We sat down with Kiki Littlestar, Founder + CEO of The Perlene, a beautifully appointed social club and workspace for ambitious womxn. On the eve of a new location opening and in the midst of construction, Kiki talks about how her style has evolved with her professional career and the self-expression she finds in both her wardrobe and the design of her spaces.
Scarlet: How would you describe your personal style, Kiki?
Kiki: Well, Clementine [The Perlene’s Marketing Director] coined ‘Executive Leopard’ for me, which I think is probably very accurate!
Leopard is my favorite color, so when you confirmed that leopard and gold lamé are my neutrals, I was like ‘Oh my god, I feel so seen!’
But I think my personal style overall is a conglomeration of very comfortable and very glamorous. I always want to have glamour. I always want to have red lipstick on or statement shoes, or big jewelry, or my leopard coat!
Scarlet: Or your incredible nails!
Kiki: My nails are a permanent accessory. Having fabulous nails makes me feel more professional. I used to bite my nails, they were awful. I felt so embarrassed. It honestly changed my life to have nails that I felt proud of and that people were always commenting on. It’s a good conversation starter!
Scarlet: When you say it changed your life, is it kind of like when you know you’re feeling shitty and you can put on a great outfit walk out the door and it might make you feel better? And when you’re feeling really great, if you only wear sweats it can get you down?
Kiki: Yeah, my nails are like my signal to the world. I always have a little bit of: ‘She’s tried, she’s doing something. Even if she’s in sweatpants we know that this is not her normal look!
Scarlet: Nails and lipstick.
Kiki: Yeah. Since working with you I’ve definitely paid a lot more attention to what I wear, and how I feel in it. And the mantra that I took on this year was ‘no more normal outfits’.
My old habit was black pants, black sweater, and it was like ‘Yes I’m dressed, yes I look fine to be out of the house, but there’s nothing about this outfit that says anything about me’. So, even on days when I’m in black pants, black sweater I’ll add a jaunty silk neck scarf that I got in Paris! So there’s always at least a little bit extra, even if I don’t have the wherewithal to think about an outfit. That’s one of the benefits of having you put them together! Because I already know what I have. I know I could put on any of these things and they will look great and I will feel amazing.
Scarlet: We’re at The Perlene right now and your nails are the colors of the new Perlene. Has your personal style evolved or changed since starting it?
Kiki: Yeah, it definitely has. I went from working alone in my home to being the public face of a business every day. That shift forced me to start thinking about how I was presenting myself to the world. When you’re working in the second bedroom of your house, and you don’t see anyone for three days, it’s fine to wear sweatpants because the dogs don’t care. But it but it didn’t make me feel great and so it pushed me to really start thinking about it.
And being around this many other womxn with this many other styles is also really inspiring. I think we all uplevel our styles because we see each other. It’s an opportunity to get dressed and really go out and express ourselves through our clothes, which I think is really important.
I also feel like it has upped my game and allowed me to step more into my authentic style. Creating the space for authenticity and audacious womxn [has translated into] my style becoming more audacious. Like wearing a leopard coat at the grocery store! Or putting on Kelly green heels to go to the construction site.
I knew how I wanted The Perlene to feel, and it was so personal to me. I think unknowingly I did create the space out of my own personal style. It was funny to watch my home also transform into looking more and more like The Perlene over the years. There’s a lot of velvet and things that sparkle. A very feminine color scheme, but also bold and warm color. The colors that I’m drawn to in clothes are the same colors that I’m drawn to in furniture.
Scarlet: And your gold accents are like your eyes.
Kiki: Yeah, my weird, color-changing, green-yellow-gold eyes!
Scarlet: You’ve talked about growing up in Texas and Florida and I’m wondering if you can track anything to do with your style back to those roots.
