Classy Vs. Trashy: Derek Blasberg Crashes Forever 21

Twenty-four hours in the fabulous life of Derek Blasberg includes but is not limited to: watching BFF Emma Watson make her stage debut at Brown University’s production of the Chekhov play Three Sisters; attending a high-society Manhattan opera function with Miuccia Prada; balancing three separate gigs as a senior editor at the fashion magazine V, editor-at-large at Style.com and contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar.

Somewhere in between, Blasberg manages to fit in a trip to Forever 21.

Hold up: What’s this man-about-town and style maven doing at a mass-market chain store for women who prefer to buy their trendy clothes on a tight budget? Specifically, the two-level, club music-thumping, highly-trafficked outpost in New York’s Union Square? Flanked by a Whole Foods and DSW shoe emporium, this particular Forevs 21 location speaks to the brand: loud, bold, unsubtle, down-market, hugely popular, a place to get prom dresses and work-y clothes (even if you’re much older than 21). My mother’s friend refers to it as “the hoochie store,” but as everyone from Blasberg to Tim Gunn to Stacy London will say, “It’s all about how you wear it.”

Which brings this back to Blasberg:  Crushable kidnapped him for a stunt tied to his new book Classy: Exceptional Advice For The Extremely Modern Young Lady. In the name of said stunt, Blasberg willingly agreed to pull Forever 21 looks that showed how to look classy vs. trashy; I volunteered to be the model/guinea pig, at my own risk. And truth be told, I was initially nervous to meet Blasberg given his high-fashion cache,  elite circle of friends (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Kate Bosworth, Chloe Sevigny) and strict standards on style and etiquette (sample advice from Classy:  “A lady looks presentable at an airport. Those leisure jumpsuits are for being at home. The airport is one of the last remaining places to meet eligible men who can afford to travel.”)

Would he be a judgy jerk? Would I leave Forever 21 scarred forever?

Turns out, Blasberg is neither too cool for school — nor too good for Forever 21.

The 27-year-old St. Louis native double-majored in journalism and dramatic literature at New York University; after graduating, he worked at Vogue and swiftly made a name for himself as arm candy for socialites and boldfaced names like Tinsley Mortimer and presidential daughter Barbara Bush (here’s the duo at a New York Rangers hockey game). A self-described “scholar-athlete” at Affton High School, where most kids went to the mall, Blasberg developed a taste for vintage clothing in his junior and senior years. “I guess in that bubble I was stylish,” Blasberg said in an interview earlier this week. “But I didn’t know who Versace was. Actually, that’s a lie!” When Gianni Versace was murdered in 1997, Blasberg — then around 14 — created a makeshift tribute to the designer in his bedroom with the centerpiece being a picture of Gianni with his sister, Donatella Versace.

“I guess it’s appropriate that I work in fashion,” he added, looking sporty-cool in a thrift-store denim button-down, plaid Opening Ceremony vest and YSL shoes.

Blasberg’s literary career took off when he edited the Olsens’ 2009 coffeetable book Influence, an ode to the twins’ style and personal heroes; after that gig, Blasberg scored a deal to write Classy, his style-and-etiquette guide for aspiring young social climbers that hits stores April 6. In the book, a collection of tongue-in-cheek essays, he weighs in on the vulgarities of skank culture: flashy designer logos, thong-baring, too much lipstick and eyeliner, and sexting. “A lot of this advice I’ve been dispensing for a while,” he said.  What really irks him: the lack of attention on classier celeb role models who cover up versus tackier stars who flash their crotches to the paparazzi on the way out of the limo. He refused to name the worst offenders — Heidi Montag? Miley Cyrus? Lindsay Lohan, perhaps? Come on! — but did offer Harry Potter star Watson as a positive example of a young star leading a new generation of classy refinement.

“There’s a lot of books out there are sort of, like, how to be famous in a month or, you know, sort of unhelpful, innappropriate yet amusing advice,” he said. “Whereas the over-reaching theme in my book is that you can still have fun and be a sophisticated woman. You can still have fun, you can still go out, you can still be cool and be classy.”

So there we were, at Forever 21, where I witnessed Blasberg’s ideas put into practice. He scoured the store with missionary zeal, selecting eight contrasting outfits in four categories: gingham, shorts, evening and leopard.

“I don’t fuck around at Forever 21,” he quipped.

The results of our expedition are in the gallery below. I  am still recovering from the humiliation of baring my blinding-white midriff to Blasberg and his publicist, as well as a brief fainting spell in the dressing room induced by the dizzying glare of flourescent lights. I have the forehead bump to prove it.

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