portraits of style: tonya, 45
A friend once said "style is personal and political," and I love that concept: dressing for your expression of self, what you stand for, and not for the pleasure of others. Portraits of Style is a new feature, sharing the portraits and interviews of people who are over 40, and who define what it means to be stylish: focusing what happens when they throw away the fashion magazines, and instead choose what they wear based on what makes them feel great and what they want to express. This is style -- on their terms.
This week, I'm featuring my friend, make-up artist Tonya Riner. I met Tonya about 25 years ago -- I was signed to a modeling agency here in Houston (you'll have to read Make Light to learn more about that!), and Tonya was one of the make-up artists who was represented by the agency. We lost touch, but a few months ago, she found me online -- and we met for a three-hour lunch. She is as warm and charming and lovely as she always was -- and incredibly stylish, as well. So when I asked her if she would allow me to photograph and interview her for this feature, I was thrilled when she agreed. Here's what she had to say.
I'm absolutely mindful about what I express through my style. I want to be ... disarming. I never want to look like I'm wearing armour.
KW: So, Tonya, we have known each other a long time.
TR: A long time.
KW: And as long as I've known you, you've been stylish.
TR: Thank you!
KW: Do you have any style icons?
TR: Christy Turlington, for sure. She's someone who never looks like she's trying too hard, you know? And Helen Mirren. And definitely Joan Juliet Buck, the former editor-in-chief of French Vogue. She's so elegant.
KW: You've been in the fashion industry for the entire time I've known you. Do you think there's a difference between style and fashion?
TR: Yeah, I do -- I think of style as being something that is inherent. And it's completely personal. Fashion is just one of the means you can use to go about expressing that style.
KW: And are you mindful about expressing your style?
TR: Absolutely. I mean, because I work in fashion, there's certainly an expectation of what I'm supposed to look like when I show up for work -- I'm expected to be fashionable. And since so many photo shoots include behind-the-scene video, it's almost a non-negotiable. But even given this, I want to be as comfortable and classic as I can get away with. I wear white a lot -- it's sort of my signature colour. And I want to be ... disarming. I never want to look like I'm wearing armour. But I'll also try to have something edgy or current -- like, this shirt is pretty classic, but the cut is current.
KW: I love that. So your shirt is "current" -- what about "edgy"?
TR: Well, I'm from a small town in Kansas, and I'm blonde and blue-eyed -- and sometimes there's a negative stereotype that goes with all of that. People think I'm ... sweet.
KW: ... well, you are sweet...
TR (laughing): Well, thank you, but people assume I'm TOO sweet, or a doormat. And ... simple. Which I'm not.
KW: No, you're definitely not.
TR: Right. And so I try to wear something a bit edgy to counteract that image. I want people to have a more accurate view of who I am, and I have a bit of edge to me, you know?
KW: I do. And speaking of edgy, your necklace -- it's pretty incredible. Tell me about it.
TR: I actually wear this necklace on most days -- the chain and the medallion belonged to my grandmother. I don't even remember how it came to me, but it's my most treasured possession, and I rarely take it off. The butterfly -- well, I just love butterflies. In my life, butterflies kept showing up at just the right time and in the most extraordinary places, so I started to pay attention and trying to get a photo when I could. I saw them everywhere, real ones floating up over the edge of an overpass, 80 feet up, and the shape of them in clouds, leaves, woodgrain, trash…some of them require a healthy dose of imagination, but regardless, they put me in the most peaceful frame of mind. So I wear one.
And finally, I met Katie Scott, the designer of the thorn pendant, maybe ten years ago at a dinner and commented on her beautiful jewelry. She was just considering starting to design, and I went to look at her designs. Her description for this pendant said, the thorn was "a reminder that pain and love coexist, yet we should never allow fear to intercept the divine gift of love. Living without love is more painful than the risk involved in living with freedom of the heart." It was just what I needed to be reminded of at the time -- well, all the time -- and I ordered one on the spot.
I think I'm done with adding charms to this necklace, though. It feels done.
KW: It's gorgeous. I love jewelry with a soul.
TR: So do I.
KW: So what advice would you give someone who is unsure about their style?
TR: Well ... honestly, just don't be afraid. Have some comfort in knowing that everyone else feels the same about their style. Someone once said that "age is the great equalizer," and I think that's the truth -- and the best part of being this age is that no one really cares about how anyone looks anymore. So have fun.