Perennially chic Olivia Palermo first entered the public eye in 2006 as a budding Manhattan socialite, but like other women who also have very public origins, the body of work she accumulated as she advanced her career was so substantial that she quickly transcended to become one of fashion’s most influential women; most of us today simply know her as one of the world’s most prominent icons.
Her style and taste have maintained unwavering relevance for so long that she has joined the ranks of other longstanding icons like Lee Radziwill, Slim Keith, and Nan Kempner. Therefore, Palermo did what any savvy business woman would: she built an empire. Based on her personal brand, Palermo has forged fashion collaborations with Banana Republic, Karl Lagerfeld, and many others, and eventually founded a bespoke, eponymous website that introduces readers to the Olivia Palermo universe with beautifully crafted editorials, shopping guides, and trend pieces.
As one of the most glamorous stars of SFX: The Little Magazine That Could (and Did) –Savoir Flair‘s new luxury coffee table book, published by Assouline – we sat down with Palermo to discuss her shoot, her relationship to fashion in the Middle East, and her style sensibilities.
First, I have to compliment you on this incredible shoot. You are so striking and commanding in every single image. I feel like you’re one of those rare women that could make a burlap sack look like Dior couture. What was your experience on set? What memories do you have from this shoot?
Thank you so much! That’s very sweet of you to say. We shot in Paris in July of 2019, what feels like a lifetime ago at this point. It was the day after Paris Fashion Week so I was a bit exhausted but gave it my all!
As you know, this shoot is being produced for Savoir Flair’s coffee table book, SFX, published by Assouline. We are a Middle East magazine, and that made me curious about your perspectives on fashion in the Middle East and your experiences with this region and its designers.
The beautiful fashion and inspiring women are some of my favorite things about the Middle East. The women are the most fabulous and flawless; how they present themselves is always luxurious and impeccable. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the inaugural Fashion Trust Arabia awards in March of 2019. It was so nice to be able to support and celebrate young emerging talent from the MENA region. Sadly, world events made celebrating again this year impossible but I look forward to continue seeing the creativity that emerges from the Middle East. Designers, creatives, glam artists, everyone I have always worked with during my travels to the region have been so welcoming and embracing and talented.
What are some core style principles you always stick to, no matter how trends change?
I was raised with an understanding that you have your work clothes, party clothes, leisure clothes, and so on, and to never mix them up or interchange them. Always dress appropriately for your surroundings is definitely a core style principle I live by.
Do you approach style with the mind of a collector, hunting down key pieces and collaborations by certain houses, or do you buy whatever you respond organically to?
I think my team, for one, wishes my approach to style was more calculated and intentional! I honestly just dress for my mood and whatever makes me feel like the best version of myself in that moment. Of course, keeping in mind what is appropriate for the occasion.
What are some of the pride and joys of your closet?
My most prized possessions are those that have sentimental value: a Verdura bracelet my mother gave me, my ‘Birkin’ that was a 30th birthday gift from Johannes, my Piaget watch that commemorated my being part of the brand’s ‘Extraordinary Women’ ensemble. Beautiful things with extra special meaning are those I most cherish!
Who has been influential to you in the industry?
I have been very fortunate to work with so many incredibly talented professionals throughout my career that have all had some level of influence on me and how I approach working within the industry. Regardless of whether they’re the photographer, producer, publicist, glam artist… being around such inspiring creatives it’s hard not to be influenced. I also find women that have accomplished so much in and around the industry, and in some capacity paved the way for myself, to be very influential and inspiring: Carolina Herrera, Diane Von Furstenberg, Pat McGrath, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Victoria Beckham, and so many others.
Do you think fashion is an art form?
Without a doubt! Fashion is wearable art. It’s a form of self-expression. I love the arts: photography, cinema, ballet… and fashion is no different. It’s the reason why I do what I do.
You have been an enduring icon, never fading from view. To what do you credit your incredible staying power in fashion?
