Some people are right-brained, some people are left-brained, and some people are Lyn Slater: the model, fashion blogger, graduate professor, grandmother, and self-starter who has cat-walked her way to Insta-fame as the Accidental Icon, A.K.A. @iconaccidental. Don’t let the name fool you, though; while getting discovered outside of a New York Fashion Week show may have been an accident, her thoughtful, intelligent style is anything but.
Slater started her career as a social worker for women and girls who had experienced trauma, and is now a professor in the graduate program at Fordham, teaching from what she calls the “intersection of social welfare and the law,” committed to merging the worlds of logic and reason with artistic and creative expression. When she’s not in the classroom, Lyn is jetting off around the world as a representative of Elite London, which signed her in January of this year. You’ll find her attending fashion shows and rubbing elbows with some of the industry’s hottest names (like, Gucci- and Dior-hot), in some of the industry’s most enviable pieces, or starring in music videos alongside the likes of actor and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Recently from the Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, the Accidental Icon shared her wisdom on multifunctional outfits, building a personal brand, the future of fashion, and the importance of knowing oneself.
You can look very beautiful and be comfortable at the same time—they’re not mutually exclusive.
“I love multifunctional pieces while I travel. I don’t like to overpack, especially clothes, because for me, clothes are just one aspect of my outfit—my real statements are my sunglasses, my earrings, and my bold lip. Sometimes I’ll bring, like, six pairs of sunglasses. I also always bring my Milk Makeup Cooling Water—it has something in it that is almost like caffeine, so when you’re looking half dead after a long flight, this will make your skin glow. Next, I bring my little Instax camera in monochrome and color, because while I like iPhone photos, they’re not good at capturing the mood. And I like to remember the mood of how I felt wearing something, or the mood of a restaurant that I’m in. It’s a better memory-keeper. Then, I’ll bring something like my Issey Miyake black dress that can be worn 8,000 different ways, takes up no room, and doesn’t wrinkle, and I’ll bring my favorite multifunctional, beautiful light sweater made by a designer friend of mine, Milo’ Tricot.
To me, comfort is really important, and I think we’re in a culture now where there is beautiful, comfortable activewear being made: cashmere sweatpants, very light cashmere sweaters. I think you can look very beautiful and be comfortable at the same time—they’re not mutually exclusive. I can be really comfortable and really stylish, like when I wear my Gucci mules, with some really comfortable jeans that I love, with that really soft sweater with the removable sleeves, I look amazingly cool but I am so comfortable, it’s crazy.”
I try to support emerging designers.
“I know a lot of N.Y.C. designers from China who go to Parsons, and so before I left for Shanghai for fashion week, I said to them, ‘well I’m going to be going to all these things, let me wear your clothes.’ One of the projects that I’ve done from the start is that I try to support emerging designers who literally have no representation and have no PR budget because they’re putting every cent into getting their clothing made. It works for both of us: they will give me a piece of clothing that nobody else has, and I will write a blog post about them, I’ll interview them, and I’ll put it on my Instagram. So they get that publicity.”
I have almost, like, a delayed reaction to jet-lag.
“I wear lipstick to the airport, but I do not reapply when I’m getting on the plane. I wait until we land, and then I’ll use my cooling water and apply my lip. Generally, someone is meeting me so I have to look the best I can. I’ve found the most critical thing is to be super, super hydrated—I get shaky and very tired when I don’t drink enough water. Aside from that, I have almost like a delayed reaction to jet-lag—when I was in China, I was fine for the first several days, but then I started to wake up at these strange times. My method of dealing with it is to make myself stay up through the day and then go to bed at my regular time to try to get back to my regular routine. Every bone in my body may want to crawl into bed right away, but I make myself stay up because I knew I will get back into shape faster.”
A lot of the things that existed for older women were not appealing to me at all.
“Being in academia, you’re really into research, data, and writing; so I always needed this relief of doing something with the other side of my brain. When we moved to Manhattan, I started to take classes at FIT at their continuing education program, like jewelry fabrication, sewing, social media, fashion marketing, and styling. And in just about every class, I’d be the oldest person, but also the most edgy and innovative one. So professors and students kept telling me that I needed to do something with my unique style. At the same time, I couldn’t see myself in the mainstream fashion publications; I found they all looked the same, which was boring. I couldn’t find anything aside from independent magazines that spoke to someone like me, someone more urban. A lot of the things that existed for older women were not appealing to me at all. So I did a lot of research and saw what was out there, so that when I did start my blog, I could make it the opposite of the blogs I was seeing. Mine is very minimal.”
