Keeping Pace with Olivia Palermo, Fashion’s Favorite Face
Fresh off the launch of a new luxury beauty brand, the stylista has found her footing in the big leagues.
It should come as no surprise that Olivia Palermo is an in-person person. The model, designer, entrepreneur, and famed fashion girl likes to shop in-person, peruse collections in-person, network in-person. It's a preference that has elevated her to muse-status for needle-moving designers around the world, and greatly contributed to Palermo's decade—and then some—of high visibility. After all, you don't become one of the most famous faces in fashion by not showing up.
Today, Olivia Palermo is in Paris, in the grips of fashion month mania. Palermo's schedule straddles market appointments, meetings, front-row appearances, and basking in the warm post-pandemic glow. This season, it's possible Palermo has felt the heat more than any other. In May, she launched her eponymous luxury beauty brand, which offers a range of luxury cosmetics and skin-care essentials.
From across the Atlantic, Palermo speaks at a pace that would prompt any transcription service to spontaneously combust. While one can easily imagine her designer heels keeping similar time across the cobbled streets, she's never out of breath (fitness, another convenient byproduct of reaching fashion elite). We're on Olivia Palermo's time now—if you can't keep up, she'll leave you behind.
Read on for Olivia Palermo's journey from magazine intern to cover star, and why consistency—as well as commitment—is key.
It feels like you've touched all facets of the fashion industry, how did you envision your career when you started? What would you say really set you up?
"It's interesting when you start out with a direction and then you have to move with the times and what the market is saying but also what the consumer is saying. I say this to anyone who goes into fashion, you really need to have a solid foundation and knowledge. Being a wardrobe assistant at a magazine is probably one of your best experiences, you really understand samples. Some stylists have that background and the ones who do make it a lot easier on productions. I was just having a conversation about this, so it's at the top of my mind. But being able to understand brands, collections, what gets shot and what doesn't, evolves—whether I was going to become an editor, in PR, whatever your course, you have a solid foundation. So for me, starting off as an intern at Quest magazine gave me that base.
"I still love the magazine world, and seeing what's actually on those pages. The information is very different from digital—when it's all about clickbait you lose a lot of substance. When a publication is doing well and taking care of their journalists, it's a different kind of content."
Did you predict the demise of print, amid blog culture's takeover?
"I'm not the biggest tech person, but I'm knowledgeable about what goes on from a digital marketing perspective and unfortunately in this day-and-age people's attention span is so short. People have limited time, and they want quick content and a clear message. I'm hoping that will change, because there's so much great [long-form content] out there to consume."
What's your take on digital shows?
"I think there's a twofold to it all. They were a response to the times, but ultimately, we need to be in-person to see the collection, have the conversation with the designer, and experience the show. I will do digital when it comes to going through a lookbook, but I'm all for in-person. You can put a band-aid on that for a minute because we were in a pandemic and forced to think outside the box. Now I'm 100 percent about in-person."
How did the pandemic affect you, personally and professionally?
"I think everyone was forced to stop and reassess, and if you didn't you're lying or going nowhere in life, because everyone took a breath. It's important to have time for yourself and reset. For me and Olivia Palermo as a brand I had to stop, the climate had changed. We had been working on beauty for a year and a half and we had to put a pin in everything. We weren't ready because the world wasn't ready, and I didn't want to rush to put something out and be insensitive—that's not what I'm for."
Well it's interesting because you do have an enormous amount of influence, but you've also earned this immense fashion credibility. Is it ever frustrating to see the younger set kind of achieve that overnight?
"That's such an interesting question. I was fortunate to be in a really interesting space to create that niche in the market, pre-blogs and Instagram. Now it's nice to see there's a huge market for it and people want to build their personal brands, but for me now I'm focusing on creating this trust with my consumer and an incredible product. There really is space for everyone in different fields, and to think that I could offer others tools to do that [is so rewarding]."
Did you have to fight to be taken seriously in those early days?
"I was really fortunate because I had an incredible support system, and I had such respect for my peers. But 'making it' has never crossed my mind, I keep my head down and do my work and learn, then take that knowledge on to the next project."
What about the industry still gets you really excited?
"Oh, I'll tell you. An amazing market appointment with a great designer, that's one of my favorite things to do."
Are there any rising or established designers that you consider to really be moving the needle?
"Andre Incontri who was the creative director of Tod's has now started his own accessories line. Giambattista Valli, I watched him evolve and grow, and he was the youngest designer to join couture. These two fabulous men in my life keep me fabulously dressed."
How did you formulate your taste?
"Traveling all around the world and going to all the different markets—street style as much as what the designers are showing, that all helps me to do my job a little bit better."
I'm interested in your thoughts on the phenomenon of collaborations between luxury houses:
"I think it shows how small the industry really is—we're a supportive industry, we want to champion each other. There are trends and moments when you want to try new things and I think this is one of them. I'm looking forward to what we're going to see after Corona, I feel like there's a lot of opportunity."
What gap did you want to fill with Olivia Palermo beauty?
"We were ready to cater to luxury beauty, taking the compact or lipstick and giving it a weight that makes it feel like an investment. It's putting your money into a brand where the exterior and interior are equally matched, as well as to look at them from a fashion lens. My glam fam, as I call them, come from all over the world and I've worked with them for years, so I would be doing myself a disservice by not learning from them and including their insight in this project — whether that was textures of the eyeshadows or how they sat on different skin tones, formulations on everything. But also that you could have something, both guys and girls, that could sit on your beauty counter and make you feel fabulous."
How do you shop now?
"Only in-person. I am an in-person person. I only shop brick-and-mortar, I love being in stores. It's important for my brand to meet the store girls and see what they're excited about in fashion, their relationships with customers. But brick-and-mortar is about to be booming, everyone is ready to get out of their houses. Now is a great time to get retail space on the cheap and really do something with it."
It seems like you're always two steps ahead in terms of what's current, and what's next. Do you ever stop?
"I can never stop. My husband is very patient with me. It keeps the adrenaline going and sparks other ideas, conversations you have with someone can be turned into something amazing. So you always have to keep the door open and an open mind."
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