Shortly after I left my position as chief executive officer of Chanel, I had a panic attack. I had decided to clean out my closet and store my impressive assortment of Chanel jackets, bags and shoes in the basement. It was a psychological and metaphorical purging of sorts, meant to make room for a new identity. Besides, I had worn the same uniform for nearly thirteen years—any variety, shape, color or texture of a Chanel jacket and skinny J Brand jeans.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. It’s any woman’s dream to slip her arms into the delicious silk-lined sleeves of a plush tweed jacket, and I fully appreciate my luck owning and wearing so many of these exquisite creations. But the same silhouettes that had once caused me to stand proudly in the mirror now felt like they belonged to someone else, to a different time in my life.
Even though I had brought my own twist to the classic Chanel look—pairing even the most delicate couture jacket with torn jeans and motorcycle boots—these days I yearned to reclaim my own true style, inside and out.
My closet was nearly empty once I’d packed everything away. My jeans, ribbed tanks and smattering of printed shirts would never be suitable for a job interview, let alone dinner with friends. I texted Jeffrey, an old friend and the owner of the eponymous Manhattan boutique, for help: I needed a new look.
Stripped of my usual confidence, I entered the store under the icy scrutiny of a row of pristinely dressed mannequins. Their porcelain stances seemed to mock my comparatively disheveled appearance. As if out of habit and in an attempt to reassert my style credibility, I reached out to touch the clothes and evaluate the fashions on the first set of T-stands and racks in the men’s section. See, I know what’s hot, I tried to claim. They stared back in silence.
Hiding behind the racks, I rummaged through the newest fashions pondering what might work. Holding one after another of these lovely garments before me, I tried to imagine myself wearing something so different from my daily uniform.
Just as I was starting to feel like a fashion failure, Terrance, one of the store’s personal shoppers, tapped my arm, warmly introduced himself and offered to be my chaperone. He led and I followed in a dance from one designer to the next.
My first reaction to nearly everything was at best reluctance and at worst, outright rejection; but as I look back, I wasn’t really rejecting the clothes themselves, I was struggling to imagine myself taking on a new identity—and letting the old one, which had served me so well, go.
Terrance nudged me to consider new looks. “Just try this one, you’ll see. It looks completely different on.”
The real action started in the dressing room. As I tried on different outfits, the woman looking back at me in the mirror smiled broadly; I was giddy with a sense of newfound freedom to reinvent myself. It’s not that I didn’t love who I had been; after all, being CEO for the pinnacle of luxury, working with such talented teams, living part-time in my beloved city, Paris, and meeting wonderful artists, had added up to my dream job. But now it was time to shed that label and redefine myself.
Excerpted with permission from Beyond the Label: Women, Leadership and Success on Our Own Terms by Maureen Chiquet.