Diane Pernet: Shaded Not Jaded

At Balenciaga’s SS24 show, swathed in layers of black, out stepped Diane Pernet. The American fashion critic, curator and fashion’s “first” blogger, as she’s often described, since launching her platform A Shaded View on Fashion in 2005, was one of a number of well-known fashion figures to grace the platformed runway.

“I got this text message from Demna in July saying, ‘I know this is coming out of the blue, but I’m working on my next collection and it’s going to be my most personal, so I want people in it that have had an impact on my life,’” she tells me, her voice sounding like a soothing boudoir soundtrack. “How could I refuse something so sweet?” She was cast by Demna for the autobiographical show because she had given him his first press coverage in 2006.

At the thought of being on the catwalk, Pernet was struck with a flurry of nerves. “I was terrified,” she says. “I am somebody who’s more comfortable behind the scenes than in front of the camera.” But Demna, whose own mother opened the show, wasn’t after the 6ft-something models that often saturate Paris’s fashion scene. Rather, he wanted something real, something sincere. “He wanted me to be myself, but Balenciaga-fied,” she says. And so her hair was piled conically atop her head, as it always is: Pernet is never spotted without her emblematic updo and rarely in anything other than a tapestry of blacks – except for her cameo in Emily in Paris, for which she wore a “temple red kimono” borrowed from a friend. The casting director had to reconfigure the scene when she turned up so that her outfit wouldn’t clash with the red gown worn by the protagonist Emily Cooper (played by Lily Collins). For Balenciaga’s show Demna also let her keep her veil and platform shoes and put prescription lenses in sunglasses of her choosing.

sunglasses by BALENCIAGA, pin by MIGUEL VILLALOBOS, shirt by COMME DES GARCONS, skirt by JITROIS, coat by TELFAR

Pernet immediately loved the look the Georgian designer had made for her – a floor-length deadstock leather trench coat, slouchy shirt and A-line maxi-skirt. The mock turtleneck she wore had to be cut open at the back because of her towering hair, and as a result, it fell slack around the nape of her neck. “I think in a past life I must have died of strangulation. Every time I put a turtleneck on I feel like I’m being strangled… but this was perfect.”

Pernet is a nuanced goth, a fashion veteran with iconoclast instincts and a Libra who often refers to her astrological sign when attempting to explain why she is how she is. She’s the “mother of all bloggers”, according to the fashion press, with a troop of young creatives in her corner who cling to her every move. “I just love what I do,” she proclaims. “I should probably have a strategy for making money [with it], but I don’t, I just do what I do. It’s my nature. My life is guided by instinct and curiosity.”

For the past 33 years she’s been living in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, in a humble, fifth-floor apartment. When we speak, her vampiric façade is backdropped by not only a fabulous portrait of herself, but stacks of books and a vase of white lilies. “I’m a victim of my own vanity,” she jokes, describing the challenges of her infallible dedication to platform shoes. Her signature Balenciaga sunglasses, though mod, don’t do her any favours when it comes to seeing, either. “I’m shaded but not jaded,” she says with a laugh.


Her hair is her crown jewel: a tremendous coiffed bouffant draped with a gothic silk veil. Pernet won’t share exactly how she does it – “One needs a little mystery,” she says – but, while admitting it only takes her 15 minutes to achieve, she does let me in on one secret: she uses sponges to help maintain its structure. “My hair was flat in the 80s. Then I used to take one side and sort of push it over. It was just a mess.” It’s only got higher since then. It’s more mature and refined now, dyed a “soft” black colour (naturally dark brown) that feels part glamour girl, part Tim Burton character.

As we already know, Pernet pretty much only wears black. “I used to wear prints and colours – can you imagine? – but I found that what I was wearing was interfering with my process of creating.” It’s also a nod to her fascination with “the bride wore black”, going to church and the mantilla, that traditional covering for the head and shoulders worn by women during Catholic services. “I think black is very discreet,” she says, going on to agree with Yohji Yamamoto’s stance that it’s a “lazy colour”. “But it’s always right. I can wear the same thing from eight o’clock in the morning to midnight. I don’t have to think about it.”

She continues, “You might think I’m always wearing the same thing, but I’m not.” Most of her clothes come directly from the designer, though she also frequents press sales and makes the odd stop-off at Comme des Garçons stores. “I feel good in black – and stronger – so I stick to it.” The colours that do reside in her wardrobe are tonally subtle – she owns a bottle green bomber jacket and a burgundy velvet Dries Van Noten coat dress, to be precise.


Almost all of her shirts are Comme des Garçons; the skirts are mostly custom made by David Szeto, a Canadian designer based in Brussels (she has some by Bernhard Willhelm and Lutz Huelle too). Her signature black coat is Dries Van Noten – a lot of her wardrobe is, actually – with the rest filled out by the Russian designer Svetlana Tegin’s classically feminine silhouettes and eclectic international streetwear by the London design studio KTZ (Kokon To Zai).

