I’m from a city called Barranquilla on the northwestern tip of Colombia, about an hour away from Cartagena. It’s by the beach—very hot, very humid, and it was really great growing up there. Though at the time, the drug boom was happening in Colombia. Everybody was getting into the business; it was chaos. My parents felt that it was not a safe place, so they sent me to boarding school when I was 15 to get away, which is how I ended up in the States.
I went to Dana Hall, a girls’ school in Wellesley, Massachusetts. That was culture shock! [Laughs] It was very preppy, and I was very…Colombian. Latin girls are a little more grown up when they’re teenagers, while everyone at school was very tomboyish. For me it was not about playing lacrosse—I didn’t get it. I loved fashion, and even back then I kind of knew that that was what I wanted to do. But I didn’t know what it really meant to work in fashion, and I had a glamorized vision of what this industry was. I thought to be in fashion meant to be a fashion designer, which is not the case—it took me years to figure that out. I had an 'aha moment' when I realized, OK yes, I can design, but I’m not a great designer; I wanted to be a designer, but in comparison to the people I was in school with at FIT, I never really felt that I had ‘it.’ I did an internship with Marc Jacobs back when he was doing the grunge collection for Perry Ellis. Funny enough, some of the people that he had then are still with him today. Isn’t that incredible? Anyway, so I was doing an internship there and I remember greeting the editors and taking their coffee orders and thinking, ‘Oh my God, how phenomenal is their job!?’ I think that’s what got me interested in publishing.
So I did some networking and applied for an assistant position with Leslie Johnson at Mirabella. I stayed at Mirabella for probably three years and then it went out of business and I moved to Elle. And it’s just been magazines ever since. I love the newness of working in magazines, being able to appreciate the beauty of what these designers do—they put their life and all their energy into what they create, and it's always very interesting to see. I also like the curating part of it. I like the fact that I can, through the magazine, speak to a woman who might not know what to do or what to buy—you know, there’s a lot out there to take in. And now more than ever there’s so much information, it needs to be narrowed down. I love doing that.
I was very skeptical about doing TV at first. There are people who really want to be the center of attention, and want to be on TV…I’m the opposite of that. I was the fashion director at Elle when the [Project Runway] producers came to the magazine, and very reticent. I just spoke my mind, I was like, ‘No, I think it’s a bad idea, I’m not interested.’ I felt that doing the show might take away my credibility. Back then—this was nine years ago—fashion was so closed and so cliquey. I really did think that it was going to be a joke—TV has a very cheesy element. But the more I said 'no,' I think the more they wanted me to do it, because I was very forthright, very honest. Then I heard Michael [Kors] was doing it, but at that point it was still just an idea—a fashion show on TV. I thought it was a bad idea! I didn’t think anybody would watch that. Little did I know… [Laughs] And I got a lot of pressure from the magazine. They were like, ‘Do it, do it, do it!’ But, see, the other thing was that at that time, my mother was dying of cancer and I was flying to Colombia a lot to be with her. So the producers said, ‘Listen, you’ll split the time with somebody else [from Elle] so you can make it work.’ So I said, ‘OK, fine.’
Thinking back on it, it was so crazy because we didn’t know what we were doing! There was nothing to model ourselves after. But when the first season aired, it was huge. It was amazing to be in the middle of that. Once I was in that judging seat and I felt semi-comfortable being in front of the camera, all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course I can do this.’ Now I love doing it because, again, it’s seeing talent, seeing the process of how you make something out of nothing. I mean, it is kind of fascinating to see a designer take a piece of fabric and just transform it into a garment. And people in the industry, after that first episode, were obsessed. Steven Meisel, Anna Sui… I mean people were obsessed. Everybody had an opinion because everybody could relate, and it was almost like a microcosm of what’s happening in the industry. This was the first peeling back of what really goes on in that creative process. It was great.
It took a little while for me to get used to becoming a very public person. That had its good things and its bad things. The good things are that yes, it gave me the opportunity to do a lot of things I never thought I would do. For instance, I don’t think I would have thought about writing a book had I not had that opportunity with TV. But it also created a lot of tension internally at the magazine at the time because people didn’t know how to handle everything. There were a lot of conflicting feelings, and that was difficult.
Now, my life is very busy and very complicated. I have two kids on top of work at Marie Claire and all these other side projects, so while I love fashion and love experimenting, I keep things very pared down when it comes to my personal style. I need to get out of the house quickly in something that works and that I can be comfortable in all day. So that means very streamlined and tailored—that’s what works for my body. I’m small—5’4”—so I can’t wear too many layers, that kind of swallows me. The same goes for beauty...
