Eugene Simms: Fearless, Peerless Style

Model in colorful ethnic prints and gold facepaint. Styled by Eugene Simms.

Eugene Simms, chief style curator of ESA Style, LLC is a fearless stylist who weaves empowerment into his down-to-earth fashion advice and creative consultations for companies right here in Washington, DC. We chatted about everything from how to wear silk crepe pants, chic spring-weather layering and his favorite local tailors. Eugene even knows some very cool vintage boutiques in the city. There is a reason why I can’t stop talking about Eugene on this blog. Eugene has worked his own way up, at first self-taught and now expertly trained. He is fighting for his dream and has made himself peerless.

(And I have to be very for-real with you, our excellent dinner at Purple Patch in Mount Pleasant definitely helped frame the chic conversation.)

“Lead the pack, don’t follow it.”

That’s Eugene.

“Style is effortless; it shouldn’t be forced or contrived.”

Yep, that’s Eugene again.

“Each and every day you have an opportunity to make many first impressions.”

I love this theory of fashionable reincarnation.

“Your closet should always make you happy. If something doesn’t make you happy, let it go.”

Simply karmic.

“Style is everything that you are.”

And effortless style is also everything that Eugene embodies.

Eugene is slim, tall, and certainly no stranger to fashion and all that flourishes from its elegant touch. You can tell that fashion has touched Eugene in his life because he always wears something that I’d call wow-some: His outfits cause you to stand up, shake his hand right away and smile. When we met at Purple Patch the other day, Eugene was wearing cobalt blue twill pants which smouldered in the golden lighting, a high Nehru collared coat with fine embroidery and warm rose socks. His glasses were rimmed with just enough metallic cobalt to polish off the look for a posh-ish Sunday evening dinner. I say ‘posh-ish’ because Purple Patch is a wonderful Filipino-American restaurant with high-tone dishes, but the soul of Mount Pleasant in northwest Washington, DC is also alive inside the space, so things are intelligent while affordable, multicultural and very chilled-out. I’m a Mount Pleasant native, I should know.

Eugene wearing a high-collared, embroidered blue vintage blazer

I immediately asked Eugene what he was wearing, because this is a great outfit…

Eugene is wearing Why Not Boutique in the photo. I found the embroidered jacket with silver buttons delightful. It actually made me think of the The Beatles. And Eugene made a point of distinguishing vintage boutiques from thrift stores: offerings at vintage boutiques are more curated. Take Tiger Swan Timeless boutique downtown by Nikki Lewis for example and KuratedbyKE (by Kizzy Evaé), another boutique which specializes in vintage styles from the late 1800s-1990s.

Do You Angry-shop?

As soon as we started to talk about shopping, Eugene gave me some excellent advice that should be intuitive for all of us. It may be tempting to go shopping after a rough day, but Eugene actually recommends that you never shop when your mood is crappy. What you’re feeling at the moment can manifest in what you buy. It’s better to slow down, deal with whatever concern you have, and then head out to the stores when you’re ready to put something positive in your shopping bag.

And what’s in this season? For spring, a mash of 70s, 80s and 90s styles are resurging. Brands are doing everything imaginable to bomber jackets, (embroidery, satin, patches, glitter, God knows what else) that you may have noticed. What I wasn’t up on was the resurgence of wide-leg pants. Think palazzo pants. But Eugene cautions you don’t want to think about anything reminiscent of a circus tent. If you’re going to rock the wide-leg trend, think of flowers. Your legs are the stems and floating around your ankles are the flowers in bloom. Nervous about the wide-leg look, but still want to try it? Eugene says to  get a pair of single or double pleated pants. And he says that men, especially, may want to try a single or double pleat, per GQ Magazine.

