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Today! Meet 'Rachael Ray' Style Expert Gretta Monahan

 Photo: Courtesy of Gretta Monahan
Photo: Courtesy of Gretta Monahan

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Gretta Monahan, the style expert for the Rachael Ray Show, just released her first book. Called Style and the Successful Girl, the colorful tome aims to help women discover an easy system for staying true to their individual style personalities (are you a weekend, girly, sophisticated, or sexy gal? Monahan will help you decide and develop your look accordingly.)

Today, the friendly fashion expert will swing by Block 37 from 4 to 6 p.m. to share styling tips, provide one guest with a mini makeover using products from Sephora, and sign copies of her new book. We caught up with Monahan to hear more about her opus magnum, learn which concealer no woman should live without, and discuss how style differs in her three homes: Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.

Style and the Successful Girl is your first book, but you're not new to the makeover game! What made you decide to write the book now?
I wanted to write this first book for a really long time. But before I did, I really wanted to accumulate enough on-the-job experience. Now, I've had my stores [G-Spa, Gretta Cole and Gretty Luxe in Boston] for 15 years, I've had thousands and thousands of people come in for beauty and fashion services; it led all the way to the TV and makeover and expert work that I do. I'm a person who likes to get a lot of data and a lot of experience before I start throwing something down on paper that will be there forever. I've always really wanted to do it, there was a lot travel and working and doing, and then I finally just started writing the book and it came very naturally.

There are a few other style guides out there, it must be said. What makes yours a little different?
Rachael makes things so simple and so fun in the work that she does with food. Working with her has really helped me create a system—and a book full of "recipes," if you will—that are easy and fun for women. I just did not want to write that tells a woman one more time to find a little black dress in a sea of little black dresses, where she doesn't really know what's for her! I really wanted to focus and create a very personalized guide that goes through every stage and every age of a woman's life. In really making that that the top-line priority, I took some time to figure out the architecture of the book to make it great, and to make it read like very much a service manual. It almost feels like I'm sitting in the reader's closet.

So is that what you'll be doing when you meet women today in Chicago—getting inside their heads and getting inside the closets?
Anytime I can do an event when I'm on the ground, and I'm in front of people and I can just have exchanges with women—and they can ask me their questions, tell me what they're stuck on, what their successes are, and we can just share—that's really the way I prefer to roll. So I'm going to do exactly that [at Block 37 today.] I'm looking forward to meeting and seeing everybody talking about everything from image to work. My book covers how to dress for work and for life no matter what stage you're in. So when I go to the markets, I enjoy kind of sitting back and listening to everybody, and hearing what they like, what they don't like, what they need help with. I learn a ton, too, just being out there.

What initially gave you the makeover bug, and made you realize you have a knack for this?
I've always been drawn to beauty and fashion. I went to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology [in New York ]and then I started working in in hair and makeup, and I opened a salon [GrettaCole, in Wellesley Massachusetts.] So my background is very hands-on. I always say what differentiates me from other experts is that I'm really a person who's done services and I've worked with real women. At all my stores, we work with real women. And only in the second half of my career have I been interacting with celebrities and working on a TV platform and working as an expert. But the truth of the matter is, I'm really based in reality in all ways. I buy clothes for my store in all sizes. The women I dress are not all size-zero; they're not all starlets, and they're not all 17. And, most importantly, not everyone has an endless budget.

But it wasn't until I was having dinner with Rachael—this was before she had her show, when we were becoming friends—and she said: "you're really down to earth, you're really accessible, you keep everything simple, why don't you try styling?" So I have to give her credit! I had done a little bit of TV, but she was the one who said: "you don't realize this, but there are a lot of women out there who would enjoy having this [styling] help."

