How to Break into Fashion: Rihanna’s Personal Shopper Carmen Lilly

I thought Fashion Week would be the perfect time to re-inaugurate our popular Breaking into Fashion series!
I took a look in the archives and realized we had exactly zero BIF interviews in 2013. Shameful.
Well, we’re starting 2014 off on the right foot with a feature on Carmen Lilly, who has been Rihanna’s personal shopper for years, and who has also styled starlets like Rocsi Diaz, Estelle, Kelis, and DJ Kiss.
Rihanna's Personal Shopper Carmen Lilly
A personal shopper differs from a stylist in that they purchase pieces for stars to wear in their day-to-day lives. While stylists might be more focused on red carpet or performance looks, personal shoppers get outfits together for more casual occasions: think dinners, vacations, basketball games, or shopping.

Rihanna's Instagram Mary Katrantzou Butterfly Print Top and Tom Ford Spring 2013 Beige Strappy Gladiator Sandal Boots
Rihanna in a Carmen Lilly Look

Because celebs can’t shop on their own (without getting mobbed), the personal shopper purchases items on their behalf–they get an idea of what their client likes while also introducing them to new designers, hot items, and trendy silhouettes.
carmen lilly personal shopper rihanna estelle rocsi
Carmen Lilly is one of the best in the business, and took some time out of her busy fashion week schedule to tell us how she got her start!
rihanna carmen lilly personal shopper
When Carmen graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in Art and Design and Africana studies, she had her heart set on a career in jewelry design. She said, “When I left college, I was making jewelry, but I was doing it on the side. I wanted to get experience from the retail end, so that I could get my jewelry in stores. My jewelry was very specific, so I thought the boutique route would be best. And I decided to seek a job at a boutique. ” She found herself at Intermix in New York City.
She met Rihanna when the young starlet came in to the store to shop (way before Rihanna was the music and style icon she is today). Carmen said, “She would come in. And we developed a rapport, a relationship, and a trust. I met her at the beginning of her career, and I was able facilitate shopping for her when she became a star. “
rihanna shopping with carmen lilly 2009
From basics like white tank tops and denim shorts to more elaborate pieces, Carmen provided it all with what she calls, ‘elevated service.’ She said, “Rihanna would have all these high end designer pieces, but she wouldn’t have anything to complete the outfits. So I would get them for her, but I would also put looks together and give outfit suggestions. Stars don’t really have time to wake up in the morning and think about what they’re going to wear–they would rather not put the looks together. So, I give them suggestions to make it easier, and tell them how to mix and match items to make their wardrobe cohesive.” Her four star service helped her build relationships that led her to even more high profile clients.

Rihanna in a Carmen Lilly Look

Lilly now also works with Rocsi Diaz, DJ Kiss, and many more.
65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Roaming Arrivals
kiss the dj carmen lilly
rocsi diaz carmen lilly
Her tips for those who also want to break in? Intern! She said, “When I was in college, I had two internships. One was a visual internship with DKNY and another was with a smaller fashion designer who depended a lot on interns, so it exposed me to the garment district and different things I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Taking on internships will expose you to various parts of the industry and allow you to carve out a clear career path.”

carmen lilly estelle
She also advises, “Gain as much industry knowledge as possible, so you will be better equipped to compete with those who have a natural network and connections within the industry. Do your research. You must be passionate about it because there are a lot of hurdles and obstacles. Don’t focus on celebrities–focus on your craft.”

carmen lilly rihanna personal shopper
Preach! And while it seems Carmen happened to be in the right place at the right time, she also had ambition. While working at Intermix, she said, “I realized that there was an opportunity for me to work smarter, not harder. Being in a retail environment, I really wanted to build a book and have clients to make my job easier. I had a coworker at the time who was making 6 figures and working 3 days a week, only working with her personal clients. Her drive motivated me.”

Rihanna in a Carmen Lilly Look

She continued, “With Rihanna, it wasn’t like she requested the service. I offered it. Most people didn’t know personal shopping was even an option. But I offered, went over and above, and cultivated a great relationship.”

carmen lilly
Wise words from a successful industry fixture!
Follow Carmen on Instagram and Twitter @StyleCarmen.
What do you think?

*We’ll be doing a lot more of these–my goal is to have one every week (or every other week). Is there anyone else you’d like to read about?

*Want to know how I got my start? Read my Breaking Into Fashion tips on The Bomb Life!


Claire Sulmers is the publisher and founder of Fashion Bomb Daily, the #43 most influential style magazine in the world.

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