Local Style: Creative Chic Plays Well in D.C.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LESLIE KERNS

Leslie Kerns

Word of a major stylista in buttoned-up D.C. perked our ears right up. We had to see this uber chic (and totally successful) PR pro running around the city for ourselves. With a whole lot of sophistication and a splash of French influence, Leslie Kerns is living proof that fashion and professionalism can mix – no matter what your politics.

Rue La La: First of all, talk to us about your high-influence job.
Leslie: I run the communications division of a public affairs firm headquartered in D.C. We help progressive non-profits, campaigns, and other mission-focused organizations meet their advocacy, organizing, fundraising, and public relations needs. My firm is fairly entrepreneurial – which means “all hands on deck” is not just a phrase but a way of life. Running from client meeting to staff meeting to a new business pitch – sometimes on the other side of D.C., and sometimes by phone as I head to New York or elsewhere – means I have to move quickly and adapt to many different environments.

Rue La La: Politicos are famous for dressing to convey a message. What kind of vibe do you want your work clothes to exude?
Leslie: Creative yet in control.

Rue La La: We have to say, you’re incredibly busy, but still manage to look perfectly polished. Tell us your secret!
Leslie: Develop a style uniform. Know the cuts, pieces, and colors that work best for you and find the embellishments that reflect your personality. I tend to go for structured, fitted skirts with simple but feminine T-shirts or camis and blazers – generally in blue, black, gray, and white – with sexy high heels and big, droopy earrings. That’s my definition of creative yet in control.

Rue La La: We imagine that you have to do a lot of networking. How do you go from the workday, to say, a cocktail event or non-profit gala?
Leslie: Wearing a classic dress – like a DVF wrap dress with heels, which you can swap out for strappy sandals matched with a slightly darker eye depending on the event.

Rue La La: What’s something you’d never wear to work?
Leslie: Leggings. Maybe I’ve tried jean leggings with boots in the winter – but leggings with a dress or T-shirt (no matter how cute it is) leans too much toward “creative” and not enough toward “control.”

Rue La La: Some people say D.C. isn’t fashionable – oh the nerve!
Leslie: Oy vey – we just can’t shake that rep! True, D.C. has traditionally been known as a bit stale when it comes to style and fashion. Conservative too often wins over avant-garde. But, things are changing. D.C. is truly a cosmopolitan city, with its residents coming from all over the country and all over the world, and these different perspectives and points of view are starting to show in the cool and interesting neighborhoods as well as the cool and interesting styles these residents display on the streets and offices across the city. And of course, with Michelle Obama in the White House, D.C. style now has a great ambassador.

Rue La La: What’s challenging about dressing in D.C.?
Leslie: Knowing how far you can push your look, and how it will transcend the various environments your day might take you through. For example, a friend of mine – who runs the fundraising arm of a major association – recently thought it was an in-office day and so she threw on the jeggings, high boots, an edgy long cardigan and an arm-full of chunky bracelets, only to be called to a meeting with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee! She had no other choice but to rock it in front of Governor Tim Kaine.

Rue La La: Who are your style icons?
Leslie: Audrey Tautou, Diane von Furstenberg, and Cameron Diaz.

Rue La La: Cameron really knows how to do casual. What’s your go-to weekend look?
Leslie: Fitted jeans or jean leggings, feminine T-shirt or simple tank, blazer, and suede booties or flats. Oh, and big earrings – but I wear those to work as well.

Rue La La: One more thing on our minds. When you’re young but in a position of authority, should you try to look older?
Leslie: No! Look confident and speak with confidence and people will listen to you. That’s what matters most.

May 6, 2010