Meet Joan Miller Kohlberg

Location:Cambridge, MA
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Married
Education: The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, The Actors Studio, Lesley College, and Cambridge College

Dad stayed behind teaching at Harvard, joining them during summer vacations and visiting whenever he could during the academic year. “It was difficult for me, not knowing the language,” she says now. “But it was something I wanted to do for my husband. We ended up having an incredible experience.” She goes for what she wants—whether it’s mastering the Strasberg method of acting or working at esteemed McLean Hospital in Boston—with inspiring determination and charm. In her 50s, she is reinventing herself yet again, running a tutoring center featuring the innovative math program her husband invented.

Through all her trials and transformations, Joanie has always had fabulous style. Even when she discusses the near-fatal car-accident that left her healing throughout her twenties, she cant help but remember she was wearing Halston the night of the crash. Did we mention she’s also funny?

Tell me about the accident.

I was 21, going out for the night in my first Halston dress with my Charles Jourdan shoes—this was before Manolo Blahniks. I felt so good I decided to just borrow my mother’s new sports car instead of my own. And I was driving on an unfamiliar road in heavy rain. I was looking for the windshield wipers, lighting up a cigarette, fiddling with the radio controls–and that was it. I flipped over four times. It was Jaws of Life and I was DOA and that whole thing.

I was in the hospital for three months that first stretch and I had ten surgeries in eight years.

Oh, Joanie. Were you just dealing with your health? Were your working during that time?

I spent my 20s really trying to piece my life together. It was a difficult time. I wanted to be an artist and an actress, so when I was well enough, I studied at the art students league in New York City and at Strasberg, both places I had studied at prior to the accident. And like all actors and artists, I was a waitress.

And you met your husband during this time?

Elon and I met by chance in New York through a mutual friend. He was a professor at Harvard Business School, where he still teaches. I had this huge cast on my arm that whole time we were dating. I followed him to Boston. We’ve been married 29 years.

Still in love?

We are. He still calls me Babe—not that I am one!

So you went back to school twelve years ago?

I went for my Masters in Education. I desperately wanted to work at McLean, the famous psychiatric hospital in Boston. I tried to volunteer, but they don’t accept volunteers there—you have to have a degree. It took me a little longer because I was not a great student—but I did it, and ended up working in the dual diagnose detox unit–for seven years. Just where I’d wanted to be.

Why did you leave?

My husband went traveling around the world on sabbatical. At first I said, go without me, I don’t want to give up my job. So he started traveling around the world and after several months I thought, I’m insane, I’m crazy. You know? It’s like, you weigh family on one hand and job on the other. My husband won, and I joined him.Image

Was there a favorite place you traveled together?

I got to India and was in awe. They say you either love it or you hate it, and I just loved it. I’ve always liked to fool around with the camera, but while I was in India I didn’t stop taking pictures. I ended up in the hospital because I cut my ankle wading into a river, trying to get a shot.

How would you describe your style?

Classic, modern and sexy.

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Who is your fashion influence?

My mother is extremely chic; people always recognized her as a style icon wherever she went. I was always intrigued by her. I always admired her innate style growing up as a kid, and even now I still love her style, it’s current and classic at the same time. When she left for her honeymoon, she wore a Charles James suit—remember those days when you dressed up to go on your honeymoon?

Yes.

Another influence is Kevin Roberts—we’ve been friends since childhood. He’s an interior designer with Haynes-Roberts, Inc., in New York. He’s the brother I never had.

How has he influenced you?

No matter what we’re doing—even taking a ride in the car–we challenge each other. We talk about art, architecture, design, fashion, interior design. We push each other to the limit of great style.

Tell me about your sons.

Gavriel is my oldest, he just turned 28 in August and he’s in medical school at Stanford. He’s truly exceptional. And my baby Rafi who is my Mr. Delicious. He is delicious. He is going into his fourth year at Tufts. He’s 22, a Renaissance man—very creative, artistic. Both my boys are so humble and modest.

What rejuvenates you?

Spending time with my boys.

Do you have a signature item of clothing?

I always have a dungaree jacket somewhere in my bag or on my body. That’s it for me, since I’m a child. I’m wearing one right now that I love from True Religion—it fits great; very snug. I could be at a wedding in a Narciso dress, and I’ll still be wearing my torn dungaree jacket.

What’s your biggest indulgence?

Blue jeans and shoes.

You have fabulous skin and hair. Do you have a beauty secret?

I only wash my hair once a week—it looks better when it’s a little dirty. And I’ve followed the same colorist, Frank Friscioni, around for 15 years. I take baths and I use the most amazing soap—Roi Olive Oil Soap—that I buy from Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. I’m very particular about soap—I don’t want to walk around smelling like vanilla.

Why do you love to shop?

Serenella. Leslee (the owner) has impeccable taste. Shopping at Serenella is so much more than “the purchase.” The shop is beautiful–you’re just made to feel comfortable. Leslee is so warm and her sense of how to throw things together is just very much on my wavelength.

Who are your favorite designers?

I do like Tomas Maier and Lucien Pellat-Finet, but I don’t really stick to one particular designer. I buy by instinct when I see something that turns me on, regardless of the designer. But what separates the boys from the men is how you put it all together. If you put on a pair of high top sneakers, throw on a Stella McCartney dress and toss a great bag over your shoulder, I find that’s hot.

Tell me your passion project.

My husband invented a system for children to learn math. It’s called digi-block. He put together a company and now we’re in almost 15,000 schools over the United States.

My older son said to me this year, Mom, we should start our own private digi tutoring center. That’s what I’ve been doing this last five months. I thought to myself: I put this place together, but will I ever see a tush on a chair? And now I can’t believe what a success we are.

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