We're the first to admit that working in fashion is a blast — but we still take it seriously. And so does top archivist Julie Ann Orsini, who is responsible for curating garments of iconic designers, as if their troves of ensembles were her own "personal mini-museum." It's no wonder then that Orsini, also a veteran fashion writer, has developed a sophisticated style all her own. So we caught up with the on-the-go entrepreneur for an inspiring interview about how to make it in the biz, and of course, an exclusive look at four of her favorite transitional outfits. And yes, we consider these looks works of art, too.
Photographed by Nina Westervelt
You've written, curated, and archived in your professional career — what
are the differences/intersections of these practices, and which has been
"Each of these disciplines has informed the other for me. With curating,
naturally you get to do all of these things because you’re writing object
labels and an exhibition catalogue, and also delving into archives for
purposes of choosing the objects for a show. Archiving is appealing
because I’m working with incredible pieces on a daily basis and helping
to shape my clients’ legacies. I don’t get to write as much as I used
to, but having the research and writing background is very helpful in
terms of documenting a collection and sourcing rare items to add to one.
Ultimately, running my own business has been tough, but rewarding work,
and my favorite experience."
Vintage coat, J.Crew jeans, Alaia pumps.
You've seen some fabulous fashion, up close and personal. What are
the garments that have shaped your opinion of fashion?
"Studying the history of fashion at F.I.T. afforded me the opportunity to see
— and in some cases, touch, with the appropriate museum precautions, of
course — many vintage, haute-couture garments. Seeing Fortunys, Poirets,
and Charles James’ kind of set the bar high. But, one that stands out is a
Chanel lace gown from the late '30s that I was able to study. Examining
the hand-done construction and beautiful material showed me what craft
really goes into making a garment well, and gave me a true appreciation
and understanding of the work behind couture.
Seeing Chanel dresses
from the early 20th-century showed me how revolutionary Mademoiselle
was — she was the first designer to dress the truly modern woman. She
anticipated the roles women would have in the 20th-century, and dressed
them accordingly. You know, it’s good when a dress from 1919 looks
How has your education helped your career?
"I wouldn’t have this career without my education. Initially, I went back to
grad school with the goal of better-informing my fashion writing through
a deeper knowledge of the history of fashion and textiles. The program
I did at F.I.T. is a museum studies program, so in conjunction with the
history and theory, I got a hearty dose of what we call “hand” skills —
technical skills about collections management and textile conservation. I
rely on them on a daily basis. Without that know-how, I wouldn’t be able to
properly manage and care for the archives of my clients."
What are the major changes you've seen in the fashion industry?
"E-commerce! Things are so much more accessible than they were even
five years ago. While I love that, the flip side of it is that we’re all becoming
a bit homogenous. The mystery and excitement of finding something
unique while traveling is kind of gone. You can get anything anywhere
now. I wonder if some of the extreme styling we see in street style photos
is a reaction to that, and a way to remain individual.
I also think that the cycle of bringing back historical trends and eras is
speeding up. By now we all know there’s nothing new under the sun —
even 19th-century fashions were obsessed with the past — but, I think the
cycle is shorter. Historically there’s been about a 30- or 40-year gap — the '60s were influenced by the '20s, the '90s by the '60s, etc. When I saw '90s
influences creeping back in five years ago, it felt too soon to me.
Fast fashion has really come to the forefront in the past 10 years, but the
seeds for this were actually sown in the 1960s with retailers like Biba and
Paraphernalia. On the one hand, it’s great that we have a platform for
expressing personal style affordably, but the flip slide of that is that truly
well-made clothes are getting more and more expensive. And, at a certain
point, you have to ask, what is the real cost of that? In terms of human
lives, like the factory disasters we keep reading about, environmental
pollutants, and plagiarizing the work of young designers who can’t really
afford to be ripped off, it doesn’t seem worth it. I’m more in favor of owning
fewer, more quality items."
Describe your personal style and style influences.
"Classic with an edge,
or polished tomboy? I think that despite my appreciation for and love
of beautiful clothing and accessories, I am a tomboy at heart. I grew up
riding horses and spending most of my time in a barn, so I gravitate to
simplicity and classic, tailored lines that work for my shape. But what is
most inspirational to me is the historical nexus of music and fashion. The
Rolling Stones, Anita Pallenberg, Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, and Motown.
(My favorite Tom Ford collection was his fall '03 YSL ode to Diana
Ross, and one of my favorite looks in my own closet is exit one from that
show!). I’m also inspired by fashion photography: Old Helmut Newton and
Guy Bourdin photos are so striking."
J.Crew shirt, Carven skirt, Manolo Blahnik pumps, Chanel bag.