I work very hard at this.
“I think there are two stories about my start as Accidental Icon that got conflated. One is that me doing the blog was the accident, but really the accident was the name. I had everything ready to go on the blog, and yet I couldn’t come up with a good name for what I was doing. But the very last time that New York Fashion Week was at Lincoln Center, I was meeting a friend a block away at the campus where I teach, and I had on this Yohji Yamamoto suit, and this antique, vintage Japanese woven top, with a very esoteric Chanel bag. While I waited for my friend, photographers started taking pictures of me, and all these tourists saw that and thought I was someone famous, so they started taking pictures of me, too. By the time my friend arrived, there was a crowd around me, and she said, jokingly, ‘ah, accidental icon!’ and I was like, ‘Thank you! That’s the name.’ So the only accident was the name. What people don’t understand is that I work very hard at this. I get up in the morning and I read all the fashion publications, skimming, thinking of story ideas; I have to compose my shots; I’m in constant contact with people who are emailing me to do things. It’s not just taking a picture of yourself and throwing it on Instagram and getting famous.”
I do my talking through my photos.
“I never mention my age on my blog. My photos will tell everybody what I think about age. I do my talking through my photos. That’s how I prefer to make my statements. I am political, but I’ve found in this venue that can really work against you. If I want to make a statement, I make a very powerful picture. You know, recently, after the President’s announcement in regard to transgender people, I took a picture with a friend of mine who’s an androgynous model, and I put a caption saying ‘I’m a fan of black and white clothes—not a fan of black and white thinking.’ It’s saying a lot without saying it. I learned from being a professor that people do not like to be lectured to. Students do not like the ideological professors. They like people who can help them think in complex ways about issues. That’s the kind of professor that I am, and I bring that to this work also.”
“In the U.S., we’re still twisted up about age.”
“On my Instagram, ninety-eight percent of my followers are 18-35. The younger generation doesn’t want to be afraid of aging anymore. They don’t want to have to be thinking about wrinkles at the age of 25. They’re already doing very interesting things, they want to be creative, and I think that’s what they see in me; they’re kind of like, ‘Whoa, we don’t have to live like that anymore. We can reinvent ourselves, we can have an exciting life and have an attitude, and be rebellious.’ That is the attraction of Accidental Icon. Also, outside of the U.S., people have less hang-ups about age, particularly in Europe. Women are fashionable, or considered to be, throughout their life. In the U.S., we’re still twisted up about age; ageism in fashion is a real American thing. I feel very free when I’m leaving the country.
I see fashion changing really quickly—how you do fashion, how you do retail, marketing, advertising, runway shows—all that is changing. So it’s a wide open space for which we have not yet figured out how we’re going to be. I kind of fling myself into that space, and I see what comes to me. From the start of this, I did not have an agenda. I did not intend to ever be some paradigm of aging; I was indulging my love of fashion. When you’re doing what you’re passionate about, when you’re always interacting with people and having experiences that are different, you will become very exciting and very attractive. That is what has happened to me.”
If you want to live a very full life, that does mean that you take some risks.
“I am what you would call a pragmatist, just as I think a lot of New Yorkers are pragmatists. That being said, any new experience is going to cause some anxiety. I think that if you want to live a very full life, that does mean that you take some risks. I was feeling anxious about going to Shanghai; I’d been to Europe and done some traveling but that was the furthest away I had been, and I was going alone. I had other people warning me about the chaotic nature of the city, and the airport, etc. but eventually I just jumped on the plane. And it turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences; I met so many people, and found that China is actually so organized. It was more contained; it wasn’t chaotic. I was in and out of that airport in, like, one second. The only time I felt like I was going to lose my mind was when I returned to JFK.
I think we have expectations that we have to challenge, and for me, every new place and every new experience just makes me more creative, and enriches my life. At the end of the day, what gives you confidence and poise, one hundred percent, is that you know yourself, and that you know what you want. Not what someone else wants, or what you think someone else wants. It’s that you know who you are, good and bad. I know my faults, I know what I’m good at. And when you accept yourself in that way, you have a lot of personal power.”
Lyn Slater travels with the Carry-On in Asphalt.