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Dorit Kemsley: How I Shop

For this "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star, Vetements are the perfect mommy clothes.
Dorit Kemsley. Photo: Courtesy

Dorit Kemsley. Photo: Courtesy

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 in the fashion industry with our column, "How I Shop."

There's a moment in the most recent season of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" that might best sum up Dorit Kemsley's attitude towards fashion. Her husband Paul Kemsley (better known as "PK") wants her to jump off a yacht into the ocean. She's reluctant to do so, until PK calls from the water, "Dorit, I'll get you a Birkin if you jump." She whips off her coverup, holds her nose and takes the leap. "And that is how you get a Birkin," she says with a wink, triumphantly holding up her prize in her confessional. 

"I love to play from head to toe — I'll change my hair up and accessorize differently," Kemsley tells Fashionista. "It's just exciting. It's who I am, it really is in my blood, so I enjoy it."

But when it comes to shopping, Kemsley has a lot more than just Birkins and boats to consider. The mother of two young children, Phoenix and Jagger, Kemsley has to be a bit more practical in her wardrobe choices than she might have been a few years ago. (Well, most of the time). There's also her shuttered swimwear line, which she's working to revive. And then there's the constant globe-trotting with her entrepreneur husband who just so happens to represent Boy George. 

It's a tall order for anyone, even a Real Housewife. We hopped on the phone with Kemsley to get her tips on packing and wearing stilettos to the supermarket. Just don't expect any secrets on getting a Birkin from your S.O. — it sounds like Kemsley got lucky with a man who knows her style.

Photo: Courtesy

Photo: Courtesy

"I am a blend of trendy and fashion-forward mixed with classic and chic; I think that sums up my style and basically my wardrobe. I've always loved Jennifer Lopez's style. I think she knocks it out of the park every time. I love to see what she's coming up with, whether she's judging or she's performing or she's on the red carpet, she does it great every single time. She's always pushing the limit, then she'll come out with something that's so classic and elegant and feminine and beautiful. She knows how to do sexy and elegant at the same time. 

I think that's a lot of who I am, because I like to be sexy, but maybe less provocative than someone who has got more confidence. You're not going to see me with deep plunges; I'll probably be more covered more often. But, if it's super short, it might be more covered on top. Or, if it's open on top, it might be a little more covered on the bottom, finding a nice way of being sexy, yet elegant and chic.

I have so many [favorite places to shop]. If I am in New York, I love Jeffrey's and Bergdorf's. I think on the West Coast, I really like Elyse Walker. Curve has got some great pieces; Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Saks. In London, Harrods and Selfridge's, those are always my top places you'd find me.

I have a lot of people that bring me things. I used to really like shopping in the store — it was kind of my cardio. [Laughs] I would say that still; I find shopping to be one of the most pleasing things for me while still getting exercise. But, I find that I don't have as much time as I once did, obviously, now with two children and businesses. Online [shopping], not so much, although I have definitely gotten into it more in the last couple of years. I also have a great wardrobe stylist I work with who I've known for many years. I've taken her under my wing, and she's really gotten to know me so well that now she does a lot of the shopping, or people will send her things and then she filters through it to send me pieces. I would say nine times out of 10, she's gotten it perfect.

I think Gucci is fantastic right now. I love Givenchy — Balmain's great — McQueen, Chanel, Saint Laurent — I mean, there's so many to choose from. I think you'll find a lot of Vetements in my closet at the moment. I love their play on brands that they've resuscitated, brands that were big when I was growing up, like Champion and Adidas and Reebok — it's so fun. They've got these oversize sweatshirts, and everything they do is oversize, but somehow it doesn't look ridiculous on. I've got a lot of Vetements for comfy clothes.

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As a mom, you have to find that balance where you can be comfortable and stylish. When you're with your children all day, you can't really be in heels and outfits where I used to prance around on all day going into night. If I'm with my children all day and into the evening, then obviously I'm dressed more appropriately to be able to run around with them. Sometimes it's a matter of switching through the day; when I'm with them in the morning, more comfy, maybe workout clothes even, and then if I have to go into a meeting, or I have something else to do, it's switching into something more businesslike. If I am out in the evening, or I'm going for lunch, I go into something a little bit less comfortable and more fashion-forward. Although, that's not always the case.

