How Can I Dress Like a Designer?

How can I dress like a designer? It’s not that I want to fool the world into thinking I run a fashion brand, but I am always struck by the fact that they never look as though they are trying too hard but they always look elegant: cool but functional. What do they pick for themselves? — Ann, Oak Park, Ill.

You might think, if you spent your life creating lavish, gorgeous clothes, that you’d want to wear them yourself; that if you were a designer, you would swan through life in a rainbow of sequins, Lycra, denim and lace, with an entire catwalk show in your closet.

But the truth is, most designers, men or women, don’t see themselves as living billboards for their own work — at least in their working lives. (When they go out, they do tend to dress to represent.) Or so I discovered when I seized the moment of the couture shows to record what the creative directors I encountered wore and to ask some of them why, and how, they chose their outfits.

As for the what, that can mostly be summed up in one word: black.

Both Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Dior women’s wear, and Virginie Viard, the creative director of Chanel, took their bows in simple black suits from their brands. Black was also the color of choice of Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Haider Ackermann of Jean Paul Gaultier and Daniel Roseberry of Schiaparelli.

Not so much, it turned out, because the designers really, really like monochrome — indeed, both Mr. Piccioli and Mr. Ackermann are two of fashion’s greatest colorists — or because they think it makes them look arty and existential or strict and scary (assumptions people often make about fashion folk in black). It’s because, they said, they want to focus attention on what they do, not what they wear.

“Since my 20s, I’ve been in a uniform,” Mr. Roseberry said when I asked. “This Canadian tuxedo” — he gestured at what he was wearing: a faded denim shirt and faded jeans — “or black Carhartt pants and a black T-shirt. It lets me direct all my energy at my work.”

Mr. Ackermann said he was always in black and white or blue, the better to let his collections “do the talking.” Similarly, Mr. Piccioli, who wears black pants from his men’s collection with a black T-shirt when it is warm and a black sweatshirt in the winter, said that wearing the same thing pretty much every day “lets you keep some distance from your job.” Which, given the 24/7 nature of fashion, is probably a good thing.

It’s essentially the same rationale Steve Jobs came up with when he adopted a uniform of Issey Miyake mock turtlenecks, jeans and New Balance shoes; what drove Gordon Brown, during his time as the British chancellor of the Exchequer, to wear only navy suits, white shirts and red ties; why Mark Zuckerberg is always in gray Brunello Cucinelli T-shirts and hoodies; and why Angela Merkel wore primary-colored jackets with black pants pretty much the entire time she was chancellor of Germany. Creating a uniform for yourself makes you immediately identifiable and opens up space in your brain every morning to think about things other than clothes.

In other words, dressing like a designer is not really about shopping at all. It’s about a life hack.

Your Style Questions, Answered

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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