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VOL. 37 | NO. 52 | Friday, December 27, 2013

Fashion guru Libby Callaway: Why Nashville tops New York

By Jennifer Justus

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Creative consultant Libby Callaway has an array of Nashville clients, including Barista Parlor and Billy Reid, the fashion designer for whom she co-edits a blog. Callaway enjoys a coffee at Barista which plans a second location.

-- Leigh Singleton | Nashville Ledger

Libby Callaway breezed into Barista Parlor on a recent Thursday wrapped in an oversized Michaele Vollbracht scarf that she picked up at a vintage shop in Kansas City.

Fresh from “vacation,” a solo road trip to Idaho where her sister lives, she ordered a cup of tea and took a quick breather. The vacation comes in quotes because balancing her client list along with her many creative projects might mean taking a phone call from fashion designer Billy Reid in the middle of the desert. “You have to pull over at the only rest stop for 60 miles and deal with what’s happening.”

The Cleveland, Tenn., native wouldn’t have it any other way.

Familiar with a fast pace from several years in New York City, where she worked as a fashion editor at the New York Post, Callaway returned to Tennessee almost 10 years ago. Nashville’s lucky to have her.

Q: What are you up to these days?

A: “What am I not doing these days? That’s sometimes how I feel. It’s funny, because when people ask me what I do, for the longest time I’ve been launching into ‘Well, I used to be a journalist, and now I consult in marketing and PR, and I also do content creation for websites…’

“But my friend Stephanie (Goins) was like, ‘I tell people you are a creative consultant.’ And so, that’s what I’ve been doing now, and it’s a lot easier.’’

Q: Who are working with right now?

A: “Barista Parlor. We’ve been waiting for him (owner Andy Mumma) to announce his new deal (a second space in the Gulch with roasting operation). I work with The 404 Hotel & Kitchen. I work with Two Boots Pizza, and as a former New Yorker, that was like going home to me. It makes me super-happy. Emil Erwin is one of my clients. I’m helping him launch his women’s bag collection this fall.

“I’ve got lots of local clients, but I guess my main paycheck comes from Billy Reid.

“I’m co-editing the Journal, which is their blog, and so for the last seven months I’ve been working with Sarah Trapp, who is the in-house communications director, to figure out how to tell the story of the brand through feature stories, really.’’

Q: Do you find that you’re seeing more people working the way that you work – freelancing or having multiple clients?

A: “Absolutely. I kind of think it’s the future. Most people I know don’t have one job. If they’re working one job then they have multiple clients or they have multiple interests. And something that the Internet has done – and people creating their own personal websites and blogs and social media interests – is it has diversified peoples’ jobs a lot.’’

Q: In what ways have you seen Nashville change that you’re most happy about?

A: “(When I moved to Nashville) I really thought that fashion journalism and that part of media was going away for me. I worked at The Tennessean for a while, and it just wasn’t a good fit. So I moved into being a stylist and selling vintage clothes and finding my way creatively in other ways. But I guess my career here has kind of mirrored the growth … The first week I was here was the week that Van Lear Rose (Loretta Lynn’s album produced by Jack White) came out.

“Linda Zettler (Tennessean music and entertainment editor) took me to the album release party at the Hermitage, and I walked in and saw all these rock critics I knew from New York, and I thought, ‘oh this is so cool.’ And then Jack White’s there with Loretta Lynn, and it was one of those moments. This is what Nashville is. I didn’t think about it being so cosmopolitan, and it’s become more like that.

“There’s better eating. There’s better shopping. There’s still not a great place to buy magazines, and that’s a disappointment because I love magazines. There are better meeting places – places for people to meet up and have interesting exchanges.’’

Q: What are you looking forward to in the future here?

A: “Elise Joseph told me she’s opening a store here next year. I feel like there will be some more interesting retail options coming and not just mall stores but creative retail ventures. I feel like we’re kind of stuck in one aesthetic right now, and I feel like it’s going to evolve, and I’m really curious to see what the evolution is and if Nashville’s going to be leading it or following it.’’

Q: Do you think there was a tipping point in Nashville’s recent evolution?

A: “Yeah, I think it was music. I think it was Jack White, the Black Keys. I think it was rock and roll. I think that those musicians moving here and embracing the fact that they could work with Ricky Skaggs and work with all these interesting bluegrass musicians and traditional country musicians and do different things, made people look at what we’re doing differently. I’m just talking about Nashvillians looking at what we’re doing differently. I don’t think anyone on the outside hated on Nashville as much as Nashvillians hated on themselves.

Q: The Joint (pop-up art project). Where did you get the idea for that and where does it rank on the list of things you’re doing?

A: “Joint applies to everything I’m doing. It’s allowed me to bring in contacts from all my different career paths and interests. When the pop-up concept first happened – I think it started in Europe and then trickled down – I kept thinking that’s a great way to introduce the people I know to Nashville, the designers I know that come in and do temporary stores. I started poking around and took some small business classes.

