Olivia Palermo made waves in the mid-2000s as a socialite manquée—a Manhattan princess who’d show up anywhere there was a photographer. That was the story, at least, promulgated on sarcastic websites like Socialite Rank, at the height of the bygone era when society girls could be famous for doing nothing. But after her stint on reality series The City—Ms. Palermo was portrayed as the villain, constantly interfering in heroine Whitney Port’s professional life—the socialite seemed to disappear. Unlike other castoffs of the reality-show machine, though, she remade herself, resurfacing in fashion spreads in foreign magazines—among them Vogue Italia, Marie Claire Spain and Elle Ukraine.
And, at 26, Ms. Palermo isn’t just modeling: she sees herself as a businesswoman. She’s listed as the executive editor and creative director for OliviaPalermo.com, a style blog with ads from the likes of Barneys and Banana Republic and a masthead of 18 people. “I can’t divulge my endgame,” she says, of plans for the site.
The site’s staff is entirely based in New York. But not Ms. Palermo, who emails them strokes of inspiration from Barcelona and Paris. She spends 25 days a month traveling, she recently told Transom over iced tea at the Crosby Street Hotel. She was on a visit to New York to prepare for Fashion’s Night Out. (On her agenda: events for Valentino and Piperlime.)
A lifestyle like this takes assiduous planning. “I’m a strong supporter of Lufthansa,” she told us. “Lufthansa Airlines and its alliance are always on time and, in our industry, you don’t want to be late.” Ms. Palermo spends much of her time in Berlin and Hamburg with longtime love Johannes Huebl, a German model, who photographs Ms. Palermo as the subject of her site’s “I Want What She’s Wearing” column.
“Johannes’s and my base is New York and Europe,” she explained. “There’s something to be said for the sophistication of Europe.” (Ms. Palermo is working toward fluency in German, and reads Der Spiegel.)
But most of her travel is for work, particularly trips to pose for a variety of international fashion magazines, including, most recently, InStyle U.K.’s October issue, in which she compared herself to Kim Kardashian. “I’m in fashion. I’m in New York. I’m in London. And I’m in the rest of Europe. She’s L.A.,” Ms. Palermo said.
Unlike Ms. Kardashian (who, like Ms. Palermo, is often called a socialite but is really an entrepreneurial type), Ms. Palermo told us she would not consider doing reality television again. “As I always said, it was a business decision. Obviously it was a platform. TV’s very … popular … but I think I want to stick to fashion for now.” She was not interested in discussing the subject further.
If Ms. Palermo is so opposed to putting her life out there, why sit for interviews—with a glossy magazine or with Transom? “Basically, when I do these things, I talk about things that I enjoy, interests of mine, that people reading the article would hopefully take something from. And my side job is as a model, so if there’s a little side article with it, that’s always cool.” She cited a favorite recent Vogue Italia shoot in which she wordlessly created a “character,” one who wore striped stockings and a red riding cape. “It was just … cool!” She agreed that it’s hard to intellectualize these things.
She also doesn’t like putting too much material on OliviaPalermo.com, which can go a couple of days without a new post. “I want our readers to take the time,” she said, “read what we have; obviously it means something to us. You have to observe it and not just go on to see what the next post is.”
Her interests extend beyond fashion. (“Everything! Everything. Photography. Art. Real estate. Architecture. Design.”) While in New York only briefly, Ms. Palermo had gotten a malaria shot for an upcoming trip to Kenya to meet women beading sandals for the Spanish shoe brand Pikolinos.
It was a manner of giving back to the world that seemed unorthodox for a New York girl. Did Ms. Palermo ever regret turning her back on the traditional philanthropic causes like the opera and the ballet? Her answer was unequivocal. “I’m doing this on my own,” she told us. “I’ve been involved with New Yorkers for Children for many years, and I’m probably going to continue to work with New Yorkers for Children. And help fund-raise a little bit, and so forth. But I like to do my own thing. I don’t need to worry about what others do. I’m always in the know, but I don’t like to follow.”
Did she feel any particular pressure about seeing old rivals, if ever they were, at the start of Fashion Week? “I think people might expect for me to say I feel pressure, but honestly? No. I get dressed for myself every day. But Fashion Week is a great time when every woman is checking each other out … it’s a stare-down.”
Realizing she might have just given up the quote Olivia-watchers had been waiting for, she laughed it off. “It’s a friendly, admiring stare-down! You know: ‘I love those shoes.’”
Was there anyone, we wondered, with a career like Ms. Palermo’s? Anyone with whom she could discuss jetting around the world for blog inspiration and shooting magazine covers?
“No, I’m kind of a loner,” she told us.
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