Charlotte Moss is one of the most recognized and respected names in the design world. In addition to writing over eleven books on design, gardens and entertaining, she’s created her own furniture line for Century, carpets for Stark, fabrics, wallpaper, home accessories, art pieces, china for Pickard, jewelry for P E. Guerin, and clothing for IBU Movement. A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte and I sat down to talk about style.
Hers, mine, and how to acquire it.
BRENDA: I think style is one of those words that intimidates people. A lot of women tell me they don’t know how to find their style. I’ve always been inspired by your clothes and your personal style. It’s classy and elegant. How would you define it?
Photograph by Brittany Ambridge
CHARLOTTE: I’d have to say my wardrobe leans towards the classic. I’ve always been a buyer of vintage Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianfranco Ferré, and for evening, Balenciaga, a treasured Jacques Fath and Galanos. I would say the majority is YSL, and there’s nothing to compare to the detailed lines and quality of construction of Ralph Rucci. In the last couple of years it’s been a different kind of wardrobe all together. I’m classic trousers, boots, jackets and great accessories like scarves and jewelry
BRENDA: You accessorize so well. Your pieces are beautiful.
Photograph by Tommy Agriodimas
CHARLOTTE: I love accessories. I think you can put on a black skirt and a white blouse and wear it five days a week, and if you change your accessories, no one would be the wiser. It’s the “the young French girl program:” straight skirt, a jewel neck sweater, and ballet flats. Simplicity is a concept many people grapple with. I think the reason so many people struggle with style is they are just not comfortable with themselves. We are all bombarded with magazine visions of what people call style, the perfect body, the latest look. If you look at the 40s and 50s, women looked like women. There are a lot of tragic fashion moments out there.
Fashion is not style.
Style is how you present yourself to the world every morning when you get up. If you don’t have good grooming, I’m sorry but you will never have style. Style is about self-confidence and discipline. In my business, the same can be said for decorating. If you don’t have good housekeeping, who cares about your decorating. It all circles back to discipline and self-confidence.
Charlotte’s gardens have great style.
BRENDA: I think that’s an outgrowth of self-esteem.
CHARLOTTE: Yes. Self-esteem, then self-confidence, then style. One thing builds on another, but you must put your blinders on and ask yourself, “Who the hell am I? What do I like? What do I want to wear every day? Is a white blouse my signature?” I have a friend who has a big collection of white blouses. She wears black pants, a black skirt, black sweater around her neck and a different white blouse. That’s who she is. That’s her style.
Photograph by Brittany Ambridge
BRENDA: In the 70s, I looked at Vogue magazine and wanted to look like Lauren Hutton. No matter what she wore, she was classy.
CHARLOTTE: She was known for khaki pants, a white blouse and safari jackets. I have about six vintage YSL jackets; maybe subliminally Hutton was my muse. I think it all comes down to liking yourself and honoring yourself and not being afraid to be that person. I think some of us are raised with mothers who are particularly strong and fathers that don’t want their daughters to stand out. We spend all of our early years trying to please our parents and adapting our life and our look before we even have any sense of who we are.
Style takes work, and work takes time.
BRENDA: Has your taste changed over the years?
CHARLOTTE: Yes. I think I wear a lot less color. Again, I’m pretty classic in that sense: black and camel, navy and grey, and accessories to change it all up!
Charlotte’s Living Room
BRENDA: How would you describe your personal decorating style?
BRENDA: That’s the term I would use.
CHARLOTTE: Layered—hopefully elegant, but welcoming—and I think part of being a southerner is that you want rooms to be hospitable. You want them to receive people with open arms and not feel like, “what chair shall I sit on, because they all look so uncomfortable,” or everything looks like it’s been arranged in a way that should not be disturbed. We’ve seen a lot of interiors where there’s not a chair you could squirrel up in with your dog and read a book, or invite people in to have cocktails without perching on the edge. I love comfortable upholstered furniture, arranged in conversation type areas where you would feel like someone’s invited you to come in and have a seat without even uttering a word. The furniture is talking in that way. I know that sounds a little woo-woo.
BRENDA: Not at all. Furniture, by itself, can be very welcoming and inviting or off-putting.
Photograph by Brittany Ambridge
CHARLOTTE: And I want to see things that speak about the personality, about the person, whether it’s their art or a collection on a tabletop. I don’t care if it’s their basket of needlepoint and a stack of book and magazines sitting next to their favorite chair. It speaks them. What interests them.
The shelves in Charlotte’s library are filled with leather bound scrapbooks she’s put together herself.
BRENDA: I’ve gone through life with Mies van der Rohe and a “form follows function” style. Except for wanting a flock of Claude Lalanne’s sheep chairs, like Yves Saint Laurent had, where I’d throw open the French doors and have them streaming in from the courtyard, I didn’t have anything that didn’t have a purpose. That’s not me now, but I’m not sure how to mix patterns. Is there a common thread we should follow like using the same color family?
