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Claire Cottrell

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I wake up in the morning and my hair has assumed it's most perfect bedhead form. My eyes are their best blue and my outlook is promising. I also generally feel quite attractive in shorts.

2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?

The tan, perfectly slim women in the South of France. Their skin is leathery, their eyes are bright, their toes are painted, their summer sandals are perfect and they are purposeful but relaxed.

6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?

Leggings ! I love them but don't do it! I once read that French women never wear leggings. Enough said.

8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.

Take something away until you can't take anything else away. I apply that concept to fashion and every other aspect of my life.

9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?

Brown leather accessories! Cognac leather sandals. Clogs. Clutches. Purses. Travel bags. Laptop pouches.

15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?


16. Please describe your body.

I'm 5'4', relatively slender, with some curves in the right places. Just in the last year I've been noticing signs of aging - not in a bad way, but they're a reminder that I need to take care of my body.

17. Please describe your mind.

Aquiver. Always thinking. Always dreaming.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Contained. I try to present a calm and collected presence to the world, but I'm very sensitive. I'm not calm and collected on the inside.

19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

It's early in the morning, so I'm wearing my barely there blue cotton nightgown with my favorite sweatshirt because I just took the dog out for a walk, and the nightgown's not appropriate for being out and about in the neighborhood. The sweatshirt is an XXL in a faded acid yellow green that most people hate and I love. It was $2 at a thrift store selling discarded clothes from film sets.

My hair is down and wild.

I'm not wearing any make-up. I don't think I've washed my face yet. I have brushed my teeth.

I'm also wearing my reading glasses because I can't do computer work without them. They're matte black Oliver Peoples O'Malley frames. They're a re-issue of one of the first frames Oliver Peoples introduced back in the 60's. At least that's what the shopgirl told me.

20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?

Stuff isn't important, but expression is.

And then there's the fact that life inevitably requires some stuff. Our bodies need to be covered. Underwear is helpful. A wallet comes in handy. As does a travel bag. What covers our bodies, what underwear we wear, what wallet we carry and what travel bag we use are all decisions that express who we are and what we do. Maybe we choose to make all of said things ourselves. Maybe we only buy what's Made in the USA. Maybe we buy everything at Barney's. Or online at Net-A-Porter.

The decisions we make about the things that life requires are important. Those decisions shape our world.

27. Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?

Oh yes ! I used to be terrified of flying and I'd try to intuitively feel what I should wear. If I wore the right thing, the flight would be ok, and I'd get to wherever I was going. If I didn't, disaster would strike. I don't do that any more. It's a very dangerous place to be.

29. Did your parents teach you things about clothing, care for your clothing, dressing or style? What lessons do you remember? Or did you just pick things up?

My mom taught me how to iron. I was obsessed with ironing. Up until college. I would listen to James Taylor's Greatest Hits and iron in the laundry room for hours. I ironed everything. T-shirts. Sheets. Tea towels. In college, I realized that if you take your clothes out of the dryer right away, you don't need to iron them. And you should never iron tea towels. Or, sheets.
My lessons in style were limited to a British father's belief that Burberry and Barbour were the gold standard. An innate obsession with weather was a factor. For my mom, Bally Suisse was the epitome of style. I'd sit with her in the Bally store and watch her try on shoes and matching handbags. Still to this day, I am overly concerned with my bag matching my shoes. A black bag with brown shoes makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

In the 80's, Banana Republic and Coach's classic brown leather accessories became staples in my parents' wardrobe. Every year, I went with my Dad to help pick out a new brown leather Coach accessory for my mom's Christmas stocking. A few years ago she gave me the collection. I use them every day and often wonder where the brand lost it's way.

30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?

I just discovered lipstick. Whoever invented it was right. Lipstick is a sexy thing. Much more so than lip gloss.

For hair I use a Bumble & Bumble product called Brilliantine. The tube oh-so-eloquently points out that "it's unique and hard to define. It gives hair polish and a sort of languid, slept-in, sexy look." I think it works.

Clothing-wise, I feel my sexiest in shorts. They're not something you can wear year round, and they're not always appropriate at night, but they work with my proportions. They can be wanting but also refined and they lack the implications of a short skirt. Navy shorts and an off white silk blouse get a shiny gold star in my sexy style book.

31. Many people say they want to feel “comfortable,” or that they admire people who seem “confident.” What do these words really mean to you?

Comfortable means physically feeling good. Nothing's itchy, scratchy or too tight. Too tight is my worst nightmare. As a child, I think it's why I didn't wear pants until age 8 or 9. I felt restricted in pants. I loved the freedom of a skirt. I still love the freedom of a skirt. Especially a long skirt. But, I also love the power of pants.

Confident means feeling good inside. It's a state of mind. Last week I went to Trader Joe's in a state of disarray. My hair was unwashed and disheveled. I had no make-up on. I was wearing a skimpy tank top and ripped boyfriend jeans that I'd retired last year because I'd read that boyfriend jeans are 'out.' I was exhausted from working long hours but the sun was shining and I felt good and satisfied by my exhaustion because I was working on a project that felt like a step in the right direction. I felt like the intriguing, dirty artist hermit who everyone knows lives in the neighborhood but rarely sees except for an occasional sighting at the dry cleaners or Whole Foods. Or, Trader Joe's. I wandered the aisles and had the distinct feeling that men and women were checking me out. I felt good.

Had I been in a different state of mind, I would have felt quite the opposite. I would have rushed in and rushed out, making eye contact with no one. Feeling like a dirty, why-would-anyone-love me girl in last year's boyfriend jeans and her pajama top.

32. If dressing were the only thing you did, and you were considered an expert and asked to explain your style philosophy, what would you say?