Underscoring the dark designer garb, she always wears platforms – a custom pair by Natacha Marro in particular. “It’s a world of illusion,” she says, referring to the impression she gives of towering over the rest of us despite being only 5’2’’, thanks to her beehive hair and chunky platform shoes. She implies that it’s because she has a Gemini ascendant – “We’re supposed to be taller” – or perhaps because, to her, 5ft 7in is the ideal height.

The look “keeps [people at] a certain distance”, she says. It’s not inherently approachable, but despite her appearance, Pernet is wholeheartedly open, her soft smile always finished with the amorous flourish of a red lip. At the time of our conversation she’s wearing a Dries Van Noten shade – 99 Favorite Red in Matte – though she’s been rotating three lately: Rosso Valentino, that DVN pigment and one by Guerlain. On her fingers rest a dark green jade pendant ring by Shaoo Paris, and a snail ring that was crafted specially for her by her friend and frequent collaborator Miguel Villalobos.


Pernet’s dedication to wearing black arose once she had begun a career as a designer, launching her namesake brand in New York at the outset of the Eighties. At the time she was living in Manhattan’s West Village, in a ground-floor apartment on West 11th Street between Bleecker and Hudson. “My first address in New York was right across the street from Andy Warhol’s Factory on 860 Broadway.” Enter the Aids and crack epidemics that swept through the city in the Eighties and her community became a sort of forsaken place. “It was horrifying and depressing as hell, of course, because I was in fashion and a lot of my friends were dying,” she says. “And there was so much crack and so many homeless people – Tompkins Square Park was like a cardboard city. And if you got robbed they not only mugged you, they took your clothes and your shoes; anything you had was more than they had.” She eventually abandoned the business – never officially closing it – and moved to Paris.

Pernet wasn’t always so austere in her ensembles. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia as the daughter of a lithographer and a reluctant stay-at-home mother, she was into all-things pink and frilly. Her mother hated that. “She was horrible – the worst, actually – because at that time mothers were supposed to stay home with their kids and she didn’t want to do that so she took it out on me.” Pernet sought a kind of escape in film – Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), old French films and ones directed by the Italian maestros Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

“I was always fascinated by the whole cinematic world, attracted to the fantasy and the glamour of it, and I wanted to discover it,” says the Paris fashion fixture, who studied film at university. “My idol was Anna Magnani. I loved the way she had this [distinct] look.” The Italian actress, the first non-English speaking woman to win an Oscar (for 1955’s The Rose Tattoo), like Pernet, had such a singular way of presenting herself to the world, with wavy boyish tresses, heavily plucked brows and an edgy, sexed-up way of dressing. Fast forward a few decades and Pernet is the founder of ASVOFF (A Shaded View on Fashion Film), which takes the form of a film festival, complete with screenings, performances, VIP guests, exhibitions, conferences, parties and coveted prizes. “It provides a platform to promote directors and designers, musicians, artists and everything else in the cultural hemisphere,” she says.


While at school, Pernet was – believe it or not – a pompom girl. Wearing white stitch-down pleated skirts, big boat-neck sweaters, saddle shoes and bobby socks, she would shake her maroon and white pompoms, consumed by the pageantry of it all. She did her best to fit in, for a while at least… before realising she “couldn’t care less”.

Pernet travelled on her own after school – breaking the heart of a Milanese count along the way. “I also went through a period of being all flower power,” she says. “In the Sixties, when they invented the pill, that was major, and now that I was out of school, I didn’t have to be a virgin any more. This was a great freedom for everyone, a period of anything goes.”

She refocused on her education after that, attending Philadelphia’s Temple University in the Seventies. It was sometime around then that she met her first husband… a dentist. “Can you imagine?” she says with a laugh. “He was quite eccentric and beautiful, but off his rocker. He was great, but he ended up killing himself, so that was kind of dramatic… He did that when he was 31 and I was 30, and that changed my whole outlook on relationships for life. I realised – because he was someone I loved with abandon, and I think that only happens once or twice in a lifetime – that nothing lasts for ever. It lasts as long as it lasts, and that’s my view on life. Maybe it will last for 30 years, or three weeks or three months – who knows? – but for sure, it’s not going to be for ever.”

Taken from 10 Magazine Issue 72 – DARE TO DREAM – out now! Order your copy here.


sunglasses by BALENCIAGA, pin by MIGUEL VILLALOBOS, robe by CHRISTIAN DIOR, coat by TEGIN, shoes by NATACHA MARRO

Photographer JOSHUA TARN
Fashion Editor and Talent DIANE PERNET

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