Refinery 29 editor-in-chief Christene Barberich is the anti-label snob, enforcing an offbeat high-low aesthetic on her site and in her closet. "Though it's predominately a fashion and shopping site, we infiltrate so many other parts of our readers' lives beyond just clothes," she says. "Fashion influences how you decorate your home, how you travel, and how you spend time with friends." She kicked off her career as the style editor at Gourmet for four years, segueing from the entertaining and interior design realms into fashion. She jumped to CITY magazine next, then became deputy editor at The Daily, New York Fashion Week's publication. After a decade working in print, she turned to the web in 2005, founding Refinery 29 with three others. The site has grown substantially over the past year, expanding from just six full-time employees to 26.
Though Barberich has built an impressive career — from writing for the Times to consulting for brands like YSL and Prada — she remains resolutely hands-on at Refinery. "I'm doing everything from styling readers for photographs at a shopping event to driving the car in our Fashion Cab video series," she laughs. "No job is too large or too small." We talked to the multitasking editor about her favorite vintage haunts, the allure of the perfect blazer, and her strict take on closet clutter.
What prompted your jump from print to digital when you launched Refinery 29?
I've always been drawn to new projects — anything that felt like the traditional way maybe wasn’t the best way of doing things.
What’s the biggest difference between working for a print magazine and strictly online?
Coming from a print background and now being completely digital, it’s been refreshing working with such bright writers and editors. I think with the traditional kind of production line in print, the copy goes through so many hands that by the time the story comes out it doesn’t really resemble what it was in the beginning. It’s important to me that everyone’s voice resonates on the site.
Which publications or sites do you look to for style inspiration?
I’m a huge fan of British Vogue and Teen Vogue. I think it’s because there’s something kind of digital about them: From issue to issue, it doesn’t feel stale; it has that vibrant, textured, haphazard design that almost looks like it was just thrown together. And I love Design*Sponge.
Who are your favorite designers?
Rachel Comey. She’s really managed to evolve over the years. She pushes the envelope for young designers in New York. Also, Proenza Schouler is really aspirational and beautiful. They make so many things I want to wear. And I love how Phoebe Philo from Céline stresses quality. I can be old-school that way: really getting into where the fabrics are sourced and who makes the clothes. That craftsmanship shows in a perfectly fitting pair of trousers or a handbag. I can’t stand trying on a pair of $300 pants that feel like no one along the way in the design process ever tried them on.
Where do you like to shop in New York?
Mafalda, a vintage store in Brooklyn that’s conveniently located near my apartment building. It’s not so much that I’m obsessed with vintage, but the pieces that I find there are really different from what’s in stores. I love that when I go into a vintage store or thrifting, what I buy is based on what I’m responding to rather than someone else dictating what’s supposed to be cool or what I should be wearing. You also can’t beat Steven Alan and Opening Ceremony for contemporary fashion. They’re incredibly discerning.
What’s the first designer item you ever bought?
A Jil Sander black cashmere button-down cardigan that had a little polo collar that I bought ten years ago. I was like, Is it too preppy? Is it too boring? My mom talked me into it — she said I’d wear it forever, and I still do. It’s my trusty travel companion; I bring it everywhere.
How would you describe your personal style?
Vintage-modern. I’m pretty traditional in a lot of ways, but then I’ll wear some crazy Yves Saint Laurent brocade jacket. Mixing vintage with contemporary fashion is what makes me feel like myself. I don’t feel comfortable in all new stuff — especially coats. Coats are a statement piece that are really functional but also incredibly decadent and luxurious. I like things that are super-fashionable, but also perform a job every day.
How packed is your closet?
I actually get rid of stuff pretty aggressively. I clean it out once a month and I give a lot of stuff away. I’m obsessive about de-cluttering. I can’t have a lot of crap around; it makes me crazy. It’s important to have space in your closet so you can see what you have to work with and how you can wear it. If it’s too jammed, it clutters your vision. I do think it’s okay to have a lot of great shoes, necklaces, and bags, though. They’re the magic ingredients in a great outfit.
What trends are you appreciating right now?
I think because I feel that kind of discomfort with clutter, I’m finding minimalism really refreshing right now. I still love big chunky jewelry, but right now I’m liking a clean, simple aesthetic, where tailoring is the focal point.
Any trends you’re ready to see retired?
I’m really tired of studs. Whenever I see anyone wearing something overly studded it makes me sad.
What’s one item you’re saving up to buy?
A classic Ringo bowling bag by Jerome Dreyfuss in cognac. His bags are really luxurious and beautifully made, but they still have that functional quality that’s such a turn-on.
What should every woman have in her closet?
A really amazing tuxedo blazer is completely indispensable. I think it’s really sexy and versatile — you can wear it over a dress or jeans and a really beat-up shirt. It makes a great spring jacket, especially if you get one that’s lined in nice silk and fits your properly.
What’s one thing you never leave the house without?
I almost always wear Karen Walker sunglasses, a little bit oversized, and my engagement ring: a Cartier Trinity band that I’ve always loved. It’s very seventies and super-simple.