Kiki: Yes. I mostly grew up in Florida, but I identify as being Texan because that’s how it goes. It’s like a nationality! I went to college there, my whole family is from there. I definitely got my appreciation for big hair, bold makeup, and an ingrained sensibility to ‘never leave the house without makeup on’ in Texas. There was this sense, not that you had to do it for anybody else, but that it was this point of self-respect, being dressed and being ready to go. My great grandmother always had a shocking shade of red lipstick on and she would give you a big kiss on the cheek. It was iconically Grandma Mary. She was incredibly fashionable.
Also: I learned at a young age that as much as I wanted them to fit my body, Wranglers were never going to fit.
And of course, my caftan collection is bananas… I truly believe that caftans are the most feminist article of clothing. They look great on literally everybody, they take up a ton of space, and they are ultimate comfort and glamour.
Scarlet: Is that influence Texas or Florida?
Kiki: It’s probably more Florida!
I have noticed in both my interiors and my style I occasionally love a tacky Florida moment! I love a flamingo. Green and pink together, something that really shouldn’t work but I’m like ‘Nah, I’m gonna make it work. I can do this.’
Scarlet: How has travel played a part in your look?
Kiki: A lot of the things that I wear are things I’ve collected over the last 10 years of traveling the world. I go to Paris about once a year. While plus-size shopping in Paris is admittedly difficult, once I had to completely rebuild my wardrobe when I was there for two weeks without any clothes because the airline lost my suitcase. I got a great coat, several good sweaters that I still wear, and shoes from that great store you recommended. I usually come back with a lot of jewelry, scarves, and accessories. They’re easier to pack!
Scarlet: Paris is a good place to be forced to reinvent your wardrobe!
Kiki: Yeah, it really is.
Scarlet: You mentioned your retreats in Paris, and I know you do those with Perlenas. When you are facilitating a retreat, what are your go-to pieces?
Kiki: I have become so enamored with the Elizabeth Susann pieces that you introduced me to. They’re really comfortable, they make me feel effortlessly chic, and silk works in all weather situations. They fold up really small, they’re really light. And I need to not think about what I’m wearing, so I have to be really specific about what I’m taking. One pair of shoes and washable silk. My style is often very “Art Professor in Paris.”
Scarlet: Any travel must-haves?
Kiki: My absolute travel must-haves are several pairs of Dream Shorts and tanks from Knix. Long haul travel will never be the same again. No underwires! No swamp crotch from 12 hours in a tiny plane seat!
Scarlet: What is your signature shade of lipstick?
Kiki: I really love Lime Crime lipsticks because I cannot be trusted to not touch my face. It just stays on forever. They have a color called ‘Red Velvet’ that I love. And then one that’s a little bit deeper called ‘Feelins’.
Scarlet: What are some of your favorite designers?
Kiki: I love Austin-based designer Miranda Bennet’s whole ethos and aesthetic, and while not all her styles and sizes work with my body, I did find a bronze silk charmeuse over-sized peasant-style dress at a boutique while officiating a wedding in Austin. It has become my go-to evening dress.
Betsy and Iya for jewelry. I love this local Portland brand and have so many everyday pieces from them.
Bethany Yellowtail, of the brand B. Yellowtail, is probably the most well-known Native (Crow/Cheyenne) fashion designer right now. She makes beautiful modern clothing using traditional designs for everyone, which means that white people can feel great about wearing her incredible pieces. As a Native (Osage) woman, wearing her clothing helps me feel especially powerful. Particularly the Sun Road Woman dress. It is a very big mood. My heritage is largely French and Osage, and I find both of those really shine through in my style expression. I draw personal power from my family, heritage, and ancestors… and jewelry and clothes can become like totems of daily reminder of who I am and where I come from.
Kiki: I am newly obsessed with them thanks to you! I don’t think I have ever received so many compliments as I do when I wear my kelly green suede Desi mules from Charlotte Stone. They perfectly fit into my style requirements of “comfy, luxe, and a little outrageous”.
Scarlet: Do you know that Universal Standard now has a store in Portland?
Kiki: I used to think Universal Standard was just for boring basics… but I have so many staple pieces from them that are stellar. My favorites are a plum pencil skirt (that looks super sexy and feels like pajamas), the best jeans of all time, a gorgeous green caftan, and a flowing tunic that can be worn in 5 different ways.
