Interview

Interview with ABG

Today I am fortunate enough to introduce you to the amazing and inspiring ABG. I first met ABG while chatting about one of our favorite brands (Hermes of course) – and  soon learned what an incredibly well traveled, intelligent and compassionate woman she is. I was excited to have the opportunity to interview her, and subsequently loved learning about ABG’s style and family’s history with Hermes, the places she’s lived, and the causes nearest and dearest to her heart. I hope that you all enjoy learning about ABG as much as I did!

ABG's workhorse black Birkin in St. Barths

ABG’s workhorse black Birkin in St. Barths

Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?

My name is ABG, I am French expat, mum, and work with an animal welfare/rescue organization in Washington, DC.

You’ve been all over the world. Can you share the places you’ve lived? What were some particularly formative places and times for you?

I grew up in Algeria, Ghana (West Africa), Russia, India, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Moving constantly gives you a very global approach to the world and reinforces your sense of identity. I never realized how hard it was to uproot your family and switch countries – and continents – every two to three years because my mother would move everything we owned – furniture, family heirlooms and pets – and settled our homes as though we were going to stay forever. I always attended French schools abroad, so there was a sense of continuity. My friends also had parents who travelled as much as we did and they were not permanent either. Someone who became a good friend could very well move mid-school year six months after we arrived. But it was a way of life – the only one I knew – so I did not complain.

Every country I lived in had a strong impact and molded my personality in different but lasting ways. For example, living behind the Iron Curtain and witnessing first hand its repressive system taught me at a young age about the virtues of democracy, whereas the depth of human suffering and poverty in other countries shaped my sense of compassion. Other cultures where a grown woman could not step outside without a male accompanying her (even a seven year old boy) make you aware of the progress we have made and helps you not take things for granted! The best thing about living abroad, though, is confronting your cultural bias and belief system and recognizing other peoples’ beliefs may be valid, even if they are radically different from your own. I (hopefully) am more open-minded because of this.

Photo taken by ABG, US Capital from a terrace on inagauration night

Photo taken by ABG, US Capital from a terrace on inauguration night

You live in Washington, D.C. now. Can you share some unique aspects about the city – the life, the style, the environment? What’s it like during inauguration time?

D.C. is a wonderful place, a small town with a big personality. It has changed a lot since I moved here with my husband in 1989 (when some claim it was called the Hollywood for ugly people!). It has reconciled after all these years being the centre of power with a discreet sophistication very unique to DC. The best thing about Washington is the mix of people one has an opportunity to meet, from political operatives, government officials, international organization employees, people doing charity work, journalists, artists, and a whole lot of expatriates. There is always so much to talk about and to learn. Maybe because very few people I know can boast being DC natives, we all make an extra effort to make it feel like home, which is right up my alley. And where else can you see a president, or a queen at the table next to you in a restaurant?

As blasé as some think they are, attending an inauguration and all the parties – regardless of one’s political affiliation – is exciting and fun. Living here makes you feel you are a part of history and the day’s news. Style-wise, DC has changed a lot in the last twenty years, presumably because it no longer is “just” a government city. There are a lot more people whose jobs are not directly related to “official” Washington, and so many fabulous shops, galleries, and restaurants have opened to cater to this new, energetic crowd. I don’t think that Washington will ever become a little New York or Paris, but the crowd is increasingly elegant and fun. Fashion is never loud but everyone knows how to have a good time.

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I know that you have been a long time collector of Hermes items. What is your history, and what was the brand like when you first started buying it? 

Regarding my “love” of (almost) all things Hermès, it is a bit of a family tradition. My mum and grandmother always wore Hermes scarves and bags, and I was given my first scarf – the “Mare aux Canards” at sixteen – as is/was customary in some French families. I associate the brand with a certain level of sophistication, the faint leathery scent of the Biarritz boutique where we have been shopping for three generations, and where sales associates were proud to showcase the new silks and spent time explaining the designs and colourways. This was pre “waiting lists” and the current Hermes frenzy. When I first started wearing Hermes scarves, as a teenage girl, it wasn’t the fashionable brand it has become today. It was where my chic grandmother bought clothes and accessories. Not that it was “old”, but it was elegant and classic, albeit not at the forefront of fashion. I thought that I was being very avant garde by wearing Hermes  scarves in bright colours and non-horsey designs, but today I love the more classic designs they have reissued.

Hermes has always been associated with birthdays, Christmas, special occasions and other events. In my mind, it is still understated luxury, not tainted by the recent obsession for the Birkin and the ubiquitous image it carries. I still believe that most women who buy an Hermès bag or a silk do it because it is of the highest quality, beautiful, chic and even durable, not because they want to display money or access.

