Grazell Howard is a third-generation Northerner, raised in Cambria Heights in Queens, N.Y., and happily settled in Charlotte. “Living here has afforded me the opportunity to be a serial entrepreneur, and I’m proud of how Charlotte continues to grow,” she says. She received her law degree from N.C. Central University and owns the executive coaching firm King & Kairos. She is the first woman to serve as chair of The Black AIDS Institute, based in Los Angeles, and serves on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force.
Q. What’s the first piece of clothing you remember choosing yourself?
A. My communion dress. My mom always gave me choices, which contributed to my style being confident and assured. She’d bring home two dresses and say ‘Which one do you want?’
Q. How did your parents affect your style?
A. My mom still affects my style because she is elegant and simple. She loves bold statement pieces. I’m a conglomerate of always-trending classic and sophisticated, but my world travel and love of art allow me to have these eclectic things. She approved this dress. And my dad was a fabulous dresser.
Q. How did New York affect your style?
A. I grew up in the ’70s and in the epicenter of fashion. I attended high school directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I traveled every day down Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.
Q. Who makes your best-dressed list in Charlotte?
A. The best-dressed man in Charlotte is Bruce Julian, and his clothing store is the ultimate store for men to shop, and for women to shop for their men. The best dressed woman in town is Jean Webber.
Q. Would anything surprise people about your style choices?
A. I’d like to think so. I love Old Navy T-shirts. I have like 20 of the little white ones.
Q. What’s your theme?
A. I’m always under construction. You know those signboards people used to wear? One side of mine would read ‘will work for shoes,’ and the other would read ‘will work for art.’
Q. How does your sense of style help you professionally?
A. It is current, approachable and assured. I confidently move through a space and am able to be approachable and adaptable in that space. No two days are the same, and my clients have varied expectations. I need to help them fulfill those visions and strategies. My style is very versatile and fluid.
Q. Do you have a favorite dress designer?
A. My current oldest newest designer is Whitney Mero of Onion. My quintessential designer I love is Carolina Herrera. She is able to transcend Paris and the Americas in a feminine and confident and assured look. I’m totally obsessed with this French shoemaker, Laurence Dacade.
Q. How did you come to fall in love with Paris?
A. My mom and I went to Paris in the late ’80s. As my work continued to grow, I sought a place to go to Paris alone. And then I developed a whole group of friends in Paris, and that led to spending summers in Switzerland, and hanging out in Italy. Now Paris is 60 percent unplugged time, 40 percent work.
Q. What do you look for in shoes?
A. Comfort. I will not wear a pair of shoes that hurt my feet. I am a native New Yorker. I purchase a considerable number of shoes at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. I shop at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. My brands are Manolo Blahnik, Christian Dior, some Prada, some Chanel and Marni shoes.
Q. You have fabulous jewelry!
A. I love jewelry. I was born in a family who believed in jewelry. I had earrings before I was born. My great grandmother pierced my ears at her house when I was 2 weeks old. I have my cross from when I was a baby. I am a bauble girl. My best friend is the same way. I have had fine jewelry all my life.
Q. How did you develop your own taste?
A. By appreciating the designs of artisans. The first artistic piece came from Brazil. This citrine ring is a piece I bought for myself for my 35th birthday. I developed style by looking and admiring. All my mentors are very stylish and I watch how they were OK with their style, whether it was Afro-centric or prissy.
Q. Your Karen Roache jewelry is exquisite.
A. I love the way Karen takes the traditional precious stones and integrates them with unique pieces. Who would put Aurora crystals with black coral? My pyrite choker is a like a superwoman thing. When you put it on you get energy.
Q. Tell me about a prized possession.
A. This amulet, made from topaz with filigree on the side. You take your favorite perfume and put it in here. In my family every woman had one on their dresser, so to me it was the symbol of being a woman. Because being a woman is a combination of being a lady, feminine, and responsible, and juggling how you balance all three of them.
Q. What scent do you wear?
A. I never tell. I layer. My base fragrances are Hermes Calèche, Annick Goutal, and the third is Bulgari. I layer them with any of the Bond No. 9s. If you tell me I smell good that’s the best compliment anyone can pay me.
Q. Tell me about your purse.
A. It was a great find. I love that Fendi baguette because it goes from summer to spring to fall.
Q. What do you require in jeans?
A. All jeans should be sprayed on tight. They should be like a second skin. I love denim and blue jeans because they are true Americana. You can dress them up and you can dress them down but they are American through and through.
Q. Do you have any particular fashion quirks?
A. For my height I like long things. I didn’t know I was short until I turned 40. I dress like I am taller than I am. I love cowboy boots. Mine are Old Gringo. People are shocked that I wear cowboy boots and crazy amazing cowboy buckles.
Q. What’s your best bargain?
A. My best bargain lately were my Sergio Rossi biker boots. I got them in Las Vegas at Saks for 70 percent off.
Q. Name an artist whose work you would love to own.
A. Her name is Mickalene Thomas. Her work is in rhinestones. She received (an) artist’s residency at Giverny. I discovered her work in New York and I was vacationing at Tybee Island, Georgia, and I always visit the Jepsom Center in Savannah. Much to my delight, they had the Mickalene Thomas at Giverny and I have the whole exhibition on my phone.
Q. Who is your muse?
A. My mom, Rita Howard. She is the smartest woman I know – courageous, funny, naughty – and showed me how irrespective of any circumstance in life you can address it gracefully.
Q. What do you hope you’ve taken from her?
A. Her ability to problem-solve, to have absolute unconditional compassion for anyone and everyone, to never take myself so seriously and to remain generous of spirit.