Sherrie Mathieson – Steal This Style

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Steal This Style: Moms and Daughters Swap Wardrobe Secrets takes a fresh and thoughtful approach to fashion by describing in detail the styles and items that real mothers, of all backgrounds and sizes, and their grown daughters should and shouldn’t share. The book illustrates what so many women desire—a combination of high-end style with lasting value. The concept of cross-generational dressing offers a fun bonding experience. The book provides moms with appropriate but more youthful looks and their daughters with style inheritances they can finally be proud of. Women will discover remedies for common fashion mishaps and timely advice, such as the key classically oriented wardrobe pieces women should invest in for the future. I share subtle tricks to hide your age and provide ways that you can hone your taste to have enviable style that expresses who you are—today!

I believe that while fashion is fleeting, great style is timeless. My book is all about what’s truly modern yet ageless.

Tell us something about yourself.

Originally, living in NYC, I aspired to be a portrait painter. My fine arts education began at the HS of Music &Art and then The Cooper Union. But fashion was always a huge interest, and its pull swayed me to attend Parsons School of Design. Soon I realized that both worlds polarized my talents and proclivities and it seemed that perhaps costume design would fuse my love of both worlds. After attending NYU and Lester Polakov Studio to study costume design– I prepared for union entry.I was accepted as a costume designer by United Scenic Artists, local 829 (a “must” to work professionally in the US), at the age of 23. For my first feature, “Godspell” I was awarded the “Young New York Film Critics Award for Best Costume Designer.” I continued to work in film, TV, MTV, commercials, industrials, and fashion print styling for 28 years.*

Eventually, my husband and I decided to live out west (we loved the weather and the desert). We moved to Tucson and later to Scottsdale, AZ. It was there that I began to work privately with individuals as a wardrobe, style consultant. Today I have a growing and diverse clientele of all ages, backgrounds, lifestyles and professions for whom I consult on all matters of personal style.
It was the men and women who were beginning to have concerns about the aging process and how it translated to their appearance that called my attention to a void in good expert advice and the inconsistency in the marketplace. I was a pioneer with my book “Forever Cool,” (Clarkson- Potter, 2007) and I dedicate much time to seminars on the subject of ageless, youthful and modern style for boomers and the unique challenges they face. My book “Steal This Style” was published by Clarkson- Potter, April 14,2009.

*Sherrie has costumed and styled for roles, Academy Award-winning actors, sports figures, comedians, rock stars, dancers, industry leaders—and worked with top directors in the film industry.

What inspired you to write this book?

One day I walked into a coffee shop and noticed a mother and daughter sitting together. In observing them I instantly realized how the mother, though in good shape, aged herself by her personal style–and how her style undeniably underlined that she was the mom. Via my private consultations, seminars and my own aging process– I noted the extreme need for good advice on what’s truly appropriate yet hip, youthful and modern at every age.

How did you choose the title?

I originally wanted the name “Forever Cool Mothers and Daughters” because my first book “Forever Cool” became my “brand” as well. However my editors at Random House were drawn to the catchy phrase “Steal This” that I used beneath every photo for a last tip. They won the decision as I deferred to their wide experience.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

The biggest obstacle I had with my first book “Forever Cool” (which led to “Steal This Style”) was the insistence of agents and others I sought opinions from– that I have a celebrity involved. Not only did they deem the subject questionably interesting but they felt boomers are a poor audience for a style book. My extensive background as a film and TV costume designer /stylist only excited them from the vantage of celebrity involvement–not in terms of my unique experience and knowledge of my subject matter.

After trying for over a year to interest an agent and get a deal I decided that the self publishing route was worth my effort. I put my time and “my money where my mouth is” as they say. I completely believed in my message. Especially as a philosophy minus the celebrity adjunct which to me was well presented already as an hilarious “Geico” commercial. It is, and always was my opinion that celebrities by virtue of their celebrity alone– are not a guide to great style–and the public has not gained from that assumption.

