Visual Arts » Fashion

In My Closet: Cari Smulyan

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About the series: In My Closet is a regular Sky Blue Window feature, taking readers inside the wardrobes of some of the city's most fashionable women and men.

Her Name: Cari Smulyan

Her work: Fashion stylist and owner of Bubby’s Vintage, a jewelry company she established in 2011. Smulyan creates one-of-a-kind necklaces, cuffs and pendants from vintage pieces, leather, beads, agate and other stones and materials.

Her play: Smulyan runs marathons and competes in triathlons. She loves browsing flea markets, but mostly enjoys spending time with family and friends, “be it long dinners, game night or watching a movie.”

Closet Cliff Notes: Boots, blazers, leather jackets, sweaters, jeans, a collection of belts, blouses and white T-shirts and tanks, purses.

Favorite pieces: Veda leather jackets; Mother jeans; a pair of Helmut Lang leather leggings; Rag & Bone boots; and a collection of vintage purses.

Something she’ll never have in her closet: “The thing that I would never have in my closet is something that doesn’t make me feel good. I can honestly say everything I own, I own because I feel good in it. I don’t believe life is long enough to keep anything that doesn’t make us feel good, and that includes fashion.”

Her style philosophy: “My whole philosophy on fashion is that you have to do what you feel is right for yourself, and own it. It’s a matter of how you feel when you wear it.”

Smulyan, with her sidekick, Harrison, shows an example of her personal style in her prized Rag & Bone boots, Veda jacket and well-fitting Mother brand jeans. - PHOTO BY JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Photo by Jenn Kriscunas
  • Smulyan, with her sidekick, Harrison, shows an example of her personal style in her prized Rag & Bone boots, Veda jacket and well-fitting Mother brand jeans.

Cari Smulyan used to use fashion as a way to fit in.

The girl who grew up wanting to be the beloved red-haired orphan Annie and later a professional actress says that fashion was her form of expression.

“I think for a while it was me trying to fit in, me trying to feel accepted,” she says. “I never really felt like I belonged when I was little.”

She found her fashion voice a few times, once in middle school and then again in high school. But it was during her sophomore year at the University of Southern California, where she received her degree in drama, when that voice became louder … clearer.

“I really found my voice and style then, and I knew (exactly) what I wanted and that I wasn’t following anyone,” she says.

Smulyan has made a few tweaks to her style over the years, but that voice has remained consistent. “I don’t buy or wear anything that doesn’t make me feel good.”

Walk inside Smulyan’s closet and you quickly get a sense of her personal style.

There are shoe racks with Prada heels and a collection of Rag and Bone boots. One clothing rack is used only for blouses, white tank tops and white tank blouses (“I could live in a white T-shirt”). There are blazers, a rack for sweaters (“I’m a sweater fanatic; I just love that cozy sweater look”), a spot for her favorite pairs of Mother brand jeans, and a collection of leather jackets almost vast enough for her to wear a different one for two weeks.

Cari Smulyan pulls many ensembles together with this Veda leather jacket, one of her faves. - PHOTO BY JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Photo by Jenn Kriscunas
  • Cari Smulyan pulls many ensembles together with this Veda leather jacket, one of her faves.

There’s also an archive section, which Smulyan says has pieces (including a couple of vintage '70s dresses) that she would either want to pass on, will come back in style, or have sentimental value.

Although Smulyan (yes, she is the daughter of media mogul Jeff Smulyan) has her go-to brands, she’s not afraid to mix and match fashions from different price points to achieve the look that she wants.

“My whole thing on fashion is that I don’t care if it’s from Forever 21 or wherever, because you mix everything,” says Smulyan. “The majority of my blouses come from Target, Pitaya, Forever 21, because, here’s the secret, blouses don’t last long … maybe a couple of seasons.”

Smulyan, however, isn’t keeping her fashion sense all to herself.

After working as an actress (“The Bold and the Beautiful) and as a Broadway producer (“Xanadu”), she became a fashion stylist, helping friends and clients find their own fashion voices. In 2011 she established Bubby’s Vintage, a jewelry company that mixes her love of fashion, with vintage pieces.

She says her styling business and the jewelry company (which is where she’s pouring most of her energy and resources) go hand in hand.

“There’s so much of my fashion in my jewelry and vice versa,” says Smulyan. “My dream of where I see my business going and the 10-year plan has it all tied together.”

Here’s a peek inside Smulyan’s closet at some of her favorite things:

Smulyan displays her collection of Veda leather jackets. - PHOTO BY JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Photo by Jenn Kriscunas
  • Smulyan displays her collection of Veda leather jackets.

Veda leather jackets

“My obsession with leather jackets started a couple of years ago, but it’s very specific,” says Smulyan. “They have to be thin enough so that you don’t feel it.”

She found exactly what she was looking for in Veda.