Prince costume at 2016 Purple Reign: Indie Fashion Week Finale Runway Show, styled by Eugene Simms
Prince cosplay at 2016 Purple Reign: Indie Fashion Week DC Finale Runway Show, styled by Eugene Simms, photo by Ricco

And silk pants? Yes, I went there. I saw a woman wearing them on the subway once and stopped the interview with Eugene to squeeze in my burning question: How the heck do you wear silk pants? Eugene, when quizzed, always has the best answers. Silk pants come in many finishes. They range from raw (uneven surface resembling cotton) to smooth, so Eugene says you can really play with textures. Try a vintage lace blouse or sheer poplin shirt. Also, choose pants that fit you to avoid any awkward wrinkling.

Eugene further recommends purchasing pants for your body type; don’t focus so much on your numerical size. Whatever your body type, you should play around with different sizes and cuts until you find the right fit. You might also appreciate high-waist pants to enhance your silhouette. By the way, Eugene comes from a family of curvy women; his own mother resembles ‘a big woman done right’ in his own words, and that created his foundation for working with different body types.

Model wearing lovely white shirt and high waist, wide-leg black pants
Styled by Eugene Simms, model is Aida, photo by Xingni Kilby

As far as his background, Eugene is a native Washingtonian and so is his mother. His father was from Kingston, Jamaica. While Eugene was growing up, style and looking presentable were emphasized in his family. When you went out, you represented the family. Eugene always had an interest in fashion, though he started out with biology in college, and an interest in becoming an animal conservationist. When that didn’t really fit, Eugene pursued retail jobs. He got his big break working at Club Monaco in Georgetown. Eugene has warm memories of the store at that time. There were many styles focused on black, white and neutral tones with pops of color. Placed in the women’s department, Eugene was fascinated by what he saw each day. Beyond work, Eugene did his own research on fashion and enjoyed reading more and more about it. He eventually asked if there was any other way he could help at the store, anything to get more involved. Finally, Eugene’s eagerness won him opportunities to dress the mannequins. Haven’t you always wondered how someone gets the chance to do that?

Eugene dressing mannequins for his Lord and Taylor fashion event.
Eugene dresses mannequins for his Lord and Taylor fashion event.

Dressing mannequins isn’t as easy it may seem. Eugene was presented with pictures of what the end result should look like. They were nothing like LEGO instructions showing exactly which item should go where. From the picture, Eugene had to use his imagination and ‘the eye’ he had cultivated to build the rest. Club Monaco was the real proving ground, where Eugene learned about silhouette, and the effects of color and texture.

In 2008, Eugene interned with DC Fashion Week and gained exposure to local and international designers. When I ran into Eugene again in life a few years after that (we came up in middle school together), he was busy volunteering with more and more fashion events here in DC. Eugene is the one who told me that Washington, DC, has a fashion scene and pointed me in the direction of the first Jem-to-Jerricka moment I ever had, at 2015 Indie Fashion Week DC show. Indie Fashion Week DC is a semi-annual series that highlights emerging fashion in the DC, Maryland and Virginia area.

And really, I should say that, without Eugene paying his fashion-passion forward, this blog, Royal Jelly DC, wouldn’t exist. I don’t think I would have seen myself, a creative, geeky person, who has just slightly more outfits than she has Pokémon (my Pokédex says 150+) , as someone who belonged on the fashion scene. I really admire Eugene’s ability to make fashion inclusive.

The models are wearing local menswear designer, Andrew Norwell during
Models wearing DC men’s wear designer Andrew Norwell during Sophistiqué: A City in Bloom event, photo by Ayesha Khwaja

Fast forward to today. Eugene nods happily at Cold Hearted Snake by Paula Abdul as it plays over the speakers at Purple Patch. This is one of his favorite songs, and he loves the music video. I go back to trying to ignore our delicious roasted beet salad while I take notes. (Patrice, the owner—and certainly a fashionista in her own right, because those were lovely silver chandelier earrings—dropped by and explained to us: roasted beets, baby arugula and cherry tomatoes make up this yummy appetizer that Eugene and I get every time we visit. Also try the tasty ube bread pudding for dessert; it’s killer. Anyway, food fantasizing aside… ) Eugene goes on to share his advice for up-and-coming stylists.

