Classic Style

Hand It Down, Dress It Up, Wear It Out


By Kate Schelter

Foreword by Andy Spade

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A gorgeously illustrated guide to “the classics”: the essential clothes, accessories, beauty products, and timeless everyday objects that define your personal style.

In Classic Style, fashion expert and illustrator Kate Schelter curates a collection of more than 150 iconic, essential classics– clothes, accessories, beauty products, objects, and travel items that exemplify great design, simplicity, and timeless style. Balancing the trend toward minimalism with a dose of charm and personality, Kate shows you how to develop (and celebrate!) your own style by following an easy mantra: buy less, buy better, reinvent what you already have, and own your look. Now in her first book, she guides readers through these principles in a mix of stunning watercolor illustrations, stories, memories, quotes, and advice from a collection of friends and mentors in the fashion world. A visual gem, Classic Style will inspire you to pare down those stuffed closets and storage units, find joy in simplicity and usefulness, and rediscover the one thing that is truly essential to personal style–you!



I love this book.

I think it's because of how much I can personally relate to it. Like Kate, both my parents are creatives (both writers) who separated when I was eight years old. Like Kate, I discovered wonderful things like The Concert for Bangladesh album, movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Dumpster diving through my older brother. And finally, like Kate, I also found a strange, deeply personal meaning in my two-toned Vans sneakers and my hand-me-down Lacoste shirts. All these things helped shape my values and identity as a young teenager growing up in Arizona.

When I discovered Kate's watercolor illustration of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style in her first draft it all made sense. My mother had given me a copy of the book when I was twelve or thirteen. Poring over the pages of Classic Style I could see that Kate, too, has been heavily influenced by Elements and has unknowingly (or knowingly) applied its ideas to everything she does—from her personal rules for dressing to her design and art.

Edit out the useless and mundane. Make every word count. No unnecessary flourishes unless you really need them. Write about what you know.

Just look at the art: A pink bikini. A bottle of Mount Gay rum. Baby white Chuck Taylors. At first glance, these items don't seem to have much in common. But knowing Kate Schelter, they do.

Kate simply paints what she likes. From limes on an airmail envelope (one of my favorites) to an old Volvo station wagon, Kate carefully chooses her subjects based on their beauty and some personal meaning they have to her. There seem to be volumes of old photo albums inside of her head that she enjoys rummaging through from time to time. Then, when she finds something that she likes, she stops, and lets it out using her paintbrush and watercolor set.

At first, I saw them as portraits of places and things. But, the more I looked the more I saw portraits of the artist herself. Images that perfectly reflect the Kate Schelter I know. At the same time, they are proud badges we either wear or drive or stir a drink with. Simple items that define us, tell our stories, and communicate our values.

"But what do they mean?" a friend asked me. "Is she trying to say something about class? Society? America?"

"No," I responded. These are watercolors of the old school. No grand strokes, just small gestures.

I believe her process is purely intuitive. I believe she just has to feel it. And when she does—she feels it from the top of her straw hat to the bottom of her Stan Smith shoes.

—Andy Spade


P.S. Here are a few things I learned from the book:

Observation is an art.

God, Buddha, Zeus (and all the others) are in the details.

Peter Pan collars > bustiers

Thrift store shopping is a virtue.

Preppy and classic are not the same.

Authenticity is an aphrodisiac.

E. B. White and Oscar Wilde are my superheroes.

I miss my family's old Jeep Wagoneer.


These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

What does a classic black stiletto heel have to do with a Weber grill? On the surface, not much, except that they both bring me joy. But looking deeper, there is a lot of common ground. They're easily recognizable to all. Functional in their form. Deeply simple, yet also a combination of art, and maybe even a touch of perfection. They're classics.

This is a book about classics of all shapes. As an artist, I draw inspiration from simplicity, timelessness, and good design—the deeply personal. I find it in the shoes and dresses I wear every day; in nature, travel, food, and the otherwise mundane objects I surround myself with. Classics are the cream that rises to the top of everyday life, the standbys, the worn-in, the dazzlingly simple. After years of editing, I've come to stand by my own personal classics, most of which you'll find here. At its core, this book is about my favorite things and why I'm interested in and devoted to them.

You could say a book like this is biased by design, because these are my favorite things, my pillars of survival, my greatest consumption habits, my needs, my wants (peppered with a few friends', too). That said, I hope they inspire you and help you begin to connect to your own collection of timeless essentials. Understanding my own classic style—drawing simple pleasures from my belongings and surroundings—has been important to me throughout my life. I search for "the uncommon beauty in common objects" (Charles and Ray Eames)—the humble objects and useful toys. Studying the pieces I gravitate toward has helped me maintain an even keel and keep my integrity in the midst of an industry built on trends; it's brought depth to my career, my environment, my life, and the advice I can give to others.

