20 Sense

20 SENSE: Hillary Kerr, Cofounder of Who What Wear

HILLARYKERR

If you’re a born and bred, loud and proud, yada yada yada fashion fan, and have no shame in singing it from the proverbial rooftops, then you’ve been visiting Who What Wear since its early days, like me. I’ve talked before about my rock solid morning routine (mess with it and suffer the consequences), and Who What Wear (ditto its sister sites Byrdie and Domaine) is my first stop to this day. It’s the perfect way for me to ease myself into thinking about fashion, and to indulge in a little fantasy as well (there’s extensive wallet-emptying temptation, but I’ve found that “window” shopping does the trick, too). Who What Wear was a pioneer of the online fashion destination, an inspiration for many of the sites that cram all corners of the Internet today. I’ve watched the company transform from tiny to gigantic, and it’s been seriously inspirational to follow their path. Of course, it is the founders of Who What Wear, Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power, who are to be thanked for not only birthing but nurturing this project along the way–so given the opportunity to pick the former’s brain, I couldn’t resist. She was more than game, and her answers are equal parts reassuring and motivating for those of us just starting out. If you’re not a fashion fan, be sure to check out her LA tips, which will have you itching to get on the next flight west.

*

How old are you? 34

Describe your trajectory since turning 20 up until now. When I turned 20, I was a junior in college at the University of Southern California. I was majoring in British literature—very practical—and realized that it’s pretty difficult to tell your parents that you’re planning on becoming a novelist upon graduation. That said, I knew I wanted to do something in the world of writing, so that year I picked up a minor in journalism, and was delighted to realize how much I liked it.

I graduated from college a semester early and knew that the likelihood of getting a journalism job was basically nil—I had no internships or relevant experience of any kind, other than being an amateur pop culture fiend. Randomly, I found a study-abroad program that was based in Sydney and required all the students to have a full-time internship in an area of their choosing. So I moved to Sydney and somehow convinced my very first boss—the incomparable Lizzie Renkert—that I should come intern for her at Marie Claire in Sydney. It was an amazing experience, to put it mildly, and opened so many doors for me.

While working in Sydney, I applied to graduate school and ended up going to New York University for my master’s in journalism. While in grad school, I did lots of internships: InStyle (in both the New York and Los Angeles offices), Harper’s Bazaar, and San Diego Magazine. Luckily, I got a job just a couple of weeks after I finished NYU, working in the features department at ELLE for Rachael Combe (then Managing Editor) and Laurie Abraham (then Executive Editor).

ELLE was the most incredible job I could have imagined: everything I know, I learned from my brilliant bosses and colleagues. While at ELLE, I got to do so much, writing about a wide range of things, like art, beauty, entertaining, design, home décor, and music. I also made the most amazing friends at work—Leigh Belz, Jane Herman, Danielle Nussbaum, Eva Chen, Susan Cernek, and Jenny Feldman—who are all a) still in this crazy industry, b) wildly successful, and c) really phenomenal, supportive women.

After a few years at ELLE, I realized I wanted to move back to Los Angeles and be a freelance writer. Robbie Myers, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, gave me an incredible assignment to produce these two mini magazines about Project Runway Season Two, and I met my business partner, Katherine Power, on my very first day back in LA. (She was ELLE and ELLEgirl’s West Coast Editor.)

In 2006, not long after we met, Katherine and I decided to start WhoWhatWear.com. I was 27 and had no idea what I was doing! Now, seven years later, we have three websites—WhoWhatWear.com, DomaineHome.com, and Byrdie.com—and over 40 employees, which is still pretty incomprehensible to me!

What surprised you most about your twenties? What went exactly as expected? Maybe I have a lack of imagination when it comes to my own life, but I found just about everything in my twenties to be surprising. My career—from the internships to ELLE to freelancing to owning my own company—has been so much more fulfilling and exciting than I would have ever imagined. And, at the risk of sounding very self-important, I was surprised to discover my capacity for hard work. I never think of myself as being particularly driven or dedicated, but in retrospect, it seems like I am.

Do you feel like you’ve found your niche at this point or are you still searching? I feel lucky—honestly, every single day—that I figured out what I wanted to do at an early age and that my incredible parents supported my dream. I can’t say I’ve figured the rest of my life out, but I know that I will always be a writer/reporter/editor in some capacity or another. The entrepreneurial piece is equally exciting; I’m really obsessed with the business side of things, and find that part incredibly satisfying too.

What excites you more about life: the enigmatic experiences or those with extreme clarity? Don’t make me pick! I enjoy processing an experience, even a bad one, especially when it crystalizes and I suddenly feel like I understand everything, even if it’s just for a minute.

What did your twenties teach you about romantic love? Friendship? The biggest lesson I learned in my twenties was how to let go of toxic friendships. Loyalty is a big thing for me—my best friend and I have been pals since we were five, and I have a big circle of pals from junior high, high school, and college still—so when I ended a very long-term friendship, it was devastating. I felt like I had failed. But ultimately it was the right thing to do and opened up my life to new, amazing people.

I also was surprised by how many friends I continued to make, and the quality of those friendships, as my twenties went on. At 21, I thought I had all the pals I could ever need, but truthfully it was just the beginning.

What motivates you? Ideas. I get to discover the most incredible things through work. Sharing that information with other people, turning them on to things they might not know about, is just the best.

