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Steven Cojocaru, the Newest Maxxinista: "Fierce Is Out, Fresh Is In"

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

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A couple of weeks ago, Racked hit up our local TJ Maxx with Steven "Cojo" Cojocaru, longtime fashion television personality and a fixture on the red carpet. Why TJ Maxx? Well, Cojo's the newest Maxxinista—he's working with the company as a style expert and the de facto face of the firm. We wanted to find out what else he's been up to since he wrote those two books (Red Carpet Diaries: Confessions of a Glamour Boy in 2004 and Glamour, Interrupted: How I Became the Best-Dressed Patient in Hollywood in 2008, which chronicled his battle with polycystic kidney disease). Also, obv, we wanted to find out what he's stocking his closet with this spring-summer.

Racked: How has your life changed since leaving New York and going through such a harrowing health experience?

Steven Cojocaru: I started in LA and I've always lived in LA. My house and my key wardrobe pieces—you know, the jewels of my collection—were always kept in LA. But when I did the Today show, I was here a lot, and I had two jobs—Today in New York and ET in LA, so I was going back and forth. I'm still with ET.

The years since my transplant—my transplant was in 2005, I had two, one didn't work, the second one worked, my mom gave me a kidney, that was in October 2005. And, knock on wood, I've been in excellent health. I take good care of myself. Things have changed.

I've given up my wicked, wicked ways. I used to go out a lot, I used to go out late, drinking, Champagne, having fun. I was on steroids, I was eating everything, and I gained a lot of weight. I kind of went under and went into hiding. I really didn't feel good about myself being that heavy, but I was so bloated on steroids, and my health was my first priority. Recently I've lost 30 pounds—I went to a nutritionist. I didn't listen to my friends who all have a fancy Hollywood diet—eating grapefruit only, or go to some unknown doctor in a back alley and get shots in your butt. I didn't do any of that. I went to a nutritionist, I did it the old-fashioned way, it's pure torture. I eat less and I exercise more. I've become a gym bunny—and I thought I'd be the last hold-out. I didn't want to work out—as a political statement. I didn't want to be one of Them in LA. But now I work out, and I eat well and I pace myself. I still go to parties all the time and I'm on my beat, but I pace myself and there's time to be mellow.

I'm happier, I'm extremely grateful that I'm still here.

I really was at death's door, but Jackie O. was waiting in heaven and she said, "Cojo, turn back! They still need you! Badly dressed celebrities need you! Christina Aguilera needs you, she's hopeless! Mariah needs you!"

So, in the years since then, I have more of a life, if that makes any sense. And the funny thing is, I'm still really really excited and I thought I wouldn't be at a certain point—I thought I'd be bored or jaded. At the Oscars I'm still a wide-eyed little boy. The Oscars are so special to me, they're so magical, it's still the event of the year. It's still something that I was bowled over when I was a child—I was blown away, I was breathless with the Oscars. And that day, I kind of tingle. There's still something in the air that seems electric and Hollywood.

Racked: Does fashion hold a deeper meaning for you now, after your health scare?

Cojo: No, but there's more of a depth to my life. I think I've always been really lucky and blessed with not taking it too seriously. That's kind of why I feel I broke through.

Five or ten years ago when I was a young reporter at People magazine, I looked around and everybody who was in fashion, the only people who spoke about fashion, they were incredible snobs. Everybody was, like, "Oh my god, if you're not wearing a caftan like Babe Paley and a turban and if you're not going to the Carlyle for smart cocktails, you're nothing." That was really the message. It was all about snob appeal. And I feel like the Berlin Wall of fashion has come down. That snob appeal and elitism is dead and boring and uninteresting.

Fashion is now for the people, fashion is democratic. With the web, I feel that people are really really well-informed. I walk down the street and my life is one big focus group. Women come up to me wherever I go—"What do you think about what I'm wearing?"—and I think that woman, that regular woman, knows what's going on. She knows who the designers are, she knows the brands, she knows the labels. So I feel things have changed. That kind of connects as to why I'm with TJ Maxx.

