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Megastar Stylist/Costume Designer Nancy Steiner Steps into the Spotlight

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Style Icon is a series that highlights Angelenos who aren't strictly in the business of fashion, but who have an affinity for style, clothing, retail—or just plain looking good.

Elizabeth Daniels, 4/11

Nancy Steiner has a pretty enviable career, having styled some of the biggest names in music, designed costumes for some of the most iconic and quirky recent films and dressed the commercials that make you sit up and take notice. Her sense of style, her understanding and appreciation of individuality, and her love of travel, craft and art inform her life and her seriously lovely Silverlake house.

Nancy started out in fashion working at Nana's, the seminal spot for the West Coast's punk/alternative culture. Wearing a strict uniform of 40's dresses, she was in contact with stylists and costume designers who pulled from the shop -- and constantly told her if she ever wanted to leave Nana's, they'd hire her.

Eventually she made the move?styling videos for Nirvana, No Doubt, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Bjork, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Air among others. She balanced the videos with commercials and assisting on films like Reality Bites. Her first big break was designing the costumes for Todd Haynes' Safe, and since then she hasn't looked back; designing costumes for The Virgin Suicides, The Good Girl, Lost in Translation, Shopgirl and many more.

We were lucky enough to get to spend some time with Nancy and her rescue pup (who's name, as he had only been adopted two days previously, was still pending), exploring her aesthetic inspirations, hearing about past experiences and a bit about what's next.

Most stylists don't have as diverse a career as yours: videos, commercial, independent film, studio do you pick a project and what do you like working on the most?
I try to pick projects that are interesting stories, or have an interesting cast and crew. Mostly i love collaborating and people that want to do that as well.

Has the industry changed a lot from when you started out?
It's changed enormously. For one, I don't do music videos any more because they don't really make many like they used to. Video has been on the way out for a while now. I'm really glad i got to be a part of that world when it was thriving because it was super creative and new ways of making visuals. Commercials and film have less time and money and it seems to get worse all the time. Also they take a lot less risks.
Films especially don't take many chances with subject matter, relying on re-makes and franchised stories. Recently the middle range of budgets in film have mostly disappeared and it seems there are just super high budgets or low budgets.

When you are preparing for a project, what is your creative process?
After speaking with the director about the way he or she sees the character, I will start to look at magazines, books, etc. for inspiration. Sometimes I will sit at the farmers market or go downtown and take pictures of regular people ( if it's a contemporary film ) to get details about how people dress.

I think about how the character would shop for clothes, if they like to go shopping or hate it and how that comes out in what they wear.Do they take care for their clothes or throw them on the floor when they get undressed? Do they carry things in their pockets on a daily basis? (keys, coins, maybe a good luck charm). If they do, I'll put those items into the pockets of their costume. It's a psychological thing: getting into their brain about it all. How the character feels about their body is also a big decider as to how I dress them.

Have you ever had a crush on one of these characters after you've been imagining how they would shop, dress, feel?
I've had a crush in a way that I like that character but not in a romantic way.

What's the vibe like on a giant project vs a more intimate one?
Really it just comes down to being more intimate on a small film.
There's also more of a feeling of doing it for the art, as usually everyone's making a lot less money on a low budget film. On a bigger budget, you have a lot more cooks in the kitchen with the studio, producers, etc.

Is it hard when you have a vision of a character and it doesn't match up to what the actor embodying the character had imagined?
You just have to ease the actor into your vision: it's delicate. Sometimes they get it but sometimes you have to compromise, which is part of the job too.

Both the Virgin Suicides and the Lovely Bones were 1970s period pieces: do you have a preference about working on contemporary or period pieces?
I like doing both but would love to do more period work. It enables you to be more in control since most people don't know the details of period clothing.

Is there a period you are super excited to someday work on?
I grew up dressing in 40's clothing so i would love to do that period. Claire Danes' character's costumes in Shopgirl is somewhat based on what I wore during that time of my life. I like the Victorian age too but really anything period seems interesting. I'd love for there to be a movie about the LA punk scene.

As you are surrounded by clothes at work, and have to think about clothes all the time, how has your personal style changed over time?
I have totally simplified the way i dress. I'm into comfort and ease and not having to think about it too much.

When you are personally shopping today, what are you looking for?
For my everyday wear, something with some style that i can just throw on and be comfortable in. I don't like to stand out in a crowd.

I would love to have a uniform of basics ?and i kind of do, that i don't have to think about. I am thinking of doing a line of basics one of these days?pieces that people can throw on as their uniform.

What are your favorite stores in LA?
Creatures of Comfort, Lake, Madewell. The Way We Wore. Opening Ceremony, Squaresville and Lost & Found.

Your home is seriously lovely: and it's filled with art, records, images, textiles from around the world...what draws you to something?
I love filling my house with things from my travels. When there are many things that go together without being perfect, but being flawed, and that's perfect.
I love texture and color and uniqueness?and of course I love my music!

What are you currently inspired by?
My new dog.
(Story by Lizz Wasserman)
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