Author Insight: Kim Johnson Gross

Tell our readers about your background.

Kim Johnson Gross, co-creator of the bestselling Chic Simple book series, is a former Ford Model and appeared on the cover of Glamour, was fashion editor at Town & Country and fashion director at Esquire, a columnist for Instyle (Chic Simple Solutions) and More, and has appeared on many programs including the Today Show, CNN and the CBS Morning Show. She is the proud mother of two daughters, and divides her closet between a village outside of NYC and one in the Rockies. Since she started writing this book, she challenged her evolving body by completing her first Triathlon.

We know you as the author of What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life but what else have you written that may not be as well known?

Chic Simple is a twenty-five book international bestselling series that I co-created to help readers learn to simplify their lives with economy and style. They include Chic Simple Women’s Wardrobe, Chic Simple Accessories, Chic Simple Face, Chic Simple Dress Smart (wardrobes that win in the new workplace), Chic Simple Cooking and Chic Simple Home. They also inspired the Chic Simple Solutions column that appeared in Instyle for five years.

I also conceived and edited Men In Style based on the menswear illustrations that appeared in Esquire in the 1940s. Today it’s now selling on Amazon for $438.50. Who knew?

Where did you get the idea for your current book?

I woke up one morning and couldn’t believe this was my life. I was divorced, had become an empty nester, sold my business and nothing in my closet fit.

Closet Betrayal felt especially cruel. I have had a career in fashion and suddenly the closet that I had counted on for so long belonged to another woman—a younger, thinner, married working mom.

I should have seen it coming, but was in denial and completely unprepared for these changes. I was transitioning into the next part of my life and my closet was not keeping up. When you’re out of sync with your closet, you’re out of sync with yourself.

I realized that this “closet crisis” I was going through was a metaphor for this entire transition I was going through. That it was understanding this was not a moment, but I realized that I had to figure out what I was going to wear for the rest of my life.

My style expertise kicked in. I realized the one thing I could control when everything else felt out of control was my closet. I needed to revisit the Style Rules, which hadn’t changed, but my body did. But there is also an emotional connection to what we wear. And I knew my story was not a unique.

I interviewed many women who were also dealing with their changing closets. Their stories were inspiring and empowering. I thought by sharing our experiences along with practical advice, it would help women evolve gracefully and confidently as they dress for the rest of their lives.

When you feel confident in what you are wearing you feel more body confident which helps you feel more life confident when you are dressing for the situations unique to this next part of our lives.

What is your favorite part in your current book?

I love the stories women shared. They’re funny, poignant and insightful. We had started talking about what we wore, but quickly the closet became a metaphor for everything else going on in our lives or what I call in the book “Clothes Meet Life.” the practical and emotional aspect of dressing for this next part of our lives.

How do you handle the characters in a non-fiction book? Are they base on individuals, your own experience only, or are there amalgams of people you know?

One of the most compelling non-fiction characters is the closet. It had taken on anthropomorphic qualities.

Women rely on their closet. It’s not necessarily about shopping or how well it’s organized. Having a good relationship with your closet is like having a friend who is there for you—forgiving of your flaws and can make you feel good about yourself—whatever your age, shape or size. They know your secrets, misgivings, victories, and intimacies. And they don’t let you leave your home looking ridiculous or feeling insecure. And you can count on when you need them most—when dressing for all those life experiences that you had never thought you’d encounter—dressing for a younger boss or to date again. I had to dress for meeting my ex’s next—talk about needing a friend in my closet.

Toxic closets are like toxic friends. They make you feel bad about yourself. A toxic closet makes you feel old, fat, frumpy, broke and insecure.

I write about finding your Feel Good Closet, a necessary step in the process of redefining your self-image and learning to dress from the inside out. It’s place of certainty, however small, within an abundance of confusion. It’s the base camp for your journey to discover what you want to wear for the rest of your life.

Let’s face it, clothes come and go, but your closet is there for life. How do you want it to make you feel?

Tell us about your writing process. How do you write (paper, laptop), how do you approach a book (outline, write the first chapter, start at the end) and where you prefer to write (your office, public spaces, etc)?

I write on an Apple laptop, sometimes at my desk, other times at my dining table, depending on how messy my desk is, the changing natural light, and whether I have a fire going in my living room.

