All Women's Talk

Julie Gilhart - the Style Maker ...

By Bag

Photo credit: Courtney Perry for F!D
I had the privilege of meeting one of the most powerful figures in the fashion industry, Julie Gilhart- Fashion Director and Senior VP of **Barneys New York**, last month in Dallas. I was invited to attend a breakfast with her and although I was inexcusably late she was kind enough to spend an hour with me after breakfast to talk about fashion (and by the way, talking to Julie about fashion is like talking to the Dalai Lama about buddhism!).

Background

Julie grew up in Dallas but always wanted to be a surfer girl (she now surfs regularly). Her first job was at Lily Pulitzer and she went to work for Neiman Marcus after college as the Assistant Buyer to Benita Downing, one of the great legendary buyers of NM who traveled extensively with Stanley Marcus.

The Love of Bags
As with all the uber fashionable, Julie has a thing for bags. The classics she loves are Balenciaga (which Barneys was the first to carry in the US) and Givenchy. For Spring she has chosen the Lanvin clutch/tote, the white Balenciaga with gold grommets and the Givenchy Clarabelle. Currently, she has been toting around her fave - the Bottega Veneta beluga tote in black (which Bottega has renamed "Julie"), other than the braided handle, it is non-recognizable as anything but a beautifully made bag. As for the “it bag” phenomenon, she thinks it instantly makes a bag non “it” when it's being marketed or called "it". Either you got it or you don't. When asked if there were any bags to watch for, she had a couple immediately in mind; Valextra, for their beautifully made structured classic lines and Paula Thomas for Thomas Wylde.
Style Secrets
Anything simple and easy. Functional clothes that you don't have to think too much about is important to her so that she can focus on family, her job and the state of the world. She says that fashion has a way of infiltrating every aspect of our lives so it is important to be in conversation about it and understand it but she marches to her own beat and does not follow any trends. As Julie said, “Vogue put it best, ‘Intelligent clothes allow you to be intelligent about everything else’. For me that is it, clothes need to make you feel beautiful and confident so you can think about everything else.”

Barneys Approach
The Barneys approach to fashion is very simple. They ask two basic questions: Is the product good? And is the designer behind the product interesting and talented? Barneys does not subscribe to marketing tricks, hype and the red carpet. They are firm believers that it is the product and the designers that create the energy.

What’s Next?
Interestingly, the designer she said to watch for is Isabel Toledo who is designing for Anne Klein (her husband did the paintings in the store and Barneys was the first to carry her collection). For years, Isabel has been an underground favorite. Every designer that comes into Barneys admires her work. “Her collection for Anne Klein is amazing, clothes you can wear everyday, plus glamour for evening, “ Julie said.

Another important designer is Sophia Kokosalaki of Vionnet (dresses photographed with Julie) Julie explained that The Vionnet House was founded in 1912 and closed in 1939. It was by a woman considered as one of the greatest dressmakers of the 20th century- a fashion genius who has inspired almost every designer since that time. She based her aesthetic on glamour, simplicity, sensuous, and innovative designs. In fact she is credited with inventing the bias cut. Azzedine Alaia (Julie is a regular in Alaia's kitchen, often eating lunch or dinner cooked by Alaia while discussing fashion- what I wouldn't give to be at one of those meals!) has said that Madame Vionnet's dresses are the only garments you can take apart and cannot copy the pattern. I tried on several of the Vionnet dresses and they are amazingly flattering. Pale in coloration is Julie's favorite color tone of the season and she declared strapless an important look for spring.

Julie is the consummate cool chick, just hanging out with her made me feel cool! After our interview, we both proceeded to scour the racks at the new Barneys in Dallas for the latest Spring goodies before her taxi whisked her off to the airport to make her flight back to New York.

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