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2012 July 6

From The Daily Dan: Sweet Retreat

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Kelly Florio Kasouf Kelly Florio Kasouf
Giorgio Niro
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(NEW YORK) For Kelly Florio Kasouf, whose first children’s book The Super Adventures of Sophie and the City has become a tot-world sensation, the good life is best lived at home in Sag Harbor with her husband, David, son Henry, and daughter—you guessed it!—Sophie. BY MARIA DENARDO

What’s the story behind your house?
It was built in the sixties. My husband thought I was insane when we bought it because it was a fixer-upper. He said, ‘This is awful. It looks like someone died in here! And it smells.’ I took on the contractor job while writing the Sophie and the City books. I had never published anything before, even though I lived in that world growing up and was probably conceived on a table in the Vanity Fair office.

What can we expect from the second book, Sophie and the City: Grand Central Escapades?
It comes out in November, exclusively at Barneys. It’s about Sophie traveling to Grand Central for the first time with her parents for a big gala event. A little boy bumps into her by mistake, and she returns his comic book. As a token of gratitude, he takes her on a magical train ride back to the twenties. She meets Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and learns about jazz; Josephine Baker gets her banana skirt idea from Sophie; she meets a starving artist named Christian Dior and gets the idea for the phrase ‘j’adore.’ It all culminates at Ellis Island when she meets her great great grandmother, who helps her get to America. 

Where did the idea originate?
My parents brought me to the renovation of Grand Central Station when I was in high school. I had cared more about my history test at the time, but my dad said. ‘You’re going to thank me some day.’ I did thank him later since I met John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette that night.

Where do you see Sophie going in the future?
I grew up with the American Girl series; I think of Sophie as the new American Girl. I want to create a lifestyle brand that makes girls feel empowered. Ultimately, I’d love to create an interactive, online Sophie magazine. I want young girls to become Sophie ambassadors! But next up is a jewelry collaboration. The amazing Lisa Salzer [designer of Lulu Frost] read my manuscript and wanted the book to come to life through jewelry, so we made a bracelet with a cameo of Sophie and little charms relating to the story.

What’s it like working with illustrator Judit García-Talavera?
She’s great, so there’s not a ton of back-and-forth. I did emphasize early on that I didn’t want Sophie to be perfect—her hair is kind of messy, she likes to wear ‘arm parties,’ and she has a Band-Aid on her knee. In the beginning, Judi made my dad look like Burt Reynolds. I was like, ‘Um, he was more of a jolly, Italian man…I like that you’re making him fashionable, but he wasn’t!’

So how was [former Condé Nast CEO and president] Steve Florio as a dad?"
My dad would bring me into the city all the time and take me to work. One time he brought me into an executive meeting with Allure and asked me what I thought. I was 13. He wouldn’t let me wear makeup, but he would ask me my opinion!

Any perks as a young Florio?
Candy Pratts Price took me to an accessories photo shoot once to show me how it worked. I was, maybe, 12 years old. Then, Candy said, ‘Oh, I have to go to this jewelry store and pick out some things—come with me.’ We ended up at Harry Winston!

Isaac Mizrahi made a cameo in your first book.
I met him on a “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” when I was just turning 16. When I told him about my upcoming birthday, he said, ‘Sunrise, sunset. The big 16!’ He wanted to know all about the party. So I asked him to make my dress. Jackpot!

How has Sophie and the City been received so far?
It’s been great! I actually cold called Diane von Furstenberg to ask permission to write about her. She loved the idea and ended up giving the book out as her holiday gift.

Ok, back to Condé Nast. Any run-ins with Anna Wintour?
One time she asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, and I told her I was going to take her job. When I got a bit older, I was mortified.

So you wanted to work at Vogue?
Yes, but first, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. My mother is always making things. When my dad first got the job and they went to the Met Gala, he told her that she had to go out and buy a designer dress. She was like, ‘We just bought a house! I can’t buy a dress.’ So Mom ended up making this ridiculously gorgeous drop waist, embellished gold gown with an emerald skirt. Later that night, Oscar de la Renta was saying hello to my parents. He twirled my mom and said, ‘My lady, who made your dress?’ She turned around and said, ‘Ha, Steve. Oscar likes it!’

Did your dad bestow any publishing advice to you that’s helped you today?
When he worked at The New Yorker, he would run to the door when it was delivered, warm off the press. He would say, ‘See, Kelly? It’s about the paper, the ink, the way things are layed out on the page. You can’t put your name on something that you’re not passionate about. Your product defines who you are. Look at Vogue. They could be put in a library.’

What’s your favorite Hamptons memory?
We’ve been coming out here ever since I was a little girl. My dad would always bring the boat out, and we’d go fishing in Montauk or Oyster Bay Harbor together. That was our thing. You had to catch the bait yourself! Then we’d do the pancake houses in Montauk and Gosman’s.

Where do you think Sophie would frolic during a typical Hamptons afternoon?
The Jackson Pollock museum because you get to make your own paintings. She likes to get a little messy.

Who would be Sophie’s East End playmates?
Her cousins. She’d probably go sailing or paint her own watercolors. And she’d hang out at Tutto Il Giorno and eat all the fritto misto until her face turned purple.

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