Lifelong Hoosier Deborah Dorman has mastered the ability to command attention with her look and her confidence wherever she is. An award-winning realtor, fashion expert and human rights activist, her sphere of influence is vast and she has been featured in magazines and on television. Now in her 70s, Deborah is showing no signs of slowing down or giving up any of her many passions. What’s more, her knowledge and advice on fashion are of relevance to style-conscious individuals of any age. In this interview, she reveals what has influenced how she dresses and how she defines what encompasses the complex world of fashion.
Name: Deborah Dorman
Residence: Ironworks Apartments
Occupation: Real Estate
Evelyn Allee: Where did you grow up?
Deborah Dorman: Indianapolis, I’m a true Hoosier.
EA: What is your earliest memory of a noticeable interest in fashion?
DD: This question makes me think back six to seven decades, to when I was six years old at my first birthday party. I got a bride doll with a veil and everything. I loved it so much that my mom got me a bride magazine and that was my first introduction to fashion.
EA: Who or what influences your style?
DD: I wish I could tell you that I have all of these influencers, and I certainly appreciate a lot of people’s style. But I think that having been in this world for seven decades, I’m gonna have to say that I am my best influencer.
EA: Describe your personal style
DD: My personal style is all about being very chic and sophisticated, understated at times, very monochromatic and yet very whimsical, very fun and a very happy outlook on fashion.
I have a brand- wearable art. I think that is what fashion is. Years ago I met a gentleman who helped me so much in my career. He said, “You just need a brand, they don’t need to know your name or who you are, they just need to remember you.” Whether it’s your hair or your eyewear, or you always have a headband. Mine is eyewear- I don’t overdo jewelry because on my face you will always see sunglasses. I love every kind of eyewear made.
EA: What’s your go-to item in your closet?
DD: It’s a very easy one, you start out with a black long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of black pants, and of course black undergarments as well, and I use that whether I put jackets or coats over it, and it starts the fashion. I also have that in white and beige, and that is where I start with every outfit, so that is where the monochromatic element comes in that I was talking about.
EA: Who are your favorite designers, and what do you like about their designs?
DD: So since I have been around a really long time I can go back really far. We had some really high-quality designers in Indy many years ago, Norman Norell and Bill Blass. Oleg Cassini is the designer who made Jacqueline Kennedy into the icon that she was and invented that little pillbox hat. But I would have to say Givenchy, Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Valentino are the very high fashion ones. But when I was growing up I had one designer in the 60’s I wanted to buy and that was Andre Courreges I even have his white Eskimo eyewear he put on his models in the 60s. Right now I have a couple of favorites which are Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney. I think those two are classics. I do feel, though, that you don’t have to spend that kind of money on fashion. I highly recommend that you find good vintage stores.
EA: Did you ever consider leaving the Indy area? If so, what made you stay?
DD: I studied fashion in Boston and was there for a few years. When I left there I had planned to move to New York and go to school at either Parson’s, Pratt or FIT, and had planned to live in a women’s center, and I told my dad and he said absolutely not. So I had to come home and I went to IU. I knew that I wanted to be on my own, and the only way I knew to do that is a guy had asked me to marry him. So I got married and had children. But that is still one of my dreams that is flying around out there. But so far life has stood in the way.
EA: What trends are you noticing for summer fashion?
DD: I’m not as influenced by trends. I usually just stick to my go-to’s which are pretty classic in nature, I can wear them from year to year. What I do is find good pieces that can last me from season to season. I like to think I am a trendsetter and make a difference in someone’s fashion. People ask me “where did you get that” and that is kind of an affirmation. In my eyes that is setting a trend, when someone comes up to you and is kind and compliments you.
EA: What’s next for you? What short and long term goals are on your list?
DD: I’m a visionary so goals are huge. I don’t get to do what I want to do unless I write things down. Every day I see where my goals are taking me. For the past seven decades I have loved fashion, I studied it, I grew up in it, I worked in it. I also went into the travel business and then the real estate business for over 25 years. I was thinking that I would take a break and relax a little bit and give back, working for candidates and politicians and the city, helping fashion programs, mentoring, business, but it looks like I’ll be going back into real estate full throttle. My son and I are teaming up to do that. You don’t do real estate halfway. That is my short and long term, to continue being active in this community, whether that is fashion benefits, art, museums, its all hand in hand. I also foresee myself continuing my travels with my husband – we’ve traveled extensively and that is how I have been able to learn so much about fashion. I always bring back a piece from wherever we travel.
EA: Define fashion.
DD: Prior to the 19th century, most everyone was making their own clothes. Unlike now where you have mass production and ready to wear clothes. So I think that fashion is dressing for a particular time and place. It has a lot to do with etiquette and socializing. Fashions are made for individuals. There’s a lot that encompasses fashion. One big thing right now is interior fashion. Your home exemplifies your taste, it describes your personality. In my world, I surround myself with fashion people: coordinators, fashion icons, or they’re in a big fashion house, or they’re a fashion victim! (laughs). But fashion is my passion, its all about what I want to wear.
EA: Worst fashion trend?
DD: You probably won’t like to hear this, but it’s because I am from the era of gloves and suits and hats- I would say blue jeans with holes.
(Evelyn, who is wearing a ripped denim jacket, laughs)
I don’t hate it. I’m not a person who wears a lot of jeans but if I was going to spend money on them I don’t think I’d want them to be all cut up. But really there is very little that I would call a fashion faux pax. When you are a fashionista you love fashion and love and respect everyone else’s as well.
EA: Best fashion trend?
DD: I brought with me a lifestyle book on Jacqueline Kennedy, I think one of the best fashion looks is back in the 1960s. You have these beautiful coat dresses, and always with pearls. Fabric is important to me with silk, satin, and velvet as my go-to. It’s like patent leather shoes. You mother would put them on you when you were little, and now you’ve got these patent leather loafers. It’s timeless. The basic principles of fashion are how I put everything together: “no fuss,” head to toe elegance.
My newest favorite trend is backpacks! They are great for business and travel, and they’re so good for your posture. I have little tiny ones and bigger ones.
EA: Name your favorite fashion icon.
DD: I have two. My personal fashion icon was my mother, I’m sure that she didn’t even realize what she was teaching me about fashion. Between her passion for fashion, her simple elegance, even what she wore at home, everything was so elegant. And at 5 o’clock she just transformed into this fabulous person with a fabulous outfit and in those days they had those martinis and cigarettes. And I watched her change all day long, and I can do that too now.
But my favorite era is the 60s, and my favorite icon from then is Jacqueline Kennedy. I think she will go down in history as the most famous woman in fashion.