Style in the City

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Fashion and beauty expert Amy Tara Koch is a Midwest makeover maven.

When Amy Tara Koch thinks about the start of her career, she envisions her grandmother’s closet. In fact, the energetic style expert, author and journalist is quick to pop out of a chair in her River North office and point to a photo of her fashionable grandmother, dressed in black and pearls. “Oh my god, she was so chic,” Ms. Koch exclaims, recalling some of her grandmother’s favorite phrases like, “It doesn’t have to match; it can blend.”

Today, Ms. Koch thinks of that phrase, and so many others, when she shares her style and beauty thoughts through writing and broadcast segments with outlets such as The New York Times, USA Today, The Huffington Post, Extra, E! and others. Inspired by her grandmother’s eclectic sensibility and sense of adventure, Ms. Koch has become a leading fashion expert, willing to mix and match styles, while unabashedly proclaiming her love of thrift and resale shops. “I can sense luxury from miles away,” she says with an easy smile and quick wit (not to mention perfect teeth). ”It’s like The Sixth Sense.”

Growing up, Ms. Koch lived in Miami, where she fell in love with sexy, exotic styles and big jewelry. After moving to Michigan for college and graduating with a degree in English, she relocated to London and, on scholarship, enrolled in a post-graduate program in fine and decorative arts at Sotheby’s. Today, she laughs at the memory of her duties with the auction house, explaining certain elements of the recent sale to the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. “I’ve always loved the glam life,” she proclaims.

After the program ended, she returned to Miami and worked at Christie’s Auctions, where she visited clients in magnificent homes and brought their artwork to the auction house. “I took in collections of Impressionist art, Latin American masterpieces and tons of jewelry,” she says. “In fact, I got to act as a courier and bring the jewelry, by hand, to New York City quite often.”

It wasn’t long until she moved to New York, where one of the people she met was a friend-of-a-friend named Amy Spindler – the fashion critic with The New York Times and style editor of The New York Times Magazine. Ms. Spindler, who would become her mentor, made some introductions. Ms. Koch then began working in the marketing department at a series of magazines, including Paper and Mademoiselle. With her job at Paper, she got to travel to the big fashion shows. “I used to fly as a courier, because they didn’t have enough money to send me to cover fashion week,” she says. “I went to Milan, London, Paris. I’d sleep on my friends’ floors. I just made it happen.”

Being in publishing, Ms. Koch made some great connections; it wasn’t long before BCBG offered her a job as director of marketing and PR, based in Los Angeles. Through that job, she met celebrities and bigwig executives, and eventually started her own fashion and beauty consulting business focusing on branding and marketing. Over the years, she’s worked with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Julie Delpy, Jessica Simpson and the star-studded list goes on.

She loved living in L.A., so when she rekindled a relationship with an old college flame, she was torn. He worked in finance in Chicago and wanted her to join him. It took some convincing, but she did it, and the two married. In Chicago, Ms. Koch decided to pursue her dream of being a writer. She penned fashion and style pieces for the Chicago Tribune and established her own column in the RedEye, while also freelancing for The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, a number of inflight magazines, and producing “Trend Talk,” a regular style segment on NBC. In fact, it was a story that she wrote for CS magazine in 2002 called “Bloated on the Bias” that led to her first book, Bump it Up: Transform Your Pregnancy into the Ultimate Style Statement.

“It was filled with out-of-the-box styling ideas so women could maintain their fashion identity,” says Ms. Koch, who was pregnant with her first child when she wrote the story. She’s currently working on her second book, 5 Minute Fixes: Easy Style Solutions for Busy Moms, which will be filled with personal anecdotes and fashion tips for on-the-go mothers.

The goal of the book is to help moms feel better about themselves. “When you become a mom, you just lose a sense of yourself. You can’t help it; it’s like helicopter parenting,” explains Ms. Koch. “You become so laser focused on your children that something’s got to give, and half the time that something is you. So you just don’t work out. The first thing that goes is highlights; then you don’t get the hair done; then it’s the nails; then you’re in sweatpants every five minutes. But I’m not pointing a finger. I get it. I’m a working mom of two.” Her two daughters are 8 and 11.

Through all of her work, Ms. Koch says she loves building confidence in women. To broaden her impact, she recently began offering styling services in Chicago that can be tailored to a person’s needs. She’ll help de-clutter closets, identify basic layers to build upon, shop for great deals and even give pointers, along with her team, in the areas of hair, skin care and makeup.

“When you feel good about yourself, your shoulders are back, you walk with confidence and you have confidence. I think it’s all about confidence in the closet,” she says. Just like her grandmother taught her.

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AMY’S FASHION TIPS
Pay attention to proportion. “If you think you’re hiding in oversized clothes, you’re not. You’re making yourself look larger and it always looks frumpy.”

Drop the neckline. “I think this is one of the sexiest parts of women, to elongate their neck. Some women can wear a high collar and look great, but for most women, it swallows you up, especially if you have a big chest. If you drop the neckline you automatically look more sporty and more elegant.”

Find fashionable footwear. “Frumpy footwear, frumpy look. I cannot stand sneakers being worn during the day if you’re not going to the gym. There are flats that don’t frump-ify, and there are heels that aren’t hell. There are ways to do it.”

Add some bling. “A little sheen and shine goes a long way. Add earrings, add a bracelet, just a little extra element of style that makes everything glamorous.”

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About Kate Silver

Kate Silver is a freelance writer, author, editor and corporate communications specialist living in Chicago. She's been writing professionally for more than 10 years. She got her start as a writer at Las Vegas Weekly and worked as an editor at Las Vegas Life magazine before opening her own freelance business, Silver Scribe LLC, in 2007. In addition to writing for national and local press, she's also worked on a number of guidebooks for Frommer's, Mobil Travel Guide and Time Out.