Charlotte’s New York Study
CHARLOTTE: No. I’m not a decorator that can talk about all of the guidelines and rules. I’ve always operated on instinct. I think instinct is what makes good decorating. If you start looking at a rule book, you’re missing the point, and your eyes are missing everything around you that may be a candidate for making that room right. I can’t do that “decorator talk” about how to arrange pictures and what color goes with what, why plaids shouldn’t go with a print. I just don’t believe in any of that. I think you have to let your eye guide you, and the only way you’re going to develop that eye is by educating it: by reading, asking questions, even by going shopping when you’re not going to buy anything, just to see what’s out there and to see what you’re drawn to. Go to museum exhibitions, antique shows. I recently went back to Paris, my first visit in two years. The first day I just wanted to walk and explore. Paris is a visual feast at every turn. But you don’t have to go to Paris, just keep your eyes open wherever you are. There are so many ways to educate your eye that doesn’t have to be about buying something.
BRENDA: Some people may not understand that it’s that simple.
CHARLOTTE: And that’s okay because that’s why people like me are in business. People, for the most part, have the money and don’t have the time. We have great clients, and we laugh with all of them about the whole process. We have fun! There are some people who are never going to understand how to make a place warm. They’re never going to understand how to dress. I think it’s the same person, actually. You can put on expensive clothes but not have any style. And you can buy a lot of expensive furniture and not have any style. Spending is not going to do it.
Where is your heart? Where is your soul? What are you really interested in?
When I was on Wall Street, we were all starting careers, but we had to dress great every day. I would spend my weekends, going to every sale in town, trying to find great suits, because I couldn’t shop during the week, and I had to make the money stretch. If you don’t have the money, you have to spend the time, and if you’ve got the money, you can either spend it yourself, or hire someone else. It’s really a pretty simple rule. If you’re not willing to spend the time investing in yourself and cultivating your interest, you will just end up spending money again and again.
BRENDA: One of the things I love about you, is you know so much about history and how people lived through the centuries. I think that comes through loud and clear in all of your books, and it influences your design choices. You’ve obviously been educating yourself over the years.
Charlotte’s former home in Aspen.
CHARLOTTE: I was born and raised in Virginia, the seat of American history. You don’t necessarily have to be absorbed by it, but you can’t not be aware of it. I’ve always loved history, but it’s also understanding the zeitgeist of a period of time and connecting the dots. If you look at the curves of Louis XV furniture and you look at fashion and the style of garden parterres, there is a thread of thought that can be drawn up through any period in history. You look at Art Deco buildings and then look at the fashion of the time—the long, silk charmeuse dresses, long and skinny, so were the buildings—it starts to make sense. It’s part of the human condition, and it gets evidenced in a lot of different ways in a certain period of time. I find this all fascinating and want to know more.
Some of my favorite books Charlotte has authored.
BRENDA: The older I get, the older my design preferences become and the antiques I love. In my 20s, I was enamored of Art Deco. Not American Art Deco, but really nice European pieces: Lalique, French bronzes and the oversized posters. I love Edgar Brandt and all of his iron work. Ruhlmann and his beautiful furniture and the wood he used, but now I’ve gone back even further in time. Now I want to be an Italian old lady.
CHARLOTTE: I think what you are saying is you appreciate a lot of different things as I do, but in the end, we all have to sort out who are we? What do we want? What’s our style?
Thank you, Charlotte. I loved our time together.
This was fun Brenda. Well done.
A Part II, for the garden?
That’s a great idea Tara! Thanks! xoxox, Brenda
Enjoyed this! So interesting to read Charlotte’s perspective on an era’s clothing shapes following that of architecture. Perhaps it somewhat explains today’s square, uninspired office and apartment buildings and the oversized, block-y clothing so many women wear.
Ann, You’ve made a great correlation and I must agree. For the most part, todays fashions don’t make a woman look like a woman. They are oversized and chunky, and I will say this until they put me in the ground: Pants that hit above the ankle aren’t flattering on most of us. I keep waiting for pants to graze the ankles again, but so far, it’s not happening. Thank you Ann!
Brenda – I really appreciate your interview with Charlotte Moss and will be purchasing one of her books but can’t decide which one. Her aesthetic in clothing and decorating is enviable. She’s certainly an attractive woman.
I’ve always thought Charlotte Moss had such great taste, and now I see that she’s educated herself and worked hard over time to get it. Loved her insights, and yours. Thank you.
Hi Ella, Charlotte makes such a great point about educating our eye whether it’s in fashion, home decor or our gardens. What’s pleasing to us and what do we like? Thank you for reading and leaving me a note. xoxox, Brenda
Colleen, I’ve always thought Charlotte was stunning. Studying her hair, her clothes, the rooms and products she designs is a design course unto itself. xoxox, Brenda
Charlotte’s words made me feel better about decorating but I’m still buying her books and will be pouring through them for ideas. Thanks again Brenda! You always bring us the best things and I look forward to reading them all.