I don’t think of myself as an ‘icon’ in any sense of the word, but I am not naïve: I know that there are a lot of people who identify with my approach to fashion or are inspired by my sense of style. I am more than flattered by that fact, and am beyond happy to be a source of inspiration for those people. For me, it has just always been about staying true to myself and feeling like the best version of myself. If there is something I can share with people to help them feel like the best version of themselves, then that is the ultimate achievement! It’s exactly what we set out to do with the Olivia Palermo brand. I would have to credit ‘authenticity’ for my staying power.
Did the rise of social media change anything significantly for your career?
The evolution of my career happened to coincide with the rapid evolution of social media. It has certainly been an instrumental tool to grow my brand, and has allowed me to only further amplify my other professional endeavors. I never set out to gain a following. Initially, my use of Twitter and Instagram for example began as a platform for sharing my thoughts and perspectives on fashion and style within my own network of friends and acquaintances.
Social media gave me the opportunity to share that experience and knowledge on an international scale. The more I would post – whether about fashion shows, Mr. Butler, or just things that spoke to me in a particular moment – the more I saw my audience grow and continue to engage. At some point along the way, I realized I had a platform to not only share about my life but to help inspire people to be the best version of themselves.
Your website is fantastic. What’s the team like that works on it? How much time are you putting into it? It’s so well done, and beautifully curated.
That is so kind! Thank you for acknowledging it. OliviaPalermo.com has always been a passion of mine ever since I started it in 2012. It was never intended to be a blog or site solely about myself, it was just an outlet to share my musings on things I was passionate about and experiencing in the industry. After a few iterations over the years, we really put all of our focus into reshaping it in 2019. It took well over a year and was a labor of love, but I am so thrilled with the outcome. I wanted it to be equal parts publisher and retailer; a destination for curated, considered content that you can often also shop!
The site continues to evolve, of course, but that’s the benefit of having a small enterprise – we can be flexible to the things happening in the world and listen to the Olivia Palermo community on what they want and gravitate towards. It is most certainly a full-time job and one I could never do alone. For starters, I am not super tech savvy – believe it or not. Plus, I am always being pulled in a million different directions. Still, nothing gets published without my seal of approval. We have weekly brainstorms as a team to ideate on content topics and share feedback we’ve received from our audience – I love it!
What are some things very few people know about you?
Oh, I don’t know! A lot of people are often surprised to learn that when I was younger I was very athletic and actually wanted to be a sports commentator when I grew up. The fashionista thing came a bit later when I started interning and went to college. I often am also told that I am funny. I don’t know why that’s so surprising!
I’ve seen you so often at fashion week, and have wondered what goes through your head when you view a collection. Do you care about the narrative force behind the work or are you viewing the clothes through a more personal lens?
I take the shows very seriously. Of course, there is a lot that goes into the circus that is attending the shows, but I attend because I genuinely enjoy them and want to show my support to the designers. A fashion show is a designer’s vision coming to life in the purest form, before it is stripped away and over-analyzed by the limitations of the business like buyers and merchandisers, marketers and publicists, retailers, margins, the list goes on. To your earlier question, a fashion show is like an art exhibit in a way. I want to experience it first-hand and for myself, which is why you’ll never see me observing a show through the lens of my iPhone.
The world is changing rapidly and people really care about what brands stand for, and make purchasing decisions based on that factor. How concerned are you with the ethical and social values of the things you buy? Or the brands you align yourself with?
My perspective is that there is always room for improvement. I don’t think we can expect anyone to be the perfect consumer. I certainly am not. But, I am learning and taking way more things into consideration now than I did ever before. For example, when we set out to launch the Olivia Palermo Collection, we were sure to work with vendors and suppliers that had ethical practices. Was it the most cost-effective way to go? I am sure not. But, I need to be able to stand behind what I put my name on. Is there room for improvement? Always. The whole Olivia Palermo brand is about bettering oneself, and that doesn’t exclude me.
Photographer Jeremy Zaessinger Editor-in-Chief Haleh Nia Fashion Director Grace Gordon Producers Maria Popova and Maya Itani Stylist Amarsana Gendunova Makeup Artist Samantha Tsan Hair Stylist Ben Pinon Set Designer Sir Arno Lorens Model Olivia Palermo