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Athena Calderone: How I Shop

The interior designer and all-around stylish person behind lifestyle blog 'Eyeswoon' discusses her eclectic approach to getting dressed.
Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend, and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures inside and outside of the fashion industry with our column, "How I Shop."

As you gear up for Fashion Month — which officially kicks off next week in New York — it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the current class of stylish front-row fixtures, since you'll likely be seeing them on every blog, in street style galleries and most certainly all over Instagram. Athena Calderone, an interior designer and the writer behind industry-favorite lifestyle blog EyeSwoonis one of the women whose looks we've admired over the past few seasons, thanks to her easy mixing of the feminine, bohemian and sweet with edgier details like cut-outs, architectural silhouettes and some serious statement shoes.

We met Calderone for the first time this past fall when she invited Fashionista to her chic Dumbo digs for a dinner party that she threw with super-buzzy Brooklyn restaurant Franny's and Cointreau, and after scoping out her pad we can attest that her signature aesthetic and her ability to pair both high and lower-end labels — in both her decor and in her closet — is nothing short of inspiring. Read on for Calderone's approach to shopping, her best (and worst) retail habits and the one "rock star" piece in her wardrobe she can't live without.

“I’ve always had an interest in fashion and going the extra mile to create something that’s beautiful, but I didn’t find myself in the path for interior design until somewhat later in life. It evolved over time through my own homes and playing within my own spaces. My husband and I have bought a lot of real estate — bought and sold and bought and sold — and I’ve always done the décor. That was my training and then I went back a little bit later and studied interiors. But fashion is definitely something I feel from at super young age that I’ve always been intrigued by, followed, appreciated and admired.

I think that there’s a concept thread in almost all aspects of my life, from how I design space to how I like to cook and even how I like to dress. There’s a play on something that’s a little bit more feminine mixed with something edgy… I definitely feel like I’m always playing up contrasting elements and with the composition in a space or in an outfit. I don’t really like to follow rules as far as dressing. I think it causes intrigue and curiosity when you’re not doing the obvious — like when you have a flea market find paired with more fine pieces.

I’m a hoarder. My mom got rid of everything; she got rid of Gucci dresses and Chanel bags. I didn’t grow up in a lavish home or anything, so the fact that my mom had a Chanel bag and got rid of it because she didn’t fully understand how important that was, it just drives me crazy! Even her '60s prom dress. I don’t have a daughter, but I do feel like whenever I get rid of something, I regret it, so I’m a hoarder. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it’s the truth.

At the beginning of each season, I get super-excited and I have all these shopping plans that seem somewhat organized, but I’m an emotional shopper. I feel like when I shop and see something I love, I have a hard time. I like to shop alone — I would also say that. When I shop, I focus on a few pieces — I’m really big on getting new shoe (a new boot, especially) right now. A bag and accessories are where I spend a lot of my money when I shop, then I buy a couple of key pieces that I like to rotate.

I’m just starting to go to a lot of fashion shows to see what’s happening, but I don’t read too many fashion sites or look at the collections online. I really trust my eye. A friend of mine always jokes me, ‘We can walk into a store and you’re like, boom! You go right up to a crowded rack, pick up one thing and that’s what you end up buying.’ I like to scan and see what I want. I feel like I have a pretty specific style of what my eye continually goes to. I love trends, and I’m not saying that I don’t follow trends because we’re all kind of guided by that, but I like to feel through my own sense of knowing what works and what doesn’t work for me, or what I feel sophisticated, sexy, and elegant in.

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[My son] always blows my mind — I have this little boy who is completely engaged in what I wear and we ask him about design choices. My husband is into music, and he asks him about music choices. I always want to bring him into our world and let him have an opinion. I always ask him what shoes I should wear and he always lets me know when I’m too covered up. When I would wear a blouse, he used to say, 'I don’t like that mom, it’s not sexy enough.' He would prefer it when I wear something that’s a little bit sexy. He’s really interesting, and it always surprises me how I know exactly what he likes and what he won’t like.

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

For fall, there was an amazing Wes Gordon coat that I was dying over. I also really love Ryan Roche — the sweaters and hats are incredible. And I'm over the moon with the flatform Stella McCartney shoes. They’re just so comfortable. I just bought an amazing pair of a woven Proenza Schouler heels that are navy blue and black, and there’s a J.W. Anderson bag I just bought that I really love. I almost returned it because it’s pretty simple; it’s almost like shaped like an 'A' with a little cutout. But it’s perfect for going out and seems to just work for everything. Lately, I've been drawn to crop tops, full skirts and a lot of heels. I don’t wear a lot of bright vibrant colors. I’m not afraid of them — it’s just not what I constantly gravitate towards, so I guess more neutrals.

I think it’s so interesting: Sometimes you can put a look together that you’ve maybe even worn before, but it just doesn’t feel right. I’m a little bit of a Tasmanian Devil in the mornings with, like, crap everywhere. I have to feel really good about what I put on, you know? Sometimes I won’t put a look on until I’m showered and maybe have makeup on and my hair done, or else I feel like everything looks horrible. Options are a way for you to play dress-up and be like a little girl and live in a fantasy. Sometimes it can lift your mood. Your energy and your outlook for the day definitely depend upon what you choose to wear.

I definitely struggle with spending a lot on something that I know I only get to wear once, so on things for the home I will be more indulgent because I’m going to live with them — they're in my every day environment and it’s not too transient. But I do think it’s really important to spend money on a great coat. I’ve said this before but a great bag; I feel like I can wear Topshop and Zara with a good coat, a good bag and good shoes and I’m good to go. I bought of a pair of Alaïa shoes in the summer — I never thought I would spend that much on shoes, but I just couldn’t say no.

I don’t like making quick rush decisions in store; sometimes I buy more and then send stuff back —I'll order something and try it on at home in my environment. I shop online and in-store equally. But, when I’m readying for Fashion Week, I order, like, six pairs of shoes and my husband is like, “What is happening?!”  I will often run to buy something and hold myself back and wait for it to go on sale. Sometimes that really works for me and sometimes it really doesn’t. When I have the opportunity to negotiate – I used to be shy about trying to ask for a better price. For interior design I  ask if they offer a trade discount and it’s like shopping at a flea market, I always try to negotiate price a little bit. 

As for prized pieces, this is kind of a silly story, but my friend had this amazing Balenciaga [aviator] coat. It looks vintage and I was just dying over it like dying, dying, dying. She wanted something of mine and I offered to trade it with her. She said no, and then I just kept working on her; finally she agreed and I ended up trading this Dolce & Gabbana jacket that I never really wore anyway that for this piece and it is hands down the rockstar piece in my wardrobe. It feels great!

When it comes to shopping regrets, I have this amazing white Dior blouse — it was right off Carrie from the "Sex and the City" days. I was just so obsessed with it and I ended up getting one on Ebay. If I love something I want two of it, so when another one popped up on eBay I wanted to buy it. My best friend at that time said I was being obsessed, that I didn’t need two of them. And now mine is all tattered and falling apart — I really wish I'd bought it."

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images