Zoe Alexander

Karen Parker O’Brien Did Something Different and is Now the Talk of the Town.

Posted on: March 16, 2013

Karen Parker O'Brien and John Varvatos
When Style Room  launched its Manhattan shopping tour about a year ago, the company’s owner Karen Parker O’Brien had no idea it would become the success it is today. It went from being Parker O’Brien’s fun sideline service to what would become a lucrative revenue stream, one that’s brought Style Room tons of new business and massive media attention. (CNN, Daily Candy, Washington Post…to name a few!)

In the old shopping tour world, shoppers used to be herded around showrooms and/or stores like cattle for deals on clothing and accessories. However, on a Style Room Tour Experience they roll around in a limo, stocked with cocktails and a mixologist. Yes, that’s right, a mixologist that will make you hotsy-totsy cocktails of your choice while you are personally escorted by Parker O’Brien into a private world open only to clothing and accessories store buyers, owners, magazine editors and stylists.

I caught up with DIVA Karen via phone the other day (she is in NYC and I’m in LA). We discussed Style Room and how her tour is raising the bar in shopping and giving NYC tourism a nod from traveling and native-Manhattan fashionistas who previously would have never been caught doing a shopping tour. Here’s a peek into our DIVA Girl Talk session. 

Zoe:  Your tours are really unique. Generally these type of things are kind of “touristy” but yours are very “insider-y and cool”  How did you manage to flip the shopping tour model on its head like that?

Karen: With over 20 years (eek) experience in the fashion industry, I really offer more than just shopping.  Designers I’ve known for ages unlock their locked doors to my amazing clients to meet and great them, talk about their company all while assisting with their latest designs.  My tours (I’m also a licensed NYC tour guide) teach you about the behind-the-scenes fashion industry, while you shop current collections and designs sold at Barneys, Bergdorf’s and Henri Bendel at 50%-80% off retail.  Plus, my VIP tours will escort you around in a limo while you sip champagne. “Shop like a rock star” is my motto.

Zoe: Karen, you have a limo and mixologist. That’s pretty genius.  What made you think of that?!

Karen: Shopping and learning is hard work.  Why not be a little bit pampered while you have fun with your girlfriends, boyfriends or husbands?  Did I mention my private shoe salon that locks their door while my clients are inside while enjoying shopping like a celebrity with exclusive Style Room discounts?

Zoe: Yes.  That’s celebrity- level service. Love it!  You’re on top of your game now but  if you could give your 21-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

Karen: Never let anyone impress you by showing off how much money they have.  It’s who they are inside that you should be impressed with.  Not what they have or show off.  When I was a buyer for a couture designer on Madison Ave, I taught my sales team to not be impressed by what clients wear.  Our best clients wore sweats and sneakers.  Who you are comes from within.  That’s why my motto of wearing what you want always comes into play. Be a rock star.  Do what you want.  Be a leader, not a follower.

Zoe: That’s so important. What advice do you have for fashionistas who want to figure out their niche in the fashion world?

Karen: Study business, not fashion.  Unless you want to be a fashion designer and need to learn technical details, you better learn everything you can about business management, marketing, and pay attention during business math.

Zoe: What do you find (or did you find) to be the most intimidating aspect of working in fashion?

Karen: Keeping up with the million emerging designer names. It’s impossible!!!!  Literally!!!

Zoe: You are a black-belt shopper. Give the readers some tips on how to make their shopping trips fun..for those who aren’t lucky enough to be able to come to NYC to experience yours.

Karen: Open your mind.  Stop wanting to wear designers who advertise in Vogue, and on the side of buses.  Be a leader, not a follower.  Barneys carries 1 million labels, and most people only know 10 (maybe).  Look at workmanship when you buy.  You want your designs to last.  Invest in them, don’t buy disposable pieces.  You work too hard for your money.  I knew Rick Owens when he was just Michele Lamy’s boyfriend “way” back in the day.  I was always a fan even before he became famous. Own pieces that make you feel special and you appreciate.  Not just because you get complimented.




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