Elisa Goodkind & Lily Mandelbaum
Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Maggie Shannon
Elisa Goodkind &
It can be confounding to think about how to improve the world as one individual. Where to start? What to do? Is what I'm doing meaningful? Is it worthwhile? Can I ever make a difference?
The mother-daughter creators of StyleLikeU prove that change can begin with us as individuals if we start by addressing the root of our own vulnerabilities, shame, guilt and self-hatred.
Eight years ago, veteran fashion stylist Elisa Goodkind and her daughter Lily Mandelbaum created StyleLikeU as an antidote to the negative impact that unattainable beauty standards had on their own sense of self-worth.
For Elisa, a sense of self-hatred stemmed from feeling like a misfit throughout her life, but especially when returning to the fashion industry only to find it had morphed into being about "fitting in instead of standing out.”
For Lily, it was a physical resentment. Much like many women, Lily hated her body due to the prevailing message we're sent about what is right and wrong when it comes to how our bodies should look.
When you don’t feel like you fit in the world, when you feel ashamed or guilty for just being you, one of the most powerful things you can do is create your own world – first to help find your own self-acceptance and then to share it with others.
“We made the world we wanted,” said Elisa. “I was determined to show others that there are people out there that live lives true to their heart and you can see it on the outside and you can see it on the inside."
One interview at a time, their viral docu-style video series, What’s Underneath, undresses society’s expectation of style and beauty to reflect the diversity of creativity, individuality, and authenticity found in everyday people.
Their latest book, True Style is What's Underneath: The Self-Acceptance Revolution collects the insights from their archive and beyond to help others break free from the inhibitions upheld by the fashion world.
It’s an incredible feat for the pair, and credit to a strong working relationship and shared vision. Of course, the harmonious and the contradictory nature of a mother-daughter relationship is also evident in their working week.
“It's hard for me to break habits,” says Elisa. “Whereas it's easy for me to break habits,” adds Lily.
Elisa never gets enough sleep; Lily supposedly sleeps too much.
Elisa is searching for a home; Lily could live out of a suitcase.
Elisa is very detailed, precise and perfectionist; and Lily is much more big-picture-focused.
Despite the differing daily routines, the pair work exceptionally hard, often finding it difficult to draw a line at the end of each work day – even when it comes at the cost of a years-long crash, as Elisa details."Doing the book helped me find a new flow – it was working hard but respecting myself, and that was a very new thing for me.”
For Lily, it’s also incredibly difficult to stop, but it has less of a physical cost. “I'm more happy working on StyleLikeU than when I'm not and that's part of the confusion.”
While they admit working tirelessly on a passion to change the status-quo never gets any easier, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It is our anchor in life, it drives everything else,” says Lily.
Mornings with Elisa Goodkind…
Since I’ve been going through menopause, I wake up first at five o'clock in the morning with a panic attack… No, no, the truth is I get up at about six-thirty and will do a couple of breathing exercises on my back for five minutes.
I’ll be in a mellow state from the breathing and so then I will go and meditate for somewhere between forty-five minutes to one hour. The hour is something I’ve slowly grown into over time – I rediscovered Buddhism a few years ago and it has had a huge impact on my life. I’m now at a place where I can't even imagine starting my day without at least a forty-five minute meditation.
After, I’ll eat an egg cooked in ghee sunny side up, make the bed and get dressed, which is a really creative and important moment for me. What I will wear will depend on my mood. Sometimes getting dressed happens in a few minutes and sometimes it takes forty minutes.
I’ll take the dog out for a little bit of a walk. After, I either go swim a mile or I go to the gym. Both are a ten minute walk away. Then I will shower wherever I am before heading to wherever we are working for the day.
Mornings with Lily Mandelbaum…
Sleep is my biggest indulgence. I wake up at eight or eight-thirty and before anything else I go and get my iced coffee in my pyjamas, essentially. My brother and I go often go together because we are roommates – one of us will wake up and scream the other's name to get up.
Usually I’ll go straight from the coffee place to a gym class in my neighbourhood, or I’ll come back and start working. I’m more inclined to do the latter because I always have a million thing to do, but usually I’ll end up in a worse mood later in the day if I’ve chosen that route for my day instead of getting to my gym class.
Workdays with Elisa & Lily…
Even though what we do is sort of like one big freelance career, within our team we have a set structure – we know we are working Monday through Friday starting at ten each morning. There's usually only three of us on any given day, sometimes four or five, so we could easily be lax about it, but we take that regime really seriously.
We will work in different places, sometimes my house if we need the content board, sometimes we are shooting on set, sometimes we have a meeting in the Lower East Side. We text the night before or the morning of to figure out where we need to be.
Our day-to-day really varies – sometimes we are shooting, sometimes we are running to meetings, sometimes we are sitting together all day.
"Even though what we do is sort of like one big freelance career, within our team we have a set structure – we know we are working Monday through Friday starting at ten each morning." – Lily
We never go out for lunch, we always work straight through – stopping during the middle of the day is very anxiety-inducing for me.
We’ll order in or eat on the go, it's never a proper break, which is probably not the greatest thing but I can't even imagine. Whenever we get invited to something it's so weird seeing people having wine at lunch! I’d rather stop working earlier in the evening than in the middle of the day. We’ll usually finish work around seven or eight depending on the day and if we have a class of some kind.
"Whenever we get invited to something it's so weird seeing people having wine at lunch! I’d rather stop working earlier in the evening than in the middle of the day."