I have what works for me and that’s kind of what I stick to. For skincare, I love creams. I love creams. [Laughs] I like creams because I’ve always had issues with my skin being very dry, and I have eczema. I don’t know, maybe I’m at the age when I like to be moisturized. I’ll use the Chanel Sublimage, which I love. I get the little weekend ones that I travel with—Le Jour, La Nuit, and Le Weekend serums. I’m obsessed with Dr. Brandt Detoxagen Experience Oxygenating facial, because I love oxygen facials. You know when you have a facial and you get that oxygen mist? That’s my favorite. You cleanse your face and put this on, not with a machine obviously, but it creates these little oxygen bubbles. You leave it on for 5-to-10 minutes and then you do the cream. And it feels like you had that oxygen facial. The Chanel Sublimage is my favorite mask. I’m very dry, so I’ll wear that in winter all day without washing it off. After taping the show, I love the Shu Uemura Skin Purifier High Performance Balancing Cleansing Oil for removing my makeup—it’s the only thing that gets it all off. I use lots of creams and oils for the body, too. Caudalie Divine Oil is amazing. I love Divine Legs, too, because it makes you look more tan. I like being tan, but I don’t take as much sun anymore because it’s just so damaging. I feel like I’ve already done the damage and now I want to stop. For a body cream, I like Avene Akerat Body Cream. It’s very thick, and borderline medical-grade. My top traits I look for in a cream are that it has to be scentless and moisturizing, but not oily. Especially for the body creams, they always have a scent. Which means you have to be in a scent all day that you don’t really like! I also like Sanitas Milk and Honey Body Butter and Lemon Cream Scrub; it’s great. Especially in the winter, I love a good scrub.
So I have two obsessions—creams and hair. I’ve always loved my hair. I like the Oribe products because the packaging is beautiful—it can live here on my counter and be fine. I use Oribe Anti-Humidity Spray, that one is good. And you know when your shampoo stops working? I like to sub in the Cleansing Oil Shampoo once a month and it brings it back to life, because my hair can get really flat or frizzy. The one product that I love the most, though, is the Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray—this is my obsession, I have so much of this stuff. It's for when your hair is too clean and it doesn’t really hold a style; it gives your hair texture and makes it look less 'new.' I feel like my hair is the best when it’s, like, two days in from washing. When it’s too clean, it’s too bouncy, too many flyaways. The best gift someone could give me is basically a blow dryer—any tool, I love them. I went to London recently and my friend gave me this GHD Straightening Iron. I love it because I feel like it doesn’t damage my hair like other flat irons. I don’t really straighten my hair that much, but in the summer I sometimes need it. What else? I get my hair colored by Reyad at Fekkai. It’s pretty consistent, but sometimes I will go a little blonder for filming because it translates better to camera with the lights. In the summer when I’m filming, my hair is a lot blonder and the highlights are a little more noticeable and jarring, but on camera, it looks great.
I also have very big lips, so lipstick on me is very strong. I prefer a minimal lip, and for that I’ll use the Clinique Chubbies. They’re the best—just a little bit of color, but it’s also very natural and I can combine them—I have Bountiful Blush and Graped Up. If I need it to stay longer, I’ll use La Prarie Luxe Lipliner in Nude. Otherwise, right now I’m loving the Bronzing Powder from Tom Ford. And I’ll do a little Tom Ford Love Lust Blush and the Shade & Illuminate Palette. I don’t know how to do it well, but I try. I just wear mascara and a little bit of MAC Blacktrack Fluidline Eyeliner and smudge it. I wear very little makeup. I think the more I wear, the harsher and older I look. Sometimes I’ll wear Lancôme Teint Miracle Foundation because it doesn’t feel dry. It’s either that or Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer in Almond. Tinted moisturizer is great because it doesn’t feel like foundation and doesn’t look cake-y, and it still allows my skin to look natural. For lip balm, I use La Mer The Lip Balm. And I’m obsessed with La Prairie Anti-Aging Eye and Lip Perfection. These travel with me. Also, for Europe, where they don’t have hand sanitizer everywhere like over here, I take Jao Hand Sanitizer. It smells like a spa—very refreshing, it doesn’t smell like alcohol at all.
Fragrance-wise, I am very sensitive to smells, so when something becomes too flower-y, I can’t stand it. I like masculine, woodsy scents when it comes to perfume. I wear Tom Ford Oud Wood. And for home, I like the Aedes de Venustas Candle at my vanity—that’s my area. I feel like my bathroom space is too democratic— everyone in the family will go in there. But I can lock myself in my vanity space and be naked or whatever I want! [Laughs] It’s where I’ll write checks, make notes, or look at my iPad… I really don’t consider myself glamorous—‘glamour’ implies high-maintenance. If I can just live with my bronzer, a little moisturizer, and maybe a little mascara, that’s it, I’m happy. I barely even pluck my eyebrows! [Laughs]
Nina Garcia photographed by Emily Weiss on January 29, 2014 in New York.