Timeless, simple, easy. And, come up with a uniform. Having a uniform will change your life. Say it's black jeans, a silk blouse and leather sandals. Only buy things that are variations on that theme. You will be stylish and stress free forever.

35. Are you generally a good judge of whether what you buy will end up being worn? Have you figured out how to know in advance?

Yes! But I haven't always been. For years, I was buying things that I never wore. I now always ask two questions:

1. Would Jane Birkin Wear This?
2. Do I Want to Race Home And Put This On Right Now?

If I don't answer yes to both questions, I don't buy it.

38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?

Comfort and a chic ease that looks like I'm not trying too hard.

I'm also trying to get people to love me, like me, hire me and generally think I'm wonderful, smart, beautiful, have incredible taste and can do anything.

42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?

Born to a British father and a Canadian mother, I'm the only American in my family. My parents both emigrated to the States in the 1970's. They came to New York City but then made their way out West. They arrived in San Diego, and quickly adopted the Southern California lifestyle. My mom discovered Bernardo sandals. She bought a polka-dot bikini. And a patchwork jumpsuit. My Dad started wearing more color. Madras pantsuits, pastel blazers. Skinnier ties.

They both grew up in conservative households far removed from fashion. My mom's childhood was spent moving between military bases. My dad grew up two hours north of London - the only child of parents who owned greenhouses, providing food during the war.
There are some photos of my dad after he left for university. He's in Edinburgh in the 1960's and he's wearing a leather jacket. My mom's equivalent of his leather jacket were the clothes she'd make from Vogue pattern books. Clothes were the ultimate form of expression, but I think they also saw clothes as a measure of success.

For better or for worse, I approach fashion in the same way they did. I use it to represent my ideals and I feel successful wearing a blazer by a prominent French designer.

43. Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now? Can you describe it and what it was all about for you?

In high school I was really in to Patagonia and Abercrombie before it got cheesy. My wardrobe consisted of cargo pants and flannel shirts. And then cargo shorts and tank tops in the summer. Fleece vests and jackets were a mainstay. I lived in Georgia, and it fit with my world. It was all about off-road adventures, lake trips, river rafting, illicit bonfires in fields at night, climbing water towers to make out, The Grateful Dead and fitting in with the boys.

50. Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man’s body? Was there ever a time in the past?


52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

I think I'm photogenic but I can also look really bad from the wrong angle. Does that mean I'm not photogenic?

53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?

When I see myself in photographs, I usually notice a furrowed brow or tension in my face. I think it makes my face look harsh. It's funny though, I can look back on a photo that was taken years ago and remember hating it, but once time has passed I can see the same photograph that I once criticized as beautiful.

56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?

Skintight sex bomb in mile high heels. I'd look like a sad, lost soul.

58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?

As a single gal in LA, I hope to attract a smart, creative, kind, sexy man. I'm not trying to repel anyone. Now that I think about it, maybe I should be?

61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?

I find that taking a shower or a bath is the best thing in the world. I also try to sit in the sauna once or twice a month. As far as clothes go, they should never be wrinkled.

62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?

I like a clean face with some mascara and lipstick if I'm going out. Concealer is extremely important.

75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?

My grandmother gave me the little gold watch that my grandfather gave to her. She was 98 years old. I can't actually wear it because it's a painful memory. I only saw her a few times in my life, and she didn't really know me except through photographs. The day she gave me the watch was the first time I'd seen her in 20 years. It was also the last.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

I'm allergic to 99.9% of all fragrance in the world. I use Santa Maria di Novella's Rose Water and that's ok. Strange Invisibles, makers of "narrative perfumes with certified organic, wildcrafted, biodynamic, and hydro-distilled essences" (I took that from their website), used to make a perfume called Dimanche. It was inspired by leisurely Sunday lunches in Paris. It had notes of iris, rose, honey and amber. It was divine. On special occasions, I would really like to smell like Dimanche. Hopefully they'll start making it again.

82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?

I've been told by a few people that I look like Katherine Ross in The Graduate. I take this as a major compliment because I think she's a major babe. It's made me wonder what I actually look like because I don't think I know.

83. Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?


I was about 4 years old and I was wearing a dress my grandmother had gotten for me. I loved my grandmother but I hated that dress. My mom took us both to Anthony's Fish Restaurant in Solana Beach for a nice lunch, and I refused to eat. I was so upset about having to wear that dress. Wearing that dress felt like the end of the world. I'm not sure why. I can't remember if I thought it was ugly or uncomfortable. I vaguely remember thinking it had something to do with the fact that it was a dress. With a bib. But then I didn't wear pants until age 8. So I don't really know why I hated wearing that dress so much.

My mom tells me it was the moment when she realized that she would never dress me again.

What’s your birth date? 
Where were you born and where do you live now?


I was born in La Jolla, California.

I now live in Los Angeles, California.

What kind of work do you do?

I'm a filmmaker and photographer. I own an art book shop.

Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?

Single. No kids. I have a dog named Truffle.

Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.

I studied architecture, specifically the social theory of design. I'm fascinated by the idea of home. I have a difficult relationship with my parents, especially my dad. I was born in Southern California. I moved around a lot growing up, and lived in Switzerland for a few years. I love fashion.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

I think I may actually - surprisingly - have a fairly healthy outlook on what I wear and my body image.

I am also thinking about how crafted our personal presentation to the world is.


Claire Cottrell is a filmmaker and a photographer living in Los Angeles, California. She is the founder of BOOK STAND. She has contributed to The Atlantic, The Paris Review, VICE, Wilder Quarterly, Tin House and Poor Claudia on the subjects of art, fashion, film, design and plant life.

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