On one of the hottest Saturdays in September, I was privileged to meet Deborah Gregory at the Brooklyn Book Fair. Gregory, author of the popular teen series, “Cheetah Girls” and her newest book, “Catwalk” about four teens’ girls at Manhattan’s Fashion International High School was purr-fect in this element. She was so funny, gregarious and forthright that I welcomed the opportunity to know more about her and the distinctive style of animal-like prints and patterns that she is fond of. This day she was wearing a leopard-like wrap dress accented with leopard slip-ons. Her visage was flawless and smooth even in the sweltering heat. As a former fashion beauty editor, Gregory could fall slave to fashions of the day but she has instead forged her own style, which she calls, “feline fatale”.
Phyllis: Your signature look is animal print. How did that come about?
Deborah: It’s actually a lifelong commitment, a lifelong style and lifestyle commitment. The inspiration? I grew up in the boogie down Bronx, which is home of the Bronx Zoo, the largest zoo in the world. I have a natural affinity to wildcats, a very strong affinity actually, I would say and I am very close to animals actually. So I would say that influenced my look.
I made my first dress by hand when I was eleven years old; I was a very avid sewer… you know I graduated from FIT, but I was an avid sewer, the basic Singer sewing machine, class, the vogue patterns and animal prints. And so I sort of gravitated toward those animal prints and I also like very loud colors. I love pink, so that’s my natural style and I’ve always loved it. I’ve never outgrown it. You know, I don’t care what Vogue says; animal prints are always in style.
I love Josephine Baker by the way… in the twenties she would walk around like that and she had a pet leopard in Paris. And then there was another woman, she actually was very tragic… a Mexican, Lupe Velez, she used to wear leopard clothes. There has always been, throughout time, a cat girl such as myself… that’s what I call it. The style actually has a name; I call it “feline fatale”…
Phyllis: Do you think Josephine Baker influenced your style?
Deborah: I didn’t grow up with TV, and ‘My style’ was already in place by the time I discovered her… I was completely unaware of Josephine Baker until the 90’s when the movie brought her into the forefront… I watched the movie, read a book published by her son, saw the photos and then I said oh, “This is someone like me…” she was what do you call it, a kindred spirit…
Phyllis: Who are your favorite designers?
Deborah: My favorite designers are:
Anna Scholz — I wear mostly the clothes I wear by Anna Scholz (based in London), they sell her in Harrods and Neiman Marcus. What I love about her is her feminine styling and ‘all size’ philosophy… her line is all sizes and I like that. Of course people just focus on the plus sized aspect of it, you know because that’s how we are, but she does all sizes. And I love her taste, her style sensibility is close to mine; she loves leopard, she loves pink, she loves red, she has a vibrant sense of color and she has a European style sensibility which I come to realize is what mine is…
Lee Lee’s Valise — Now we are lucky that we have Lee Lee’s Valise in Brooklyn (she carries Anna Scholz too!). Lee Lee’s Valise is a stupendous plus size boutique that opened about two years ago.
And Abby Z — Abby Z has just opened a boutique in New York as well!
Garo Sparo — Now there is a designer who makes clothes also for me and I love him. He is the master of bustier corset; he is a corsetry master. He does Madonna clothes; he did the Cheetah Girls clothes for the tour. Garo is down in the East Village at 10th Street… if you look, if you go on my website, cheetahrama.com and you look under ‘prowl’ you will see the dress he made for my Catwalk launch party. It’s a hot pink dress, corseted with a big cat leopard appliqué with crystals in the front. It’s like a princess dress. He also made the gown that I have on at the Cheetah Girls premiere, that’s on the site too. He has a sense of fun and I know he dresses some of the drag queens and stuff like that but he’s got a real sense of fun too and I like him. He’s going to venture into retail one day, I know he did in the past, but as of now you have to make an appointment and go to his studio………………
And other designers that I love but they don’t make my clothes are Nicole Miller, Betsey Johnson, Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana.
Phyllis: What kind of products do you use on your hair and skin?
Deborah: I love Elasta QP Glaze, I live for that, I find nothing smooth down my edges better than that when I am going for my sleek look which I love to do. I love to do the 60’s thing where I have the head band on and the flip … nothing does it better than that. That’s one of my standard products that I live and die by.
I love Clarins Extra Firming Foundation… the coloring is so rich and perfect for me. I wear #13 and something about that formulation really does give me the kind of coverage that I like. It’s a liquid but it has a really opaque quality to it that really works for me. I don’t know if it is really firming anything but there is something about that formulation. I used to be a beauty writer, that’s how I started my career as a fashion/beauty writer, that’s what I did for a living… so I have quite an extensive and broad breadth of knowledge of beauty products. I have sampled way more than the average person because I had access to so much… so after hundreds and hundreds of product testing I noticed that this foundation definitely stood out from the crowd…
And I also like Lauren Hutton’s tinted moisturizer, as it is less greasy. I hate that greasy look when are you are just wearing the tinted moisturizer. I am not a fan of the greasy thing.
I don’t like lip-gloss at all! And I definitely do not like this mineral business, no thank you… The mineral thing, I do not like that either… I am not on that honey… I do not think that it is good for black skin. I don’t like anything with any sort of opalescent, glittering nonsense going on my face… except for my eyes… you get it…
Now, that Lorac powder, love it (they sell it at Sephora! Lorac loose powder… I live for that, not an opalescent in sight. I bought Clinique loose powder once… it had the shimmer in it and I had to give it to my girlfriend. I can’t stand that damn shimmering stuff.
I am an old school glam girl… there was a lipstick I lived for, a few of them… I love Viva Glam Mac…. ‘Drop Dead Blood Red.’ And there was another one, it was by Benefit and it was called ‘Dietrich’ after Marlene Dietrich. I lived for that, it’s discontinued. That Mac lipstick was so deep blood red… flawless cause I have great lips (which I love). I have that ‘Cupid-bow’ thing… you know the look that people are getting collagen for? I have it naturally and love accenting it.
So those Mac lipstick, which may yet again, like animal prints, it may not be in style for you but honey she is always in style for me cause that is the old school glam girl thing from the forties. That’s how they rolled back then and that works for me honey. So all of that glitzing and the globbing with the lip gloss, no thank you. I can’t stand it.
Phyllis: You are passionate about writing and fashion, are there any other passions?
Deborah: Well I have a passion for fashion; I am quite a style & beauty person… But I am also a story-teller… I love stories. I am passionate about story telling… I love words, languages…
Phyllis: Your books are centered on four girls, is that an obvious choice?
Deborah: Oh I love that… Well yeah I love girls, I love hanging out together…. that’s what ‘Sex and the City’ is… the whole thing… your group of girlfriends… oh yeah, I love that. That’s eternal.