Where do you get the most inspiration? How do you snap out of a creative rut? Typically, the most inspired ideas I ever get happen in conversation with my friends and colleagues. Banter with smart people? That’s everything for me. Music and travel are also of paramount importance; I like to be transported, whether that’s through a song or actually physically escaping my day-to-day routine. I’m also a huge consumer of media—books, magazines, newspapers—and love nothing more than spending a Saturday with a giant stack of things to read.

If you had to create a twenties survival kit what would it include? Things that made my 20s survivable: Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Ryan Adams’ Love Is Hell Part One and Two, every album The Smiths ever made, The Royal Tenenbaums, slightly dirty martinis, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Diet Pepsi (ideally a fountain soda with crushed ice), L’Oreal Voluminous mascara, and Klorane dry shampoo.

If you had to settle for one motto/mantra, what would it be? “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West

Biggest pet peeve about the internet-meets-fashion world? Favorite aspect? I don’t really have a big pet peeve about the internet-meets-fashion world, because it’s given me such incredible opportunities and connected me with the most amazing people. My favorite aspect is the discovery: I’ve met wonderful people, found inspiration, and truly had life-changing experiences because of this world!

How did the idea for Who What Wear first come about? In 2006, we found ourselves frustrated by two things:

1) The fact that we’d see cute celebrity style photos in fashion magazines, the weeklies, and even on gossip websites, but no one ever identified the clothes. And that’s the part that interested us the most: the jeans a particular girl was wearing, not what she was doing when she was wearing them or with whom she was hanging out.

2) We were frustrated by how difficult it was to shop magazines. If you saw something gorgeous featured in a publication, it was nearly impossible to track it down.

The result of our frustrations was creating a site that features the best of-the-moment celebrity and runway style photos—focused on fashion, rather than gossip—and fully shoppable content. Otherwise known as WhoWhatWear.com!

What were the biggest challenges to making Who What Wear come to life? I think Katherine and I started the company so early, that we weren’t fully aware of what the potential challenges could be—and that’s a good thing. The process itself was rather quick and painless, luckily. If anything, I wish we knew how to code, because there have been so many times along the way that skill set would have come in handy.

What advice would you give someone who wants to follow a similar trajectory and start their own website/company? I think the biggest thing is truly having the passion for it. Katherine and I keep making things that we really want to see and read ourselves, and that makes all the endless hours of work worth it, in the end. You spend an incredible amount of time working when it’s your own company—I cannot stress this enough—and it’s often times insanely difficult, so you need to truly love what you’re doing. I also honestly couldn’t and wouldn’t have done any of this without Katherine. She’s my heroine, in so many ways, and the smartest, most hard-working person I know. She’s a real dynamo, on every level, and has been the best business partner I could have ever asked for.

You guys work together to this day. What makes that partnership work so well? What would you recommend others look for in a business partner? Truthfully, I got extremely lucky. Katherine and I had been friends for a year when we started the company, and while I adored her, I also knew that you get to know someone on a whole different level when you work together, and that might not always work out. Fortunately for me, Katherine is equally amazing as both a friend and a business partner. She’s industrious, dedicated beyond belief, and just a visionary—I feel honored to work with her.

I also always say I think we work well together because in the Venn diagram of our skill sets, there’s very little overlap. While we share so many decisions and day-to-day work, we bring truly different strengths and perspectives to the table, and that makes things interesting and balanced.

Also, I trust her implicitly: her taste is impeccable and I know we both want the same things for the company, and that trust makes everything possible.

As for what I would recommend others look for in a business partner? It really depends. Mutual respect is probably the biggest thing at the end of the day—really valuing what the other person contributes makes everything easier and better. Also, having a similar work ethic and goals is key. If you’re not in business for the same reasons or really dedicated to it, I could see that causing a lot of friction.

Describe your perfect Los Angeles day (I’m an East Coaster obsessed with the West Coast, so I’m always taking notes). Oh, there are so many versions of this! I’m really attached to my neighborhood—West Hollywood—and love to stick close to home, so in an ideal world, I would start the day with a walk to Alfred Coffee. It’s so delicious and cute, which makes it the perfect way to start the day. Alfred is on Melrose Place, which is also home to a darling farmer’s market on Sundays, as well as loads of gorgeous shops, like Isabel Marant, Equipment, Oscar de la Renta, and more.

I’d browse Melrose Place, and then head to Book Soup, which is an independent bookstore in West Hollywood and one of my favorite places to shop, to pick up a stack of books and magazines. No perfect day would be complete without a trip to The Way We Wore, which is the most incredible vintage clothing store on La Brea. I’d also try to squeeze in a manicure/pedicure at Mars, which is the best splurge for your hands and feet in town. (It’s truly a next level experience.)

A late lunch in Laurel Hardware’s gorgeous back garden is one of my go-tos, especially since they have lovely carafes of champagne and blood orange juice, plus the best hand-made tater tots you could imagine. After lunch, I’d read in my backyard and have friends over for afternoon treats, usually cheese, champagne, and Cards Against Humanity. If not, I love going to Soho House at sunset and sitting on the balcony; it’s easily the most gorgeous view in town and the perfect place to have a glass of rosé.

Dinner would have to be at my favorite place, The Hart & The Hunter, for super fresh Southern-influenced food. It’s one of my favorite places to take people—everyone always falls in love—because it’s just beyond delicious and the team who works there is crazy talented (not to mention cute). And of course no perfect day in my life would be complete without an impromptu dance party at my house, so I’m going to throw that into the mix too. Because what’s better than blasting music with your friends and dancing until the break of dawn?

*

Check out more 20 SENSE interviews here!

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s