Spotlight Series ~ Libby Callaway

Friday, April 18, 2014

Libby Callaway
Image / John Guider Photography

Continuing with my Spotlight Series, it is with great admiration that I get to share with you a closer look at Libby Callaway, who was recently named to Southern Living magazine's "75 Most Stylish Southerners". Libby's multifaceted & innate sense of style goes above & beyond the trends, rising to a very specific expertise level in sourcing vintage decor & fashion. She has also enjoyed a successful journalism career writing for the New York Post, authored American Pickers Guide to Picking, and published numerous articles for lifestyle & shelter magazines. I've included my Q&A below, with images of Libby's Nashville home, featured on The Selby.

I know you are originally from Tennessee, but spent a number of years in NYC working for the Post....  Would you discuss what brought you to the city and your role/work at the paper.

I knew, even when I was a little kid growing up in (comparably) tiny Cleveland, Tennessee, that I was destined to live in NYC at some point in my life. I got the chance in 1995 when I was accepted into the inaugural class of NYU's Cultural Reporting & Criticism, a masters program in the journalism department. After I graduated, I got a job at the Post as an assistant and over the years worked my way up to be the fashion editor. It was a job I more or less created for myself, simply by being vocal and telling my editors what I was interested in and how I thought it would benefit the readers. In my case, that included attending about twenty seasons of New York Fashion Week, with stints in Paris, Milan, Los Angeles and Sydney in there for good measure. I got to interview some of the biggest names in fashion and entertainment; covered the scenes in L.A. during Oscar week; attended the Met Ball. Of course, that's the glam stuff: daily newspaper work is grueling. I literally wrote thousands of stories during my seven years at the Post, many of them on very tight deadlines and - to be honest - under duress!

What prompted that decision to relocate to Nashville following your time in NYC?  And was there a particular appeal to moving back down South?

I moved to Nashville for the exact reason I just laid out in that last answer: it was exhausting work and I was tired! I was in a great position of not having to leave because my career was tanking - I was a the top of my game! But it didn't make me happy. The thought of starting over in Nashville did, though. I had a lot of friends down there, and what the journalistic scene lacked (I lasted just over a year at the local daily paper) the music industry more than made up for. For several years I supplemented my freelance fashion writing career (I've had fashion columns in local papers over the years; I was also an advice columnist for Glamour for a little under two years) with work as a stylist. Talk about grueling: stylists give daily newspaper journos a run for their money.

You have an incredible sense of style that has been translated into various mediums -- fashion stylist, writer, shop owner -- Would you share some details about how these different types of jobs came about?

Sheer will. I never received any type of fashion training, other than having a deep affinity for clothing and style that was fostered by my mother, who has great personal style. She also taught me to appreciate antique clothing, which she'd remake and have me and my sisters wear on holidays. (My mom says that I got her creativity and my father's brain, which is maybe exaggerating, though I probably can attribute my writing ability to my Daddy's genes - not to mention his orange editing pen!) Going with her to flea markets when I was a kid helped me develop my eye and turned me on to vintage clothing and furniture (she was a wicker dealer and had a store for several years in the '70s). It's really weird how everything I've done in my life - as varied as these jobs are, from vintage dealer to stylist to newspaper editor - has led me to where I am today, and how all of those roles contribute to my ability to do my job. 

Were you always drawn to turning up treasured items and have you been influenced by anyone? Do you lean more towards seeking out fashion or home decor or a mix of both?  And is there a particular era that strikes you?

My mom has always decorated with antiques; when she had her business, I was always surrounded by other dealers and enthusiasts. I loved their passion and decided to start my own collections. I started with compacts, and comic books if I remember correctly! And then in high school moved on to vintage clothes. My senior prom dress was a white gown with a giant purple cabbage rose print from the '50s; my mom remade the bodice for me. (I can still wear it!) That said, as much as I will always love vintage clothes, I am really into furniture and decor right now. I can't really pick a favorite decade, because I like so many - and I love to decorate using them all. (My theory is that if you love it, it will fit into your environment, no matter its color, era, provenance or even it's condition.) Right now, I'm digging the whole Memphis era of Italian design; it's a look I used to loathe because it read so '80s to me, but over time I've come around. Same with Brutalism: I love how dangerous that stuff looks. It's a long way from Duncan Phyfe or Italian tole, two looks I also happen to like.

How do you determine what you will hold onto & what you are willing to let go?  And is it difficult for you to part with certain pieces?

I am thinking about selling my house and every time I mention it to certain friends or my family, the words "huge yard sale" inevitably come out of their mouths. I know I have a lot of shit, but who said I wanted to get rid of any of it?! Seriously, though - parting with my finds can be painful. For some reason, I never had a problem selling things as a vintage dealer - probably because I always kept the best stuff if it fit me! But it's different when it's a collection you've lived with for years or a piece of furniture you love. 

Regret is almost a different subject: I totally have major regrets about having given up some of my personal collection in fits of pique or what can only be assumed was temporary insanity

Do you have some favorite places you can recommend to find vintage items?  

I will shop for vintage anywhere - from the hautest Parisian couture atelier to the scuzziest secondhand store on the Florida/Alabama line (that'd be Florabama, by the way). I'm a shopping populist - the opposite of a snob - and for that reason I've managed to find some amazing things in place where other collectors may have turned up their noses. Thrift stores are my favorite places to shop, though a really good, honest-to-God flea market is hard to beat.

What are you currently working on and are there any happenings on the horizon you would like to share?

Though I've loved working for myself the majority of the last eight years, I'm about to take a new job at the fashion company Billy Reid, where I more or less get to bring in elements from all my past careers to my job. I'll be splitting my time between Nashville/Florence, Alabama (BR HQ) and NYC, where I'm currently searching for an apartment. Hoping to find something pre-war that I can fill with tons of new finds from northeastern shopping jaunts. I recently hit some antique store in Great Barrington, Mass., on a road trip and found some amazing rugs that are most certainly going to see a new home soon: mine. 

Interior Images The Selby

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