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so what do you do?

So What Do You Do, Libby Callaway?
The people in your media neighborhood.

BY ALBERT LEE | How does a gal from rural Appalachia — "No Shoes, No Service" country — succeed in New York's vicious fashion scene? Is it the disarming drawl? The refreshingly unpretentious fashion writing? Perhaps it's just that Callaway's more concerned with having fun with her readers than issuing unforgiving style dictums. Call her the anti–Anna Wintour — fashion's "Queen of Nice." Callaway just completed covering New York's Fashion Week, which ended yesterday, for the New York Post.

DOB: April 30, 1970

Occupation: Fashion editor, New York Post

Hometown: Cleveland, Tennessee — the center of the universe (whether they know it or not, everyone has ties to the Land of Cleve), the headquarters of the Church of God of Prophecy, and the Stove Capital of the World. (I make it sound like Mayberry, but it's really not that small: About 70,000 folks live in Bradley County.)

First real job: Sold smelly Guatemalan ponchos to trustafarians at a head shop in Knoxville. From there, went on to my first real journalism gig as the lifestyles editor at The Cleveland Daily Banner (yep, the offical hometown newspaper of the Stove Capital of the World, circulation 12,000). I learned so much doing that job. Absolutely invaluable experience.

Grad-school roommates: As much I try, I can't seem to get rid of 'em. I see Paula Szuchman, the Post's new deputy travel editor, every day. David Kaufman, whom I met on the first day of grad school (he knew we were meant to be friends when I told the class I read Vogue religiously), writes for me from time to time. I recently convinced him to dress up like Vin Diesel for the Post's most recent NYP Fashion supplement, which came out last Wednesday.

Heroes: This isn't meant to sound sappy, though I know it will, but I'm quite earnest when I say I think my sisters are amazing women.

She'll always read a story by: Sally Singer, fashion news director of Vogue. I think she's one of the smartest women — along with The New York Times' Amy Spindler — working in fashion journalism today. She works for one of the most pretentious magazines in the world, but you wouldn't know it from her writing, which is so down-to-earth. She's brilliant. Simon Doonan's New York Observer stories make my day: He's one of the wittiest writers I've ever read. Funny in person, too. Such a nice guy! Finally, my colleague Ian Spiegelman (he works at "Page Six") is a genius writer. Love his articles in Details, and can't wait for his book to come out next spring.

The conversation piece on her desk: The cast I wore after breaking my wrist in a Manolo Blahnik–related incident on some wet subway stairs. (It happened on my birthday last April, as I was on my way to dinner with friends — can it get better than that?) I refused to let anyone sign it, until I got an offer from fashion cartoonist Marisa Acocella, whom I've recently become friends with (what a peach!). So, one night at the bar at Raoul's, she drew the face of a woman with her eyebrow raised and the following: "I've heard of killer shoes, but this is ridiculous!" I made my doctor be very careful with his saw so I could keep the cartoon intact. Hopefully it will make me a very rich woman on eBay someday. (Just kidding, Marisa!)

When she procrastinates... I answer questionnaires from mediabistro.com instead of filing deadline stories for the news desk. TheOnion.com burns up a lot of my time as well.

Five latest obsessions: The band Sahara Hotnights (rawk chicks with great Ramones-y fashion sense and Swedish accents); black vintage dresses (actually a recycled passion, or rather, a lingering passion assigned a different color); Six Feet Under reruns; the new fall soup selection at Au Bon Pain (Black-Eyed Pea Stew!); my new multi-colored Miu Miu pumps.

Six degrees of Graydon Carter: Three years ago, I worked under Vicky Ward when she was the features editor here at the Post. She left and went to Talk for a bit, and then on to Vanity Fair, which Graydon Carter edits. This one's more fun: I'm friendly with Diane Von Furstenberg, who's a contributor at VF and who once put me in touch with Dolly Parton. (That doesn't really fit here, but I think it was so great that a princess had to bring two girls from East Tennessee together! The irony wasn't lost on the dee-vine Ms. Parton either.) Doesn't really fit your question, but I love that story and wanted to tell it.

Smartest thing she ever did for her career: Learning as much as I could while working at my small hometown newspaper. It was a teeny-tiny staff (seven in the newsroom!) and we did everything ourselves — EVERYTHING. I was responsible for filling three pages each Tuesday and a 10- to 14-page section on Sundays. I wrote, edited, assigned stories to my one staffer (there are no working lifestyle freelancers in Cleveland, Tennessee, that I know of), took photos, worked the darkroom, did the layout (we did cut-and-wax then, so it was kinda like doing a massive puzzle each week), not to mention did the jail dockets on occasion (which involved going into the pens at the local jail, which I do not recommend doing in a mini-skirt under any circumstances), and, once a month, put the entire paper together on a rotating Saturday night. I can honestly say that, thanks to the experience I had at the CDB, I would be able to put the Post to bed if I had to.

Translation: I would not have the job I have now if I didn't work my ass off at a small paper first. Was it glamorous? Hell no. Fun and educational? Absolutely.

Best and worst moment on assignment: Having to call one of my close childhood friend's homes when we heard her pilot mother's plane had gone down rates as one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life, let alone my job. Best would be interviewing the late, amazing Bill Blass, and then having him request me to do any Post interviews with him from there on out. That was one of the biggest compliments I've ever gotten.

Nuttiest fashion-show moments: They are legion. But just last night, I watched Britney Spears come in to the Matthew Williamson show trailed by seven — seven! — bodyguards. What did she think a bunch of fashion wimps were going to do to her? That stuff amazes me.

"I Was A Teenage Fashion Nightmare": As a kid, I was the black sheep of the family when it came to clothes — wearing old-man suits from the Salvation Army (Molly Ringwald was a role model), Doc Martens with Laura Ashley pinafores, etc. My mom so hated the way I dressed and sometimes still kind of does. But when I started going on TV talking about fashion dos and don'ts and being featured in magazines talking about how to put outfits together, she finally realized she could never criticize any of my wardrobe choices again. Justice!

Next big fashion trend: I'm afraid ruffles are going to be big next spring. I don't know when I started to hate them, but judging from my reaction to the ones on the runway this week, I really do.

Fashion trend she's sick to death of: I'm going to be prescient and say ruffles.

Best boutique in New York City: There are so many! But I love Foley & Corrina, though I've only bought one thing there (it's expensive!). I also really love the Hollywould store on Mulberry, Kirna Zabete, Resurrection Vintage, Cherry (yet more vintage), and Decollage, which isn't really a boutique but a combination atelier/showroom/party space or something like that. Whatever it is, Leah Forrester and Heather Rich have really created a genius space. I wish I lived in it.

Most number of drinks consumed while writing "Bar Belles" column with Megan Turner: How many grains of sand are there on all the beaches of the world? How many drops of water are there in the seas? Let's just say our expense reports grown since we started Bar Belle–ing a year and a half ago ("Bar Belle" can be used as a verb, noun, and adjective, you know). Megan and I still can't believe we get paid to drink and write about it, in addition to covering beats we love (movies and fashion, respectively).

Ever been blacklisted from a show? Yes. PR Consulting refuses to allow the Post to cover Balenciaga and Narciso Rodriguez. It's a long story, but suffice it to say this is the kind of thing that happens when you work at a paper with the world's best and most famous gossip column. I really wish they would get past it, though, because both houses are very influential right now and I feel like my readers are missing out by not having access to these shows via Post coverage.

Three tips for surviving Fashion Week:
1. Wear (or at least carry) comfortable shoes.
2. Drink lots of water.
3. Don't believe the hype.

So What Do You Do? appears every Tuesday.


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