STYLE WHISPERER ~ DAWN BAKER
Whether you like it or not your clothing gives telltale signs to your character, your strengths, and your foibles. Put more bluntly, what we wear is an extension of our identity. With fads and trends always waxing and waning, it is no doubt one’s personal style can take a beating, leaving you not knowing what to wear or how to wear it. But with the help of celebrity stylist, fashion designer, and Emmy nominated wardrobe designer, Dawn Baker, your look can rest assured as she pulls you out of the mire when your style becomes a little corrupt and your closet more foe than friend.
Best known for her Emmy-nominated wardrobe design work on The Ellen Show, as well as being stylist to Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi, Dawn Baker is not one to seek out the spotlight, though it seems to want to find her. As she gains notoriety for her latest career move in the fashion industry as business entrepreneur, owning two Los Angeles boutiques happy LA and dawn baker, her eye for design and style can’t help but bring her success with every move she makes. Dawn, with her bi-coastal upbringing between New York and Los Angeles, has a focused, east coast intensity to her, contrasted by an earthy, west coast-tranquil demeanor. A quality of character that is a perfect combination for the fashion industry, and probably a key factor in attracting many of the opportunities that came her way. Looking back over her more than15 year career in the fashion industry, Baker was a bit of a rebel spirit, and didn’t take the usual route many aspiring fashion designers choose to take.
After getting her fashion degree in Textiles and Clothing from Arizona State, Dawn didn’t miss a beat and moved back to New York, working her way up the fashion food chain and utilizing every inch of that degree. She comments, “There is a Catch 22 to getting into the business: To get a job you need experience, but in order to get experience you need a job.” So, she jumped into retail sales at Bergdorf Goodman then fell into wholesale sales for the clothing line, CP Shades. From there, an opportunity presented itself to work in production for the classic, leisurewear company, J. Crew. And it was here that Baker honed her skills, working with production schedules and managing the many aspects that go into creating a clothing line that sells. Her experience with J. Crew would lead her into fashion merchandising and being tapped to work with fashion icons such as Isaac Mizrahi, Calvin Klein, Donna Karen and Nicole Miller. From being Isaac Mizrahi’s right hand on his ISAAC collection, to actually representing the designer abroad as she did with Nicole Miller, Dawn is in awe herself that she had such charmed opportunities.
In 2001, Baker decided it was time to step out of the fashion industry, as she found herself wanting a new direction for her career. Her stepping out of the fashion limelight also happened to coincide with 9/11. While reevaluating her career and the life she led in New York, she decided to teach preschool for a few years until deciding to have a child of her own and becoming a full-time mother. But as Dawn’s luck would have it, a friend happened to connect her with wardrobe designing for Ellen Degeneres for her talk show, The Ellen Show, that happened to be having a New York taping, and Baker’s new fashion career as wardrobe designer was jump-started. Ellen liked Dawn so much that she had her move to Los Angeles to work on her show full-time, leading her to then also become both Ellen and Portia’s personal stylist, which Dawn was honored to do.
After several years of working with Ellen, Baker again sensed she was in need of exploring other aspects of her career. True to that rebel spirit, she decided to open a store that had clothing she trusted, clothing that was “made well, feels good, fits right, and most of all have a price point that is reasonable.” In 2007, happy LA opened and is the place to go if you are looking to find “lifestyle clothing by designers that are under the radar, different and unique.” Baker is adamant that her staff is more attentive to customers, and confides in me, “I won’t sell something to someone if it doesn’t look good on them. It is my name on the door.” And I think it is that mentality that makes this a trusted store by many women. Dawn genuinely wants her customer to feel like they are as important as a celebrity walking in the store. She sympathizes with working women, who “are busy and don’t know what looks good on them.” She goes on to express how good it makes her feel to find an outfit for a client they would’ve never considered before, and when they try it on they immediately stand differently with a confidence they didn’t have before. And she is always on the lookout for distinct pieces that are made to look great on all body types since “every consumer is not a model size.” When she can’t find those pieces she designs them herself, which led her to creating a collection of those pieces, and prompted her to open her second store, dawn baker, in 2010. Baker takes her concern for making women look and feel their best one step further by making available her styling expertise, in what she calls “Closet Therapy.” This 3-step process includes Dawn coming to “cleanse your closet,” cleaning out clothes that aren’t worn anymore. She then goes through the client’s remaining clothes and puts together combinations of looks, takes pictures and creates a look book of the newly fashioned outfits for clients to keep. Baker is so effective in her “Closet Therapy” that one of her clients went so far as to call her ‘The Closet Whisperer.’ Dawn really has compassion for her clients and the lives they lead, and does feel she gives a bit of therapy as she goes through clothing that clients are sometimes attached to, things that are hard to let go of, and essentially giving a client a fresh start.
Over the 15 years she’s spent in the industry Baker has learned so much, and of course still draws upon a few key things her iconic mentors taught her. Isaac Mizrahi’s phrase “It doesn’t not work,” is one she uses often and allows her to take a step back from her own designs and styling and evaluate what does and doesn’t work. She comments, “Fashion--and anything creative—really is in your head, and is what you believe. Everyone has their own view and opinion on it. So, who says something doesn’t work? Sometimes it’s cool to have something that is a little off.” Baker also heeds Donna Karen’s rule of thumb in design with the concept that “No matter what your size, your neck and shoulders never gain weight,” and incorporates into her own pieces the idea of showing off one’s assets and drawing your eyes away from problematic areas. As for Dawn’s own signature design and aesthetic philosophy, she comments, “I don’t like anything too straight forward. I like to do something a little unexpected with the expected.” And her Dawn Baker collection represents just that, with pieces that imbue a sexy sophistication, while retaining a cozy, soft and understated tone.
What is most striking about Dawn is her approach to everything she does. She asserts, “Everything happens for a reason,” and through any of her career turns, thinks of that often. She continues saying, “With all the places I’ve gone and all the jobs I’ve had, everything happened in the right steps they were supposed to.” She is clear that she is not about trying to be famous, but about making women look and feel there best. When Baker speaks of the opportunities that have come to her over the years, she is very humble and grateful about the positions she’s held, and the people she’s worked with. Baker admits she knew when she was with “the right people,” and continues to say how she “never took a minute of it for granted,” always putting in 110% to every job she had and always open to doing whatever it took to get a project up and running. And as she transitioned into her own business and clothing line, the phrase: “You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” is what Dawn stands by. She knows she is where she is today because people knew they could trust her. “Trust factor goes a long way,” she states when reflecting on her high-profile past careers, and she continues to be a trusted source for many who shop her boutiques.
Dawn Baker’s talents for understanding the personalities and lifestyles of her clients, and creating a look that captures the essence of who they are, are why people keep coming to her. She sincerely wants women to look their best, and there is a sensibility and ease to her that you trust. Dawn Baker is beyond just a ‘Closet Whisperer,’ she is a Style Whisperer.
Originally published in DStripped Magazine
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