In the early ‘90s, Stephanie Seymour was rock royalty. As the girlfriend of Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose and an already established model with more than a few magazine covers and campaigns to her name, Seymour championed the mini-skirts, shredded jeans, lace bustiers, and choker necklaces that defined the era. But somewhere in the middle of the decade, she had a sartorial epiphany. “I just did, like, a 180. I just wanted to transform,” the face of Estée Lauder’s Re-Nutriv Ultimate Diamond Sculpting/Refinishing Dual Infusion serum recalls of what initially attracted her to becoming a collector of haute couture made-to-measure dresses. “It was after my rock n’ roll stage, my life was changing and it just felt so good to put on these dresses, with these little waists, and flared skirts, and feminine necklines. It just made me feel so ladylike,” she says.
What started out as a fascination with 1950s garments from designers like Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga turned into an obsession. “I think I have about 250 pieces now,” Seymour admits of the contents of her custom-built couture closet in Greenwich, Connecticut that boasts choice frocks from fashion legends like Madeleine Vionnet, Yves Saint Laurent, André Courrèges, Pierre Cardin and Azzedine Alaïa, among others. “I became interested in anything that I felt like was a great design — and had a certain transcendent purity to it, so that I could wear something that was 50 years old and people wouldn’t even know that it was from 1960,” she elaborates of her keen eye.
It’s important to have your signature look as a woman.
To celebrate the release of Estée Lauder’s new Re-Nutriv Ultimate Diamond Sculpting/Refinishing Dual Infusion serum, formulated with incredibly rare and precious ingredients, including Black Diamond Truffle Extract, The Estee Stories caught up with Seymour to discuss why seeking out the best of the best has its benefits.
EL: How did you start collecting couture in the first place?
SS: I was feeling kind of anti-fashion from working in the business for so long, so I was very jeans and a T-shirt at the time. I just started feeling like everybody was dressing the same and there was nothing original out there. I had just met my husband [Peter Brandt] and we were in Paris and he said, “You know what we should do? We’re in Paris, there were all these great women who had unbelievable haute couture collections, and there must be dealers here.” That’s really how it all started. I got really into it — just learning about the history of fashion, how the pieces are sewn, the labels, the different fabrics, the designers and their histories. It opened up a whole new world for me.
EL: Do you remember the first piece that you bought on that trip?
SS: Yes, I do. I bought a beautiful 1955 Christian Dior dress just after his “New Look” period — you know, with the pinched-in waist. I actually wore it to the Dior exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) several years ago. It’s a really stand-out piece.
EL: Do you wear all of the garments that you collect, or are a lot of them just art pieces meant for looking at?
SS: I made the mistake of only buying what I would wear because I wanted to experience it. I didn’t want to just buy things because part of my understanding of fashion was having that transformation that you go through when you put a garment on — how it changes you. The dress I wore to the Met Gala this past year was a very important Balenciaga dress from my collection. But now that my collection is much bigger, there are a lot of pieces that I wish I would have bought!
EL: Do you have a favorite piece from your coffers?
SS: My favorite dress is a 1954 Christian Dior dress that goes down a little bit past the knee. It’s strapless and it has a big bow on the hip. The color is so beautiful — it’s like a grayish kind of background and then it has velvet embroidery all over it in red and gray. It is just the most feminine, sexy, classic dress. I’ve worn it so many times, I know that everybody recognizes it. But I don’t care. I just keep wearing it!.
EL: How do you store fragile dresses like this to make sure they stay as preserved as possible?
SS: I actually had a special closet built above my dressing room. There is some hanging space, but it’s mostly drawers because you want to keep everything in either boxes, or in acid-free tissue. It’s all climate controlled, of course, and all of the drawers are glass and there’s space on each side for a picture so I can see what’s inside.
EL: What is it about couture that compels you more than, say, ready-to-wear fashion?
SS: It’s a lot about the craftsmanship, the hand stitching. But honestly, if you find a designer that fits you well, ready-to-wear can feel like it’s made just for you. For me, Azzedine Alaïa’s ready-to-wear is like couture on me: I know my size. I never have to alter anything, it’s almost like it was made with my measurements. I believe you have to figure out what works for your body, what cuts look nice on you and stick to that. It’s important to have your signature look as a woman.
EL: How would you describe your signature look?
SS: Well, I’m an Alaïa girl and I love really strong Art Deco jewelry, which works with Alaïa because they both have a sort of purity to them.
EL: What about your signature beauty look?
SS: My hair is my thing — and I would never cut it! You’re never going to see me with a pixie cut. I always wear blush, mascara, lip gloss, and a little bit of eyebrow pencil, and concealer. That’s my everyday look.
EL: You’ve spent years in the makeup artist chair, surrounded by some of the biggest names in the beauty industry. What’s the best beauty tip you’ve ever given or received
SS: Don’t overtweeze your eyebrows! And if you don’t have the self-control not to over-tweeze, have someone else groom them. A great brow shape just frames your whole face and that’s really important.