The Aesthete

The Goodbye Girl

Exiting Barneys fashion director Amanda Brooks has a penchant for preppy-ness and her mother's 1970s style

by Annabel Tollman photography Backyard Bill

The first time that I properly met Amanda Brooks was in the VIP changing room at Topshop, both of us eagerly pawing the Christopher Kane capsule collection. There’s nothing quite like sharing the sight of one’s lily-white bottom (mine) with a dinner party acquaintance to break the ice. Over a pair of mirror-encrusted, high-waisted, black mesh underpants we truly bonded: I assumed that I would wear them as actual clothing (which would work only if one happened to be Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.) Amanda, however, decided that they would be great worn underneath a pair of low-rise jeans, and in that moment, I was hooked. It’s not often someone can suggest a new way of wearing something to a stylist. 

Amanda is cool, modern and very New York. “I’m quite practical. Occasionally I wear shoes I can’t wear on the subway, so there are flats for the train and gym clothes in an Alaia tote.” The fact that she’s lived — and shopped — in New York for most of her life makes her perfect for her role as Women’s Fashion Director of Barneys New York. Previous to Barneys, Brooks had written a book (I Heart Your Style), was Bryan Bradley and Josh Patner’s muse at Tuleh, an editor at Men’s Vogue and worked for photographer Patrick Demarchelier after college. Brooks then worked for Gagosian for three years, but she missed fashion. “It allowed me to be creative. You have to find the thing that you do on the weekends and choose to make that your career. I liked the idea of expressing myself through clothes, being a different person each month or year. It was the first place I found my voice.”

Brooks grew up immersed in “standard-issue preppy-ness,” but having thought of her as a high fashion girl for as long as I have, I was surprised when she chose very classic looks for our shoot. Do we stylistically return to our roots and turn into our mothers, I wondered? Most women would balk at the notion, but not Brooks — her mother is her style icon. “We have a physical similarity and the same references — Palm Beach and New York in the ’70s and ’80s. My mom was very interested in fashion and style, bought designer things and still has incredible style. She allowed me to wear what I wanted — she let me wear two different colored shoes to school — and really gave me room for expression,” says Brooks.

One of Amanda’s all-time favorite pieces belonged to her mother — an amazing Oscar de la Renta jacket from the ’80s. “It was mom’s New Years Eve jacket, and it's stood the test of time. It’s small and fitted with military inspired brocade. I wore it to a Christmas party with a Chinatown t-shirt, grey jeans and Converse.” It’s a look that sums up Brooks perfectly: “Classic, not too fancy, tomboy, straightforward and personal.”

'It allowed me to be creative. You have to find the thing that you do on the weekends and choose to make that your career. I liked the idea of expressing myself through clothes, being a different person each month or year. It was the first place I found my voice.' – Amanda Brooks, on fashion

“Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets,” wrote Mignon McLaughlin in The Neurotic's Notebook. So what’s in Amanda Brooks’ closet? “We have quite a fickle relationship. The way that my closets are set up exemplifies that I have a main closet built into my bedroom that is my current clothing. At the end of the season if I haven’t worn something for a while I have a secondary closet in my bathroom off-season on one side and then purgatory on the other. If things are in purgatory for a year or two and haven’t been worn, then pieces go to the basement, which is the equivalent of hell, or they get given away. I have moods for things in the closet, and sometimes I regret giving things away. I’ll find myself schlepping down to the basement and digging through the boxes to find a piece. The things I consider friends are the ones that never leave my main closet.”

I ask if Barneys was her closet as of late. “Yes and no. There are lots of things in the store that I can’t have, but definitely where my clothes are coming from. The temptation is incredible when you’re in the store. I identify with the pieces whether I own it or not in that I know every single piece.” 

Amanda’s current weaknesses: Celine bags, the color burgundy and Olatz silk shirts. “I return to the ’70s more than everything else; classic, and a little bit groovy. A little shrunken stripe with a cap sleeve, some oversized sunglasses, maybe a little flare on my jeans, the bamboo-handled Gucci bag. It suits my body; no boobs, lean hips,” she says. 

“I feel like some people have a taste for one decade and a body for another. But for me, my body and heart are both ’70s, so it’s pretty straightforward. I’m a very contemporary creature. When I was an art history major I absolutely refused to study any art pre-20th century. I’m not interested in anything before the ’60s. I don’t even watch black and white movies.”