If you had to wear any two designers for the rest of your life what would
"Alaïa and Tom Ford. But seriously, I’d need a great pair of jeans
and a stack of white T-shirts."
What are you most looking forward to wearing this spring?
"This is so
cliché for a New Yorker to say, but my whole wardrobe is neutral — grey,
black, white, nude. So, I’m hoping to incorporate some colorful dresses."
Many of our readers might be unclear with the role of an archivist — describe
what you do.
"In a nutshell, I treat fashion design like fine art. My role changes
depending on the client’s needs, but essentially it’s like managing a
fashion museum’s archive, and each of my clients has a personal, mini-museum of sorts, whether they are a fashion designer, entertainer, or
collector. I help them get a handle on, organize, and maintain a very
For a designer-client, I ensure that the body of their work is properly
stored and documented. Each season, once a press team is finished
with the runway collection, I take the collection to the physical archive,
and catalogue it, examine each piece to see what needs to be repaired
or cleaned, and then I make sure each piece is stored using the proper
technique (i.e. flat, hanging, rolled, etc.) and appropriate museum-quality
The job is technically skilled, and it’s sad to see many designers and
collectors make the mistake of thinking they can have interns throw their
past collections in plastic garment bags and cardboard boxes in some
awful storage room. However well meaning they are, someone who
doesn’t have the technical training to store garments properly simply can’t
do a good enough job. Caring for an archive proactively pays off big time in the long run: It’s a
valuable working-asset press and design teams can work with, and the
designer will have down the line whether for exhibitions, a book, or any
For private clients, we work together to decide what is really an investment
piece they should keep in their collection, and help them liquidate pieces
that they don’t need. I have a lot of experience sourcing looks that fill
in gaps in a client’s collection. For celebrities and entertainers, it’s also
an investment that pays off big time: The Elizabeth Taylor auction at
Christie’s pulled in over $150 million!"
What are your favorite parts of your job? Any unforeseen obstacles you
can speak to?
"My favorite parts are getting to work up close and personal with some
incredible fashion that most people only get to see in editorials. Archiving
is always like solving a puzzle, because no two clients collections are
the same. There are unforeseen obstacles every day: Some intricate
garments have components that make them bad candidates for hanging
storage and flat storage. At that point, I’m relying on my experience and
training to make the most educated decision about what will be the best
for the garment in the long run, but it’s really nerve-wracking when you’re
dealing with dresses that cost more than some cars. Archiving is very
physical work. When I’m moving heavy boxes around in a basement
somewhere, it’s definitely not glamorous, and I’ve thrown my back out
more than once. But when I take a step back and think about what role
these objects play in the history of fashion and pop culture, and how I’m
their steward, it’s pretty cool."
What advice would you give someone looking to start out in the fashion
"It’s probably not exciting to hear, and in fact, it’s quite simple:
Get as much experience as you can, and expect to work hard. Surprise
yourself with what you can accomplish. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In my twenties, I was terrified of them and expected to get fired if anything
went wrong. A good boss knows that making mistakes goes hand in hand
with eventually becoming an expert, so long as you are learning from
Celine sweater, J.Crew jeans, Tabitha Simmons pumps, Tom Ford sunglasses.
What is one myth about the fashion industry you'd like to debunk?
it’s always fun and glamorous. Every facet of fashion that I’ve worked in,
whether it was a magazine, a museum, or being around a design studio,
involved long hours and lots of grunt work."
What are you always carrying in your bag?
" My iPhone, Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella, Celine wallet, and gym
clothes — I am a Physique 57 addict."
Celine bag, Repossi rings.
How has NYC influenced your style?
"I really love living in a place where
people make an effort with their appearance. Every Saturday, my husband
and I go on a date, and we always dress up."
What are your favorite stores in NYC? Any hidden secret gems?
Brooklyn is my local! Lisa Brock and her team are fantastic. I’m also a
big fan of Kirna Zabete. And, for vintage, I love Resurrection and New York
Isabel Marant dress, Miu Miu booties.
Who did you look up to growing up? Who do you admire now?
"Sartorially speaking, I’ve always been influenced by music, and its
confluence with fashion. Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull have
been perennial favorites. In fact, I wrote my MA thesis about the way the
style of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and their girlfriends and wives has
had a lasting influence on fashion."
Who are your favorite young designers to look out for?
"I would hardly call
them young designers, as they have been making their mark on the world
stage for a decade now, but I love the Proenza Schouler duo and am very
excited to be working on a project with them now. In terms of younger talent, I am excited to see where Joseph Altuzarra, Erdem, and Alexander Wang go. I would love to help them get their
archives in great shape!"
What's one thing that will never go out of style and one thing you'd never
"I love a little white dress. And I would never, ever wear Creepers. Some girls make it work, but I personally hate them and find them totally unflattering."