Scarlet: We recently had a book signing and clothing swap with Tali Edut of the AstroTwins. She talked about dressing for your sign. Do you incorporate astrology into your style at all?
Kiki: Astrology is also a big part of my life now and I think I can confidently say I dress like the ultra-Pisces I am! Soft, flowy fabrics, crystal pendants, a touch of drama. Outfits that can double as pajamas AND evening attire? Yes, please! I lead Feminist Church every new moon at The Perlene, and I usually show up for that in one of a number of my witchy tunics and caftans from local Portland brand, Holy Voids.
Scarlet: What are the most exciting parts of the new Perlene? What’s gonna make everyone want to join?
Kiki: Oh my gosh, so many things. First, it’s so beautiful, they just won’t be able to stand it. And second, we have a sauna. When was the last time you got to take a meeting and then sit in an infrared sauna for 45 minutes to chill out? We have our meditation room, and the beauty room will be incredible, a gorgeous huge shower, and a beauty bar with hair care and skin care and makeup products from local brands. I’m super excited about that. Right now we are talking with Alima Pure to do our makeup!
It’s going to be a huge thing for all of us to integrate wellbeing and work in a very tangible way.
Being able to have a space that you work in that is truly beautiful and aesthetically supports the work that you’re up to in the world is really important.
Beauty is often a downplayed value, because it’s primarily a feminine value. And most co-working spaces and offices feel kind of cold; they definitely feel like they’re made for function and not beauty. I know that I work better and more productively (and I’m happier) if I’m surrounded by fresh flowers, beautiful art, velvet sofas. I’m inherently calmer and more relaxed in my day, I can make better decisions if I feel like I’m in a space that’s designed for me.
In addition to the aesthetics of the space, I think the beating heart of The Perlene is this community. We call ourselves a gentlewomxn’s club. We’re kind of that backroom network that men have had since the beginning of time and womxn were, you know, kind of thrust into the workforce without that, without that foundation of mentors and connections and network. And so, we want to change that.
Scarlet: Love it.
Scarlet: I have something to add about the spaces you create: They feel organically beautiful and lived in. When I walk into a place that’s formulaic, or trendy and trying to be what is ‘hot right now,’ it can feel lackluster. There’s a lifeblood in the spaces you create. I think of Paris where there’s always something unexpected, things aren’t perfectly lined up or sterile.
Kiki: I feel stifled in spaces that are ‘too designed’. It’s very important to me that we have human, organic elements and vintage elements; things that feel well-loved and well-worn and like they have a history and a past and that you’re not just stepping into a clean white box.
The Perlene is made to feel like the penthouse apartment of your very cool Auntie who’s traveled the world and collected all of these things. You love going over to her house. You know that you can stretch out on her beautiful velvet sofa and have a great conversation with her. It should always feel both glamorous and comfortable. I never want to have furniture where you don’t feel like you could take off your heels and curl up and have a cup of tea with a friend. But it also should feel like a place where you would be proud to bring a client and show it off saying ‘This is where I work, this is my club, and this represents me and the work I do in the world.’
Scarlet: All right, in three words or less, what is your favorite item in your closet?
Kiki: Gold glitter jumpsuit.
Scarlet: Is it different than the most worn item in your closet?
Kiki: Sadly, yes.
Scarlet: When dressing for a speaking engagement, what is your psychology?
Kiki: Bold, flowing, memorable.
Scarlet: What would you never be caught wearing in public?
Kiki: A nude lip. Or my inside clothes, which I don’t want to talk about!
Scarlet: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Kiki: If you’re a friend of Scarlet then you’re probably our kind of gal. Come to an open house, apply for membership, join the club! I can’t wait to meet you.
UPCOMING OPEN HOUSES AT THE PERLENE:
Monday, March 2, 5:30pm
Saturday, March 14, 1:00pm (Make Art Now edition)
Wednesday, March 18th, 5:30pm
Check out the Perlene eventbrite page for all the details.