Style and Substance: An Interview with Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin

What is style? It conjures up specific images for us all. The unattainable model that walks effortlessly down the runway in 5 inch heels? Perhaps it’s different kinds of styles: boho-chic with Birkenstocks, nautical with classic stripes, or you recall the red lipstick and nails of the 1940’s. Either way, all of us get up each morning and put clothes on; but have you ever thought about your own personal style? When you get dressed in the morning, do you love what you wear, or are you trying to be like someone else? As providence would have it, I was fortunate enough to meet stylist Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin while visiting the North Shore of Massachusetts. Here is her take on all things fashion, style and the art of joyfully celebrating who you are.

How did you get into this line of work ? What aspect of it is most interesting to you?

After spending a long career with a brand that is well known—Eileen Fisher, Inc.—I chose to strike out on my own. Fifteen years at one brand honing my skills made me feel more than ready to take on my own practice. The most interesting thing about doing this work is how we use clothing to convey a message—and sometimes we are sending a message we don’t even realize. I like to use this work as an anchoring for women and help them find their authentic selves through their style choices.

Take us through the process of how you initially tackle a closet.

I often just bring a rolling rack to the closet and start sorting by color.

I have an extensive pre-work sheet with fun tasks for my new clients to complete prior to my arrival.

They have looked at their closet pretty closely before I arrive and they have also created a vision board of how they want to style themselves moving forward. Pinterest is a great resource in this visioning exercise.

I then weed out the most obvious but gently ask about each item. I find the backstory and together we call it—stay or go. Through the completion of the pre-work they pretty much know what is going, they just need some coaching and permission to donate it away.

When we are done paring down, we start the fun of trying everything on and then I start making new combinations of outfits. Using what you already own we reimagine the remaining closet.

We create a look book by using your iPhone to capture the outfits as I create them. We also use everything you own – jewelry, scarves, shoes, accessories and outerwear. We typically come away with 7-10 new looks using what you have right in your closet.

What do you think about the 10 item wardrobe? (The habit of curating a wardrobe with fewer clothing items to keep both your mind and wardrobe uncluttered.)

That is my mantra, and I gift everyone the Marie Kondo book to help set the framework for moving forward with fewer things in general. We then talk about curating a wardrobe and that takes time. We may need a full year—two full seasons—before clients totally understand and embrace this concept. It’s totally European and counter to our culture of buying more stuff.

What is one thing people overlook or forget to think about when trying to tap into their own unique style?

Amazingly they overlook their own True North. They are so used to people and ad agency folk and marketing campaigns telling them what is the trend or style of the moment. It is hard for them to tune out the noise. So when they forget that I gently bring them back to center and remind them that unique style is cultivated and it may take up to a year with trial and error to find that unique twist that fits with their authentic self.

What would you suggest to someone who has no idea where to start?

Hire a coach. Just like you would never get under the hood of your car and start pulling out hoses and gaskets to fix it, you instead hire a mechanic. Hire someone to jump start your closet with you. It’s easier to work from the wisdom of someone such as myself vs. trying to learn and read and gather all the info. My work is based on 15 years of service in retail and a lifelong passion for the arts and fashion.

What would you tell someone on a budget? What pieces are worth splurging on? What pieces aren’t?

Budget is my favorite client. We work with as much as we can in the closet at present, and we talk about buying core “boring”pieces that seem like they are just plain but we use those as our work horse pieces. You should splurge on something meaningful. If you love art and you travel and you find a piece that is one of a kind, you should splurge as it will remind you of the place and time of your travels. Trend pieces are not worth buying, if it has a staying power of one season and done it’s just throwing away an opportunity to invest in a core piece that will work for many seasons.

You describe yourself as a “closet crasher with a modern, eco-friendly aesthetic.” Could you expound on what the eco-friendly component of your work is?

I try to reduce waste, so if we can find a way to alter something and save it or repair it, I love that we can reuse it. If we could build some core pieces from thrifting and vintage high-end consignment, that keeps items out of the landfill. If we can reduce our footprint in any way then we can say we are moving toward eco-friendly closet habits. If you have to buy products I like to find them made as fair trade, or made in small batch/Maker Products or brands without a heavy footprint such as Eileen Fisher.

I know you have something special you would like to talk about that’s at the heart of your business. Share with the readers why your work brings you so much joy.

My joy comes from unlocking the person’s potential to enjoy their body today. Dressing for today. Not how you looked 10 years ago, not how you want to look if only you lost 10 pounds, not how you want to dress if only you could spend more. Enjoy today and know your body today with it’s shape and size, and dress for that. I also love that people feel lighter by removing all the extra items that don’t work, may never have worked or won’t really work moving forward. It gives them space to recreate their look and redefine what they want moving forward. It opens up energy and opportunity. Owning your look, and being authentic means you can show up in this life and do the work you were meant to do. With style and grace you move through this life as your authentic self—feeling confident and empowered.

Tell me about the local businesses and organizations you collaborate with. What kind of companies/organizations are they? What are some of your very favorites?

I am on the hunt for local businesses like TIEN2 in Beverly where you will find two artisans working together with a shared maker space and shared values. One of the owners makes custom jewelry and repairs almost anything. The other owner produces small batch designs in clothing. Supporting any local artisan is key to our creative economy. I also work with local herbalists to find the right skin care products that are 100% natural. No chemicals. Looking and feeling healthy is your best accessory.

I also have an opportunity in this work to do pro bono sessions with non profits such as LEAP for Education in Salem where I mentor young adults in the program and help them dress for their first job or college interview.

And finally, can you describe for me a story about how a client—through changing their wardrobe and finding their true style— was changed for the better?

I hear so many stories. I think the ones that touch my heart are the women who say they never had time to do self-care because they were so lost in career, family, juggling life and then they had major life changes and significant body transitions. They somehow lost their way, lost themselves and lost the time and effort to work through their own needs. Settling for items that were just good enough. Not quite right but making due. No budget for themselves. They love that I give them the permission to release all the things that represent someone they once were from another moment in time and emerge feeling lighter and ready to rebuild with some new ideas of how they want to look and feel moving forward. We build upon what they do keep and acknowledge that these are the things that make them look and feel good, and stay positive about those things we need to strategically purchase. They share with me that finally they feel pretty again and empowered.

No matter what you think about style, Lisa Ann is helping people love themselves just as they are. I, for one, think it is a most worthwhile and beautiful endeavor.

You can follow Lisa Ann on Facebook here and Instagram here. You can also find her at www.lisaannschraffasantin.com & lisaannschraffa@gmail.com.