One of my biggest beliefs is that I don't like style without substance. I like quality. I don't like disposable fashion. I'm all about statement pieces and investment pieces. So TJ Maxx, what made me want to partner with them, is not a discount retailer. They're in the middle—they're really like a department store, or like a specialty store. They have the killer brand names, the trusted brand names that I'm interested in. Like, I walked in here and I saw a huge name that I see on the red carpet all the time at 60% off. So what they're about is the off-pricing, their buying power. And what you need in this climate right now, you need to be a savvy dynamic retailer. They're all about the brand names, and I am the biggest label whore that ever lived.

Racked: Tell us about your personal style. What labels do you like to wear?

Cojo: I love French clothing. My style is rock and roll meets runway. My style is very much inspired by decadent rock and roll. It's very much inspired by Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Mick Jagger, and it's expensive rock and roll. What gets me excited and gives me goosebumps is Balmain, Dior Homme, Givenchy—that's what you're going to find in my closet. Super-tailored, beautifully structured investment pieces—pieces that I'm going to wear five years from now. I'm wearing Tom Ford now—a Tom Ford three-piece suit. It costs what the budget is for a small country to run, but I've had this suit for four seasons already. So that's what I'm all about. I want the names, I want the value, I want an investment piece. I want to walk into a room and, when I'm wearing a designer label, my shoulders go back, I get taller, I feel different. So labels, when I walked into TJ Maxx and Marshalls, I was home. I found the labels, but they're much less.

The other thing I like—you know the buzzword in fashion? Fierce is out. Anybody who says fierce is so 1981 from the burbs. Fresh is in. Of the moment is in. And there are trends in here that are up-to-the-second. What also differentiates them is that they're different from department stores. Most department stores are very seasonal. When you walk in, there's nothing new. The wow factor, the big buzzword here is the thrill of the find. So the wow factor is here when you walk in and you find a dress with a jaw-dropping label on it. But the pricing, and because they're constantly buying and working directly with the designers, the prices are unbelievable. So when I walked in, I had to get educated, because my world is Barneys, Maxfield.

Racked: How do you shop for yourself?

Cojo: I invest and I spend a lot in the beginning of the season. People send me things, which are lovely, but that's more the filler stuff and the in-between stuff. People dress me—Yves Saint Laurent dressed me for the Oscars this year and I felt very polished and very sleek. I wore midnight blue and I wore a white bowtie—I was going for old Hollywood, Gary Cooper meets Clark Gable meets Cary Grant 2011. But Balmain isn't lining up to give me—they don't lend and all of that.

What I did this season? First of all, you have to be the first one out there when it arrives and my spies are everywhere and they're calling me and they're telling me what's arrived. And these pieces are gone, because there's not a lot of great menswear. I'm looking for striking statement pieces. So my guy will call me from Barneys, tell me "I got this, I got that." I start to salivate. I go in, I budget for my wardrobe every season, and I will invest in the killer labels and I will pay through the nose but then that's what I wear the rest of the season. I don't fill in. I started shopping in February when all the new stuff was out and I'm done for spring and summer.

I have the crown jewels of my wardrobe—I have a new Dior Homme suit, Dior shoes, I have a Yohji floral blazer that I bought, I have Balmain pants that I bought, a Balenciaga suit that I bought, a couple of Givenchy pieces, and I'm done.

Racked: What is the least expensive item in your wardrobe that you wear?

Cojo: I got a tie at TJ Maxx in Santa Monica—a skinny tie, a plaid black, white, grey, pink, and purple tie that I got for $12.99. And the day before I got a Prada for $215. So it's all about the mix. And I'll wear it. I have a party Friday night, so I'll wear my Dior Homme suit with my $12.99 plaid skinny tie. But that's what I love about here, that's what I love about being here, it's the designer pieces.

I saw some cocktail dresses in here that both your regular woman and a savvy fashionista—I would call the merchandise here to die for. Italian bags, Brazilian shoes. I went to the runway store in Santa Monica and I saw labels that made my eyes pop out. Shocking. So that's what I'm talking about. What you have to be to survive nowadays, you have to be a savvy, dynamic retailer, and offer the knowing customer what they want but at the right price.

If Cojo could do America? My slogan is, I have two: one is "Cojo for President for a Fabulous America," my other one is "Vote for Cojo not a Combover." No orange skin here, you know? Only orange shirts. My platform? Everybody has a God-given right to have fashion care. Everybody will get a clothing allowance and a hefty tax write-off on their clothing.
· CojoStyle [Official Site]
· TJ Maxx [Official Site]