For some, properly styling an outfit requires tremendous focus and planning. For Lori Goldstein, “style is instinct.” In her own words, she is more than just a fashion stylist. The visionary behind some of the iconic images of our day, Goldstein describes herself as a “conjurer of fantasy,” whose work entails “taking an opportunity and making sure it comes out perfect, whatever potions she has to mix.”
Over an almost thirty-year career, she has succeeding in doing that and more. Goldstein is one of the most widely sought-after stylists in the industry and has worked with the world’s top photographers including Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, and Mario Testino to create picture-perfect concoctions of style and art.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Goldstein found her calling on a whim. While working as a special education teacher, Goldstein began testing out the fashion waters. “I had tried a lot of different things, and I just had heard about this job and I thought, “I’m going to be a stylist!” she said. “I literally started testing, and I put this book together and the next thing I know, I was working with great photographers and doing this job.”
She is humble; her work is far more than simply “doing.” As photographer Steven Meisel said, “Lori works like a painter, mixing colors and textures. And like a true artist, she sees it immediately.” It is that keen eye and innate understanding of styling that has led Goldstein to create some of the most important looks in fashion and entertainment history. But when she conceived of some of these legendary looks—a pregnant and strikingly-nude Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 or a veiled Madonna for the “Take a Bow” music video—Goldstein was unaware of their effect. “I knew I was working with legendary people. I knew there were powerful things happening…it was definitely a defining moment. But did I know that was happening then? No, I didn’t,” said Goldstein.
While she has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of models and celebrities including Gisele Bündchen, Michael Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Williams, and Ryan Gosling, for Goldstein, it’s not about styling people, it’s all about the pieces she gets to work with. “Every season, it’s more like, do I get to shoot that Chanel backpack this season? You better get that backpack for me. It’s more about items and clothes that I’m obsessed with. I need that rainbow Prada coat! I have to shoot that. That’s more how I think, rather than who [I get to shoot],” she said.
Her new book, Style is Instinct, traces her work from the very beginning of her career to the modern day. Looking back over the years, Goldstein is nostalgic for the way things were. When she first started out, Goldstein saw the fashion industry as “a divine circus, and it was everything, and it was heaven.” Though she believes part of its charm has been lost to a greater focus on business and money making, she can continue “without feeling the angst or disappointment” because she sees herself as “an outsider” who has and will always do what she’s wanted to do. “I have the opportunity of going in and out of things that still stimulate me,” she said.
It is her ability to evolve her role in the fashion industry—from collaborations with designers like Donatella Versace and Vera Wang and major advertising campaigns for The Gap and American Express to an exclusive collection for QVC and a position as fashion editor-at-large for ELLE Magazine—that allows Goldstein to maintain a fresh outlook as a stylist. A forward-thinker and perennial rule-breaker, her biggest fear is that the fashion industry is becoming increasingly “sterile, safe, and fearful.” As stylists, “we want to make sure it becomes more than that,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, playing it safe has never been an option for Goldstein. Similar to the controversial ELLE Magazine cover featuring Melissa McCarthy in an oversized coat, Goldstein did a portrait of the actress for W Magazine in 2012 wearing lingerie. “It was very glamorous and got bad press and now she’s in a coat, and it’s bad press?” she asked. “They were both absolutely gorgeous pictures and people need to stop making stuff up. It’s just talk for talk sake. They don’t even know what they’re talking about,” she said.
As for her own outfit styling? It is a more spontaneous process. Ironically, the legendary stylist hardly gives it any thought. “Five minutes. I don’t plan. I never plan an outfit. I kind of have this half-uniform of my black pants and black Rick Owens t-shirts and then whatever goes on top with that, who knows,” Goldstein said.