“Are you sure this is not too much?” she asks with a worried, yet amused look on her face. I’ve just coaxed Christene to put on a bright green shirt with blue and white striped pants and gold pumps. “I don’t want to look like a crazy person!” she groans. There are very few rules I abide by but if there is one deadpan guarantee it’s that nothing is too much on Tales of Endearment. The bolder, the better. And Christene looks fantastic. “You don’t look like a crazy person,” I assure her. “But I think you need some reading glasses. How about these red ones?” Before she can utter a word, I dangle the glasses in front of her astonished face and guide her to the mirror. There! Perfect.
I’m exaggerating of course. As the co-founder of one of the world’s top fashion news sources, Refinery29, Christene Barberich doesn’t need help getting dressed. And at forty four, she’s pretty much figured out what works. “I think the core of my style is always function” she says, “like, does it fit properly and really flatter me? I have a handful of things in my closet that are absolute marvels of construction, and I cherish them because they feel so made for me. Other than that, it has to make me feel comfortable and beautiful. Visually, it’s a more modern version of Dianne Wiest‘s character Holly in Woody Allen’s film, “Hannah and Her Sisters“. She’s the sartorial beat in my heart at all times.” Add to that a head of serious, burgundy hair, neatly parted in the middle, and a pair of full, red lips, and you’ve got the perfect combination of kooky and conservative.
The apartment – and her wardrobe – is smaller than I expected but I soon find out this is just the staging area for bigger digs to come. When she moved in four years ago this was the home of her then-boyfriend, now-husband Kevin, an architect she met on-line, and while tiny, it’s always been a happy place for them. “This apartment often makes me feel like I’m far away in the country, which is so special,” she smiles. “I’ll miss it someday, I’m sure…” But living in a small space has its advantages. “It forces you to live lean and edit your surroundings constantly. I clean out my closet at least once a month and every time I do, I find new things that I’ve outgrown and need to pass on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for more space and a new environment, but smaller quarters keep life simpler.”
My visit, nor this page, is long enough to unravel the essence and history of Christene. “We will need all day!” she wrote me when I set up the shoot. So we take our time. We sit down for coffee in the morning, she makes me lunch (gluten-free avocado toast) and we walk down to her favorite antiques store on Atlantic Avenue. She’s a wonderfully confident woman with a brave, inspiring look on her life and career. She started out at Conde Nast, working as an Editor at Gourmet magazine. Just before her thirtieth birthday, she quit her job because she felt creatively incapacitated and launched CITY magazine with a partner. In 2004 she joined forces with yet another group of partners and founded Refinery29. “I felt that same reaction,” she remembers, “like I needed to do it, even though the digital world was so new and undiscovered at that point. It’s funny, I’m a pretty responsible, almost traditional person in some ways, but when it comes to my creative destiny, I always go with my gut… even if it seems unorthodox… actually, usually when it seems unorthodox!”
Which would also explain the unconventional way she met her husband. She was on nerve.com for about two months until she found Kevin. “I e-mailed him!” she says with a smirk. “He never thought I’d go out with someone like him. Men always date up, while women date down.” But, as unconventional as it was, they got married last year. When I ask her if it’s OK for me to tell my readers, she gives me a resolute two-thumbs up: “Yes! Tell! He planned the best first dates! I remember he took me to a live broadcast of ‘This American Life’, a revival of ‘Annie Hall’, the Botanical Gardens, Cafe Sabarsky for apple struedel. He did his homework. The other way I knew (he was different), is that he didn’t make me crazy. I just knew where he was coming from and what he meant when he said or didn’t say things, which put me at ease. Sounds simple but it was a revelation. And the one tip I would say about on-line dating for women is this: YOU CHOOSE. Don’t just go out with the guys that ask you out, because, oftentimes, they have a weird perception of who they are and who you are. So you choose. Go searching through all those profiles like you would the perfect vintage Celine clutch. It really makes all the difference.”
And let’s not forget what it’s really all about here: her undying love for vintage. “I can’t really express how deep my love of vintage goes,” she muses. “I am such a nostalgic person. I don’t hoard but I scrupulously keep mementos and photographs of generations of my family back to Southern Italy. I love stories. And I love to imagine the lives and histories of women who have worn certain things… I believe in the legacy.” Every chance she gets she’s out shopping, whether it’s in Palm Springs or on Third Avenue. She does her pre-research and never comes home empty-handed. “Vintage, in its best light, can be the ultimate tool of self expression for a person who loves fashion and style,” she claims. “It is also a treasure, and we just know it when we see it, I guess.” It’s the kind of philosophy that has worked miracles: finding happiness is about having the patience to let your instincts take over. Thank you Christene!