Rumoured to be the real-life inspiration behind Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf, today Olivia Palermo has become a force of her own. Executive Editor/Creative Director of an eponymous style site, ecommerce entrepreneur, model and the darling of street style, Palermo has come a long way since her role as resident villainess on MTV’s The City. Priya Kumar examines what it takes to go from an outsider
“Getting ready for a special event, like your wedding day, you have to feel like yourself and dress for your environment. I really wanted to dress like me,” Palermo gushed about her June nuptials to German model Johannes Huebl. Her unconventional choice of gown was in fact, no gown at all. She opted for a Carolina Herrera cashmere sweater, shorts and a bustled tulle skirt. Fashion observers were left speechless. Such an ensemble would have opened the floodgates to criticism on anyone else. Not Palermo; she carried the look off elegantly and in style. Most recently, she’s been spotted jet-setting around the world wearing Burberry’s A/W14 monogrammed poncho. It’s been impossible-to-find ever since. Her impeccable taste in all things lifestyle is splashed across the pages of OliviaPalermo.com and closely watched by fashion insiders. Consequently she’s become a fixture on every major designer’s front row. In the past few years she has also been signed to Models 1 agency, fronted campaigns for Mango and Hogan and even designed for revered shoe label Stuart Weitzman. Palermo is in the most literal sense a style influencer.
If one were to describe the present state of Palermo’s career, the word flawless comes to mind. Truth be told, it wasn’t always that way. Barely days out of her teens,Palermo was first spotted on New York City’s impenetrable social scene at a Sotheby’s art auction. She had been attending with childhood friend and socialite of equal calibre Byrdie Bell when photographer Patrick McMullan spotted the pair and snapped a picture.
The photo made its way onto McMullan’s society website and quickly gained traction for the scene’s newest girl. Party invitations began to trickle in followed by a profile request from the blog Socialite Rank. On a weekly basis Socialite Rank put out a hierarchical list of the top socialites in the city and was taken very seriously.
Upper East Side socialites were enamoured by the site, often checking it multiple times a day. Once Palermo became a regular, she hired a publicist from People’s Revolution to manage her image. She was seen at all the right charity functions—including New Yorkers for Children, an organization long championed by Anna Wintour, and Operation Smile. With a good lineage and a powerful father to back any number of causes, Palermo was an ideal candidate for New York high society.
The inner circle watched her missteps as an earnest newcomer and punished her harshly for them. Reportedly, at one party she recognized some of the girls featured on the blog and said hello—a grave mistake, as they had not yet been formally introduced. Soon it was claimed that she would photographer-stalk at parties to ensure the most coverage. The situation came to a head with a letter—allegedly written by Palermo—pleading with her socialite contemporaries for compassion. Palermo vehemently denied it and spoke to a local, New York-based magazine at the time: “I have 400 friends in my BlackBerry and I get more invites than I can handle. All I care about, quite frankly, is that someone is pretending to be me.”
The daughter of Douglas E. Palermo, a real estate developer and interior designer Lynn Hutchings, Olivia was born with a proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. She attended Nightingale-Bamford School in Manhattan and the equally prestigious St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Connecticut. She was a decorated field hockey player. Later she attended the American University in Paris for a year and continued her undergrad at The New School in New York City.
It was on her return to New York she was approached by MTV to co-star on The City, a spinoff of The Hills. The City was a docu-drama that followed the lives of four early 20-somethings trying to make it in fashion. The first season saw Palermo and co-star Whitney Port working in PR for Diane von Furstenberg. Palermo immediately took on the role of best frenemy. Her role on The City increased the momentum of her white-hot career trajectory in fashion. Fans wanted to dress like the show’s enfant terrible and she developed a cult-like following. Designers quickly took heed and she became the face of several major brands. Today she graces the covers of magazines the world over, is a guest editor on Piperlime.com—a wildly popular ecommerce portal in the States—and even appeared as a judge on Project Runway. She has created a niche for herself in fashion that is nothing less than necessary. Besides promoting emerging designers on her own blog OliviaPalermo.com, she has also partnered with tech giant Fancy to allow readers to purchase items as they read. “While we have always been providing our readers with links to the designers and products featured via the editorial on the website, we are now adding a new layer to the OliviaPalermo.com experience,” she explains on her site.
Palermo has taken her personal affinity for style and monetized it. Perhaps her ambitions growing up were misinterpreted, but truth be told it is she who is having the last laugh now. There is not a designer who wouldn’t want Palermo at their show, nor a charity her patronage. The strides she has made as her own brand name are nothing short of extraordinary. Best of all, she’s done it on her own terms. And she’s only just getting started.