We are surrounded by fascinating, creative women whom we admire from all walks of life and are now sharing their style stories on our blog. Today we are giggling away with Margaret Levi as she shares her wisdom, humor and spirited sense of the world!
Margaret came into our lives because we all go to the same Pilates studio. Each time we saw her before class we noticed her intricate yet minimal outfits, her bold statement jewelry that seemed historical, yet futuristic, and her beaming smile. We thought she must be an artist or a sculptor or a designer, and were even more curious when we found out she is the Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford, has authored 6 books, and continues to focus her research on how to improve the quality of government. We were honored that she invited us into her world to share her love of Australian Aboriginal art, sense of inner strength, and bold use of confident fashion. She radiates great energy and intelligence while always weaving humor into her wonderful storytelling.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I always like to look different (laughs and pauses), but in a very nice way. Not in such a WEIRD way that people think, ‘that is WEIRD.’
Have you always dressed uniquely?
ALWAYS. Almost always. Sometimes my choices were really BAD (chuckles) I mean if you decide you want to look different and not look like everybody else and not be a cookie cutter, then how can you not make some bad choices? You have to find the right space where you are not totally out on the edge, but not totally conformist – somewhere in between.
Have you ever wanted to stand out?
I never wanted to stand out. I just wanted people to comment on my clothes and notice me, just a little. Not like “WOWWWW” (makes roaring sounds) but like “Oh you look nice, that is interesting.” …and notice the details of a piece of jewelry or a nice fabric, just to notice the little details that give my outfit a little extra. When I decided to be a professor, it was still largely a man’s world and my Mother said, ‘Always dress up because you never know who you are going to run into and you want to make a good impression. You want to look like you are in charge – that is the way to do it.’ So it was a question of finding a style that I felt comfortable with. But I was always more dressed up than most of the other women around me. Most of my other female colleagues dress very casually. If you had seen me today going to the office, I was casually dressed, but there was something different and put together about my look. There are always different elements to my clothes – I’ll wear a vest and it will be fuzzy (chuckles) rather than something from REI or North Face like other Stanford professors.
How has art influenced your life?
I grew up in a household that always went to art museums. What I wanted for my birthday present when I as twelve was a print. My mother and father belonged to a print club and they would buy original lithographs, because they couldn’t afford expensive art, but they moved in circles where people were major collectors. And at that age, art was what I wanted to have surrounding me on the walls. I always remember loving things that were beautiful – loving ceramics, loving textures, loving objects of beauty.
Growing up did your peers also appreciate style and art?
Well I went to an all women’s high school – the oldest public school for women in the country. I don’t know if I was interestingly dressed until college, but I do remember I was always experimenting in high school. My prom dresses were never like anyone else’s because I didn’t like those pink flouncy things, so I would always choose something I could wear again. When I got married I wore a green silk Kenzo dress because I knew I would wear it again. I also got into the habit of only buying one or two designers. So at the time Kenzo was in New York City and I was just in love with the clothes. And then I fell out of love with them. And then I had a Max Mara period. But that became too conservative.
Are you practical about the way you dress?
The thing about my aesthetic is that I like having a closet full of varied, interesting things that I can put together on different days for different circumstances.
Did your parents encourage you to become a Professor?
My parents had two girls, and they both encouraged us a lot. My father was a very unusual in that he believed that girls could do anything, and that they should have those choices. My sister became an art dealer who is interested in politics and I am a political science professor interested in art.
You travel a lot – how do you pack?
I have a tiny suitcase. I don’t pack a lot and I travel with this size of a suitcase for 3 weeks sometimes (makes a TINY square shape in the air).
So you are an ornate minimalist?
Much of my jewelry can be folded up, almost everything I wear can be washed by hand or go in the shower with me and be steamed. I never buy clothes that have to be ironed or dry cleaned. I pack a lot into a little suitcase. A couple of nice outfits will get you far, and people don’t notice or don’t care.
Would you describe yourself as messy or neat?
I would say more messy. My desk is never neat, my closet is never neat. I look forward to having a cleaning person who will put my shoes in order.
Do you like movies?
I love movies, but I don’t go to the movies very often. I grew up on a diet of European films. I did just see “The Martian”, and it was really good! “Annie Hall” is one of my favorite all time movies. I watch a lot of stuff on Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime. I just finished a series called “Borgen” which is about the Danish woman who is Prime Minister – it is one of the best things I have seen on television about politics since “The Wire.” Better than “West Wing”. And I love “Game of Thrones.” I think “Game of Thrones” is just beautiful to look at, and great for the intrigue and drama.
Photography by Victor Bittorf