Umm, Maybe That Whole Effortless Style Thing Is Really Just A Myth
Our Global Editor-in-Chief, Christene Barberich, and our new Executive Editor of R29 Canada, Carley Fortune, discuss the ins and outs of personal style and Refinery29's Canadian debut.
I’ve had some incredible bosses over the years, but until I started working at Refinery29 recently, I never had one who might be considered a fashion icon. But that’s just what my new boss, Christene Barberich, Refinery29’s co-founder and Global EIC, is — and she’s got the one-of-a-kind wardrobe, Instagram followers, and best-selling street-style book to prove it.
So, when I had to figure out what to wear for my new headshots (check it out above), I decided to take advantage of Christene’s superb taste and texted her outfit selfies for some honest feedback. It turned out to be super helpful, and I ended up looking much more like myself than I have in so many other portraits.
Not wanting to horde all of Christene’s genius to myself, I asked her to share some of her wardrobe wisdom with Refinery29 Canada — how she developed her own uncommon style, why seeming “effortless” is pretty overrated, and why there’s no such thing as "just the right outfit.”
Carley: I'm so happy you wanted to discuss personal style with me. I've never had a boss I've sent outfit photos to before.
Christene: You’re not the first person to send me outfit photos.
Carley: Do your other editors send them to you for help?
Christene: Yes. Not all of them, but a handful over the years have, usually for awards shows or special occasions — for the reason that you wanted to send them. And, it was a good reason, too — you were having your first editor’s photo snapped...I'd say that's important!
Carley: It was really helpful to text a bunch of options to you.
Christene: Good. I think it was funny when you laughed when I said “No” [to one of the outfits you sent].
Carley: That’s the kind of tough love I was looking for.
Christene: It’s just the editor in me. I have really strong reactions and opinions about things sometimes, and I think it’s aesthetically where that instinct is the most prominent. When I see things that I just feel are right or not so right, it feels clear to me what to do.
Carley: Then let me ask you: You co-founded Refinery29 13 years ago — what are the best style secrets you've picked up along the way?
Christene: I don’t think there are any real style secrets. I think it’s more a journey of getting to know yourself and being committed to that process while being kind to yourself. The process for me has been methodically growing this company over nearly 14 years and finding my confidence and voice along the way.
It’s also observing the incredible people that are drawn to Refinery29 who have a real desire to express themselves or to discover who they are. I think a lot of people come here and change, not even expecting to, because the environment really does encourage people to express themselves, to be who they are authentically, and to try things out.
I think style is a very personal, a very passionate kind of relationship. I say passionate very decisively because you feel, or at least I do when I see something that’s right for me, a little pang of desire. It's a great feeling when I know there’s something about that thing that makes me want to express myself more. That’s really part of what the journey is, but it doesn't end. Now, being pregnant for the first time, I'm exploring this new side of how I dress, what feels good, how I want to project myself out in the world, and how I think people see me, too.
Carley: You have more than 90,000 Instagram followers. Does posting there feel like pressure or does it feel fun?
Christene: No, it never feels like pressure. I post regularly but not nearly as often as a lot of other people do. And, it’s not super calculated either. My outfit photos generally aren't just outfits — they're a catalyst to tell a more developed story about my musings/philosophies around clothing and style, and the role they play in our lives. I think people often overlook the beauty and benefits of finding good pieces that work for them. And I wish that wasn't the case — that they didn’t diminish the positive impact of finding your style and pieces that you really, really love and identify with. I just hate that kind of cliché behaviour.
Carley: I couldn't agree more. For me, dressing so that I feel confident means I don’t end up worrying so much about how I look. And that was your advice to me when I was picking out an outfit for my photo: to not care so much. How do you do that?
Christene: It’s not about not caring — it's about not being calculated. What you do is detach yourself from those old rules or old ways of doing things. Like, “I’m getting my picture taken, it’s a special occasion, I need to wear something that I wouldn't wear normally.” I think it’s important for you to not feel inhibited by the pressures of having just the right outfit — there is no “just the right outfit.” I wanted you to pick something that you just really loved and felt great in, because I think the formality of having the perfect portrait or the perfect picture is really just bullshit. I think the perfect portrait can more often be something that's super spontaneous and unplanned.
Carley: So, what’s your take on the idea of being “effortlessly stylish?” I feel like it's an impossible proposition — if you aren’t effortlessly stylish, then you’ll never achieve it without effort.
Christene: Well, I think it's in the eyes of the beholder. I certainly don't think that I am effortlessly stylish, but I'm sure some people might think I am. Some of my friends have incredible style and I marvel at how “easy” it comes for them, and then I have the same conversations with them on how they tried on 18 things this morning and everything made them feel like shit. We've all been there. I think that the word “effortless” is a little overrated. Caring about how you put an outfit together doesn't mean it has less validity then if you just threw it together and didn't give it a second thought because you have SO MUCH confidence seeping out of every orifice that nothing shakes you. I’m sure that some of the most glamorous women with millions of Instagram followers have the same moments of doubt when they're getting dressed in the morning.
Christene: What Piera and I loved about street style when it first emerged in the early aughts was that it was a platform or stage for real women — not models nor actors — just women being themselves across a variety of disciplines and budgets. We wanted to show a broader representation of women across the country and the very cool, interesting, and personal ways they wear the things they love most.
Obviously, the street-style world has turned into such an industry and it’s not necessarily as spontaneous as it was before. But there certainly still are influencers that I think have an authenticity that’s incomparable.
Most of the ideas I get for the items I want to buy or things I want to experiment with, I see on other people. I don't see them in stores, I don't see them in magazines, and I very rarely go shopping. I just like watching people and seeing how they put things together, whether that's sneakers and dresses or wearing a tutu with a western shirt. It's never something you think of yourself, but then when you see it on someone and you're like, “Oh, yeah I get it.”
Carley: I read this interview recently with Canadian street-style photographer Tommy Ton about how he’s pulled back on street style and working in design.
Christene: You should do an interview with him!
Carley: He's definitely on my list! One thing he said about fashion was that everyone is tired and nobody is excited about it. Do you still feel excited about fashion?
Christene: I do. The whole current controversy between old Céline and new Celine is really interesting and something I feel strongly about. Phoebe Philo has been such an influential visionary to me, not only for clothes but her overall eye and how she sees the world around her. If you went to her showroom after the Céline show in Paris, everything was just so thoughtful and meticulous. Every detail counted. That is the kind of discipline and trueness a designer has of themselves and their customers that I never cease admiring.
Carley: Last question. What excites you most about launching Refinery29 Canada?
Christene: The advantage of expanding Refinery29 to new countries and new communities is that we get to better understand the audience on a grassroots level: What's important to women, what they care about, where in their lives they feel they're not being served. We want this to be a community of content and conversation. So, I'm really excited to get to know the women in your space more intimately and for us to work together to hopefully make their lives easier and more gratifying.