I’m working on some shorter pieces now and trying to shape an idea that’s been nagging at me for the next book, but have yet to clearly articulate. I always have a notebook with me to jot down thoughts, quotes, and observations. I also compile lots of research to back or inform the ideas that I hope to communicate from a more personal perspective. I found when writing What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life that I conversations with women, and the power of what they share—girl talk. I feel incredibly privileged with how many are comfortable in sharing very personal aspects of their lives with me. I think it will continue to shape my work in the future.

The challenge for me is to stay focused when writing. I often find that I’ve drifted into email, facebook and other online social networking outlets. I’m convinced it has exacerbated a bit of ADD that had been dormant before. When it becomes problematic, I go to the library or to a restaurant to write.

I rarely set an alarm clock anymore—an incredible luxury, but usually wake early, have breakfast while reading the New York Times and Women’s Wear Daily. I then work for several hours until I cook lunch—the main meal of my day—or take time off to exercise—usually Zumba or tennis. Exercise is a priority as sitting behind a computer arm’s length from the fridge is hell on the waistline. It’s also a time to interact with other people—writing can be very isolating. I also need the endorphins and to focus my brain on something other than what I’m working on. But when it doesn’t work into my day, I don’t stress about it.

I go back to work until 10 when I usually watch a favorite TV show or read.

Many of our readers are creative types, but struggle with the balance of devoting time to their creativity and simply living life. Walk us through a typical day in the life of YOU…

My entire career has been creative as a style editor and author, so it was a way of life. It reflected on my home, the food I prepared, what I wore, how I traveled and my interests.

But being professionally creative is much like working in any other field when you’re raising children. It’s a juggling act. That’s when I realized I had to simplify my life to manage it, which is what inspired the Chic Simple book series. We opened each book with “The more you know the less you need.”

Also when your livelihood is in a creative field, especially if you work for yourself, the work never ends. It’s not a 9-5 or Monday–Friday kind of thing. You need to keep “practicing” to achieve. It’s not a profession where you have the luxury to take time off.

Which is why no matter how much work I have, its important to make time for my other priorities—spending time with my family and friends, book club, cooking and doing something “athletic”. These elements create the balance I need in my life. I think they also benefit my work.
In what ways did your childhood influence you as a writer? As a person?

My mother was always stylish. She taught me at an early age how to build a wardrobe and shop for a bargain. She also always advised that when you feel crummy, buy a dress. So I grew up appreciating how what you wore could help you feel.

Also when I was a young Ford model I became fascinated by the editor’s job at the other side of the camera, so when I went to college (U of PA) I worked on the school newspaper (The Daily Pennsylvanian) and majored in art history. After graduation I started my career as a magazine editor until I had an idea for my first book, which ultimately grew into 27.

Most writers are avid readers. What authors do you read as a child? And today? Do you have a favorite author or book?

In high school I went through periods of reading all the works of several authors. Most memorable are Virginia Wolf, Ernest Hemingway (who remains a favorite), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jerzy Kosinski and the dynamic Italian journalist Orianna Fallaci whom I admired enormously.

Now I am a member of a book club and partime member of another, so I read a wide range of books. My latest obsession has been the Stieg Larrson series—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc. A common theme would be for me the discovery of different places and different worlds.

What question should we have asked, that we didn’t? Now is YOUR opportunity to tell us what we missed!

Q: This is not a how-to book. How would you describe it?

This is not a “how-to” book; it’s a “why-to” book.

I did 25 Chic Simple books that were “how-to” and still work.

But “how-to” is a monologue and I needed a dialogue, with myself, my closet and with other women who were experiencing similar transitions and how those changes were impacting on their closets. I looked for Style Mentors for inspiration—those women who whatever their age, shape or size, wear their style like a second skin. I wanted to know their secrets and to share them.

I wanted to share the bigger conversation we have with our closets each day we dress, which is more “why-to”.

All women experience parallel journeys as their bodies change during different stages of their lives, and how it affects our sense of self.

Even if we don’t look in the mirror honestly, we see our changes in pictures of ourselves. For better or for worse, no matter how great of shape we’re now in or how much botox we’ve had, we will never again be the person we were in that picture three years ago, eight years ago, fifteen years ago.

Our closet reflects our journey of self-realization, which is why it’s important to be in touch with it. And you can’t be in sync with it until you accept, embrace and appreciate the woman you are today whatever your age, weight or size. Why wait to look great? Honor and enjoy who you are today by dressing to feel your best each day for the rest of your life.

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Kim Johnson Gross’ Book, What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life is available as of May 3rd. Find Kim on the web: Kim’s Website | Kim’s Facebook Fan Page | Kim on Twitter (Photo Credit George Lange.)

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