Fast-forward 2 years later–a new book was proposed to me by Random House because they loved “Forever Cool” and it already enjoyed success thanks to publicity I hired –and my own dedication.They also opted to republish “Forever Cool” in 2007 with a new cover. As I described–it was originally self- published by me (Thompson Peak Publishing) in 2006– as an ambitious, expensive to do–4-color book. The prospect of a top publisher at least helping to get the book printed and distributed was something I thought (and my new literary agent) worth the new book effort.

The new mother/ daughter book was extremely difficult in the sense that once again I had to accomplish the task alone as I had “Forever Cool” in AZ.

Just having moved to a new area in CT after living out west for 16 years made it especially daunting. Almost immediately I had to find “real” people in my rural NYC metro area– boomer mothers over age 46, and daughters over 20. I placed local paper ads, used word-of-mouth, and tapped unknown ladies on the shoulder. Eventually I interviewed over 100 women. I needed diversity– physically (ages, figures, racial ) background-wise, and personality-wise —in my models.The standard was set in “Forever Cool” (with real men and women). I also needed a good photographer who had a studio. I hired one– about 45 minutes from my home.The models continued to be hard to find ( they needed to qualify and be both agreeable and available!). I booked these wonderful volunteers as my calendar for my photo shoots moved on. Eventually I settled on 20 pairs of mothers and daughters- and one 86 year old grandmother. It took 8 months to shoot and gather 12 (“Never Cool” and “Forever Cool” ) outfits for each session. Each outfit that I chose (there was no 2nd opinion to summon or confer with) had to qualify as intrinsically classic, appropriate, very stylish and modern if I termed it “Forever Cool.” Each very different example of “Never Cool” had to be obvious as a “before” yet not over-the-top.

A big problem all along was that I kept trying but couldn’t find a decent assistant . I enlisted my husband to help me every weekend with the sheer manual labor involved. It was a gargantuan task –interviews, fittings, shopping with my “models” in tow, shooting then returning what was not bought– on a constant, relentless schedule.

Eventually I needed to begin the actual writing (the publishers gave me 1 year to hand in my book). With Karen Kelly’s assist in sorting, editing and also skilled writing input– the book was in on time.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I never imagined I’d write a book. I was a costume designer/stylist turned style consultant. I was totally visual in my former venues of communication.

But I was bursting with information I thought needed to be disseminated to the average person.
I wanted to have a “voice” and was told that in order to achieve credibility and a platform– books are an excellent start.

Thankfully I could express myself in writing fairly well–and with humor. Still, I hired professionals to help me perfect that aspect of my books.

I never knew that I would become a pioneer with this venture. Many other books on style for the aging population seemed to follow.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

It still helps enormously to be a celebrity at the start –when attempting a non-fiction book. Fiction has an even playing field since being well-known is not a prerequisite– and talent reaps reward.
I learned that non-fiction books are driven by publicity. It’s all about the “life-line” of publicity.
Publicity is incredibly expensive–unless you manage it yourself which is almost impossible on a high national exposure level.

With the exception of a nominal effort at the start –even having a high profile publisher as I had –you are basically left to your own devices.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

My readers have asked for more books–that has been my sole, and biggest reward.

But weighing all that it took–perhaps I would not have done it.

I would be more hesitant today to become a “Don Quixote.”..especially in the changed economy.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

I would look into self publishing any fiction book. You end up doing most of your publicity anyway–so why not enjoy greater profits?

There are excellent printers in Asia that are much less costly than the US or Canada selection.
If you self publish be very cautious what distribution center you hire for your books and ask many “what if” questions (unless you do the task yourself which means storage for your books, and time is consuming).

If you do sign with a publisher, don’t assume a large high -profile one (though certainly flattering) is necessarily better than a smaller one. They may have more time and attention for you.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

I love my readers who “get it!”

That somewhat tasteful person already—who is curious and interested enough to reassess, grow and improve. It’s a way of life for my reader to be open to modernity and putting high value on aesthetics.

She or he is ageless in that their self image is ageless.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

My website www.sherriemathieson.com