close to my face. Because that is where I need the light, to cover my wrinkles in the neck.
Q. Of the places you’ve lived, where do you want to return?
A. Every place is special. Diego Garcia was special because I could pick up fishes with my hands, but I couldn’t shop because it is a very small atoll. I could go around in an hour. I like Milano because I could go shopping and see beautiful things. I feel like home in London; I love the high tea at The Ritz.
Q. What book could you recommend?
A. “The Edge of Eternity,” by Ken Follett. And I’m reading “Islamophobia,” edited by John Esposito, and “My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily,” written by Charlottean Gilda Morina Syverson.
Q. How has being a citizen of the world affected your style?
A. When I go to Italy, I don’t dress like an Italian. I like the simplicity I learned in Japan. I take the costume jewelry from America. I define Italians as lovers of beauty. But I don’t feel completely Italian any more. It is too much emphasis on beauty.
Q. What do you mean?
A. To have a beautiful car, the most beautiful table, silverware. They give so much importance to that. It has conditioned their life very much. I think I am a citizen of the world because everywhere I am, even in Saudi Arabia, I feel comfortable.