The most fashionable girl in the world?

ALEXANDRA SPRING
Last updated 11:54 04/09/2013

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How Truman Capote would have loved Olivia Palermo. The Breakfast at Tiffany's author and arch New York society commentator would have adored her recent Greek vacation with fashion designer Valentino, her front-row seat at the couture shows in Paris and her red-carpet Cannes appearance on the arm of model/photographer boyfriend Johannes Huebl. Even her strolls through her trendy Brooklyn neighbourhood with Maltese terrier Mr Butler in tow would have met with his approval.

He would have loved that she comes from New York's wealthy Upper East Side, with a real estate-developer father and an interior-decorator mother, and that she was educated at New York's finest schools. It would undoubtedly have appealed to him that she first caught the eye of social photographer Patrick McMullan while interning at New York society magazine Quest, as would her attendance at all the right parties, with all the right people. She would have been quite at home with Capote's coterie of society swans, including Jackie Onassis and Lee Radziwell.

And he would have loved her fragile Audrey Hepburn-esque beauty and her impeccable style. "Style is what you are," he famously said, and style is what Palermo does best, dressing with a distinctly modern, ladylike luxe; always polished and groomed, yet street-edged.

But most of all, Capote would have loved the way Palermo has parlayed a stint on MTV's "reality" show The City into a full-blown career as a model, fashion consultant and charity ambassador. The type of society swan he loved best was one "whose sole creation was her perishable self", and the way Palermo has created herself as an internationally recognised style icon is a triumph the writer would have applauded.

Reportedly the real-life inspiration for the character of Blair Waldorf in cult TV show Gossip Girl, Palermo was cast in The City in 2008 as the foil to wide-eyed Whitney Port, who'd moved to New York to pursue her fashion dreams. They worked together as publicists for Diane von Fürstenberg but sparks flew, with Port later telling Metro UK, "Olivia and I aren't the best of friends. She was in a position to help me with my clothing line but she went out of her way not to help and said some not nice things. She's in her own world and doesn't want other people to succeed."

Season two saw Palermo working as an accessories editor at US Elle magazine, where once again she found a frenemy - this time public relations director Erin Kaplan. She has since said she was disheartened to be cast as the villain. "It's a little disappointing. I'm a much nicer person, much more laid-back and relaxed, not serious like they showed me," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2009.

As much as people relished The City's eye-rolling and backstabbing, they also tuned in to ogle Palermo's extraordinary wardrobe. Among the cavalcade of identikit blondes, here was someone who knew exactly how to wear Topshop with Chanel, who understood tailoring and appreciated a great cocktail ring.

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And it was this nous that whisked her through to fashion's front row, even after The City fizzled out. In 2010, UK magazine Tatler dubbed her "Girl of the Year", then in 2011 UK Marie Claire called her "The Most Fashionable Girl in the World". She has appeared on numerous covers, including Vogue Russia, Elle México and Australia's Shop Til You Drop, scored the highly coveted slot on UK Vogue's "Today I'm Wearing" blog in June 2010, modelled for Mango, Hogan and Freda, and is the face of the fragrance Les Cascades de Rochas. She's been a guest judge on the US version of Project Runway and on Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model. There's no doubt Palermo knows fashion.

So when we speak, I have to find out what she's wearing. On the line from her home in Brooklyn, she gives a knowing laugh and details new, slightly ripped Rebecca Minkoff jeans, a button-down Topshop shirt and smoking flats. Even though the autumnal New York weather is fine, she learnt her lesson yesterday when she stepped out in a spring dress. "With the wind, I was having too many Marilyn Monroe moments," she says.

Palermo's always had an interest in fashion. Her aunt worked at the auction house Doyle New York in the couture and costume jewellery department, so growing up she would attend antiques fairs and roadshows, learning what was good and what wasn't. Spending a year studying at the American University of Paris also helped. "Being in Paris you are constantly inspired by fashion," she says.

She's surprisingly nonchalant about how she dresses and insists she is not a meticulous outfit planner."If it's a black-tie event, I usually whip something together in a 10-minute period."

For that two-week holiday cruising the Greek isles with Valentino, she packed a wardrobe full of chiffon kaftans and cotton dresses. "I think those are the easiest, especially in the heat - it's nice to have breathable material," she says. And her Greek souvenirs? A pretty neon dress and a citrine cocktail ring.

Even when sporting her trademark tailored shorts or a cropped skirt, she tends to balance the look with longer sleeves. Interestingly, she was recently named a "style icon for Orthodox Jewish women". "That was nice," she says. "I thought that was very kind. I am fashion forward but there is a bit of a conservative side, too."

The only incongruous - and therefore endearing - note about Palermo's picture-perfect life is her self-professed love for the rough and tough world of ice hockey. Her voice lifts when I bring up the subject of her team, the New York Rangers.

"I'm a huge, huge hockey fan, so when I'm home I try to go to the game and support." Apparently she spends hours shouting at the television when there's a game on. "Being a Rangers fan is very challenging. They are really not getting many wins throughout the season, so I'm hoping maybe next season we'll be a bit luckier." She laughs when asked if people are surprised to find out she's such a fan. "Probably some of them are - and to the extent of my knowledge," she says drily.

Ice hockey aside, it's her website, oliviapalermo.com, which is preoccupying her of late. Launched in 2011, she describes it as an opportunity to share the things she loves with her fans - her favourite restaurants and stores, her fashion finds, her quick fixes, "anything and everything that inspires me".

Both on the site and in conversation, Palermo goes out of her way to highlight lesser-known fashion brands. She's astute enough to realise that an Olivia Palermo endorsement can have a significant effect. "When OP.com finds a young brand, or a brand we really like, we really like to maintain a relationship and have our readers see what we like from the designer each season," she says. "We try to be supportive."

The site recently spotlighted Australian labels Dion Lee, Zimmermann and Manning Cartell. Designer Vanessa Manning says it had instant results. "The effect of celebrity endorsement is amazing - it is better than advertising and the acknowledgment goes even further within our industry. We started getting more international inquiries, particularly from US-based celebrity stylists, which opens up a very new market for us."

That's the thing about Palermo: she's brand savvy. Her university major at New York City's The New School was media studies, and while comparisons could be drawn to those other reality-stars-turned-mega-brands, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, she's more closely aligned to actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who has parlayed her transatlantic preppiness into the influential lifestyle website goop.com.

Yet Palermo walks a fine, and sometimes reluctant, line between embodying a brand and over-sharing. Perhaps her fingers were burnt by her experience in The City. While she has more than 230,000 Twitter followers, more than 138,000 Instagram followers and in excess of 76,000 likes on Facebook at press time, her posts give away little and circle back to the website, remaining always on message.

She admits that she's not a big fan of social media. "Instagram is new for me and I have boundaries in regard to what I am willing to open up to. I think seeing beautiful places in the world and sharing that experience is fine, but at the end of the day, no one needs to see me eating a cheeseburger or know when I'm off to the drugstore." With a small sigh, she says, "I'm a little bit more old school, I think, in my sense of marketing."

Because, as any good swan knows, a little mystery goes a long way, even in this insatiable world.

 
OLIVIA PALERMO'S STYLE GUIDE

Accessories: "Accessories are the key to creating an outfit, because they really add your own personal touch to things."

Good tailoring: "Even if it's something from Zara or Topshop, that little tweak with a great tailor makes all the difference."

Act your age:
"My jeans shorts might be a little longer [now]. Age-appropriate is what I'm trying to say."

Ladylike:
"I always like to be not too exposed. I think that's just the older person in the back of my head somewhere."

- Daily Life

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