001: Neelam Ahooja
Pictures & Words by Ted Belton
January 10, 2023
Any one of Neelam Ahooja’s videos would be enough to inspire even the most jaded among us to tip toe into their closets and see if they can’t try something new, and maybe even have a good time in the process. In an online arena ripe with insincerity, Ahooja’s enthusiasm shines through. Her Instagram following of one hundred fifty thousand and counting is treated daily to an offering of outfit breakdowns, runway-look re-creations, and product reviews of unmatched scrutiny.
It’s Ahooja’s penchant for The Row in particular that has gained the most attention. She has become the go-to online authority for disciples of the brand. A brand that stands nearly alone in its pursuit of new American luxury, and Ahooja is right there with them attempting to define exactly what that might look like. If her personal style is any indication it’s an optimistic forecast of playful avant-garde nuance filtered by a classic sensibility. Her unwavering attention to detail and flair for mixing high and low fashion has stoked a small revolution in the direction of timeless dressing and smart shopping.
We asked Neelam to share some of her insight and inspirations, and walk us through her trademark approach of layering classic pieces to modern effect.
“MY GUT IS MY GUIDE. I USED TO SHOP FAR MORE IMPULSIVELY WHEN I WAS YOUNGER BUT I’VE BECOME MORE DISCIPLINED.”
LET’S GET THE BASICS OUT OF THE WAY FIRST: WHY THE ROW?
It’s quietly empowering and embodies all the elements of style I look for. It’s sophisticated but relaxed, finely tailored but edgy. The lack of any visible logos combined with muted palettes and effortless layering appeal to the most discerning stylists (old and young alike). They’re one of the few brands that cut and recut a classic black coat from season to season with subtle differences and still make me feel that I “need that one too.”
YOU ARE THE PERFECT CLIENT FOR THE BRAND, IN A WAY, BECAUSE OF THAT ATTENTION TO DETAIL. YOU SEEM TO GIVE A GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHT TO EVERYTHING YOU BUY. ARE YOU CONSTANTLY ASSESSING AND REASSESSING YOUR WARDROBE? SEEING WHERE THERE ARE GAPS AND OPPORTUNITIES?
It’s not that I’m constantly reassessing my wardrobe requirements but more that the desire to create is always there. And as such, I’m looking for newness. That doesn’t necessarily translate into a purchase. It could be taking an old piece from the back of my closet and reworking it in a new way. There aren’t many gaps left to fill. I find myself in a privileged place of being able to play.
SO IT’S A GUT INSTINCT? YOU BUY WHAT GRABS YOU IN THE MOMENT?
My gut is my guide. I used to shop far more impulsively when I was younger but I’ve become more disciplined. When a new collection is released, there are looks that speak to me immediately. I make a list of all the items I want and then I wait. Some items fall off and those that remain usually end up in my closet.
WHAT IS IT THAT GRABS YOU, ANYWAY? WHEN YOU'RE FLIPPING THROUGH A RACK OR SCROLLING THROUGH AN ONLINE STORE, WHAT IS IT THAT ATTRACTS YOU TO A GARMENT?
Black pieces that layer easily, are soft on the body but also hold their shape. Boyish blazers. Tailored skirts with room for a belt. Oversized coats and bags.
THAT DOES SEEM TO SUM UP YOUR WARDROBE SUCCINCTLY. YOUR STYLE IS DEFINED BY A FAIRLY NARROW VERNACULAR, BUT WITHIN IT YOU FIND ENDLESS OPPORTUNITY FOR CREATIVITY. IS THAT THE SECRET TO HAVING A GOOD TIME WITH FASHION? FIGURING OUT YOUR THING AND STICKING WITH IT?
Fashion isn’t just functional, it’s art, and it should be fun! I think there’s something to be said about having a formula. The key is to know your shape and be willing to experiment a little. I’ve had a good amount of time to figure out what works and what doesn’t and I’m comfortable working within those parameters.
“IT’S AN OUTLET FOR SELF-EXPRESSION. I ENJOY THE PROCESS OF GETTING DRESSED AND I COME ALIVE WHEN I’M IN CREATION MODE.”
THE OUTFIT IN WHICH WE PHOTOGRAPHED YOU SEEMS LIKE A CLASSIC NEELAM LOOK. CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH WHAT YOU’RE WEARING? WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS IN PUTTING TOGETHER A LAYERED LOOK LIKE THIS?
This outfit is quintessentially me. A long black coat layered on top of a boyish blazer with a contrasting white shirt, a tailored maxi skirt and stomping boots. The oversized clutches are the cherries on top. I love this look from head to toe and could easily wear it on repeat or peel back the layers and work each piece into a different outfit with ease.
Unless I’m headed to an upscale event, I always start with foundational pieces: fitted white tee (or in this case, a classic white button down shirt) and either trousers or a skirt. I use white to create a sharp contrast to an all black outfit. Depending on my mood, I’ll wear lighter or heavier shoes/boots. To add complexity to the outfit I added a long, slightly fitted coat and pulled the sleeves up to show the contrasting white cuffs underneath. And while I think an oversized clutch is pretty cool, two are better than one (for the photos that is…for a night out one would do).
IT’S TOO BAD THE DOUBLE-CLUTCH MOMENT IS SO OBVIOUSLY IMPRACTICAL - IT ADDS SUCH GREAT VOLUME TO THE SILHOUETTE. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE PRACTICALITY OF AN OUTFIT WITH ITS OTHER QUALITIES? HOW IT MAKES YOU FEEL, HOW IT MAY EXPRESS SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF? DO YOU HAVE DAYS THAT ARE MOSTLY ABOUT PROJECTING SOME IDEA? AND OTHERS THAT ARE JUST ABOUT GETTING OUT THE DOOR?
I don’t really have impractical outfits anymore (I’ve moved far away from my days of sky high heels and pointed toe shoes). So it comes down to how I feel. My mood dictates my outfit. If I’m in a rush, hair a mess and makeup absent, I’ll throw on a pair of vintage jeans and I’m out the door. Otherwise, I dress not so much to convey an idea but more for the art of it. It’s an outlet for self-expression. I enjoy the process of getting dressed and I come alive when I’m in creation mode. I feel lucky I get to experiment. In The Row no less.
I’D SAY YOU HAVE A SLIGHTLY AVANT-GARDE LEANING TO YOUR STYLE, AND YOU’VE MENTIONED TO ME BEFORE THAT YOU’RE DRAWN TO THE WEIRDER PIECES THAT COME DOWN THE ROW’S RUNWAY. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF EMBRACING THOSE WEIRDER STYLE IMPULSES? WHERE DOES THE UNEXPECTED FIT INTO YOUR STYLE?
I think the unexpected is exactly why I’m drawn to The Row. There are a lot of players in the minimal luxury field but few who deliver it with unconventional twists and eccentric accents that take classics and elevate them in a compelling way. It’s a perfect marriage as I see it. My curls and asymmetrical features call for a uniqueness in my manner of dressing, and The Row fits the bill. Perfectly.
SHOP NEELAMS EDIT