If Carrie Bradshaw had a real life incarnation, Karen Robinovitz would be it. The seasoned fashion journalist, marketing mogul and “creatrix” of her own beauty line, Karen is the manifestation of every 20-something’s dream of making it in the Big Apple. I had the pleasure of chatting with Karen about her amazing closet, her style philosophy and how she gets her hair looking so great.
First of all, I want to start out by saying that I’m HIGHLY envious of your wardrobe – particularly the nude Givenchy wedges. Amazing! What would you say is your Style Philosophy?
Thank you! I don’t have a philosophy other than to just wear what I like and not worry about what is “on trend” or in the magazines of the moment. I like to pair unexpected things and I always take a risk – I’ll turn a scarf into a turban, wear a skirt as a strapless top, throw on yellow shoes with a red dress, wrap vintage chain belts around my wrist as pseudo-cuffs. I also don’t believe in making anything too precious – if you have something delicate and dressy, wear it during the day with jeans or with a T-shirt (if it’s pants or a skirt). I like to mix things up and have fun! And I never leave the house without at least five inches under my feet!
Tell us a little bit about yourself – where you’re from and what you do.
I grew up in NJ, went to college in Atlanta and then my family moved to Florida but I came to NYC the day after I graduated and I’ve been here ever since. I was a fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and celebrity journalist for a loooooong time, writing for the New York Times Styles section, Elle, Bazaar, Marie Claire, InStyle, Glamour, and others (I got my start at WWD, where I literally handed out mail for a year!). I ventured from magazines to books and TV along the way but realized, about seven years ago, that my passion was marketing and branding. I wound up consulting for a lot of major fashion brands and still do, all in the social media space. But last year, I launched a brand of my own – Purple Lab – which is all about double duty beauty. It’s makeup – all sophisticated in formulation but playful with a cheeky twist. So I straddle both worlds – fashion and beauty – and love every minute of it. There’s nothing like a day of glamour!
What was your style like in High School?
I grew up in the 80s so I definitely had my fluorescent colors and acid washed jeans moment with major NJ hair! Of course, I could die when I look back on some of the things I wore and loved because now, they’re so bad but I was always experimental and bold, playing with color and textures and proportion and spending hours every night before bed, thinking of what I’d wear in the morning.
When did you start getting interested in fashion?
You won’t believe this, but the first word I ever read was Gucci! I was about 3 years old and with my parents on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Florida. All of a sudden, I grabbed my mom and said, “Look mommy! G! U! C! C! I! Gucci!” My dad looked at her and said, “Is it too late to return her?”
I played dress up in my mom’s closet, trying on her shoes, as soon as I could walk. And I devoured fashion magazines under the covers with a flashlight. I used to watch my mom get dressed – she has impeccable taste and style – and help style her with wide brimmed hats. She was wearing sequins and jeans back in the 70s, which is a style creed of mine today.
You have a ton of amazing brands in your closet and many are my favorites. Missoni, Givenchy, Lanvin – Are there any designers or brands that you particularly love?
I cannot get enough of Celine. What Phoebe Philo is doing with the brand is amazing. I could live in all of it – forever. Lanvin and Chanel – please! So chic, it hurts! I worship at the altar of Balenciaga, Givenchy, Rick Owens, YSL (especially vintage). And I love a good Alexander Wang moment, a little Proenza Schouler, some Anne Demeulemeester and Margiela. Oh, I can’t forget about Dries and Marni – love them too, but they’re better on taller girls (on me, it can look frumpy). My accessories taste is a bit subversive – Pamela Love, Anita Ko, Tom Binns, Stephen Webster are favorites (though I don’t own any Webster… yet!). When it comes to shoes – the more extreme, the better!
How do you decide when to splurge or save? Are there items always worth the splurge and items that aren’t?
I think shoes and bags are the best things to splurge on because you can get away with wearing jeans and an American Apparel T-shirt with killer shoes and accessories and look sophisticated and luxe. Super, super trendy items – do it with Forever 21 and H&M but invest in something you know will last a lifetime. When I make a splurge, I ask myself if my future daughter would be happy to inherit it! It has to be the kind of piece that would last that long.
What are five key pieces ever girl should have in her closet?
A great white button down top, perfect black tuxedo pants, super high black pumps (YSL Tributes in patent are my favorite for a “basic pump” and worth every penny), the little black dress, a beautiful coat (even in a bright color but a classic silhouette) or motorcycle jacket (if that’s not your thing, a trench coat).
What is your advice for someone, like me, who is trying to edit their wardrobe and collect lasting pieces?
Ask yourself if you’ll want to wear it in five years and if you’d want to save it and bust it back out in 20 years or give to your daughter one day – is it archive-able? I put things on hold and see if it haunts me. When it starts showing up in my dreams, there’s usually no hope for me to resist! Invest in the classic basics – use those to build your wardrobe’s foundation and add flair with cheapie cute finds.
Your hair is so Carrie Bradshaw-esque – what do you do to keep it looking so great?
I swear by Devachan, the salon I’ve been going to since 1997. They specialize in curly hair and I use ONLY their products – “No Poo” shampoo without sulfates, conditioner, and their Arc Angel gel. I don’t wash out my conditioner (but it’s not leave in). This helps weigh my curls down so I don’t look like I have triangle head (curly girls know what I’m talking about). This salon changed my life and I will never go anywhere else. Ever!
Finally, what do you do for a living – how can you afford these amazing clothes?
I talked a bit about what I do earlier but the main reason I have such a collectible closet is that – and I don’t recommend anyone else do this because it was clearly not the wisest of choices but you live and you learn! – I spent my 20s and early 30s (I’m older than most of the Chictopians, sadly but I don’t feel it) spending all of my money on fashion and on things that were so good that I still wear them. Back then, I thought, “I’m single. I have no one to answer to. I love fashion. Why not?” Remember that “Sex and the City” episode where Carrie couldn’t buy her apartment but she had 40k of shoes? My phone rang off the hook when that aired.
Now, I am much more responsible fiscally-speaking, but I do have great access to the sample sales before they’re open to the public (as a former journalist, so many of my friends are in PR for the brands I love). I’m an excellent sale navigator. I love a good outlet moment (there’s a Balenciaga one not two hours from the city). And I work so hard so I can save up and treat myself to something special here and there. If you gave me a large chunk of change, I’d probably buy one thing over a bunch of smaller items – I’d always rather have quality over quantity.