For Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, the mother-daughter team behind the addictive style blog StyleLikeU, a peek into your closet can reveal more than just your sartorial leanings. Since its launch in 2008, SLU has been documenting the relationship between people and their clothes through video interviews with an eclectic group of women and men, spanning all ages, races, and tastes. Their intimate video interviews have won them a large cult- following, a book deal with Powerhouse—it’s releasing a SLU coffee table book in March—and even a pilot for a reality show. Unlike the static street style snapshots on other style blogs, SLU is all about the stories behind the clothes.
While the focus may start off with what’s hanging in their closets, the conversation always expands beyond hemlines and labels to include a thread of topics like sexuality, politics, assimilation, and literature.
“The site gives a platform to all these people who have amazing things to say and have a deep connection to their style. It’s about individuality and the connection between clothes, life and who you are, your soul,” says Mandelbaum, who’s currently attending NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a focus on African studies and film. Explains Goodkind, a former celebrity stylist and fashion editor at Glamour and Self magazines,“the point of SLU is to empower and inspire everyone. It’s not about showing off what they have but more about them in the clothes. Back when I was working in fashion, it was closely linked to art. Now styling is all about advertisers. I came to feel like the system was broken and I wanted out.”
Despite having grown up in the industry, Mandelbaum never wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps. While personal style has always been her passion, fashion proved to be an awkward fit. “When I was growing up, I tried skinny jeans because that’s what the magazines said was in, but that never worked for my body type. I never felt liberated from following trends until I started being inspired to think for myself, thanks to the people we’ve shot,” reveals Mandelbaum. “They are more empowering than anything I’ve read in fashion magazines.” While the site strays from highlighting the ubiquitous fashion trendsetters we’re accustomed to seeing online, SLU does feature some familiar faces: Byrdie Bell, RZA, Lori Goldstein, Becka Diamond, Lauren Ezersky, and Karen Robinovitz make up some of their muses.
In 2008, while Mandelbaum was attending USC and Goodkind traveled from NY to visit, they began shooting random videos of their cool friends’ closets in LA. They had no clue what those videos would take them, just that they were disillusioned with the fashion industry. “We knew we were shooting them for some abstract idea, but we had no real plan,” recalls Mandelbaum, who taught herself how to edit the videos. Their initial lack of knowledge is what made the site unique. The sometimes-shaky camera brought a cinema verite quality that personalized the experience. Now, even with the growth of the site, the ladies are committed to their original style. “We’ve debated a lot about whether we should get a crew, but we always go back to, Will it make the subjects act less natural?” says Mandelbaum.
“First and foremost, it’s a conversation, and it has to be captivating and unexpected,” adds Goodkind, who says that she has to coax their more timid subjects into opening up. With years of styling under her belt, Elisa is well-equipped at dealing with different characters. “I remember Bette Midler sitting on sink afraid to come out of the bathroom to shoot a cover.” Or there was the time at SLU, when she went to interview artist Terence Koh, and was met with a laundry list of would-be hurdles. He only had ten minutes for the interview which usually lasts two hours. He had to go to the dentist and was not speaking that day. “I’m like, what am I going to do? I just went for it, and he wrote his answers down on paper for the camera, and it brought this whole new layer to the video.” Once they connected, a few minutes turned into an hour, and Koh even wanted Goodkind to spend the whole day with him. “It was one of our best interviews,” she says.
Former muse Dani Baum was so enamored with Goodkind and the interview process, that she stayed in touch and parlayed her appearance a staff position as Director of Events for the site. “The beauty about the interviews is Elisa and Lily don’t really direct it. The muses can take the interview in any direction they choose. It’s anthropology, we are archiving our culture. It’s an incredible resource. Think about what it’s going to be like in 50 years to look back,” says Baum.
Another subject that went on to collaborate with SLU is Jeffrey Williams, the winner of Bravo’s The Fashion Show: Ultimate Collection Season 2. His video was shot two years before his appearance on the reality show. Shortly after appearing on SLU, Williams was behind the camera shooting his friends in Milan—like Givenchy muse Lea T—for the site. “What sets SLU apart is how close they get to know their subjects,” says Williams. “Even if you don’t agree with their style, you get to meet them in a way through their videos, pictures, and quotes. A lot of blogs lose that intimacy. It’s usually a quick click, and off the photographer goes. I will say there’s something mysterious about SLU’s approach.”
“One of the reasons SLU has been a success is because Lily brings it down to earth. I’ll go a little more avant-garde, more to extreme, and she’s more relatable,” explains Goodkind. “Where we differ is that I will spend every last penny on Rick Owens, but she loves five dollar vintage dresses.” Their contrasting personalities go beyond their respective closets. Mandelbaum is the rational one (“I take notes, I follow up”) and Goodkind is, according to her daughter, “impractical”.
What started out as a personal project, has evolved into a movement. With a new redesign to come, a slew of new features, and brand new muses, SLU shows no sign of slowing down their mission to explore the meaning of style. “In the future, I am excited for the day a high school girl from the Midwest is on the site next to M.I.A. or Chloe Sevigny,” says Mandelbaum. “I want to send out a message that anyone can feel a soulful connection to their clothing.”