Evenings with Elisa Goodkind…
Many nights of the week I’m out – it's my new commitment to myself since I crashed physically and emotionally working on StyleLikeU seven days a week for several years.
It got to a point where I had completely forgotten large parts of myself in service of the project – I forgot what it was like to read, sit on a beach, be in the sun, take vacations, and do other artistic things. I was just really out of balance, so I’ve started to draw the line. I’m taking a painting class with my husband one night a week; I go to a Buddhist class one or two nights a week; and every other week I get some kind of body work – intuitive touch, acupuncture, something like that. That's my therapy.
"It got to a point where I had completely forgotten large parts of myself in service of the project – I forgot what it was like to read, sit on a beach, be in the sun, take vacations, and do other artistic things." – Elisa
Lily might come along to the Buddhist class with some friends and go to dinner after, but I will go home.
I think that's a good point to make, even though we work together and might be in the class together, there is this point where she goes with her friends and I go home. I’m not interested in being there and she's not interested in me being there, there is that line. We have a lot of those lines – we don't generally see each other on the weekend, for example. I think that is somewhat necessary and intentional, we have different worlds outside of StyleLikeU.
"Even though we work together and might be in the class together, there is this point where she goes with her friends and I go home ... I think that is somewhat necessary and intentional, we have different worlds outside of StyleLikeU." – Elisa
My husband and I will always eat together at around ten-thirty every night, no matter what we are doing – we both have very full days and enjoy stretching them out. Since I started StyleLikeU I haven't cooked a thing, not a thing, I wouldn't know what to do. My husband has been extremely supportive and is now on a mission to keep me well fed and healthy, so he cooks nearly every single night of the week. He has learned how to cook even though he also has a very demanding job. But he isn't doing this start up that is like pushing a stone up a hill against the existing culture, it is so different. He has been doing it for thirty years and it's in a groove.
After dinner I take a bath, that is important. I end up going to sleep around eleven-thirty. I wish to sleep till about six-thirty the next day, but I always wake up in the middle of the night. It's an age thing though – you don't sleep like you used to pre-baby, it's never the same after that.
Evenings with Lily Mandelbaum…
Drawing lines with work is really hard and I think the two of us are both trying to practice getting better at that. I function better with accountability and structure, so I also go to the Buddhism class once or twice a week, which forces me to stop working.
I also go to a dance class sometimes so that helps me to have that structure. I love hanging out with my girlfriends too, so I do that as much as I can.
Often my friends will come to the Buddhism class, it has become a bit of social thing where random friends will meet me there and then we will have dinner afterwards.
"Drawing lines with work is really hard and I think the two of us are both trying to practice getting better at that. I function better with accountability and structure." – Lily
I have the good fortune of living with my brother who is also into cooking, but not quite as routine with it as Dad. I have never been a cook and don't think I ever will be, it's not in my cards. We actually had our charts read by an astrologer recently and I was beating myself up about not having the patience to cook and that kind of thing, and she was like, “Sister, domesticity is just not in your chart. You're very busy with broader things, your mind is in a different place,” so I was relieved by that!
Once in a while I will take a bath, but not regularly. I do not have that stuff together like I should – I just fall asleep. Sometimes I will just literally get home and drop my backpack on the ground and pretty much fall asleep with my clothes on. There isn't much of a wind down – that is something I would like to actively work on.
I am so much more inclined to be a workaholic and focused on whatever is going on. This year I’ve been much better with meditation – I can’t do it in the morning, I have to do it at night so lately I’ve been listening to one of my guided meditations in the bathtub.
"Sometimes I will just literally get home and drop my backpack on the ground and pretty much fall asleep with my clothes on. There isn't much of a wind down – that is something I would like to actively work on." – Lily
On a Friday night I’ll go to the Russian Turkish Baths. It's the best, sometimes it's a large group of us and everyone will meet and hang out and go for dinner after, but most of the time it's just me and my husband.
On the weekends we might go to our house in Long Island.
I’ll mostly see my friends Friday and Saturday night. Every Sunday night my brother cooks and we watch an episode of Girls and eat.
If a full weekend passes and I haven't touched my work, I tend to have a lot of guilt.
When you are running your own business and it's small, you have a lot of goals and you could keep on working forever – there is always more to do – there is never a moment where I’m like, phew, I’ve done it all! Not at all.
"If a full weekend passes and I haven't touched my work, I tend to have a lot of guilt." – Lily
I’ve just had to get better at putting it on tomorrow's list because otherwise it's endless. It requires a constant reminder to yourself that you can do other things and you can let go.
... And then you get a lot of ideas that way. I find some of my best ideas for work come when I’m going on a long bike ride outside of the city and get away from it.
I tend to be the most calm when I do a couple of hours of work on each weekend day, but not the whole day. That's the happy medium. When I do go on a vacation and able to have a handful of days completely off, that’s very cool.
"There is never a moment where I’m like, phew, I’ve done it all! Not at all. I’ve just had to get better at putting it on tomorrow's list because otherwise it's endless. It requires a constant reminder to yourself that you can do other things and you can let go." – Lily
“I don't think there is any such thing as a 'there' that you arrive at in life – you are constantly dealing with uncertainty and being thrown a lot of curveballs. But that is a really important part of doing what you feel is your heart and soul, you have to be willing to be in that struggle."
– Elisa Goodkind
“Interviewing so many people of different sizes, shapes and ages has showed me how beautiful and comfortable people can be in their bodies. Seeing these women owning it has helped me to understand that what was separating me from that confidence was not my body itself, it was my attitude towards my body. They have inspired me to look at myself differently."
– Lily Mandelbaum