To get started as a stylist, Eugene says…

  1. Figure out your point of view. Make sure that what you are focusing on is true to who you are as an individual.
  2. Research how the stylist business works. Eugene recommends reading Business of Fashion. and the book “Secrets of Stylists: An Insiders Guide to Styling the Stars” by Sasha Charnin.
  3. Get a stylist kit for working photo shoots: double-sided tape, safety pins and clips to prevent garments slipping; dress shields to cover and protect clothes from sweat stains…
  4. Study the industry and know the brands. Eugene watches the Vogue Runway app on his phone, and I lit up one time I ran into him on the bus and he had a copy of Harper’s Bazaar in hand, some homework he’d picked up for himself.
  5. And while you’re watching things like Vogue Runway, pay close attention to details: panier pleats; drop waists; any keyword that you can define for yourself.
  6. Know the top models, agencies, editors, casting directors, etc. Know the designers for each brand. Know all of the industry people that makes things happen. Eugene says that people in the business may try to see if you really know your stuff, so make sure that you do. For instance, Eugene pointed out a common mistake. Dior is not designed by Dior anymore… Christian Dior has long since passed away. In fact—the current designer is the first woman appointed, Maria Grazia Chiuri. (You might have known that, but I laughed with embarrassment that I never learned this little fact. Another solid reason for us humans not to nod along in conversation that someone is ‘really great’ when they might not even be alive!)

And collaborating with other artists sounds like it should definitely be on the menu too. Eugene currently works with innovative local talent:

Have You Ever Secretly Wanted to Work With a Stylist?

Beautiful orange and blue print dress styled by Eugene Simms.
Model styled by Eugene Simms. (Oh God, I would totally wear that!) Model is Aida, photo by Xingni Kilby

I have, but when it did happen, I totally did not see it coming. Like at all. A few years back, I invited Eugene over to dinner. When we were done with the baked tilapia, the conversation turned to fashion, then he went through my closet and showed me all the things that worked and all the things that weren’t the best fit for my style. He even showed me new combinations I never considered that were just sitting in my wardrobe. It was refreshing and I felt empowered by the end of our chat. I saw myself in a new way, and I was happy to learn that I could re-arrange what I already had, since I was on a budget.

What Eugene Offers

Eugene offers style assessments like this one, a 90-minute, one-on-one session. First he wants to know who you are and what your style goals are. Now, that’s a great way to go about it. My greatest fear regarding the fashion world is that there are people out there who want to judge you and rip your individual sense of style apart. Eugene doesn’t do this.

Here’s proof: Once, I texted Eugene a picture of a white blazer I wanted to wear to work one morning. He texted me back with details about the cut and shape of the garment then said, “We can do better.” And he proceeded to give excellent advice which later guided me toward exchanging the blazer for a much better fit with my body type. Actually, his advice motivated me to find the same blazer in a better size, which I would have never considered.

Years ago, pre-Eugene, I would have sulked, thought something negative about my body type, and stuffed the wrong-size blazer back in the closet. Instead, I now have a lovely boxy-white blazer that I adore since it fits, a la Eugene, and I know what works with it.

Eugene also offers style redirection, which means he can do an even deeper dive for people who want a true change in life. People sometimes ask to refresh their wardrobes because they’ve made a career change, want to date again with a new look or have just finished a divorce. There are many reasons why style redirection may be a great way to freshen the way you feel, move and engage others each day.

Eugene's violet check pants and inspired gold and black shoes.
Eugene’s own fresh take on the slacks-and-shoes combo

A style rebuild means that you gut your entire closet because you feel it no longer reflects who you are. Eugene is a big believer in your clothing exuding your essence, and at that, we both reflected on how items of clothing, or shoes that sit around in your closet but don’t fit you, that you even hate when you pass by them each day, sometimes a few times a day—this just causes stress. So, pitch it! (Or, go to a consignment store and get some money for your gently used items.)

For businesses, Eugene also does speaking engagements and works with fashion brands to clarify their image. He helps establish the mood of your brand, chooses a style direction, matches your business up with ideal wardrobes and designers, and he coordinates photoshoots. I really wish I knew how to do a tenth of any of that. Geez!