I’m happy you enjoyed what Charlotte had to say. I’m searching through her books this afternoon for ideas about redoing one of my rooms. Like you, I feel better… freed… to make choices that might not fit a narrow guideline. Thank you Claire! Brenda
I have loved always. Her joy in her homes, books, flowers, gardens and fashion always shines through. I think FUN is so important. Her thoughts about time or money I agree with completely! Well done Brenda. Thanks for giving me an inside glimpse of a much admired person.
Hi Kimberly, I’m glad you liked it. Charlotte’s taste is impeccable, and it’s fun to study photographs of her rooms. I have yet to see a room I could ever have imagined. She gives me endless ideas… Now I just need to narrow them down and implement them. Brenda
Bravo to you and Charlotte! You two make a fabulous Saturday morning read. Hug Annie for Annie and I! ❤️
Thank you Linda!! As always, I love hearing from you! Hugs back to you and Annie! ❤️
Another great interview, always so interesting and thought provok8ng. Thankyou Brenda xxx
Hi Jo, I’m happy you stopped by! How’s your world down under? Have restrictions loosened up? xoxox, Brenda
I love her style. She makes some great points about personal style. Her layering decor wouldn’t work for me, but it’s beautiful to look at and really, I am all about eye candy.
While I love Charlotte’s style, I know I can’t go from a minimalist to layering like she does, but she’s underscored how much I need more layering than I have. Thanks for stopping by, Carol. xoxox, Brenda
Great interview Brenda. I can picture myself living in any of her beautiful rooms, but I don’t have a clue how to make a beautiful room for myself. Does Charlotte have a Style for Dummies book?
Hi Anne, I know what you mean. Sometimes I get so inspired by beautiful rooms, but then freeze when I think about implementing something similar in my home. Even something like paint can hang me up until I decide not to do anything at all. It’s a quandary to be sure. Perhaps she’ll see our thread here and it will give her pause for thought for a new book.
“I WANT TO BE AN ITALIAN OLD LADY!”
OH SHE IS SPEAKING MY WORDS………..I LOVED THIS INTERVIEW!
AS I MENTIONED TO YOU ON INSTAGRAM I WAS FORTUNATE TO MEET HER AFTER SHE DID A LECTURE AT THE San Francisco ANTIQUE SHOW A FEW YEARS BACK SHE WAS WANTING HELP ON HER SECOND BOOK I BELIEVE ON ITS TITLE!
I TOTALLY AGREE WITH HER ON EVERY POINT!WHERE MAY I ASK DID SHE GET THOSE SCRAP BOOKS.THEY LOOK LIKE LEATHER AND MOST LIKELY ITALIAN?I COPIED HER IDEA OF A CAFTAN CAUCUS FOR MY BIRTHDAY PARTY IN THE GARDEN ONE YEAR!
AS YOU KNOW BRENDA I LOVE CAFTANS!!
WHAT A WONDERFUL WOMAN AND HER IDEAS ARE SPOT ON WITH MINE!
WOULDN’T YOU AGREE BRENDA?
I knew you’d love this, Elizabeth! Like Charlotte, you have a layered style. If I tried to do that, it would look like a squirrel, stashing goodies for the winter. Those scrapbooks are ones she did herself. She cut photographs she took, together with ones from a magazine, ticket stubs, plane tickets and then used a glue stick to put them in place. When she was finished she had them bound in red leather. Smashing, aren’t they? Actually you can buy her book, A Visual Life: Scrapbooks, Collages, and Inspirations” she published that’s brings together her own scrapbooks as well as those of other notable women. xoxox, Brenda
Your blog is the best Brenda! Every week you surprise me with something different. Thank you for delighting me again and again! Xo, Barb
Hi Barb! You’ve made my week! Thanks so much for telling me! I appreciate you! xoxox, Brenda
I love Tara’s idea about Part II, in the garden! Please! Especially since spring is right around the corner. After the terrible winter we had last year, most everything in my garden died. I’m going to use it as an excuse to start over and would love some inspiration from Charlotte. Thank you. I’m a long time reader, first time leaving you a comment.
Hi Sue, I’m delighted you’re a longtime reader and you left me a note, and I know Charlotte will be as well. Thank you! I hear you about bad winters. Last year I was without power and water for over a week and like you, most everything died or looks very sad. My biggest problem was lack of plants in the nurseries near me. I think it was related to covid and shipping. I’ve taken your note, and Tara’s, to heart and will pass it along. Thank you again! Brenda
This was absolutely wonderful Brenda. I so admire her personal style as well her design style. Oh and her beautiful gardens! She is one in a million. Thank you for this. I loved it.
Charlotte is a special, talented woman. I’m glad you enjoyed our conversation, because I enjoyed it as well. xoxox, B
This was so insightful, entertaining, and a wonderful read, Brenda…made my day! Hope you are well, friend. Would love to see you next time you’re in the Bay Area! Karen (@figcottagelife) 🙂
I would love to see you as well Karen! You and your beautiful cottage. I’m happy you liked my interview with Charlotte. Style can be a tough one. xoxox, Brenda