I'm always asking, How does my _____ go with my _____? Is it a moment or a mistake, or is it mine? As a branding expert and stylist, I love watching people thrive when they begin to shape and understand their own styles and identities, embrace who they are and what they love, and express themselves to the fullest. Personal style can provide a unique transformation—when you display your personality outward with confidence, it creates an inward shift, too.

When it comes to style, I seek economy, efficiency, and ease—with a massive dose of personality and charm. I truly believe that doing more with your personal style starts with loving (and reinventing) what you already have and buying less. Classics, to me, are rooted in beauty, meaning, and usefulness. After many years spent in a fashion world that tries to reinvent itself each season, I've discovered that a much-loved cashmere sweater with patched elbows has a power in my closet equal to that of the most expensive runway piece out there. Classics are classic for a reason: Their material, construction, and time-tested trustworthiness are familiar.

Let this book serve as a starting place. I hope you'll see some of your own favorite pieces in my collection. Shop your own wardrobe (or your attic) and curate your own tastes through travel and discovery, and I promise you will uncover the timeless pieces that author your style. I hope your classics—like the people you surround yourself with—take you places, free you from constraint, and open up possibilities in your life.


Art to Fashion & Back Again

In tenth grade, I got my first taste of success in the arts—winning the Scholastic Art Award for a watercolor painting of an acorn squash. The piece was an abstract study of a squash from twelve different angles, using a palette of only three colors—an early lesson in doing a lot with a little. My teacher entered it without telling me, but I guess she liked it.

I followed my passion to the Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in graphic design and photography. I took off to Rome through their European Honors Program, where I sketched, painted, photographed, collaged like crazy, and studied the hand-etched typography of building addresses and the letterforms inscribed on the Pantheon's facade. We had no computers there. Everything was done by hand, including my résumé, which I drew with a technical pen in graphic colors cut with an X-Acto knife, color-copied, and sent around to places in Paris.

Word got out that an artist in residence at the American Academy called Ross Bleckner (whom I'd never heard of, but my fellow painting majors had) was calling for interns to prepare his exhibit. I clambered up the Gianicolo (Janiculum Hill) like an ant—I'll do it!—and spent a week sanding and painting walls for his exhibit because it seemed like the right thing to do. I tried to absorb everything I could from my surroundings. I worked with what was in front of me. Art was my creative outlet, but as I took on internships at places like W in New York City and Colors in Paris, I ultimately felt the seductive pull of a world beyond my comfort zone—fashion.

But before I could get there, I had to do one tiny thing: quit my dream design job.

My first real job out of college was at a prestigious LA design firm, whose principals had both worked under Charles and Ray Eames. I was doing good work and was appreciated by the firm, but I was somehow bored and felt sleepy. I was told that I talked too loudly on the phone. I would finish my work and then not know how to fill the remaining time in the day. I felt caged, corporate—even in a creative environment. I spent all my lunch hours combing local thrift stores and Marshalls for vintage lingerie and designer shoes. Three months after I started, the New York Times invited our firm to participate in a logo design contest with other top design firms in the country. I quickly drew up my idea, signed my name, and added my entry to the pile my firm was submitting.

Just then, the phone rang and my friend Thomas Lauderdale from the band Pink Martini was on the line asking me to hop on a plane to Portland, Oregon, for a few days to art-direct the motion graphics in the group's first music video, featuring their song "Sympathique." I was beyond thrilled, but I already had a job. My heart was powerfully pounding to go to Portland. I summoned up enough courage to ask HR if I could take two days to tend to business I had. They agreed and off I went. I couldn't believe the band had asked me: my big break! I spent the next few days in the editing room with pure excitement driving me—my reality was aligning with my dream. I quickly realized I'd have to stay a full week to finish the project. Again, I held my breath and placed a call to the firm in LA and asked if I could have a few more days. I was really nervous when I dialed the phone. I felt guilty, ashamed to ask for more leave.

"Hi, it's Kate. How are you?"

"Kate, where are you; have you seen today's paper?"

"What? Um, I'm still out of town and I need until the rest of the week. Do you think that would be okay?"

"Kate, your logo design is on the cover of today's New York Times House & Home section!"

I was stunned. How was it possible to have two big breaks, pulling me in two separate directions, in the same week?

