Riann Smith, beloved Greenwich resident, author and award-winning lifestyle writer, recently co-wrote the book, Does This Book Make My Butt Look Big? with Emmy-winning fashion personality, Carson Kressly. Here, she shares her thoughts on the book, fashion, writing, and behind-the-scenes stories with Carson.
1. What is the premise of Does This Book Make My Butt Look Big?
It’s about feeling fabulous in the skin you’re in and developing a personal style. Carson’s favorite motto is, “All the world’s a stage, so wear the right costume.” That doesn’t mean being a slave to Vogue or copying what your friends are wearing. It’s about taking a realistic view of who you are today-not who you were ten years ago or ten pounds lighter-and playing to your strengths. Whether you’re thirty or seventy, if you can harness the makeup, the haircut, the clothing and accessories that work for you now, you’ll carry yourself differently. But where do you start and how do you weed through all the choices? We show women the secrets of where and how to shop without breaking the bank, and how to have fun doing it.
2. How did you get involved in this project?
My literary agent was contacted by his agent. Carson wrote a bestselling men’s style guide following the success of Queer Eye and was looking for a writer to help him do the same for women-but better. The tone needed to be specific: a breezy voice that was clever and cheeky, but had the authority to deliver hundreds of actionable tips. Based on my portfolio, I was called in for an interview. I knew Carson was talking to a lot of writers, but I just focused on bringing my best game. From the get-go, we clicked. Maybe it’s because we’re both water signs. Carson jokes that it was my Chloé cape and leather cigarette pants that got me the job.
3. What was it like working with Carson Kressley? Are there any funny stories that you’d like to share?
What, like the time I took him to my beach club in his itty bitty black and white polka dot swim shorts or when we went to the Stamford mall to do “research” and he got mobbed by a stampede of women asking for makeovers? People often ask me what Carson is really like, if underneath that peppy veneer there’s a dark side. There isn’t. Carson chooses positivity and it radiates onto everything he does. He’s a world-champion equestrian and has built a life around making people feel good, whether it’s on TV or raising money for the BCA or the LGBT community. Working on the book was like gabbing with a super-smart, super-witty girlfriend. I realized early on that we should make the book memoir-ish, because he had so many funny stories (we call them “Carson Confessions”) that I knew women would want to read.
4. What is some of the best fashion or beauty advice from the book?
Carson has worked with so many stylists and celebrities over the years that I thought we should highlight them as “Glam Squad Guest Stars.” Cory Bishop is a true makeup “artist” who changed the way I apply foundation and approach my brows (who knew there was a golden brow-to-face shape ratio you could measure with a pencil?). I liked the tip Cyndi Lauper gave us about taking photos of yourself in an outfit first. Some things look good in mirrors but not in pictures. If it works on the iPhone, wear it. RuPaul gives a thought-provoking tutorial on how we can nudge proportions in fashion to change people’s perceptions of us, like an illusion. He is an incredibly interesting and enlightened individual.
5. What was the inspiration for the title?
Carson wanted a title that would disarm the reader from moment one, and hopefully get her laughing. So you have a big butt? Great! You don’t? That’s great too. We want to take the stressing out of dressing. Nowhere in the book do we tell a woman to lose weight. Sure, we talk about twerk-outs and sporting designer fit-bits, but that’s to make staying active feel more fun. Why bother shedding pounds when you can find a perfect pair of pants that make you look fierce just as you are? Carson has worked with thousands of women on building positive body image on television, and part of it is by poking fun at the unrealistic expectations of the modeling industry. The title harkens back to that. One of my favorite parts of the book is our interview with Anansa Sims, daughter of legendary African American model Beverly Johnson. She talks about struggling with her body image as a plus-size model and how she’s come to embrace her curves and truly love herself.
6. Where are your favorite places to shop in Greenwich?
Anne Fontaine does the classic white shirt like no other, and I find that I feel my best in her blouses with chiffon balloon sleeves, ruching, tuxedo details, embroidery, or pussy bows, pardon my French. They are sexy but refined and work for both day and night. I also love her pencil skirts with lace and silk overlays. I always have good luck at Vince, from skinny tuxedo pants in navy and black to lightweight car coats to leather slip-ons-and find that those basics carry over from season to season. I have been known to be naughty and sneak over to Saks for Valentino rock-stud stilettos or a Celine bag. My friend Kate Hogan recently introduced me to a hidden gem called The Perfect Provenance on Arch Street with a very interesting curated collection (and delicious menu to boot).
7. How did you become a writer?
Creative writing was always a passion and I ran my high school’s literary magazine, but my real guilty pleasure was magazines. I binge-read them like people binge-watch Netflix and knew I wanted to work in NYC as magazine writer/editor. My sophomore year at Columbia, I cold-called YM (the now-defunct Young and Modern) and got an internship. A few months in, YM’s editor-in-chief Lesley Jane Seymour said, “I know you’re still in college, but let’s pay you to be a Contributing editor.” Later when I moved to Cosmo, our executive editor Michele Promaulayko said, “I know you’re young, but you’re ready to be a Deputy editor.” These powerful women gave me the confidence to rise to the top of the masthead at subsequent magazines and start doing book collaborations, which grew organically from my skills as a feature writer and editor. I love the challenge of shaping raw material into a narrative. What is the most powerful point of entry? What fat can be cut? How do I bring out the best in my subject? How can I help them communicate in a way that people haven’t heard before?
8. What’s next?
Besides continuing to write for wonderful niche publications like Greenwich and contributing to Lesley Jane Seymour’s new venture called Kindred, an online community for intelligent, stylish women 35+ which will launch next year, I’m in talks to do a book with a celebrity couple. They were thisclose to divorce and made the courageous choice to rebuild their marriage. With all the controversy around Brangelina’s split, the topic feels particularly timely. It will be a unique challenge to capture each of their individual voices and also their collective voice as a couple. Even if your marriage is rock solid, who doesn’t see room for improvement? I’m attracted to projects that bring positivity to people’s lives, and I’m excited.