Olivia PalermO has made bOth an art and a business Out Of getting dressed in the mOrning. Farrah Storr meets a very mOdern muse (and mOgul)
I’m looking for Olivia Palermo.’ The hotel receptionist stares blankly back at me. ‘Olivia Pa…ler…mo?’ I say, slower this time. Still nothing. ‘Is she a guest here?’ the woman asks, then taps on the keyboard. I lean over the desk. ‘Not exactly. I’m meeting her for an interview. She’s a…’ I whisper the last part, ‘She’s a celebrity.’ The woman smiles. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. Should I have known that?’
Olivia is not really a celebrity. The 31-year-old New Yorker is something far more aspirational: an influencer and social media sensation who’s used her sometime-celebrity to leverage herself into a multimillion-rand lifestyle and fashion brand. A pap shot of her in a Topshop jacket can guarantee its sellout within 48 hours. She merely has to post an image of a pair of trainers on her Instagram (five-million followers) for the brand to be besieged with requests. She can sell anything from bangles and bronzer to phone cases and dog coats. And sell she does. She’s designed ‘collaborations’ with Ciaté Beauty as well as with Westward Leaning sunglasses, which has eight pairs of shades named after her favourite places in the world: Palm Beach, Berlin… You get the idea. She’s worked on a jewellery line with a brand I’ve never heard of, BaubleBar (now obsessed, naturally), and has ‘collaborated’ on a limitededition bag with Aspinal of London. The list goes on. And on.
On top of this, she is also the rather curiously named global style ambassador for Banana Republic. I thought this meant she gets lots of free clothes, which she has to wear as she travels the world. Silly me. ‘It’s actually overseeing what their autumn direction is going to be,’ she tells me, as we take a corner in the hotel’s café. ‘It’s seeing the inspiration, starting to work on the spring edits online, and bringing in new photographers. I oversee all the creative – the visuals, the styling, all of that.’ (She’s also designing a collection for the brand, due in September.)
It’s a smart move by Banana Republic, a brand that’s struggled to capture the imagination of anyone under 35 looking for anything other than a secondinterview work suit. Because what they’re buying into with Olivia is her. They’re buying the upscale, glossy clothes horse with an eye for high-low style. They’re buying a piece of the woman we all secretly want to dress like