A few months after Portland, I quit my job, went freelance, and never looked back. Over the course of fifteen years, with no particular plan, except, in hindsight, to follow what really excited me, scared me, thrilled me—and the people I admired deeply—I built a career in the fast-paced fashion world. To this day I have never been an employee of a company. I have been contracted for long periods of time, but I have been on my own, moved to my own beat. Quitting was a wonderful, terrifying moment in my early career that taught me a lesson I've followed ever since: follow my dreams, my gut, and my mentors rather than a career that "looks good" to my parents or others in the outside world. I had to take the training wheels off in order to follow my heart.

One project at a time, I built my reputation as a "Creative Girl" for hire. I had business cards printed that said the same. I went toward people I was drawn to, looked up to, and admired, and from that came work. I challenged myself to approach mentors and heroes, cold-call firms whose work I respected (cold-faxing was my thing, too—I scrolled large Sharpie-written cover letters and sent them through the line). I'd meet with as many people as possible to clearly express interest in working together—no job too small. Some of the best jobs I've ever done were for free. I lived for the next big collaboration.

I began my freelancing career designing viral marketing campaigns directed at Gen Xers and Gen Yers for companies like MTV, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Jerry Bruckheimer. I was hired by trend maven DeeDee Gordon to do trend forecasting, a juicy profession that I had never heard of before, but for which, as it turned out, I had an intuitive knack. I lived and breathed fashion and design. I took pictures of every cool person I hung out with, stores I loved, places I traveled to, and things I made and found; and I wrote articles on the mood of cultures that were then sold to big corporations looking for content. I went everywhere with my camera, snapping away—street style, people, nightlife culture—whatever caught my eye.

I had these cards printed at Olivier de Sercey on Rue du Bac in Paris, right after graduating college. I had read Breakfast at Tiffany's and was inspired when Holiday Golightly wrote "traveling" next to her name on her mailbox. I thought it was cool so I wrote the same thing on my card in French because I didn't have a permanent address or telephone number yet. I thought I would just stamp it on, or write it in later by hand, when I did.

After four years of shooting pictures of people in amazing outfits, I moved to New York armed with a huge portfolio and lingering fears that I had no idea what I was doing and no one to teach me. Although I felt totally intimidated, I burst forth onto the fashion scene as a Vogue photographer. I was lucky enough to find photo editor Ivan Shaw, who graciously took me under his wing, believed in me, took a chance on me, gave me real responsibility with real expectations, and told me where to rent my camera and process my film. I went with it and I learned in the process. At first, I was nervous—I hid in bed before my first fashion week because my editor had not told me where to register for my All-Access Press photo pass (duh, I just needed to ask). I was paralyzed by fear as there was no margin for error at Vogue. "Don't fuck up" was the underlying message at every turn. The job was extremely fast-paced, and I traveled all over the world, meeting a cast of stars and fashion heroes I'd only dreamed about.

While photography was what had gotten me into the room, I found myself assisting stylists at Vogue and Vanity Fair, drawn to the fashion. My career was evolving, so I chose to focus exclusively on brand consulting and styling, giving up the photography side of things. I was really more interested in the clothes anyway: personal style and how people combined pieces to create a look.

For the next decade, I pounded the pavement in New York City; I worked all day styling, art directing, and consulting, and I went out every night. I traveled a lot for work and for fun, and I took my watercolors with me and painted.

In 2009, I met my husband, Chris, at a dinner party on a freezing January night—the kind of night you want to bail on your plans because you'd rather stay home, watch TV, and eat a burrito on the couch. But I braved the cold because I believe in showing up, and I needed some cheer during the winter gloom.

Romantically, at this point in my life, I wanted someone to be with, to start a family with; someone who mattered to me more than my career had mattered. I was tired of seeking and of dating—I really missed the deep relationships and closeness of my own family. On our first date, Chris asked me to go see the New York Philharmonic, but then he changed his mind and took me to a live comedy show where we had soggy nachos and watered-down drinks. We laughed too loud the entire time and stayed up all night. The stand-up comedian called us out in the back row, shining a spotlight from the stage on us: "Hey, are you guys on your first date? You two are getting married." The date was a welcome change, if not a far cry, from the glamorous fashion affairs I was used to. We've been together ever since.

We were married in 2011 in a small family wedding, in an olive grove on a hilltop in Italy, where you could hear birds chirping, the trees rustling, and a rooster roosting in the valley. We wrote our own vows, were married by my best spiritual friend, Eddie Marashian, and had a Quaker period of silence, during which nearly every guest stood up and spoke. Finding my partner marked a turning point in my life, and as it seems now, in my career.