“I saw a couple of people in New York with these jackets and they just flowed really well. The high-low (style) is my favorite,” she says. “But when I started looking at Veda, I was like, ‘I could never afford that.’ Especially living in New York, you can’t afford anything. But then I got my first one on eBay, and I was so excited.”

Smulyan is now hooked on the brand, which she wears with everything -- from dresses to jeans.

She has a total of nine leather jackets in a range of colors in her collection, with six of those from Veda. And she wants more.

She already has three black leather Veda jackets, but “I can think of two more black leather ones that I want,” she says.

In addition to the craftsmanship, Smulyan loves the story behind the Veda line, and the fit. “She just knows how to dress a woman’s body.”

Smulyan sells (and owns) a large selection of Rag & Bone boots. - PHOTO BY JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Photo by Jenn Kriscunas
  • Smulyan sells (and owns) a large selection of Rag & Bone boots.

Frye and Rag & Bone boots

Smulyan has a few pairs of Louboutins and a pair of Prada patent leather heels, but she absolutely loves a good boot.

Her favorite is a tall, grey pair of Frye boots. But she also has an affinity for the styles made by Rag & Bone.

“I have five pairs of Rag & Bone boots, so I think that constitutes as a bit of an obsession,” says Smulyan, who loves that the boots are comfortable, well crafted and “kind of” classic.

“Occasionally, I’ll wear heels, but I’m not a big heel person,” she says. “I can wear my boots all day if I’m working a (trade) show or working with a client. I also wear boots year-round, including in the summer.”

Helmut Lang leather leggings

Smulyan will be the first to tell you that leggings are not pants, but there’s one pair that breaks that rule: her black leather Helmut Lang leggings.

“I store them inside out so they don’t get scratched,” says Smulyan, while pulling the prized possessions out of her closet.

Smulyan says the leggings are an easy throw on alternative to jeans that she can dress up or dress down.

“It’s a great basic, and I think most importantly, it’s how I feel in them,” she says. “They make me feel really … hot (i.e. sexy).”

Smulyan pairs a macramé and bejeweled pendant necklace with a western denim shirt. - PHOTO BY JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Photo by Jenn Kriscunas
  • Smulyan pairs a macramé and bejeweled pendant necklace with a western denim shirt.

Mother jeans

Like most women, Smulyan has had a love-hate relationship with jeans. That is until she found the Mother brand.

“They are the best jeans ever,” she says. “I hadn’t bought jeans in a million years because I was frustrated. They were either too low or too high, and the brand that I had been wearing changed sizing.”

One day while hanging out with one of her best friends, Smulyan noticed the jeans she was wearing and asked about the brand. It was Mother.

“I ordered them and the heavens opened up,” says Smulyan, stretching her arms toward the ceiling. “I can’t recommend them enough. There’s not this great inconsistency in styles, and they don’t show your (butt) crack. They keep their shape and I can wear them on an airplane and be comfortable.”

Her jeans rotation includes a couple pairs of Mother jeans and a pair of boyfriend Gap jeans. “I think a good pair of fitting jeans changes how you feel.”

Two of Smulyan's most beloved vintage purses came from her grandmothers: (From left to right) black patent leather purse, evening bag with rhinestone handles (Judith Leiber), and a Chanel bag with tortoise handles. - PHOTO BY JENN KRISCUNAS
  • Photo by Jenn Kriscunas
  • Two of Smulyan's most beloved vintage purses came from her grandmothers: (From left to right) black patent leather purse, evening bag with rhinestone handles (Judith Leiber), and a Chanel bag with tortoise handles.

Vintage handbags

Smulyan has a Celine bag, which she admits was a splurge. She owns a large Frye tote she uses as her everyday work bag, has a small Chanel purse she carries on most days, and a 1960’s vintage rhinestone-encrusted purse that’s her go-to for black-tie events.

However, it’s the collection of vintage handbags that once belonged to her paternal and maternal grandmothers that she considers her prized possessions.

From her paternal grandmother Natalie, there’s a black Chanel purse with leather and tortoise handles and a small black Judith Leiber bag with rhinestones on the handles from her maternal grandmother Gloria.

“My grandmother always carried this Chanel bag with her,” says Smulyan, “even while she was in the hospital. This purse never left her side.”

She received the Leiber bag during opening night of “Xanadu,” which she produced. “My mom was in town and she’d gone to see my grandmother, who was immobile and couldn’t attend the show. She sent my mom with this (purse) to give to me. It matched my dress.”

There’s also a small rectanglelike black patent leather purse from her maternal grandmother. It has a short handle at the top, but is missing the long strap that attaches to make it a shoulder bag. It’s still one of her favorites.

“I’ll be able to pass these down to my children, but it’s the memories behind each of these purses that makes them special,” says Smulyan.

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