The Aesthete

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Stylish mother-daughter duo Joan Israel and Dani Stahl prove that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree

by Annabel Tollman photography Backyard Bill

For me, the legend of Dani Stahl had preceded her, and by the time we actually met (years ago now), we had heard more than enough about one another to cause suspicion and alarm. But to no one's surprise, I found her quirks and self-deprecating humor icing on an immensely likeable cake. Dani’s wide-legged gait, the skyscraper heels, the legs for days, the stacks upon stacks of bangles and necklaces, the ability to pull off the most avant-garde of hair color were to be both envied and adored. In short, she may be the coolest girl in New York, and as I was to find out, such legends are born, not created.

The impeccable taste level, the archive to raid, the no-holds-barred critique, it’s no wonder that when I ask Dani what or who has had the greatest impact on her style she replies definitively, “My mother."

Joan. Joan, Dani’s mother, is legendary amongst Dani’s friends. During the Paris shows, we would receive missives from Joan such as “I didn’t like the long jackets at Chanel” or a press clipping with one of our quotes proudly faxed to our hotel. About Joan, Dani is blasé, “I’ve been around fashion since the day I was born. I didn‘t always understand, so I took it for granted. Since I’ve become a fashion industry girl, I appreciate it more.”

Joan’s closet is more like a lending library than a museum collection and pieces go back and forth on extended loan between mother and daughter. It also seems to be something of a bottomless magic pit — Dani mentions she is lusting after some vintage Ted Lapidus sunglasses and presto, Joan pulls them out of the archive (Joan also likes glasses). The dialogue between them is constant; Dani goes to Joan’s to get dressed for events. Firstly, these dresses are quite difficult to get into by oneself, and also Joan consults on the details. “I’m definite. And I’m usually right,” says Joan. “She fights, she argues and she listens to me. And she looks gorgeous.” Sometimes they don’t agree, usually on the wacky stuff, like blue hair and fluorescent socks with Louboutins. Joan helps Dani pack for Paris, which must be like having the MET Costume Institute and your best friend as advisers. The impeccable taste level, the archive to raid, the no-holds-barred critique, it’s no wonder that when I ask Dani what or who has had the greatest impact on her style she replies definitively, "my mother.” 

Joan was at one point the largest collector of Hermès in the United States, buying her first Birkin bag with the proceeds of painting faces at the makeup counter.

According to Dani, “accessorizing is genetic." Joan was a personal shopper for 20 years, legend has it working from bed with a fax machine on the nightstand. Her love of fashion, in particular jewelry and collectibles, is exactly as she is: larger than life, glamorous beyond belief and very unique. Dani did not grow up having access to Joan’s extensive collection however. I once admired a whiskey-colored ostrich Kelly bag, belonging to Joan, which Dani told me she is usually too frightened to borrow. Joan was at one point the largest collector of Hermes in the United States, buying her first Birkin bag with the proceeds of painting faces at the makeup counter. “My mother is a walking Christmas tree. It’s Christmas in July and August,” Dani explains. Her particular love is earrings, of which she has thousands. Joan says, “Clothes die. Jewelry doesn’t.” There is no discrimination between real and costume, vintage and modern, but Joan’s choices are always wonderfully bold. “We like to watch award shows together, in bed, eating chicken.”

“We like to watch award shows together, in bed, eating chicken." - Dani Stahl

Dani recounts, “once Joan saw Angelina Jolie’s vintage Givenchy earrings from House of Lavande, and had out-bid a Russian collector for them by 11 a.m. the following day.” Forget QVC, Joan shops directly from the red carpet. It’s not surprising then, having grown up playing with her mother’s vast collection that her mother’s hobby became her vocation, working first in the accessories department for Elle, followed by a stint at Vogue and now Style Editor at Large of Nylon while also designing an incredibly successful line of red carpet jewelry for Lia Sophia. “When I got into design, jewelry became the topic of conversation ALL the time,” Dani explains.

Dani’s latest incarnation is as image and style consultant on VH1’s show Scouted, which recruits new models and launches them in NYC. Who could be more of an expert on New York style than Dani? I’ve often tried to replicate Dani’s style, (even once traded dresses with her at a wedding), but it’s so personal and suits her so well that it’s impossible. "I used to try and define my style, but it’s just my mood,” Dani offers. I ask her for five words that sum up her style. She gives me two: crazy and shoes. Then I get the real story. “Every day I am more and more my mother.”