Irene Hofmann

The Baltimore Sun

Leave it to Irene Hofmann to stand out in a crowd, even the lunchtime crowd at Roland Park's Petit Louis Bistro. The Contemporary Museum's executive director has her own distinct style, drawing from the mid-20th century. Her love of that period also led her to buy a house from that era in Greenspring Valley, where the 39-year-old continues making style statements.

Self-described style:: "Diane von Furstenberg meets Bettie Page"

The look: : Black ribbed cotton/modal Michael Stars turtleneck. Black featherweight wool wrap BCBGirls cardigan. Black pinstripe gabardine slacks. Brown vintage llama coat from the 1950s. Black high-heel oxfords. Black leather Marc Jacobs tote with buckle embellishments.

Where it came from: : She ordered the turtleneck from She bought the cardigan in California a few years ago. Her slacks came from Express. Her shoes were purchased at an Aerosoles on the Upper West Side in New York City - "my feet were killing me, and I decided to buy some sensible shoes." Her coat was her grandmother's, then her mother's before it became hers. She bought the bag in a store in California.

Fashion is art:: "For me, it's a creative expression. And happily, I'm in a field where that's encouraged."

Her fashion sense is also about fashion "cents": : "I'm certainly a girl on a budget. I like nice things, so for me, it's really investing in those signature items that will last. That's key for me. If I'm going to invest in that bag, that piece of jewelry or those shoes, then it has to stand the test of time, both literally - not wear out on me - but through all the trends, so that these things become timeless.

When a bargain isn't one: : "I got this Marc Jacobs bag as a fake on Fifth Avenue. I paid $50 for it or something like that. I loved it and I carried it for about a month before the thing fell apart. And then I felt stupid. I realized I needed to carry the real thing. It's now three years later. The leather ages so beautifully. That $50 bag that I thought was such a bargain on the street corner really wasn't the bargain. The real thing was."

Her work "uniform": : "Most workdays, people will find me wearing art-world black. ... I think for me, it's making that uniform of black become more interesting with vintage pieces that I might have, whether it's a bag or jewelry."

When all else fails, she goes DVF: : "My foolproof outfit - when it needs to be perfect, it needs to be right - is a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress ... Diane von Furstenberg, who creates these dresses that look good on so many women, so many body types. That's what's so timeless about them. They're powerful, but so feminine."

The appeal of vintage : "Another designer I don't see on the East Coast, because her inspiration really is Southern California - Los Angeles, Palm Springs - is Trina Turk. Her clothes really go for me with the kind of furniture that I love, which is mid-century design. A lot of bold patterns, tunics, maybe the kind of clothes you would imagine wearing in a glamorous pool side party in Palm Springs, in the 50s.

How she shops: : "My most favorite pieces I find when I'm not planning to go shopping. That's generally when I'm traveling. I'm in New York a lot walking down a street and I'll see a small boutique with something unique in the window. Now, you can also find me in Century 21 in New York. Completely opposite from the boutique, it's the big, loud, crowded mega-store where you can find fabulous deals on designer clothes, if you're willing to put up with all the noise and the lines."

Other fashion soft spots: : "Boots. I definitely have more boots than I have any other kind of shoe. Boots and a pencil skirt is a favorite [look] for me. ... My other fashion must is my red lipstick, Nars Dragon Girl. It's a really bright red. It's taken me years to find just the right red that goes with the hair color, the skin tone. I hope they never discontinue that color."

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