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Can you share some of your favorite and treasured items?

My all time favourite bag is my very first, my classic black box Kelly. I bought it at Faubourg Saint-Honoré almost 25 years ago, and looks better today than it did then. I have a lot of scarves and GM cashmere and silk shawls, twillies, bracelets, etc., so it is difficult to state which are my favourites. Some do hold a special meaning, as they are associated with a special event, person or place.

My Mare aux Canards, as mentioned above was my very first scarf, and I treasure it. After my children were born, I bought the whimsical “toy” scarves (Raconte Moi Le Cheval, Confident des Coeurs, etc.), and I have my “travel” scarves (Liberty, which commemorates the anniversary of the statue of Liberty, I bought it when I lived in England), Chasse en Inde and de Passage à Moscou, l’Armée Impériale Russe, Rocaille/Saint Barthélémy – bought in St. Barts boutique, our family yearly vacation, and my “French” scarves, like the Napoléon, les Triplés (a well known cartoon), de Passage à Paris, etc. There are also some scarf/shawl designs that I just fell in love with, such as La Femme aux Semelles de vent, Ex Libris en Camouflage, Les Triples, La Danse du Cheval Marwari, and more recently 24 Circuit Faubourg and Parcours d’Hermes and the Parure des Maharajas. I have several colourways of each.

Iris Birkin

Iris Birkin

These days, my workhorse is my black Togo Birkin. I have dragged it all over the world. I also have a soft spot for my Togo Iris Birkin. (love the colour!) and recently discovered the beauty of Swift leather (in orange). My under the radar casual bags are my Evelynes III. They are indestructible!

I enjoy wearing Hermes enamel bracelets, and I love the little leather accessories, and I have a new found appreciation for the lacquer and horn pendents. There are many others, but few have more significance than some of my scarves…

I am not a collector in the sense that I only buy things that I wear. As much as I like Hermes, I don’t have a veneration for it. It is more an appreciation. I love the craftsmanship and the quality. But what I like the most is the quiet understated image I grew up with.

Orange swift Birkin with favorite shawls

Orange swift Birkin with favorite shawls

Can you share some about your style? What are you particular about? 

My style is very simple and straightforward. I like trousers, jeans, simple tops and well structured jackets, I wear a lot of black and grays, flats during the day, heels in the evening, I am not wed to any particular brand. It is all about wearability and how it fits my lifestyle. The last Dior collection was a dream. I could have bought everything in the store, from the fitted almost corseted jackets, repeated in various materials, to the simple dresses. It was amazing.

Hermes CDC

I am a lot more particular about my accessories, because unlike women who own a lot of fabulous fashion pieces, my clothes seem to make sense as an ensemble when they are accessorized, even if it is just by adding one little piece. I always accessorize in the two to three minutes before leaving my house. I like simple, low key but strong, discreet high-end items. Details are what matter. I can buy clothes wherever, but accessories have to be top notch and I tend to be more creative and spontaneous with my accessories. Scarves, wraps, shoes, jewelry complement my otherwise basic wardrobe. I wear the same jewelry every day and only change for black tie events — my Mum’s vintage gold Rolex watch, a Cartier Trinity One bracelet, a St Barth island gold and diamond small pendant that I turned onto a bracelet, and I add a Trinity bracelet, a Van Cleef pendent or an Hermes enamel bracelet if the outfit allows it. Shoes and bags either blend in, if there is already a strong pop of colour or a large accessory in my outfit, or can become the main event if need be.

You describe yourself as a frequent “repeater” of items in your wardrobe. Can you share some more about this? Does it make it easier to get dressed?

I lack imagination, and once I find something I love I tend to repeat it, because I think I have learnt what suits me by now. This is true of some simple pieces, especially if they are inexpensive (sweaters, trousers, jackets, tops…), but it is more often the case for shoes and accessories.

Since I have bought shoes on a whim in the past, and they ended up in the back of my closet because they were uncomfortable, or I got tired of the style, I have opted to duplicate styles that I have liked for years, especially if I like the way they feel as well. I bought my first pair of Chanel ballet flats in London in the late 80s (the iconic beige with the black toe pair), and liked it so much that I been buying them since in different colours and textures, from simple leather in classic colours to tweeds, fabric, sequins, I just can’t get enough of them, they have become an absolute staple in my wardrobe. I wear them almost every day if the weather permits. Since I like the way Chanel shoes in general fit me, I also have a few pairs of their pointy slingbacks, they are the most comfortable heels I own.