Not having an endless—or even a big-ish—budget resonates with a lot of people right now. How do you overcome that if you're trying to build a great wardrobe?
It's the best time it's ever been to be on a budget for fashion and style. So I tell people: if you think budget is your hangup, it's not. I have a Rachael Ray challenge every week on the show, where I wear a $50 look. The whole look—shoes, accessories, and outfit—has to equal under $50. And you know what? It's totally doable. My looks get better and better as I get more and more disciplined and really learn the ins-and-outs of shopping, and that's covered in my book. I do a whole section on the modern thinking around how you invest in your style. It used to be that if you bought something and it didn't work, you were stuck with it. But you're not anymore. You can swap it, you can sell it—there are so many things that you can actually do to get money and create kind of a nice cycle of money coming back. So you can keep your look refreshed and keep your style sharp. That part is exciting. It's definitely a good time to be on a budget.

Which stores do you love for budget-friendly style?
I like stores that really pay attention to fine design, and know that their clients don't want to spend a lot but still want a lot of options, and want to live a very stylish life. Target would be number one. Zara is a great example; H&M is another one; Macy's does a great job with a lot of their private collections. I'd have to say QVC, also. They're getting better and better at having a lot available for preference and price. We didn't have those options before. These have just popped up by customer demand, which I always think is the best way for a new category or a new business to be born.

You'll be giving one fan a mini makeover at Block 37's Sephora today. What are your go-to beauty products?
I'll take you through what I use! Peter Thomas Roth has an amazing skincare line that I carry in my spas, and you can basically treat any type of skin with that product line. It's a clinical line that my aestheticians love. June Jacobs Spa Collection is basically the counterpoint of that. It's all natural, all aromatherapy, so instead of being clinical it's more of a spa-therapy line. The people who have sensitive skin, who really like to keep their products much more natural—June Jacobs is great for that. I also love Sephora's own brand, I buy a lot of their makeup—their cosmetics are terrific. And Laura Mercier! I cannot get enough of the Camouflage Concealer, which I think that every woman can use. I love Urban Decay for color, because they really offer a wide range for all skin types. The reason Sephora is my go-to place is that I'm working with every age, every skin type, every condition, and I need cosmetics-and-skincare one-stop shop. And that's where I get it done. It's like the best supermarket for beauty there is.

Finally, you divide your time between New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Where do you feel most at home, style-wise?
I think I have to say New York, but I feel like I have a little bit of personality in each city. When you start out in my book, I give you my "successful girl system." The whole basis of it is that I believe that you can't have successful style unless your personality matches up directly with your look. So, you might like Jennifer Aniston or you might love to look at Cameron Diaz. But when you go and you copy their look exactly, it's still not your look. It has to match up with you , and then you have to build it from there, just the way that they did. New York is what rolls off my tongue in terms of where I feel most at home, because I'm a fashion enthusiast, and I'm kind of a groupie. I love fashion shows and that's where fashion lives, New York City.

When I go to LA, though, I definitely enjoy participating in fashion in a more causal way. In my book I start you out with four "types" of styles that are the most common, and I want you to get your own style really focused and easy. But by the end of the book, when you understand all the ingredients and all the style recipes and you can identify style in a more clear and easy way, I graduate you. I say: if you want to blend, or add some ingredients and go on to customize your look, you go ahead. But don't ever give up the core of who you are and your style personality. But tweaking it, using and enjoying different dimensions of your personality, is really fun. So when I'm in LA though I'm girly-girl at heart, I'm more weekend-y girly-girl, I'm more casual. Because L.A. is that kind of environment. It's very jeans-y and distressed leather and beach-y, so it's very fun to kind of add those extra ingredients.

And then for Boston, Boston is a very sophisticated city. It's a small city, but it's very international in nature, everyone knows that. So when you walk through Boston you can sometimes blink and think: Am I in Boston, or am I in Europe? And that sort of calls us more structured, streamlined, clean dressing. And Boston is a very efficient city. So, though it's not at the rat-rack pace of New York it's still very much a city that's moving, so that king of streamlined style works well there. So I kind of get in touch with every girl that I am, and practice what I preach in my book.
· Block 37 [Official Site]
· Gretta Monahan [Official Site]

Block 37

108 N State Street, Chicago, IL 60602 Visit Website

Block 37

108 North State Street, Chicago, IL