Style

‘When you have style, you can go anywhere’

Sequined MC Hammer pants? Mais oui. ‘I decided I was too old, and I’m plus size, but guess what? I’ll wear them day to night. It’s a Michael Kors harem pant that I got at Marshalls... Now I wish I had bought two.’
Sequined MC Hammer pants? Mais oui. ‘I decided I was too old, and I’m plus size, but guess what? I’ll wear them day to night. It’s a Michael Kors harem pant that I got at Marshalls... Now I wish I had bought two.’ dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

“I am a lifestyle person,” says Kimsioux Montgomery. Here’s a resume sampler: She worked with major luxury retailers for 20 years. She founded International Fashion Stylists Association, a membership-based organization. She and her husband, Eric, own the tailored clothing business Albert & Hall Custom Clothiers. She is a stylist to executives and gives speeches about fashion to college students. A Durham native, Montgomery earned her B.S. from N.C. A&T State University.

Q. What do you tell college kids about fashion?

A. Kids coming out of college don’t have a lot of money. I say to them, “Do you want to know how to increase your net worth by 10 percent? It’s by how you dress.” I talk about style. Because when you have style you can go anywhere in the country.

Q. What’s the difference between fashion and style?

A. Fashion is what you see when you pick up a magazine. It’s trends, and what’s popular. Style is when you put on layer after layer almost to a point where you get lost, but you know exactly when to stop, and voila, you have this look, and it’s perfect. And it may not make sense, but it’s a layer of your experience, the food you eat, the people you know.

Q. How was your sense of style born?

A. I grew up in the dressing room of Montaldo’s. My mom shopped exclusively at Montaldo’s in Durham at South Square mall. Ms. Penley was her salesperson. I remember her telling my mom, “You have champagne tastes.”

Q. What clothes do you remember from the store?

A. I remember when every St. John Knit had a unique belt, with a geometric shape. And I remember there was a gentleman at Montaldo’s at the Forum in Greensboro. He cherry-picked every shoe in that store.

Q. What style advice did your mom give you?

A. It was really through style osmosis. I just watched what she did. She wore red lipstick every day, she wore St. John jackets when they were only $400. She wore 4-inch heels. She walked her own beat.

Q. What style did you sport in college?

A. When I meet people, I like them to feel my energy, and I did it with my clothing. I wore red cowboy boots, and I had a red suit for business class presentation, with pink rose buttons, and the suit was tailored with mini-pleats and it had three-quarter-length sleeves. I remember shopping at Victoria’s Secret and I got a black and white polka dot jumpsuit. It was something to wear around the house, it was sleeveless, and I wore it to class.

Q. What’s your shopping strategy?

A. You can’t find a showstopper at the last minute. You have to shop throughout the years. Let’s say I have a major event: I don’t worry about it. I’ve already got style. So I build a look in my head, and 24 hours before the event I’ll throw the look together.

Q. How does your style manifest itself?

A. I can tell a story with style. That’s the talent that I have, and that’s why people call me.

Q. What role does vintage play in your wardrobe?

A. A major one now. When I was young I had nothing to do with it. As my style evolved, I started looking at how things are made, and you think Truman Capote at the Black and White Ball, and the French women and their vintage stores. I started going to antique stores, and looked at the quality; that’s what attracted me to true vintage.

Q. What’s a recent vintage purchase?

A. Huge jumbo salt and pepper shakers with silver twisty tops made from thick, heavy, yellow glass.

Q. What do you collect?

A. Miriam Haskell pieces, broaches, I love my vintage purses. My “it” bag is not the latest Celine, it’s this pristine beaded bag from the ’40s from a little shop, Antiques on Main, in Waxhaw.

Q. Where do you find the best vintage?

A. The best dealers are from Florida, and I say that because most of the people from up north retire to Florida, and they dump stuff. This is my own speculation.

Q. Tell me what modern-day designers you enjoy.

A. Sarah Burton, at Alexander McQueen. She is fierce. When asked her approach to design, she says, “I always sit down with a stylist, and we bounce ideas around,” and as a result, she has a fearless approach to style. I get inspiration from Stéphane Rolland, known for gowns. In his last show, he placed an enormous bow on an angle on the back of a dress.

Q. What should a woman never wear?

A. I’m passionate when I say there are no rules in fashion. (So) I can only speak for myself: I won’t wear nude pantyhose. I wear opaques, because they are stylish and chic.

Q. Tell me about your shoes.

A. When my husband ran for the office of Superior Court Judge, we were canvassing and walking the parades. I didn’t want to be completely boring, so I ordered this Olo sneaker, shoe, because I always wear heels and I wanted to make a statement.

Q. How do you and your husband affect each other’s styles?

A. We refer to him as a fashion historian. But I tell him he should rename the law firm “Where we’ll file a suit, or make a suit.”

Q. What’s your uniform?

A. My signature lipstick is red. I have a 7- and a 9-year-old. I wear leggings and a long top, like a white cotton shirt, or some kind of maxi dress, because I am running my kids around.

Q. What advice can you give to women?

A. Stop following trends and have absolute belief in your style ability. When you wear something, wear it. Don’t worry about it, don’t pick at the waist, don’t pull at the leg: Wear it.

Q. If I gave you a black pencil skirt, tell me the look you'd strive to achieve.

A. I would layer that skirt and I would do ruffles. I would do a bunch of jewelry, and I’d have a killer high heel. Vince Camuto has the best pencil skirts for $69. They hit you right at the knee like they are supposed to. The silhouette curves your body.

Q. What are three unusual things in your purse?

A. A unique tube of Guerlain red lipstick with a mirror attached to it. I always keep Kiehl’s Crème de Corps body lotion, and my purse is a jewelry chest.

Q. Do you have any particular fashion quirks?

A. The biggest is that, as a stylist, I have to turn your “nos” into “yeses.” I cannot stand it when people don’t try. They want me to change their look but they revert to the old. I like people who are not afraid of style.

Q. Any color you don’t do?

A. I don’t do brown unless it’s a mink.

Q. Who is your muse?

A. My muse is New York City; my muse is Paris, France; my muse is my mother; my muse is me.

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