Karen Klopp of What2WearWhere takes N.Y. Fashion Week

Karen Klopp leaves Lincoln Center during New York Fashion week on Sept. 8, 2011.
Karen Klopp leaves Lincoln Center during New York Fashion week on Sept. 8, 2011. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 10, 2011

NEW YORK - Sitting under the tents at New York Fashion Week, it's often hard to picture the glamorous ensembles on anything but a lithe, 5-foot- 10-inch adolescent frame.

But that's exactly what What2WearWhere.com founder Karen Klopp was doing as she watched models expertly swathed in flowing vibrant pastel frocks make their way down Tadashi Shoji's runway Wednesday.

Known for his celebrity red-carpet gowns, Shoji's floral prints that opened his Spring 2012 collection show are just lovely for garden parties, the botanical gardens, or spring formal, Klopp said, while jotting down notes in her mini-Moleskine notebook.

"But that one," she said, pointing to a slightly off-the-shoulder, long-sleeved dress draped on a model who looked to be in her late teens, " . . . is so mother-of-the bride."

It's no wonder the Philadelphia native's website is a hit with savvy and well-to-do fashionistas over 35. Klopp is an expert at seeing how what's hot in fashion now can be repurposed to fit more of an everywoman body type.

Featured looks are preppy and upscale, what Main Liners like to call "classic with a twist." (Think little black dress + statement jewelry + color-block bag.) Ralph Lauren, Nicole Miller, Michael Kors, and Douglas Hannant - all among the 75-plus designers showing their collections here at Lincoln Center - are faves.

"I don't consider myself a fashion expert," said Klopp, perfectly put together in a deep purple knit Red Valentino suit and 3-inch Jimmy Choo pumps. "I'm an online shopping expert."

Her site, which gets a respectable 2,500 clicks a day, is a how-to guide for busy women who don't have time to shop, but take dressing appropriately very seriously. Her picks have made her a hit with New York's television news world; she has appeared on the Today show and has an ongoing fashion segment on Good Day New York.

So why do people listen to her?

Because Klopp, whose husband, John, is a managing director at Morgan Stanley, has friends in high places. It doesn't matter that the 57-year-old mother of three and former documentary filmmaker doesn't have a fashion background; she knows what the well-to-do want.

And more important, she has a natural entree into the world of the ladies who lunch. Her friends are among New York's elite, including Main Line-bred designer Tory Burch and socialites Debbie Bancroft and Hilary Dick. She hobnobs with folks whose surnames are Kennedy, Fairchild, and Mortimer, with whom she hosts designer trunk shows and garden parties in the Hamptons.

Kick Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy; socialite Kalliope Karella; and Jill Fairchild, whose family founded fashion glossies W and WWD, are among the 10 high-profile fashion editors on her blog.

Fairchild's blog debuted Wednesday, featuring a $645 Helmut Lang blazer and an Etro studded leather belt for $780.

"I think Karen has done a great job in offering people an online community that has a personal touch to it," Fairchild said Friday afternoon on her way to a Fashion Week event with tennis great Chris Evert.

In an industry that trades on who you know more than what you know, What2WearWhere has the potential to be invaluable. Klopp's website is aspirational for women on the outskirts of society's "in" crowd who want to dress "as if."

Even if they aren't in the ultra-rich crowd, the site still helps women feel good about clothing they think they may never be able to wear, because the glossy ads don't market to them. And it's a vehicle for designers looking for shoppers who don't have to worry about a debt ceiling or health-care costs.

Outside of Lincoln Center, Klopp is a bit of a celebrity herself. Bloggers stop to take her picture, and when she tells a reporter at an international newspaper that she's the founder of What2WearWhere, the young woman squeals, "I love that website. I read it every day." Klopp, BlackBerry in one hand and digital camera in the other, is shooting her own pictures. The hunt for celebrity is on.

The first day of Fashion Week is now Vogue's annual retail fete, Fashion's Night Out, and Klopp changed into a black Stella McCartney pencil skirt suit (featured on her website as Fashion Week chic).

She arrived at Saks Fifth Avenue all smiles and eager to chat with her friends Gigi Mortimer and Courtney Moss, founders of furry, luxury accessories line Glamourpuss NYC.

"I've known Karen for years," Mortimer said. "We love what she does. Both of our businesses kind of grew at the same time. It's all very organic."

Klopp, the daughter of an electrician and a hatmaker, grew up in East Falls, where she attended St. Bridget School. She recalls tagging along with her mother to the Garment District in search of fabric for the special-occasion hats that folks in fashion refer to as "fascinators" today.

"I have fond memories of this feathered pillbox hat," Klopp said. "It's so very chic."

The Klopps moved to New York 28 years ago. As her husband moved up the ranks in the real estate industry, Klopp found herself often going to several events a week. Dressing became complicated. "What to wear where" became her personal refrain.

"I was looking for a way to make life simpler," she said.

She invested about $10,000 of her money, and in 2009 What2WearWhere was born. She hopes to turn a profit this year, with sights on growing her newsletter subscriber base to 100,000 and producing What2WearWhere regionally if she can find investors.

In the meantime, she just wants to get through the 20 or so shows she plans to see at New York Fashion Week - in her 3-inch heels.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215 854-2704, ewellington@phillynews.com, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.

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