Starting this month, we take you behind the scenes at Le Tote to introduce you to our team members. Kickstarting this series is our seriously chic chief merchandising officer, Ruth Hartman. Impossibly elegant, impeccably dressed and causing major wardrobe envy (whether she is wearing her own pieces or Le Tote’s), Ruth is one of those people who is never too busy to smile. A compliment from her can make your day. She has a movie star aura; all the flair, none of the fuss. Meet Ruth.
Being a fashion person, what is the first thing you notice about someone?
Their smile and their eyes. Even though I am the chief merchandising officer, I don’t critique everyone on how they look! But yes, I am interested in style and how people put things together — not as a grading standpoint but just appreciation. When someone has unique style, I think, “wow, they have a really nice aesthetic,” or “oh, that would look so dumb on me!”
What does your wardrobe look like?
Lots of black but with some pop prints and color. My wardrobe is fairly structured, fairly simple but with a twist. It’s a little on the contemporary-edgy side without becoming too Prada, Calvin Klein. I am definitely not a trendster — I like putting on the trend of the season only if it fits my personal style. I am not necessarily going to wear something if I feel it’s inappropriate for me, whether it is who I am at work or where I am in life, but I love to try new things. I would describe my style as clean and classic with a twist.
How long does it take you get dressed in the mornings?
Literally minutes! I don’t take very long unless I have something special to do or if I am planning my outfits for a business trip. You know that old adage? Like most women, I also wear 20 percent of my wardrobe 80 percent of the time! I have my go-to items and outfits, and there’s a certain part in my closet that I love. It has these special hangers that my stepmom made for me, and I put my Le Tote merchandise there when I get a new tote. It’s the first place I look in the morning to see what can I use from my tote to mix and match. That’s really fun.
What do you think is the most overrated shopping tip?
I think getting the “it” item of the season is very overrated, if it’s not your style. It’s so important to understand trends and interpret them for your individual look.
And the most underrated shopping advice?
If something is fantastic: consider buying two, because you never know with crazy retail cycles, people change in and out of things.
Have you ever made questionable purchases for your own wardrobe?
Oh, yes! Since I like to mix classics with a twist, sometimes my twist gets a bit much! That’s the fun of fashion, and it’s important to not take yourself too seriously. On the other hand, I also tend to over invest in basics. I don’t wear it all, and then it ends up cluttering my closet.
What makes you feel most confident?
Confidence to me is feeling good about myself, regardless of the day of the week and what’s happening. It comes from treating myself well, and it’s about feeling like a good wife, a good mother, a good friend as well as a great leader to my team. And, of course, wearing my favorite thing or figuring out a different way to put a new look together doesn’t hurt for that extra dose of confidence!
Which is your favorite style decade?
The 1950s and 1960s. Glamorous, ladylike, feminine, fun and classy, epitomized by style icons like Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O.
Which city inspires you the most fashion-wise?
Paris! I’ve lived in London and Paris – and although I prefer London in terms of a place to live – from a fashion standpoint, I would definitely say Paris. My personal takeaway from France would be their attention to detail with accessories. I don’t think Paris is very trendy; it’s fairly conservative there, but they certainly do know how to put it all together and look chic. It’s about taking the basics and giving them a twist, it’s about that extra little touch, it’s about turning a white shirt around with a simple scarf…
What is the best thing about being a part of Le Tote?
As a company, I love that we help women feel good about themselves and feel fashionable without having to over-index their investment (financial or time). I feel great about all the people I work with. In terms of being a leader of the team here, I hope to be an inspiration as a mentor by empowering others to become good female executives and master the ropes of running a business.
What are the five wardrobe must-haves for every working woman?
- A great jacket. It’s a layering essential that you can put over a dress, jeans, black pants or a skirt to dress it up or down.
- Black pants. Whether it is leggings or trousers, there are so many ways you can pair different silhouettes together to change your look.
- A belt. To cinch something in, to use as an accessory, or to belt a pair of pants as necessary.
- A fun sweater that might give you a pop of color. An essential key to building a wardrobe is to experiment with print and color. A pop sweater helps you do that.
- A great statement necklace. To wear with a shirt for a preppy feminine look or with a black dress out to dinner, accessories certainly help you go from desk-to-dinner.
From an assistant buyer at Macy’s, you worked your way up as general merchandise manager before joining DSW as lead merchant for women’s footwear and then Le Tote as CMO. What is the secret to your work success?
Working hard, working smart and connecting with people. It’s important to have an understanding of what makes the business grow and how to grow within the company, personally as well as a leader of the team. Helping others grow, being a good role model and mentoring them is vital. A previous supervisor once told me a long time ago about the importance of having a good quotient of firm, friendly and fair, and that’s my personal motto. I always think about these three Fs and their balance. It’s on a case-by-case situation — sometimes you have to be more friendly, sometimes more firm, but you always should be fair regardless. I try to think about this internally with the people I work with and also externally, with all our business partners, brands and the vendor community. And at the end of the day, what’s most long lasting is your reputation. So, you always want to keep your reputation intact no matter what.
As a mother of two teenage boys, how difficult is it to balance work and family?
It’s not simple, but as the kids get older, it gets easier. They still need you but in a different way. To have a very supportive partner is essential, as is not beating yourself up too much, especially when you are moving up the ladder and juggling huge roles and responsibilities. I remember always thinking ‘oh I have to be superwoman’ — handle the pressure and responsibility at work, but at the same time come home and be present as a good wife and a good mom; that’s not always easy. But it’s about how you take that deep breath and do the best you can. Ask for support and help when you need it, and try to be good to yourself and everybody else.
Finally, what is your idea of downtime?
Reading a great book, watching a good movie with my family, getting together with my girlfriends, and exercising with my dog, Kona, on the hills in the Presidio.