While she has styled every celebrity under the sun, her greatest joy comes from parenthood and helping other people—especially those who have never walked the red carpet—feel good about themselves. We recently caught up with Mary Alice and quickly were reminded why she is the most loveable person in the fashion industry.
How long have you been styling, and what is your favorite part about your job?
I’ve been working in the fashion business for just over 20 years. As I have matured, what satisfies me has changed as well. It is what I can do with fashion to enrich people’s lives that is most important to me now. It is inspiring to dress a real woman because I can really see how fashion can be a momentary reprieve from the difficult things in their lives. It is magical to watch how elements of fashion and beauty can contribute to helping someone gain self-esteem and healing power after going through an illness or tough time in their life. I believe that fashion should have a happy, feel-good affect on people, not the opposite. It is through working with real women, not models or actresses, that make fashion more of a soulful endeavor for me.
I know you are doing so much more than styling, can you tell us about your other projects?!
My career gives me a chance to do so many difference things on all levels of pop culture with fashion and beauty. I work as a stylist, designer, creative director, beauty expert, television commentator, spokesperson, consultant and now social media guru! I share my knowledge, passion and insider view of beauty and fashion to consumers and followers all over the world through my work for with many Fortune 500 brands. My client list is very diverse, having worked with major brands such as Intel, Warner Brothers, NBC, Estee Lauder, Victoria Secret, Covergirl…and iconic magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Allure, Marie Claire, W, and O. As a commentator I can be seen on CNN, Good Morning America, The Nate Berkus Show, The Early Show and E!. What I am most excited about right now are my roles as a style advisor for both Sally Hansen and Talbots, as well as Style Ambassador for Amazon’s new private shopping site MYHABIT.
How did you get involved with Free Arts [which brings art education to underserved children]? And what is your favorite part of your involvement?
I’ve been supporting Free Arts NYC for over 10 years. My friend Amy Sacco got me involved. My mother was an art teacher and curator when I was growing up, so my artistic spirit was nurtured as a child, and I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without that creative outlet. It blew my mind that here in New York City “the cultural center of the world”, so many kids have no art in their lives. It is actually a luxury for many kids in our community, and that is unacceptable to me. Liz Hopfan and her team are earth angels. Her dedication, tenacity, and passion for bringing art to our city’s kids is heroic!
You’re so deeply involved in at least two programs that I’m aware of, that are in the children’s world…was this something you were always interested in?
From a young age I had a very deep need to nurture and give back, so it has always been a way of life for me to help people in any way I can. I’m the national fashion ambassador for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which has had a profound affect on my life. It’s been a true honor and deeply enriching for me on all levels to be able to help the foundation grant fashion and beauty relatied wishes for the last 10 years, to young people who have gone through life-threatening medical conditions. Taking my passion for the industry and harnessing it to organizations like Free Arts NYC, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Get Reel With Your Dreams, enables me to use my talent and connections to feed the positive ways fashion can change lives, and make people feel great. For me, fashion does not look as good or feel good if it’s not doing good!! I like my fashion happy!
How much has your approach to work changed since becoming a mom?
As a single mom, I have to be very focused and make sure that I maximize my time, so I am able to be the best mom I can be, and keep my personal and work life rewarding and successful. I have a very demanding career and not a 9 to 5 situation. It is a hard juggle and it really does take a village for me. I rely on the support of my mother, brother, nanny, and team at the office, to help keep both my work and mommy motor running smoothly!
What’s your weeknight dinner/bedtime routine?
Willem has a huge amount of energy so it is hard to get him to wind down. When he was a baby I had to sing “Doe-a-Deer” for a good 45 minutes straight before he would nod off. Now at age six, it still takes a while! I try to give him an early dinner and long bath and after that some reading time so he will get into the zone. We have what we call a “midnight snack” at 7:30 pm, which is a glass of warm milk with a graham cracker. We use this as the time we go over any worries he has that are in what we call the “worry basket”! There is usually a little boy worry (sometimes big, sometimes small) in that basket but we talk it over while sipping warm milk and he falls asleep soon after. It works like a charm every time, but unfortunately sometimes on me too!
How do you celebrate your son’s birthdays?