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I have found a pair of Louboutin pumps which are simple and comfortable, so I have them in a few basic colours. Similarly, I love the medium Chanel 2.55 in tweeds, and always look forward to the new offerings.

I also have a few repeats in Hermes scarves as mentioned above, I also like Loro Piana cashmere wraps and capes, and have bought a few over the years, the quality is amazing, and the style suits me.

Getting dressed has become really easy and quick, it is a variation on a fairly classic theme, but with enough different twists (in colours and texture) to not look like I am wearing a uniform – at least I would hope so!

ABG and her sister's bags at a cafe in France

ABG and her sister’s bags at a cafe in France

What’s a lesson about style and building the perfect wardrobe that you’ve learned over the years? 

Definitely for me the lesson I have learned over the years is to be myself, trust my instinct, know myself, and therefore not follow the trends blindly. I have to stick to what works for me. I love fashion, and I keep up with the latest trends, but I don’t make hasty decisions for myself. My perfect wardrobe is made up of a bunch of simple, classic shirts and cashmere sweaters, some well tailored jackets, variations on the little black dress, and a lot of trousers, some for evening and most for daytime. Most of my clothes can transition from daytime to cocktail with a quick change of shoes and accessories. I have a black Armani long jacket that I have worn over the years with everything, from jeans, tee-shirt and flats to long flowy black trousers and heels or a dress. It is quite “vintage” by now, but represents the perfect piece for me, versatile, well made, elegant, classic and I will be really sad when I can no longer wear it.

I often admire a woman wearing a very special piece, but often think that even if I could pull it off, I wouldn’t want to buy something you can only wear a couple of times because you end up seeing the same large group of people in Washington, and the amazing and unique dress ends up looking stale the fifth time around. I feel it is more “me” to stick to a basic wardrobe made of good solid pieces and have loads of fun with the accessories. It is all about options!

Favorite books

You are involved in quite a few charity organizations and for quite a few years you chaired a very well known gala event. Just how many moving parts is it to organize one of these?

Chairing a black tie gala with 700 attendees and 350 dogs (!) is no small feat. Today, in its 26th year, it is in the most capable hands of the wonderful professionals who work for the organization’s development team. But back when I started it was much more hands on for the chair and volunteers. The challenges common to all large fundraisers are making sure it goes flawlessly, that the guests’ time is smooth and that the organization is represented well – and sticking to the budget, because the goal is to fundraise moneys essential to the operations of the organization.

The reality of our particular gala is that the logistics are mind blowing. We offer a cocktail and silent auction followed by a vegetarian (!) sit down gala dinner, programme and live auction. Organizing it becomes a full time job, and we have to put together a stellar gala in a town where there are so many. Ours is very unique, though, because of our four legged attendees, but one of the challenges was to keep it classy, albeit a little eccentric in nature. But when attendees – human and canine- leave happy, intend on coming back the following year, and the amazing work of our organization has been properly explained, then the job is done!

On that note…you are very passionate about animal rights and welfare. Can you share some more about your work?

I am generally sensitive to suffering (aren’t we all), and could very well be involved in a number of wonderful organizations helping children or women but my travels have reinforced the feeling that, thankfully, a lot of people better and more able than I fight the good fight for people who need it the most. Animals, on the other hand, are always at the bottom of the charity ladder. They are in essence the lowest of the low. I have seen so many unspeakable acts of cruelty that I have decided that this would be my fight and my goal, and that I would do something to change, at my humble level.

As we travelled around the world, we gathered a collection of poor neglected creatures, a gray African parrot with broken wings who was being taunted by children in a market and many local mutts, starved and wounded.

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Today, two beautiful mixed breed dogs share our life, both rescued by a humane law enforcement officer from our organization (an “animal cop” if you will), one was starved and locked up in a rusty, filthy cage too small for him to even sit up in, and the other was severely beaten by her former owner. They are the sweetest creatures and prove how resilient animals can be when given a second chance.

I have been on ride-alongs with our officers (we are open 24/7, all year), they canvas the most dangerous parts of the city to rescue animals who are neglected at best, severely abused and suffering in all cases. It was very eye-opening, moving and memorable each time. One could see it as witnessing a very dark side of what humans can do, I prefer thinking about what we are able to do to help animals in need, and of the thousands of generous souls who give their time and/or money to help us fight the good fight, and rescue about 20,000 animals from neglect or abuse yearly!

 And finally…please share something surprising about yourself!

That is a good question, but a tough one! I suppose that I would say that despite being very vocal about my passions, and being able to give a speech before 700 people, I am very shy.

