I like to think that my role in the fashion industry has been a bit like Project Runway's position among reality shows, which is a voice of simple reason. Let others be shimmery and flashy and brilliant. (And no one loves daring geniuses more than I do.) I will always be there in the wings saying, "You need to be good to people. You need to take your work seriously. You need to have integrity. You need to work with what you've got."
A woman behind me in line at Starbucks the other day introduced herself as an assistant at a popular women's magazine. "Are you taking a break?" I asked.
"No, I'm here getting coffee for everyone." She laughed a bitter laugh and showed me a mile-long list.
"It's all in the details," I said. "Do everything one thousand percent. You could be editor in chief some day!"
I'm afraid she thought I was teasing her, but the fact is I am constitutionally incapable of being snarky. I'm not throwing out barbs and making fun of people. I believe in giving a dimension of seriousness to the whole enterprise of creating and talking about clothes, even to red-carpet reportage, and I'm very proud of that.
As anyone who's been on the red carpet can tell you, the experience is terrifying. You're always just a hair shy of enduring a humiliating moment or facing someone who's just there to make fun of you. I thought: I need to be an antidote to all this horrible stuff.
As many people who watch Project Runway know, I am a stickler for good manners, and I believe that treating other people well is a lost art. In the workplace, at the dinner table, and walking down the street—we are confronted with choices on how to treat people nearly every waking moment. Over time these choices define who we are and whether we have a lot of friends and allies or none.
So how do we do this social thing well? And by "well," I mean: How do we become more respectful and further our own goals at the same time? Dear reader, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive; they're mutually beneficial—and that's what this book is all about.
To maintain anything like a good working relationship with people, to get by in the world successfully, you need to have good manners. (And you need a sense of humor or you may as well slit your wrists.)
I reflect on manners, or the lack of them, each and every day. There are times when I want to stop the world for a moment and ask certain people some probing questions, such as: All of these people are trying to get off the subway train. Why do you six people think you should enter before we leave? Don't you realize that if you just clear a path we can get off and you can get on? In the Internet age, even the very word manners seems antiquated.
Life moves so rapidly these days that it's easy to feel justified in being rude.
"I'm rushing home to the babysitter. That's why I didn't say 'thank you' to the cashier."
"If I treat my assistant humanely, maybe it will be taken as a sign of weakness and I will lose my job."
"I get so many e-mails, there's no time to respond, much less to be eloquent."
With the advent of certain omnipresent technological devices, with chivalry long gone, with message boards teaching young people that anonymous rudeness is acceptable, we are looking at a great amount of change for the worse.