TALK TO ME: Nathalie Atkinson, part II

Illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.

This is the second part of The Style Notebook’s conversation with Nathalie Atkinson. You can read the first part here.

Do you have a favourite fashion memory?

“Age 3, before starting junior kindergarten, I had to get inoculations at the local health unit and be ‘evaluated for readiness’ for school. I was scared, but my parents promised me a treat if I could be a big girl and not cry–anything I wanted. I chose clothes (to which, when my mother tells the story, and that’s often, she now meaningfully adds: ‘Of course’). Not a tear was shed, and immediately afterwards we went straight to Kay’s Tot & Teen, the kids clothing store in town. I remember the outfit perfectly: an apple-green gingham sundress, smocked and covered in tiny appliqué red felt cherries, with a matching kerchief. Truth be told I somehow managed to finagle two dresses out of my mother that day! She still has them.”

Who are your favourite designers?

“You have to understand that A&E’s costume dramas and Elwy Yost’s Saturday Night at the Movies were my only connection to anything remotely fashion growing up, along with maybe Miss Piggy’s Muppet Show costumes. I still watch a lot of old movies and still with an eye on opening credits to see who the costume designer is, because I’m more interested what the studio costumer designer did than the actress who wore the clothes! (Well, most of the time.) Adrian, Travis Banton, Orry-Kelly, Jean Louis, Edith Head…and I love the Celine wardrobe Michael Kors did for Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair remake. But basically anything set in the 1930s that mixes what everyday people wore with the occasional glamorous setpiece and period production design—all the Agatha Christie TV movies, all the Mitford adaptations like Love in a Cold Climate, Busby Berkeley musicals, Bullets Over BroadwayBrideshead Revisited…

If you mean which favourite designers as in, who do I buy and wear? If I were wildly and crazily rich, I’d still be wearing Comrags, Véronique Miljkovitch, Mercy, Chie Mihara, John Fluevog, Dries van Noten, and messrs Gap and J.Crew. Though I’d certainly be adding a lot of vintage Fortuny and Elsa Schiaparelli to my closet besides.”

Who is your favourite person (other than a designer) in the fashion world?

“Lynn Yaeger. Before I had ever written a word about fashion I was reading her now-defunct Elements of Style column [in the Village Voice], because it’s not about fashion so much as just pure writing. It sparkles. Personality. Wit. Irreverence. Pre-internet, I’d get friends to bring back copies of it from New York and later, it became my weekly online fix. She could be writing about insect larvae or a play-by-play of a baseball game at a retirement home and it would still be perfection. Not to sound like a stalker or anything, but I am a crazy fangirl for Lynn Yaeger. She is my one and only Google Alert.

And Bill Cunningham, because he probably knows more about fashion than anyone, and because he constantly circles the bowl but never falls in.”

What is your least favourite question to ask? To be asked?

“Actually, it’s being constrained to not pose the question(s) I most want that’s the most frustrating, depending on the type of feature, the publication the article’s going to or what the context for the interview is (in the case of a major get, such as a star at film festival, a brand spokesperson, or what have you). But I try to ask what I’m curious about anyway, assignment be damned. It makes for a better story.

Lately, my least favourite thing is being asked for a detailed guide on how to become a successful professional fashion writer. Journalism is about ingenuity, and it’s kind of amazing how many people expect to be handed a road map. And if there is a road map could someone please send me a copy, so I can become one too?”

Any advice for budding fashion journalists?

“And…here’s my stock answer! Forget the word fashion and write about anything. Everything. All the time. It’s no different than other journalism and requires detective skills, intelligence, humour and a literary style. Being interested in fashion is pretty common these days; being able to research effectively, analyze and write compellingly, less so.”

Which literary hero do you most identify with?

“As a kid it was Beezus Quimby. Now that I’m all grown up? Sisyphus.”

In film, which character’s style do you most admire?

“The entire female cast of George Cukor’s Dinner At Eight, dressed by Adrian, blows my fashion mind.

And I don’t know if it’s aged well, but probably the other wardrobe I have the most affection for is the BBC series House of Eliott, about sisters running a fashion business in the 1920s. As a teen, I loved everything Beatrice and Evangeline wore. Luckily, I don’t have the garçonne figure for that kind of wardrobe myself or else that’s surely how I’d be vamping around—I’d be the eccentric poupée dressed as a flapper in a snowstorm. (See: Lynn Yaeger.)”

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

“That I wasted serious time at the arcade and playing Dungeons & Dragons as a teen? That I’m from Timmins, and that, yes, I do happen to like some of Shania Twain’s music, unironically thankyouverymuch? That I’ve been watching The Young & The Restless my entire life, now tongue firmly planted in cheek, but that I still rarely miss an episode?”

Louise Lombard as Evangeline (“Evie”) in House of Eliott.

Jack and Phyllis from The Young and the Restless.

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