photography by: Cara Robbins
Hillary Kerr is the Co-Founder and Chief Ideation Officer of Clique Media Group (CMG), a modern lifestyle company that lives at the intersection of media and commerce. Hillary, along with her fellow co-founder, Katherine Power, is considered a visionary entrepreneur for creating the data-driven and curated fashion site WhoWhatWear.com in 2006. From there, home and lifestyle website MyDomaine.com was born, and soon after came beauty-centric Byrdie.com, as well as Obsessee, the social-only platform for Gen Z females
In January 2016, Hillary and Katherine launched the Who What Wear collection, an ongoing line clothing and accessories collection that is sold at Target. Hillary is also the co-author of three books: Who What Wear: Celebrity and Runway Style for Real Life (Abrams, September 2009); What to Wear, Where (Abrams, March 2011); and The Career Code (Abrams, May 2016).
Girls At Library: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Hillary Kerr: “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” was definitely one of the most impactful books for me as a kid, as it served as my introduction to Roald Dahl.
I ended up reading all of his books—including his autobiographies—both solo and with my parents, who read to me every night before bed. I remember falling in love with Charlie because of the descriptions of the Chocolate Factory—like The Chocolate Room, where the grass tastes like minty sugar, and Mr. Wonka’s new chewing-gum meal, that serves up tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie in a single strip—and just being so delighted by how vividly I could imagine everything. I also adored Dahl’s playfulness with language, and the whimsical words and names he created, like: Oompa-Loompas, snozzberries, buttergin, and Veruca Salt.
GAL: And what is the power of story? Some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
HK: I’ve always loved how a story can transport you to a completely different place, and put you in someone else’s shoes. It’s addictive: the feeling of being immersed in another universe is so compelling because it makes time stop and the world around you disappear. I’ve always loved stories because they open doors you didn’t know existed, and act as portals into other people’s experiences, which is hugely important.
GAL: Did a love of reading lead you into your first career at Elle magazine?
HK: 1000%. One of the reasons I’ve always loved ELLE is the fact that they have incredible writers, which is why it was always a go-to purchase for me when I was in college and grad school. I knew I wanted to work at a magazine where words mattered as much as the images, so ELLE was a natural fit and a dream scenario for me.
GAL: You've been quoted as saying that you saw a lack of great editorial content online in fashion, style and shopping space and thought you could create something to fill the gap. What was missing in editorial content? How do you think you've improved it?
HK: In 2006, there was so little online, it was silly. Vogue didn’t have a website. ELLE barely published online. There just wasn’t very much, not to mention there wasn’t a site that covered style in a shoppable way, so we really pioneered that. I think we improved it by creating it, and then continuing to evolve in how we produce and publish content, whether that’s on the site or via social media.
GAL: You and your co-founder Katherine Power have written three books, with the latest called “The Career Code”. How would you describe the difference between writing a book and writing your online publications? Do you prefer one to the other?
HK: The difference between writing the books and writing for our sites is the fact that whatever goes in the book has to offer a fresh take on an evergreen idea. As for the site, because of the speed of digital content, we can cover things in an extremely timely way, and not worry about how it might look or sound in 10 years. Writing for the sites is easier, in many regards, because it’s essentially ephemeral.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
HK: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion is a book I return to again and again, though technically it’s a collection of non-fiction stories. In terms of fiction, I always have a soft spot for The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, and Scruples by Judith Krantz.
GAL: Who is your favorite author?
HK: Joan Didion.
GAL: If you could give Joan Didion one book to read, what would it be?
HK: I wouldn’t presume to know the answer to that!
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
HK: Sometimes I think the books choose me, if that makes any sense? I also research: I’m always reading book reviews, asking trusted sources for suggestions, and checking out the recommendations at my local bookstore, Book Soup. I follow my favorite authors and tend to pre-order their new books blindly. You never know where a good book will come from, so I try and keep my eyes and ears open.
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
HK: I’m pretty omnivorous when it comes to books. I’ve gotten into non-fiction much more as an adult; I think that’s partially the influence of my career and the journalism industry as a whole. I always laugh looking at my book collection because it’s completely all over the map, but that’s the way brains work, right? There’s so much that interests me, and I love a wide variety of lots of things: books, music, food, travel, history, behavioral marketing, memoirs...
GAL: OK, how often do you read? Everyday? Six hours a week?
HK: I read every night for an hour before bed. It’s a childhood habit that never stopped, and an imperative ritual for me. I also try to take some spare time to read on the weekend, ideally an hour or two in the afternoon. I also travel for work quite frequently, and always spend part of the plane ride reading.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
HK: I prefer a physical book, but if the options are “no book” or “book on a phone,” I will always pick the option that involves reading. I have a kindle and I read on my phone, neither of which faze me too much, but when given the choice, give me pages, please.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
HK: Autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, anything with a psychological bend, pop economics, investigative reporting, historical narratives, oral histories...it’s pretty diverse.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
HK: I’m pretty equal opportunity when it comes to location: living room couch, draped over a chair, standing in the kitchen, sprawled across my bed, standing in line at the grocery store... That said, after a lifetime of being a sworn shower girl, I’ve recently fallen in love with long, hot baths. The bathtub is definitely my new favorite place to read.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
HK: Valley of the Dolls; Play It As It Lays; The Liar’s Club;The Rules of Attraction; anything by Mary Roach; Special Topics in Calamity Physics; Heat; Tender At The Bone; Comfort Me With Apples; Middlesex; Little Children; Prep; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; The Anglo Files; The Perfect Scent; The Virgin Suicides; Lolita; Story of My Life
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
HK: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
I’m always drawn to stories about young women embarking on their adult lives—you know: navigating careers and matters of the heart—and Rona Jaffe’s book is the original career novel. Originally published in 1957, it follows the lives of a few young women in the publishing industry in New York, who are trying to climb the career ladder, make ends meet, and navigate relationships. It’s unadulteratedly frank, written in a very naturalistic voice, and completely compelling. It gives me Mad Men vibes, but if the whole show was from a female point of view.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I love an unreliable narrator, and Lolita’s Humbert Humbert is definitely that—and a monster, to be sure. It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, and the language is as haunting as the subject matter.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
I almost didn’t include this book because I feel like it’s an obvious suggestion, but on the offhand chance that you haven’t read it, you must go purchase a copy immediately. I’ll wait. Originally published in 1968, the book is comprised of a series of essays and pieces that were published in the likes of The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, and The Saturday Evening Post. Many are about California— including a famous story about the 1967 Haight-Ashbury scene—but the book also includes one of my favorite essays of all time: On Self-Respect. The whole thing is beautifully written, keenly observed, and truly transporting.
GAL: Finally, if you could have authored any published book, what would you choose?
HK: Practically speaking, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for both the money and the joy it brings young readers. For my heart, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, because it’s brilliant and chilling, and so far from what I could ever write myself, it’s truly a fantasy pick.