Monday, March 12, 2012
By Annabel Rivkin
"It can be thrilling to meet a phenomenon. To put a personality to a face that has become part of life’s wallpaper. To observe and dissect and appreciate what has sent the entire world into a spin. And Olivia Palermo is today’s big fashion news. Every day. A rather tired moniker is ‘The Real-Life Gossip Girl’ and one who shrugged off Manhattan social scandal to go global – she is a one-woman campaign for her own photogenic brand of fashion fantasy. Glossy, canny, commercial, but classy to the point of seeming middle-aged, she found her spotlight on MTV’s structured reality show The City in which she was loved and hated, admired and reviled, like all phenomenons. Alexa Chung had to spend a couple of years proving she was smart and grafty before she hit the front rows, but Olivia has been welcomed – nay, lured – by every big fashion name. She is flown from party to show to premiere to benefit with ne’er a crease or a frown to mar her perfection. What does she actually do? Well, she gets dressed in the morning and that is enough when you are this thin and this famous.
But when the time comes to meet her, things are not so thrilling. So let’s start with what she’s wearing. She is framed in a window at The Berkeley hotel in a shimmering, monochrome Armani evening dress: exquisite, tawny; her frame even slighter and her jawline even sharper than they appear in the tsunami of photographs wired round the web on a daily basis. A vulnerable little bird with a determined little mouth. As she twinkles, she gazes into the eyes of her fellow model, her boyfriend Johannes Huebl, who is doing an admirable job of working his wonderful suit. ‘Mr Armani is a very sweet gentleman and such a generous, friendly personality,’ he says later. ‘There is a handful of people like that in fashion. Maybe less.’ White of tooth, preppy of hair, blue of eye, Johannes, too, is more slender than he appears in his many campaigns (they starred together in the autumn 2010 Mango campaign).
Soon it is time for Olivia to change into her civvies: a beige lace Moschino blazer, a silk Tibi T-shirt, pale grey skinny jeans and Mulberry heels. She looks very nice. But she doesn’t want to start talking until her agent arrives to tell me that she will only talk about her latest projects, namely her new blog. She does not want to talk about the past. Or the future. She also does not want to tell me that she doesn’t want to talk about the past or the future. She wants someone else to tell me that.
Time is ticking on but she will not start. ‘Don’t worry,’ she sing-songs. ‘We’ll get it done. I’ll answer your questions.’ At very nearly 26, she is without a doubt the most patronising person I have ever attempted to interview. We sit in separate rooms, pink with fury. Eventually she manages to say, steely as you like, ‘I want to concentrate on my current projects because that’s what my readers are interested in.’ But this seems more about what Olivia Palermo is interested in: namely, building a brand; a process that begins with whitewashing, personality bypassing and exceedingly, almost oppressively, good manners.
Olivia is in London for Fashion Week. ‘I have been coming to London Fashion Week for many years,’ she says, going all authoritative and seasoned. ‘I think that the British Fashion Council has done a really nice job and there is so much young talent. When Erdem first showed his collection, you can see how well he’s done and the inspiring women who wear his clothes...’ she tails off, having lost her way in the quagmire of her own press release. In grand, fashion-maven style she doesn’t talk about British designers she likes so much as those she ‘supports’, who include Matthew Williamson, Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders, Anya Hindmarch and Mulberry. ‘I am also supportive of the high street. Who doesn’t like Topshop?’