 

It was wonderful to hear more about ABG’s work with animals – I so admire how she has dedicated her time and passion to such a worthwhile cause. I was very inspired when learning about ABG – I love the perspective she brings as somebody who has lived around the world, to be open and kind to those around you. And, of course I adore ABG’s style! She is chic, modern and wears her very fabulous items in a classic understated manner. Thank you very much ABG for sharing some of your travels, style and work with us here today!

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  • Sonya
    April 10, 2013 at 8:09 am

    What an inspiring woman! I adore it when you feature women like ABG. Bravo to her and her work with animal rights.

  • Lili
    April 10, 2013 at 8:12 am

    she’s fascinating!

  • Adele
    April 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

    What a wonderful read. Her work with dogs is so admirable & I love how Hermes is not a brand but a way of life for her.
    I must say how much I enjoy reading these interviews Katherine. I’ve just sat down with a cappucino & became fully engrossed!
    Happy Wednesday Hun xoxo
    http://www.intotheblonde.com/

    • Katherine
      April 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Thank you Adele!

  • laura
    April 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

    wow – she sounds amazing. the fact that she has a soft spot for animals and has amazing taste.. i would love to meet her!

  • Whitney Worthington
    April 10, 2013 at 10:10 am

    What an interesting life story. I love how globally cultured she is from her experiences. And I agree, as a Virginian, I have heard the DC story that it is the “Hollywood for ugly people” my entire life and have never understood that!

    • Katherine
      April 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

      I love that about her too – thank you Whitney!

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    April 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    It’s inspiring to read about someone who clearly leads a privileged life but with a sense of gratitude instead of entitlement.

    • Katherine
      April 10, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      That’s a perfect way to put it! ABG is awesome 🙂

  • Audrey
    April 10, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Wow, I love how cultured she is and yet so sensitive to the worldly issues. She also speaks with the utmost humility. Although I would like to say I want to meet her one day, I think I’ll be so shy from being star struck!

    • Katherine
      April 10, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      What a sweet comment, I’m sure ABG will appreciate it 🙂

  • Anonymous
    April 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Another great interview Kat! ABG is one very well-rounded lady. I love that last tidbit about her. I wonder how she’s able to overcome her shyness when it comes to public speaking. Most people hyperventilate before going on stage. She must have had a lot of practice. Her compassion and intelligence certainly came through in this interview.

    Keep up the wonderful weekly interviews and thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Katherine
      April 10, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      Thank you!

  • Anna
    April 11, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Hey Katherine,

    ABG has a beautiful collection, as all the ladies (and some gentlemen) you’ve featured here. I was wondering if you could do an interview with a person who collects mid-range and luxury pieces on the cheap (not via the second hand market though but actively hunts for deals on brand new items). As much as we all love to ogle all those Birkins and Chanel flaps, I’m sure most of us are live on a budget and could seriously benefit from some tips to have our cake and eat it too. Thanks so much!

    • Katherine
      April 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks Anna! I’d love to hear more about somebody who finds deals on these types of items too 🙂 If you have any specific suggestions on people, please let me know!

      • Anna
        April 13, 2013 at 7:27 am

        Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who’s got it down to an art 🙂 My expensive taste and limited budget force me to spend smartly on luxury (eBay/Nordstrom Rack worshipper here) but I was hoping that some of the people you know have some truly useful tips too.

  • Hayfa
    April 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    How inspiring! I was hooked as soon as I saw how she basically grew up all over the world!

    Hayfa
    http://chic-and-cliche.blogspot.com/
    http://twitter.com/HayfaMk

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    April 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Hey Katherine, just to answer your question. I read your previous post about buying from Heathrow so a friend found a WOC for me there. Thanks for the tip. You’ve saved me a lot of £££!! I’m anxiously waiting for her to get back 😛

  • Joy @ OSS
    April 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    She was so interesting to read about. I love DC and am so jealous she gets to live in such an awesome place.

  • Anonymous
    April 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    As usual, I enjoy reading your interview Katherine. Thank you!

  • Megan
    April 12, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    How wonderful for her to share her Hermes history with us and how the brand has evolved over the years. Haha..DC is the Hollywood of Ugly People! I never heard of that before. It must be from the Reagan years.

    I enjoyed reading this post. Thank you Kat. Have a great weekend.

  • InstagramthatHabit
    July 15, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Love this interview! As a dog owner and animal lover myself, I admire people who are passionate about rescuing and caring for abused animals. Super chic lady with a big heart! More power to you, ABG!

  • Irene wong
    January 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    You are an example of a great modern woman with kind soul