I have become the greatest packer ever. [Laughs] I think it's just par for the course, and it's experience, experience and experience. I put together all of my outfits from head to toe, I take pictures of them — and I mean jewelry, accessories, everything — then I pack it perfectly in my luggage. Usually, when we're traveling, I know exactly what I'm doing, I've got a schedule. I have all of those outfits already picked out, then I've got three or four that rotate and can play different roles, if you will.

I would say New York and London might be a bit different than LA for me. Obviously in the winter, I get to use those pieces that I don't get to use in LA. Even when I'm looking at various designers, although I might not need certain things from their fall/winter collections in LA, I know that I will be in London or New York and I'll buy those pieces just for those trips.

I mean, that's me [on "Real Housewives"] — that's how I dress on a daily basis. I spent a long time in Italy; I spent my 20s there. In Italy, the women dress up and have their hair done, and they wear heels to the supermarket; they don't go in their pajamas. They drop their kids off at school that way. That's the way I grew up, and it's definitely who I am for the most part. I enjoy dressing up, I've always enjoyed dressing up, and I like to play with fashion. I love fashion. "Housewives," depending on whether we were going out, or I was with my children, that was what was in my wardrobe and how I would ordinarily dress. Most of the time I'm more dressed up for an occasion than I am dressed down. 

I would say it's fairly constant [that I update my closet]. I'm in fashion, and I've always been. Now that I'm actually going back into designing and I'm relaunching my swimwear, I am really always looking at what's out there. During the year, I'm always picking up different pieces. I clean my closet out twice a year. My sister and my mother would tell you those are their favorite times of the year. [Laughs] Now I have a 16-month-old girl, I've got my box of vintage, or sentimental pieces that I keep for her, which she'll own. The rest, most of it goes to my mother and my sister. 

I don't know how other designers are and if they would say the same, but I would say my collections are a reflection of me and my personality and how I like to dress. Of course, when you're designing a full collection, you have to cater to those what the market's calling for. More often than not, it could be something that I don't particularly like for myself. But certainly, the bulk of the collection, or the spirit of the collection, is going to be a reflection of my taste and my style and really my personality. That's how you find inspiration or how I draw inspiration.

I would say always I'm taking inspiration from the runways. You can look at a lot of runways and these couture brands, that's not meant for the everyday woman, for sure, I understand that; I appreciate that it's meant to be artistic and creative. But when you see something like [the metallic hairstyle], which is exciting, and it is fashion-forward, and it is taking risks — it was our final party, it was a diamonds and rosé party. The show is a great platform for someone like me who likes to play with fashion and have a bit of fun. That was the inspiration. My hairstylist, she's brilliant, she's always bringing me new ideas. She brought that to me and I had seen it and said, "Absolutely, let's do it." 

My husband has such good style, such good taste — he really does. Sometimes when I can't decide between a certain shoe or a bag, he's the first person I ask. He immediately has an opinion. He loves my style. He dresses great; I love his style. He loves when I shop for him. Every time he's ever, ever, ever bought me a single piece, whether it's clothes or shoes, or handbags, or jewelry, he's never gotten it wrong. He clearly knows me very, very, very well. I think he does it with a lot of love, to be honest with you. When you know somebody and you do anything with a lot of love, you get it right.

I would tell my daughter to be herself and to find what feels right and to have a little bit of fun, try to step out of her comfort box or comfort zone. Test it, but look in the mirror and like what you see. I can tell my daughter is a fashionista in the making. Her favorite place to be is in my closet. She's always rummaging through my handbags already, and she's very young. She loves her shoes, her hats and her handbags. I'm proud. I've got my little protégé in the making. I can't wait to discover who she is, but she's definitely showing signs of loving fashion.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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