Back in New York, the watercolor paintings I'd done while traveling caught the eye of my friend Julia Chaplin, who asked me to illustrate her book Gypset Travel. I began painting more and more to complete the book assignment. During this time, I became pregnant with our first child, Charlotte, and Julia Restoin Roitfeld asked me to create illustrations exclusively for the brand she was starting. I painted every day at our kitchen table, Instagramming as I went along. I went from being a fashion stylist and luxury brand consultant who painted rarely on holiday, to being a watercolorist who painted every day for luxury fashion brands. John Derian started selling my original paintings at his store. Suddenly I was taking private commissions. I had my first solo gallery exhibit in 2014, and my second in 2015. And, here we are… back to where I started this adventure, painting—a dream launched by an acorn squash watercolor.


The Schelters

When you fly out of the womb last, with three older siblings, suddenly, you have a lot of catching up to do. I began my life running. I was the caboose, pulling up the rear at lightning speed, trying to catch my sisters' and brother's shadows, nipping their coattails. I wanted to be just like them, followed their every prompt, and heeded their every nugget of advice and experience. My whole life has been about reaching out of my comfort zone to catch up. Reaching for a career, reaching for my dreams, reaching to get my first period (I was the last of my friends) and a bra (I had no boobs), reaching to secure internships and land jobs, reaching to get in. I've been determined to catch up, make myself heard, and prove myself at every turn.

I was born and raised in a beautiful bucolic pocket of Philadelphia called Chestnut Hill—my parents walked three blocks to the local hospital when my mom went into labor with me. Behind Jennifer, Kristin, and Graham, I was the baby—a real, live toy!—born five years after my brother and bathed in love and attention. From birth I've been armed with a certain kind of protection that only siblings can provide—a Schelter sheltering from the world that comes in the form of we've done this before; we've broken in our parents for you; we've paved the way; our experience is your confidence. There was a natural order and security to following my leaders: Whatever they did I copied, whatever they had I wanted, whatever they said I took as fact, wherever they went I stood. They defined my life by what they exposed me to: lingering bottles of shampoo in the shower, sneakers they wore to school, magazines they read, movies, music, SNL sketches, Eddie Murphy records, Caddy Shack quotes, sunscreen they slathered on their skin, inside jokes and slang they used casually among friends.

We were a litter of love, the four Schelter kids. I was eight when Jennifer went off to college, and eleven when Kristin did; when Graham left I was an eighth grader and suddenly all alone, and my parents separated—the family shattered into six shards. I had a pair of parents, but my satellite siblings were my true touchstones of security and reassurance. They protected me from the pain of my parents' separation—reachable by phone, letters, and school breaks when they'd return home and I refused to leave their sides. I felt like an only child in high school, with no blueprint to follow. I was suddenly left to my own devices to make stuff up, play by myself, and devise my own entertainment: creating, drawing, collaging, and dressing up.

Alone, I needed to assert my own personality, a strange feeling after being one of four, a pack where the family unit came before the individual person. It was a turning point that was painfully solitary for me and scary at times. Assertiveness became my survival mechanism. When I turned fourteen my mom let me decorate my own room: together we sponge-painted the walls and dormered ceilings, carpeted the floors, Pierre Deuxed the bed with matching lampshades—my first grown-up bedroom from concept to completion. Then I went into my closet and painted a mural of a daffodil with my watercolor paints and graffitied it with a Sharpie and crayons. I made it my own. I asked my friends to sign my closet wall when they came over. It was a personal space where I was allowed to experiment. I papered my walls with magazine ads—BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine," Mercedes, Guess's Claudia Schiffer, Clinique's 3-Step Skin Care. I didn't own these things, but I admired them, the shapes, the fantasy, and the clarity of these images. I could dream about them instead of listen to my parents fight. They reached into my heart and yanked on the strings. I was drawn to these visuals before I even understood the massive engine propelling advertising. In addition to the ads, I made collages—I'd isolate single words from a headline and juxtapose them with other words. I'd staple fabric, Ben & Jerry's ice cream pints (empty), fabric, tea leaves, the back pocket of my jeans, paint, marker, Scotch tape—anything I could find—and hang the finished product on my wall or give it to my closest friends. This was my art. My world.


On Sale
May 30, 2017
Page Count
288 pages

Kate Schelter

About the Author

Kate Schelter is an artist, illustrator, creative director, stylist, and owner of the luxury brand consultancy that bears her name. Kate paints commercial work for Vanity Fair, TOMS, One Kings Lane, Bonpoint, GRAFF, Romy & the Bunnies, BVLGARI, Victoria’s Secret, Architectural Digest, and Toyota, as well as private commissions. She holds a BA from Rhode Island School of Design and their European Honors Program in Rome and lives and works in New York City and Cape Cod, MA.

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