“I was thinking about a space that I could make a permanent pop-up, just evolve the store each couple of months. But last year, I met Susan Sherrick, who moved here from New Orleans by way of San Francisco by way of New York. She’s like an international art dealer, and she chose Nashville out of all the cities in the world that she could live in. She turned down major jobs to live in East Nashville and make bags. I think she’s a really great example of the kind of person who is moving here. Someone whose career is just ….a great strong background but saw what this city had to offer in terms of lifestyles and in terms of growth.

“The first time we met at Marche I said, ‘What do you want to do here? How do you want to continue to sell art?’ And she said, ‘I think I want to do pop-ups.’ My friend Stephanie and I had been talking about doing fashion pop-ups but not just clothes – to make them about interiors and food and music and all the creative things we saw our friends doing. To bring them together in one event that could be very accessible publically. Anybody could come and see something they’ve never seen before…learn something new.

“So immediately we started talking about what Joint was going to look like. We did our first one last April…It’s really hard to be concise when talking about Joint, because it is just whatever we want it to be. We’ve managed to bring in chefs and artists (both classic and legendary with local artists)…we want to bring in more individual designers in the future. We’ve had musicians play …. All these different aspects of what’s happening in town we’re able to represent in one weekend.’’

Q: Speaking of that, sometimes I think Nashville is special in its willingness to collaborate and willingness of people to see others succeed. But what do you think?

A: “I think it’s definitely happening in other places, but Susan says this a lot: We would never be able to have Joint pop-ups – to the extent that the amount of people get involved with them – in Brooklyn or New York or L.A. or whatever. People are so scattered, and there’s more going on in those other places, so it’s harder to get people honed in. I feel like our size has really helped us do things like that. Also space is generally cheaper and easier to find. We’ve never had to pay for a space. People are really interested in pitching in and helping out. And that probably has to do with there’s not really anything else like that happening here right now. I feel like when you’re in a bigger market you have more competition for resources.’’

Q: What have you been listening to lately?

A: “On this trip – I love Alec Baldwin, so I downloaded all of his “Here’s the Thing” podcasts. They’re so good. And I realized how much I love hearing people talk about the entertainment industry. There’s an interview with Thom Yorke next to an interview with David Letterman next to an interview with Elaine Stritch.’’

Q: Do you ever see yourself having one?

A: “I never thought about that. That’s a good idea. Maybe this could evolve into it. Caroline Allison, the photographer, and I are launching a blog, which is an interview blog. We have a no hipster clause. Basically we’re doing portraits and interviews with people in Nashville who we don’t think get press or attention for what they’re doing – aspects of people unexplored at this point.

“We interviewed the woman who ironically made my debutante dress 25 years ago, Jeanne Dudley Smith. She lives in West Meade, and I went to that house when I was 17 and helped her design my deb dress, and that’s one thing I love about Nashville, too. There’s this old Nashville and new Nashville – old society Nashville, which bumps up against this new thing.’’

Q: What and where are you eating?

A: “I’m trying to eat a lot cleaner. I’ve recently gotten into ayurvedic medicine with Renee French over at Practical Massage, so I’m taking a lot of herbs and I’m drinking less caffeine, so I’m trying to eat at home a lot. But I’m excited I’m going to Rolf and Daughters on Monday night and try to go to City House this weekend. Those are my favorites and Marche and Margot, always.’’

Q: What about reading?

A: “I love magazines even though they tend to stack up. I subscribe to over a dozen. But I read Entertainment Weekly cover-to-cover every single week, I love it. I find it informs me so much. I read Media Bistro every day. I read The Business of Fashion website every day. Even if you don’t know anything about fashion, it’s just very informative culturally and business-wise. I love The Gentlewoman, which is a great magazine. I always read the New Yorker and New York magazine.’’

Q: And music?

A: “It’s funny, I used to be so adventurous. I used to want to write about music. I’m really interested in the culture of music. But I feel like I’m so behind on new bands. That Jason Isbell album? I loved it. I really sometimes think I’m stuck in 1992. I love Teenage Fan Club and I love the things I listened to when I was just out of college. I could listen to The Replacements all the time.’’

Q: Of course we have to ask, what are you wearing?

A: “A gray cotton top from H. Audrey; a pair of black pants with cool zippers on the upper leg that I got at Zara over 13 years ago. They still look as good today as they did when I bought them. Black suede Celine ankle boots with metal heels; and an enormous wool scarf with giant birds on it by the designer Michaele Vollbracht, who was the designer for Bill Blass back when I was covering fashion for the New York Post.

“He’s a super-nice guy and I have fond memories of him, so when I found this scarf in a vintage store recently in Kansas City – it came with a formal gown, as well! – I bought it without hesitation. I’m carrying a leather clutch by my good friend Susan Sherrick of S.E. Sherrick Leatherworks, and on my wrists I’ve got my signature twin brass cuffs, secondhand from Goodwill like all my best stuff.’’

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