Last year I had a small party at home for Willem’s 5th birthday, so this year I decided I better step it up after he said, in the sweetest way, that the party just didn’t cut it compared to his friends!!!! So this year I decided to go big! We love to go to the Intrepid, so I had a treasure hunt on the Intrepid. It was a spectacular day with 17 kids and their parents. All the parents were just as excited as the kids! It was expensive but worth every dime to hear Willem say it was the best day of his life. After the party he asked me “Mommy how are we going to top that?” and I said “that one should hold you over until your sweet 16!!”
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
It is all about MYHABIT.COM for me and now all of my friends—it’s made shopping for all aspects of my life so much easier! I am of course now completely addicted to their private sales! Every day at noon there are new sales for womens, mens, kids and home products, everything is up to 60% off, and there is free shipping!! The brands they have on the site are unbelievably chic and it’s all so well curated, so it’s the perfect site for the busy, savvy mom to get all of her stylish must-haves in half the time for half the cost!
What’s a typical weekend like?
I like to take Willem on fun adventures to see family and friends all over the world, but really, one of our favorite things is to stay in Brooklyn and go on adventures close to home. We love the incredible new waterfront park and bike path at the end of Atlantic Avenue—we spend lots of time on Slide Mountain and playing volleyball, then it’s off to Dumbo where we love to scooter ride, have picnics, and have hill rolling competitions! I am also a huge fan of Brooklyn Boulders in Park Slope which is a very cool rock climbing center and has really fun family time during the weekends.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off?
Getting my driver’s license. I know that sounds crazy but I let mine expire and now I have to re-do the whole thing! I need to get my permit and take driving lessons just like I was 16 again! I have to really move that to the top of the list this year!!
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I love Pat Wexler’s products for my acne prone skin. I always get Tracie Martyn resculpting facials when I have a big TV gig or event. No matter how tired I am they make me look like I just got home from a spa! I have to wear a lot of dresses for most of the work I do on TV or as a spokesperson so I rely on Sally Hansen airbrush legs to make my legs look flawless. I have bruises and veins just like everyone else but people are constantly asking me how I get my legs to look so good. I couldn’t live without airbrush legs and the good news is that it’s less than $10 and available at any drugstore.
If you could suggest a ‘mom uniform’, what would it be?
Wear sequins in the sun, your heart on your sleeve, and remember everything looks better with a smile, Spanx, and a statement necklace! Talbots is also making so many great fashion forward clothes these days and whenever I wear something from Talbots people are always surprised and immediately go shopping there.
(It’s all Talbot’s, I swear!)
(Statement necklace from Ranjana Khan)
(Rachel Roy made this bag and I love it! I love her clothes and how philanthropic she is!)
Best family trip?
Every August we go to visit my mom at her cottage on Lake Michigan. It is a family tradition that I’ve been doing since I was a young child. There’s no internet or TV. Our time there is pure joy—spent collecting bugs, skipping stones, running down sand dunes, taking sunset swims, and telling stories fireside!
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
The Quiet Game. I created this when my son would not be quiet or was whining. Unfortunately it doesn’t work so well now, but from ages 3-5 it was my best trick to stop playdate craziness, backseat car commotion, or just to get a moment of peace. It goes like this: “The first person to make a sound loses. 1…2…3…Quiet!” I would literally have a group of young boys trying to be quiet 30 minutes straight! When one would make a sound they would want to start over and do it again. Genius! Maybe I should patent it.
You feel your best when?
My son is thriving and I have time to have a date!!! LOL!!!
Proudest moment in parenting?
When my son said “Helping people makes you feel happy, doesn’t it Mom? I want to help people too!”
I have lots….candy corn, my nanny, false eyelashes, Lanvin, vanilla milkshakes, Kizi.com when I need a break, and Kiki di Montparnasse when I want to be a ‘yummy mummy’.
Best parenting advice you ever got?
There is lots of great advice people have given me through the years. One was to to cut the tips off my son’s pacifiers, telling him “Paci broke”—that was a great one—he was weened off them in a week! Someone told me to have children’s Benadryl in my medicine cabinet and a year later it literally saved my son’s life the day we found out he was allergic to nuts.
Any advice for other busy moms who can’t imagine that they can eek out a minute to do something to help/get involved?
Make giving and helping others a family affair. Spend a day with your child and volunteer together at a Free Arts NYC art day, or have the whole family help serve food at Children’s Aid. Show them how good compassion feels and they will grow up to be compassionate! And, join Willem and me at Kidsfest next Sunday!