More Tips Straight From the Stylist

Now here’s some free style advice Eugene was more than happy to share.

1. Be Effortless

Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses, and don’t try to focus too hard on labels. Focus instead on what looks good on you, what you like.

2. Watch Out for Heels and Tight Clothes

To the ladies, Eugene suggests that you avoid staggering tall heels that only hold you captive at a fancy event. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What is my ideal heel height?’ Go with something sensible based on that. And then, invest in great flats and dare to wear them with a floor length dress. Eliminate ‘tight’ and ‘fitted’ from your vocabulary and embrace tailoring.

3. Get Good ‘Drawers’

Also, Eugene believes that underwear should be the foundation of your wardrobe. I proved that point myself during our dinner. I was busy eating sizzling sisig (tasty!) while wearing a cold shoulder sweater (shoulders cut out of the sweater), and the unflattering gray undershirt strap that I had just thrown on underneath slipped free. Eugene politely reached forward and nudged it before I even realized what had gone awry. He smiled, “Invest in good drawers! And you need to tell it just like that, write ‘drawers!’ ” So I crossed out the word ‘underwear,’ and now you get the message.

4. Jackets and Spring Layering for Men

Some advice for the guys… you’ll want to check out Shaka King, a local men’s wear designer and executive director of DC Fashion Incubator. (If you’re a designer, you definitely want to look at their mentoring programs and workshops.) Eugene says designer Shaka King has lots of on-trend embroidered bomber jackets featuring tigers that are worth checking out. And for clever spring layering, try a stripe or solid button-up-the-neck shirt for clean lines and wear a thin, gauzy turtleneck underneath.

Model in purple shades, blue shirt, jacket and slacks, styled by Eugene Simms.
Styled by Eugene Simms, model is Christopher, photo by Willpower Photos

5. Unisex Layering for Everyone

Eugene even suggested a unisex look for layering sweaters and shirts for everyone now that the weather is changing. Mix winter and spring pieces by pairing lighter knits and outerwear with spring items. Use pastels and bright saturated colors with a tweed jacket, for example. If you layer, go with slim layers and feel free to play with patterns and texture. Try a floral blouse or shirt with a pullover sweater, but then keep the shirt buttoned all the way up and flip up the collar to look high-tone, yet casual. Try on a chunky sweater but then leave your coat opened and cinched with a belt across the sweater. It’s a look that’s been on the runway of late. You can even layer coats by wearing a long duster beneath a shorter jacket.

6. Get in the Pink

Blush tones are also really in now. Think dusky pink blazers and shirts that also double as a neutral tone that you can wear with other colors. Blush tones are one of the new neutrals. Also try gold-tone detailed accessories.

7. Have a Tailor in Your Pocket

And for everyone, getting the right fit is incredibly important, especially if you shop off the rack. Eugene recommends the Tailoring & Alteration Center on Fenton Ave., in Silver Spring, Md. and Parkway Custom Drycleaning on Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase, Md. (I was excited to see that Yelp.com and The Washingtonian also speak highly of these places.)

Want to Talk to Eugene?

If you’d like to work with Eugene and ESA Style, LLC, you can reach him on Instagram @e.s.a_style1 or by email. (Eugene is currently building his website.) I asked what the average person can expect and Eugene says he would be happy to provide advice and walk you through “The Five Keys to Style”, which are the cornerstone to any good wardrobe. What are those? Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been sworn to secrecy—okay, not so much secrecy, but if you want to know, contact Eugene! 🙂

ESA Style, LLC logo

I am very glad that Eugene helped make me more comfortable with who I am in my clothes, and I’m sure I won’t be the last one to feel compelled by Eugene to fully embrace style in her own life. I hope Eugene goes on to take his company international and become a style influencer like he dreams.

“People with great style are free and unencumbered by the opinions of others… You get comfortable with all that you are.”

Thank you, Eugene. You could not have put it better.

Stay tuned for more fashion profiles on Royal Jelly DC. Are you an aspiring fashion mogul in the Washington, DC area? Get in touch and help me empower others to fulfill their dreams. Contact me

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