“The Democratization of Fashion Has Been a Revelation”

A Q&A with Refinery 29’s Christene Barberich and Piera Gelardi on issues of personal style big and small

2014 has been especially flattering for Refinery 29. The fashion and lifestyle Web site won three Webby Awards in March and released a tome, Refinery 29: Style Stalking, this month. Before stopping into Ten Over Six for a book signing on Monday, editor-in-chief Christene Barberich and executive creative director Piera Gelardi met me at LACMA’s Coffee + Milk for iced tea and a talk about street style, fashion blogging, and vintage finds

Congratulations on the new book. What made you decide to write it?
Christene and I met almost 15 years ago. We worked in magazines—I was a photo director and Christene was an editorial director, so we come from a print background. And we’ve loved working in digital—the space and the momentum is very invigorating. For years now we’ve wanted to create a book. We have so much resourceful content that we create for readers every day, but we loved the idea of making something that was a little bit more tangible, something you can keep in your bedroom.

CB: We wanted it to be kind of a workbook, something that wasn’t precious, that daily companion. It’s a symbol of everything we have been doing all these years—advocating for taking risks and being unique, and helping readers to cultivate their personal style and to figure out what that is.

Books on how to dress are nothing new. What did you want to add to the genre?
We felt like there was room for us to tell a story around women that inspired us—women that were taking risks, that were doing a lot of unconvential things when it came to getting dressed every day and not just for big events. We were also fatigued by books organized in predictable ways, like, “this is how you dress for a party” or “this is how you dress for a job interview.” Those are important things for women to problem solve, but when we were editing pictures and themes in the book, we put together a [different] structure.

PG: When we started Refinery we felt like a lot of fashion journalism out there was very prescriptive. Do this, don’t do that. A lot of rules. A lot of shoulds. A lot of don’ts. We wanted to change up that space. We don’t assume to be perfect. We have gone on our own personal style journeys and learned things along the way, but we’re not “experts.” We celebrate style and of taking risks, but risks that work for you and aren’t prescriptive.

Speaking of archetypal dressing, what’s your take on the normcore trend? Your vision seems to be the antidote to that.
I don’t actually think so. I think normcore is actually really weird in a cool way. What I love about normcore is that it’s a rule breaker. It’s wearing all of these things that are supposedly unflattering, ugly, and uncool and making them cool. A lot of people do that trend well. It’s not a return to boring dressing. It’s a subversive take on dressing.

L.A.’s dressed-down style gets a bum rap in certain circles—but I haven’t seen a pair of Uggs in public in more than a decade. What do you think of our fashion scene?
That’s a stereotype of L.A. fashion that I think is completely untrue. One of the things we both love so much is the vintage roots, that vintage has such a home here. We were talking this morning about Nasty Gal and about—

PG: Reformation and Resurrection—

CB: Decades and Cameron Silver. L.A. finds ways to take the legacies of fashion and street fashion and make them really wearable and exciting.

PG: Because it’s season-less, you can really find your style and go with it.

CB: You’re not restricted to “now I wear my coats and wools,” or “now I wear my boots.” Everything goes here because the weather is really agreeable. You can layer. In the summer you can wear a slip dress over another slip dress under a skirt. What you can do with your wardrobe is limitless.

PG: There’s a real perfection to the way people dress in LA, especially for special occasions. There is a flair of costumery which I think comes from the Hollywood roots.

What items were you excited to pack for this trip?
These Carlo Pazoloni Couture shoes. He does amazing enamel-looking platform sandals. I got them towards the end of the summer and I couldn’t wear them in New York anymore. Also, these white Armani pants that I didn’t get to wear enough over the summer.

PG: I brought this American Retro jacket that’s pink with cactuses all over it and a T-shirt that an L.A. friend who is an artist made that says BE A STAR. DON’T FUCK ONE. I have a whole plan to take a picture with this shirt at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Will you have time on your trip to fit in any shopping?
We like to stay at Palihotel because it’s accessible to Ten Over Six, Creatures of Comfort, Resurrection, The Row, Decades. And we can walk it. We can literally fit in at least five stores.

PG: Last time we were here Christene brought me to Creatures of Comfort, which was having an amazing sale, and we cleaned up. Fashion Week was a done deal and it was good.

Fashion Week. L.A. has really struggled to throw one. Do you think there’s room in the industry for a revitalized Fashion Week in L.A.? Or should our city’s role be something else?
I don’t think there are any other countries that have multiple fashion weeks in different cities. It’s whatever the designers’ priorities are. Obviously, the buyers are in New York and if that’s a priority for you–and I’m assuming it is for a lot of designers–you need to go there and show. But I think doing a trade show in L.A. is a really good opportunity. It’s a great place for artisans and emerging designers, and there’s a lot of really good retail happening here, too. A lot of interesting designers, like Jesse Kamm, are choosing to stay here and produce from here using factories here.

PG: Just because there isn’t Fashion Week doesn’t mean there isn’t great fashion. I actually shop more when I come to L.A. than I do in New York.

Christenesaid, just because there isn’t Fashion Week doesn’t mean there isn’t fashion. I actually shop more when I come to L.A.

Fashion blogging has become a big business. As two women with backgrounds in traditional media, what do you think about how bloggers have been able to step into a role once reserved for journalists?
We were excited about joining our co-CEOs to launch Refinery because we felt a little stifled and restricted because of the traditions. Digital is a completely different medium. There’s so much flexibility in terms of sharing information and experiences. One of the great things about some bloggers, not all bloggers, is they have strong opinions about how they are interpreting a designer or a trend—or anything that’s happening in the world—and it’s refreshing to see some of those voices cut through the mainstream noise. That’s been a really great development in how fashion is being covered, because fashion relates to so much more than just what’s happening at Fashion Week. The democratization of fashion has been a revelation.

PG: That’s why we started this site, to showcase voices and true personal style.

CB: If you look at Aimee from Song of Style, every single posts isn’t just about what she’s wearing. It’s about what she’s eating, the interior design work she’s doing. It’s been inspiring to see how fashion has a role in creative, confident women’s lives, not just seeing it through the lens of a market editor or an e-commerce site. That’s what the book is about, too. Fashion in everyday life has been underrated, and it’s exciting to see it being celebrated right now.