If you're among those who religiously watch street style images pouring in from fashion weeks all over the globe, Caroline Issa is probably one of your favorite off-runway personalities, too. The CEO and fashion director of Tank Group has a special kind of appeal: She’s daring, and her use of color always makes us question if we truly do buy too much black clothing—yet she’s also consistent, always appearing pulled together and professional. It’s a balance that’s partially thanks to Issa’s background—she worked in banking and business before leaving it all to follow her fashion dreams to Tank’s London offices—as well as her sincere love for all things style.
It’s for this reason that she was the perfect person to show (and tell) us all about fresh and foolproof outwear. Thanks to her know-how—as well as advice on how to use print, when to wear jeans, etc. no matter what profession you’re in—it soon became apparent in our chat that she can help anyone express their own personal style and incorporate of-the-moment trends without going, as she puts it, “head-to-toe fashion victim.”
Keep scrolling for her words of wisdom as well as four chic and creative ensembles, all featuring that classic Caroline Issa polish.
WHO WHAT WEAR: You started at Tank around 15 years ago—that’s amazing!—with a background in business and banking. How did you think about professional attire then, when you were still so new to the fashion industry?
CAROLINE ISSA: I came from a very non-typical fashion direction. I was a management consultant, so my wardrobe essentially consisted of a navy suit, a black suit, and a brown suit… it was very conservative. When I joined the world of Tank, which was the completely opposite end of the spectrum—especially being in London where fashion is incredibly innovative—I started introducing much more color and print into my wardrobe. But I always had a basis of great tailoring, and I’ve kind of stuck to that. I think my style has definitely become more courageous, mostly because there’s a lot more freedom in the creative industries.
WWW: Besides the most obvious reasons, why is outerwear such an important part of a woman’s wardrobe?
CI: I understand the power of a great coat and outerwear because I think 16 or 17 years ago when I started my career as a management consultant, I knew that having a great coat while having a very conservative suit underneath was the way to stand out a little bit. It was all about a great cut, great color, maybe print. It’s a real problem because I collect a lot of outerwear and it requires a lot of wardrobe space.
WWW: Since you are such a fan of prints and colors, what are some ways people can incorporate them into their style while keeping their look professional?
CI: I think it’s just choosing judicious ways of using them. You might not wear print head to toe, but instead, it’s just in your blouse. You can do it with accessories, but everything else is different tones of gray. Just [wear] touches of print if you’re in a very conservative business environment, but if you’re in more creative industries, I wholeheartedly say go for clashing prints—I think nothing is sacred anymore.
WWW: What’s one classic coat style every woman should own? And what’s a more daring trend of late that’s surprisingly wearable?
CI: A great double-breasted camel coat is the piece every woman should invest in. It’s a little bit more masculine, a little bit more tailored, but I think it looks great even on top of the most feminine ball gowns. And then in terms of the more fun and more outrageous, I just saw the pre-fall collection from Dion Lee, and there’s a great multicolor, fuzzy shearling coat that’s a little bit more oversize and kind of wooly. I think silhouettes that are a little bit more exaggerated actually look really fun and give you an element of fashion in an instant.
WWW: Do you have any winter-specific styling tips for not freezing your face off and still keeping your look super pulled-together?
CI: I’m not one of those girls who sacrifice health or sanity for fashion, so you won’t see me sock-less, you won’t see me in the thinnest of trench coats, and you won’t see me wearing spring collections if it’s going to be minus five in New York. I think that you can invest in a great, crazy-colorful Moncler puffer coat that’s going to keep you warm, or the Balenciaga puffers… there’s so much great outerwear or sportswear that’s highly, highly functional while being highly fashionable. We’re lucky to have so many choices.
WWW: You’ve become quite a staple at Fashion Week. Does that street style fame affect the way you get dressed? Or think about fashion month?
CI: In terms of style, I don’t think that has changed. I am probably a little bit more prepared. I still wear that one outfit from day to night, but I need to be a little bit more prepared about making sure that it can work as I layer off my coat in freezing February in New York to then go to my dinner party and potentially get photographed there. I know that [my photograph is] going out in a lot more places, but I don’t actually think it’s changed the way I actually dress.
WWW: Since your style is very polished, are there certain qualities we can all look for to give our wardrobes the same effect?
CI: In order to look polished, it’s sometimes about getting the basics right: A great pair of trousers that fit well, plain cashmere sweaters, and then some of the more trend-lead pieces like a leopard- or floral-print blouse. It’s things that can nod to trends but you’re not head to toe fashion victim. My big thing nowadays is just to invest in quality and craftsmanship, because I think that actually lasts you so, so much longer.
WWW: In two of your outfits here, you’re doing the draped jacket, fashion-girl move. Do you have any particular tips for pulling that off? It's a tricky balance!
CI: It’s just about layering in the right way. You don’t want anything too bulky underneath. Doing it with a satin trench coat is a little bit more difficult just because that fabric is so slippery, but I think this nubbly gray wool coat is great to have over the shoulder. You also want to make sure that you’re not wearing five layers underneath or it just becomes like the Michelin Man.
On Caroline Issa: Mother of Pearl Mitchell Oversized Embellished Bonded Wool Coat ($1395); Merchant Archive jacket, pants, and shirt; Temperley London shoes; Amey Martin bag.
WWW: We’re curious to know: What’s the real secret to your style? Are you following Instagram accounts for inspiration, do you have a style muse, or are you pinning looks on a secret Pinterest board?
CI: I definitely have a Pinterest board, but to be honest, I actually still photograph and cut out from print magazines, you know my Vogue, my Glamour, my Vanity Fair, magazines like Tank. Those are the things that I really invest my time in on the weekends. I get so many inspiration style tips from that. I’m a girl who grew up putting up tons of tear outs from magazines on her wall, and I think that has continued. I also love street style and people like Tommy Ton and Mr. Street Peeper, and I think film is a great inspiration diving-off point, too.
WWW: And finally, the fashion world has had an obsession with jeans, sneakers, and all things athleisure for a few years now. Do you think they will ever be accepted in a professional setting? Are they ever appropriate?
CI: I’m starting to do more sneakers and denim. I don’t really do the whole ripped-knee, straight-leg sort of thing but I love tailored denim. I’m also currently obsessed with Nike, and I just spent three hours personalizing my first pair online. I just think it’s so fashionable yet so incredibly comfortable.
What's your favorite look from Issa's shoot? Let us know in the comments below.
Credits: Photographer: Phil Taylor; Hair: Jon Chapman at Carol Hayes using ColorProof Evolved color care; Makeup: Emma Day using John Masters Organics at The Wall Group; Wardrobe: Nobuko Tannawa, Fashion Editor at Tank.