Fashion Maven

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Andrea Goto meets a fashion luminary who’s making herself at home in the Hostess City. 

»  Photography by Michelle L. Morris

Walking into Carmela Spinelli’s world is like stepping into the pages of Vogue magazine, except that I actually feel welcome.  Everything in the fashion maven’s enviable Historic District apartment—from her Philippe Starck ghost chairs to the extensive collection of decorative art books lining an entire wall of her eat-in kitchen—reflects the well-edited sensibilities of a New York sartorialist.

“I love New York City so much,” the born-and-bred Brooklynite says in an accent that thickens the longer she reminisces about her hometown.  “I can get teary just thinking about it.  But I’m really loving how this North-South equation is fitting me.”

Carmela arrived in the Hostess City in 2009, packing a résumé that includes management positions at Saks Fifth Avenue, Celine and the revered LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) group, where she edited collections to appeal to U.S. markets.  She was the associate chair at Parsons The New School for Design—rearing soon-to-be iconic designers like Chris Benz, Jason Wu and Alexander Wang—when the Savannah College of Art and Design came onto her runway radar.

Intrigued by the fact that the college had already attracted a number of fashion industry gurus— such as Saks women’s fashion director Michael Fink (now SCAD’s dean of fashion) and former Bum International corporate design director Anthony Miller—Carmela booked a visit.

Then something unexpected happened.  While meandering through the downtown squares, Carmela noticed that the street names were the same as those in Brooklyn Heights, where she grew up.

“I went to school on Henry Street.  I grew up on President Street and we had a little candy store on State Street,” she recalls.  “I felt this magical push from the universe saying there’s something here that I have to explore.”  Shortly thereafter, Carmela was invited to serve as the chair of fashion at SCAD, which she did amiably until just a few weeks ago when she left to take on the role of international design consultant for the Italian luxury goods company Malo Cashmere.

“Tim Gunn, my mentor and friend, gave me this bobble-head version of himself.”

The final push came from her Parsons colleague and Project Runway taskmaster, Tim Gunn.  As she explains in a perfect Gunn-like clip, “He said, ‘Carmela, you take that job; you go on that adventure; you get a fabulous apartment and a jaunty little car, and you make that move!’”

She didn’t get the car (the consummate New Yorker prefers not to drive), but Carmela found everything she needed to make herself at home in the South: a dependable taxi driver with whom she discusses Southern culture, Chinese delivery (Wangs II), and her ritual morning stop at Parker’s Market for the New York Times and a cup of gourmet hazelnut coffee.

As for where Carmela shops for the items in her signature black wardrobe, the answer comes with a knock at the door.

“My Theory pants!” she exclaims when the postman hands her a box that also came by way of New York—the small but satisfying taste of the Big Apple she can’t live without.

“I love my shoes. I have no idea how many pairs I have—maybe 50? My mantra is ‘something comes in, something has to go out,’ so I’ve probably given away about 25 pairs.”



International Design Consultant

Neighborhood: Historic Landmark District

My look … “I’m going to say ‘baroque minimalism,’ which is a contrast.  It doesn’t make any sense.”

“The bar is a Barbara Barry—an interior designer who has a line of furniture—but the glass cocktail shaker is special because it belonged to my grandfather.”

Don’t let me bring my credit card to … “No. Four Eleven and Arcanum.”

If my school had a uniform, it would be …  “anything on the Valentino runway.”

I’d wrestle an alligator for … “(design directors of Tiffany & Co.  Leather Goods) Richard Lambertson and John Truex to make a bag out of it for me.”

My fashion emergency kit contains … “style tape and safety pins.”

The fashion “don’t” I love to do … “is wear heels with everything.”

“These are my Prada Cadillac shoes. They were 50 percent off in Milan but I didn’t need another pair of shoes. The saleswoman looked at me as if I had six heads and she said, ‘But, lady, they’re the only pair in the world!’”

Before the zombie fashion apocalypse, I’m stockpiling … “Tom Ford cosmetics and white cotton shirts.”

I can go from The Pink House to Pinkie Master’s in my … “black leather motorcycle jacket.”

Less or more?  “Sometimes less, sometimes more!”

I want seven minutes in style heaven with … “Susan Mason.”

Savannah, stop wearing … “and this is for SCAD students: beach clothes to the classroom.”

Dress me up like … “Tilda Swinton.  She’s so fabulous.”

“I started my collection of books in the seventh grade. I have design books, cookbooks, history books. This Janson art history text was my mother’s when she went to college, and it changed my life.”

My mood board would include … “the Palazzo Spinelli in Venice, Santa Maria Novella in Florence, the beach in Costa Rica, North Beach Bar and Grill on Tybee Island, Ruhlmann furniture, Philippe Starck anything, the sophisticated palette of the New York skyline at night, and the marsh at dusk.”

You’d be shocked to know … “I love Easter kitsch.  Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, jelly beans, Peeps.  But Christmas kitsch?  I can’t bear it.”