During a lifetime of working in the fashion publishing and apparel design industries, fashion designer Paula Ryan has become a perennial source of style wisdom. At media events and gatherings, she’s often prompted for advice about how to be stylish and what to wear. Here are the questions Paula hears most frequently.

What is style?
A. My definition of style is ‘a quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one’s actions and tastes’. Applying this idea to your life is simple. There is only one rule: wear what you like, buy what you like and spend time in front of a mirror styling your purchases.

Is dressing a certain way or spending time and energy on your personal appearance really important?
A.  When you meet someone for the first time, psychology tells us that your appearance accounts for over 80% of that first impression. So it makes sense to pay attention to your appearance - especially when it really matters, like job interviews or when you are a speaker or presenter.

Q. Were there any role models or mentors in your early life?
A. Absolutely. They were many and varied, and inspired various aspects of my impressionable years. An aunt told me: “Knowledge is power, but enthusiasm pulls the switch.” My father said: “The only aspect of your life that matters is people.

All the rest is stuff. Piers Morgan said: “Remember the 7 Ps... Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-poor Performance”.  I read Thing and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill in my early teens, which is a book on personal motivation. It outlines how we create our own successes and failures, and how when we have been successful, we end up getting even more pleasure from giving back.

Coco Chanel said: “A girl should be both classy and fabulous.” Her other inspirational quote was: “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone.”

When I was a house model in London in the early 70s, the resident designer said: “Shoes are the most important purchase you make. Style has no place for cheap or ugly shoes.” I think of this every time I buy a pair.

In recent times I have been inspired by the Dalai Lama. When asked what surprised him most about humanity, he answered: “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future, that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

Q. Shopping can be very overwhelming with so many choices. It’s a nightmare for most of us. Do you have any tips to cut the confusion?
A. Yes. Beware of the trickery. Many retailers have a host of tricks up their sleeves to persuade you to shop. Favourites include slimming mirrors and flattering lighting. This is why what you see when you get home can be very different to how things looked in the shop. Take a small mirror with you and check looks from the back. Shopping with friends can be overated, because they may encourage you to select what is their taste, not yours. Beware of one-hit wonders. Every season there are a handful of hot-trend purchases that become so over-rated, you wish you’d never bought them.

Know your size. It will vary in every store and with every label. Don’t be tempted to buy for the future body, buy for the now body. Choose items that skim rather than hug the body. Check out the fabric quality by reading the content label, as not all garments are equal. When in doubt, ask an obviously well put together shop assistant. You can develop a shopping relationship with these people, particularly in an owner-operator store.

Q. Why is it that some women always look radiant and well put together?
A. External appearance is not just about the clothes you wear. It’s actually about factors driven from within. Women who exercise, eat a healthy diet and deliberately set about creating happiness in their lives radiate energy and have a presence that no rack of fashionable clothes can ever achieve.

Q. Who do you regard as stylish women?
A. I will make my selection from well-known women, so that you know what I’m talking about. They are Sharon Stone, Elle Macpherson, Jane Fonda, Megyn Kelly on Fox News and Michelle Obama. These women have developed a style that sits comfortably with them. They look relaxed and only wear what they love. Whether it’s flat shoes, jeans or shirts of bold colour, they are true to themselves.

Q. Everybody seems to be into the big chain stores that sell cheap clothes. What do you think of them?
A. I buy from them too, especially COS, the Swedish grown-up sister of H & M. These purchases tend to be my casual weekend and knock-about clothes. Fast fashion is exactly that; it’s the antithesis of long-life investment pieces which can take much laundering. Remember to apply the ‘cost per wear’ reality.

Q. Should age have any bearing on what I wear?
A. Fashion now is more about personality, so dress your body, not your age. As a blanket rule, at each stage of your life, you should show the best and hide the rest. Well, maybe not all the rest, but certainly hide the worst. Also, after a certain age, you should not wear anything too short or too girly. At the end of the day, looking both chic and age-appropriate comes down to personal style. Too much makeup is certainly aging and most women look elderly with grey hair. White hair is a cooler alternative.

Q. Do you have a favourite colour?
A. Hello? Black! Followed by white and sand. These shades always work for me as they are slimming, stylish, easy to accessorise and make great travellers. However these days I add a large dollop of navy, as it works with sand and white and is softer during the day. After dark, black is always my pick. But at our beach house I hardly wear black at all, except for a top or two.

Exert from Paula Style magazine - Winter '17 edition


Dear Bridget

I used to be your Swiss Nanny in 1983 – I am in New Zealand right now and would love to get in touch with Paula and you and Simon and would be happy to forward a copy of my Swiss passport for identification.

Kindest regards

— Sylvia