Trading Spaces alum Mario De Armos called her “the most stylish journalist in Washington” and he just might be right. She’s the Editor-in-Chief of DC magazine. She’s stylin and we’re profilin’ Karen Sommer Shalett…
What staple outfit should every reporter own? I once got great advice while interviewing an energy expert at Jim Baker‘s think tank in Houston. Her parents had founded the famed department store Louis Boston and she had been a journalist prior to becoming a wonk. She told me to always dress for the individual you are interviewing. Match their level of formality no matter how high or low to gain confidence and trust. I’ve covered fashion, alongside every other aspect of lifestyle reporting, for a decade this January. It is amazing the pschyographics you can learn by looking at how a source presents him or herself and you can be sure that source is trying to size you up in the same way. Though I would beg news anchors to begin dressing for this millennium. I don’t know that making the mainstream audience identify with you is as important as making them believe you are sophisticated and smart. We found that with our President. People decided they actually did want someone smarter than them making the decisions and explaining them. Although, I guess that doesn’t explain Glenn Beck.
What one product could you not live without? Not to get mawkish, but my husband Scott and I lost our house and everything in it during Hurricane Katrina. I was covering New Orleans for the Times-Picayune. It is a really trippy place to be – reporting on stuff and losing all of yours, and then covering an entire population who lost theirs, too. I learned immediately that other than my family, there is nothing I can’t live without. Now, what would I prefer to have not lost? Oh, those Chanel cap-toed heels with the Mylar silver ribbons laced up the legs. It’s been four years and clearly I still pine for them.
What has been your biggest career challenge? We moved back to my hometown DC after Katrina. I was pregnant and we already had a two year old. I landed at the Washington Post as a shopping columnist. DC magazine quickly called and scooped me up, five months pregnant. That was the second time in my career that I had been hired full-time while pregnant – which to me, says a lot about our industry. However, as I was giving birth (I mean literally, as I was pushing), my features editor quit and I wound up bringing my newborn to the desk with me 10 days after he was born. In truth, I restructured the magazine after that and I think we are who we are today because of the staff that was hired in the aftermath. However, it was only after the baby was nearly two that I felt our family had truly moved beyond the trauma of the Hurricane, the move and the changes in career.
What working journalist do you most admire? Robin Givhan. I mean, she won the Pulitzer for explaining why I left politics to cover fashion, design and culture. Of all the journalists covering the way we live, Robin brings a sharp-shooting target to every issue and hits it dead on each time. When I was living in Houston and attending Fashion Week, my mom (who lives in Silver Spring) would call me and read aloud what Robin wrote in the Post every day of the shows. I was geek enough to tell Robin about it. She was lovely enough not to call me a stalker.
Find out what store Karen would choose if she could only shop at one for the rest of her life, the proudest moment in her career and what’s happening at DC magazine and more after the jump.