mary randolph carter, Closets
The Original Annie Hall

It’s norm-smashing, soulful, and visionary shit like this video that has had us craving to get Mary Randolph Carter’s story on SLU. Lily and I have mentioned a few times before the people in our lives who have inspired this site, and MRC, who was my mind-blowing, unswerving-from-who-she-was boss at Self Magazine in the 80s, is at the tippy top of the list. She has never worn an “It” dress; in fact, she went to the Met Ball in an inside-out vintage frock that had Diana Vreeland drooling. And the closest thing to an “It” shoe are her worn Frye boots, sans polish, that she wears with everything, including her plaid patched jeans and her velvet embroidered jackets (and I’m sure they’ve served as an evening shoe on occasion). In her eternal layers of tweeds, Navajo prints, and plaid ties, she is the kind of self-empowered original that we live for.

Feeling young at 65ish, wrinkles for Carter (her nickname that unveils her tom-girl charm) are just another natural and beloved extension of who she is, similar to her lifelong obsession with the romance of the torn, weathered, and tattered things that stuff her house and closet to the brim.“I look at the face of my beautiful mother (who’s 93 years old and has birthed and raised nine children), and it has lines, sun marks, and some damage, but I still think to myself, ‘I want my mother’s face.’ She is my heart and bones.” Carter has survived two devastating fires as a child growing up in Virginia homes steeped in warmth and tradition; she was Mademoiselle’s Beauty Editor, the one who started fashion at New York Magazine, and the Creative Director and founder of Self Magazine; she’s been an integral inspiration to Ralph Lauren for 25 year and has raised two kids and been married to her husband for 45 years. It's a fairytale born out of the unconditional support of family and heritage, only instead of a ball gown there’s a white shirt (she wears them seven days a week) and military pants (she’s all about them, even though her legs are drop-dead).

Carter drinks in life, and Never Stop to Think… Do I Have a Place For This? is the title of her new book, which is an extension of the way she and others like her have lived (i.e. self expression oozing out of every possible body part and corner of their lairs). Her own house is an Americana fantasy packed with enough antiques, oddities, and memorabilia from her insanely rich story to fill a museum. As she says, “I’ve never stopped to think if I felt like I needed it. It’s not a matter of need; it’s a matter of what is going to have personal meaning to me.” Her style, too, is about layering, and she typically showcases her hunger for curated accumulation by topping off her signature white shirts, chinos, and loafers (she says she dresses like her dad) with indigenous hand knits and folkloric capes.

Donning tuxedos to black-tie events and feeling the most beautiful in a flannel and sweatpants in her barn Upstate, Carter could’ve been one of the women who she profiled while revolutionizing fashion with the series she started at Mademoiselle — a series that asked real woman not just about what they wore but about their life stories (sound familiar?). But when we asked Carter what would she take if there was a fire in her present abode, she answered, “Nothing but my husband, because it’s not about things, it’s about emotion, feeling, triggering memory.” Taught to treasure the past and the families that shepherd you along, Carter states, “When people come to my home, I want them to feel the way that I felt when I came home. The fire was crackling, the candles were lit, and there was a pot of Brunswick stew on the stove that my mother had just made. There was such a sense of belonging. We were surrounded by love.”

Elisa + Lily

Get Carter's newest book, Never Stop to Think... Do I Have a Place for This?
Read her book A Perfectly Kept House Is the Sign of a Misspent Life
Carter's video was edited by Paul O’Brochta

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