Chatting with Gina Pell & Amy Parker of The What
Best friends and creators of The What, Gina Pell and Amy Parker are original dot com business ladies who were influencing before influencing was even a thing…creating a cult of personality brand, Splendora, throwing experiential events, creating communities and nurturing organic connections. They’re truly ‘perennials’, ever-evolving and pushing beyond the limitations of passing fads, and their latest venture, The What, is proving just that.
Melissa: It’s rare that business partners such as yourselves have gone through internet booms and busts and company acquisitions but still remained a) friends and b) inspired and motivated to work together. How do you guys keep the spark alive?
Gina: We respect one another, take on insane challenges (like a 400 women summit with a two-person team), and make fun a high priority that we build into every day we work together. We are autonomous leaders who also push each other way out of our comfort zones to grow personally and professionally. Solving hard problems and evolving is what the best relationships are all about. If you can find a partner who can weather the emotional bootcamp of building a brand from scratch, then you hold on for dear life. Laughter is also a crucial component.
Melissa: What were your Splendora, Joyus, and now, The What, accessory signatures, go-tos, and talismans?
Gina: Simple pearl studs were my trademark during my Splendora days because I liked to have one classic accessory mixed into my crazy fashion choices of the early aughts. Then I moved on to the Hermès Collier de Chien bracelet, an indulgence I bought after we sold our first company. Nowadays I mix it up and don’t wear anything for too long. As with all of my fashion choices, I dress according to mood and for better or worse, I have a wide range of moods and styles.
Amy: I’ve always kept it very simple and streamlined with diamond studs up until a few years back. I’ve been collecting Nixon men’s watches for years (the bigger the better). I got hooked on my Apple Watch last summer and I’m obsessed. Now I have all these beautiful watches that I don’t know what to do with. Maybe my son will want them someday.
Melissa: What’s your advice to women who are perennially cool but still want to wear what their BFF is wearing too?
Gina: I’ve been twinning with besties since Kindergarten and I’m flattered if someone wants the same thing or similar. I’ve never been proprietary about what I buy, which might explain why I created a business around sharing what I like. I find that my most confident friends have no problem wearing the same things at the same time and also have a lot of fun doing it. I’ve honestly never cared what others think about how I dress and feel that people should wear whatever makes them happy or ‘sparks joy’ as Marie Kondo would say. Amy and I have never planned to wear the same things at the same time, but we always show up to meetings wearing something almost identical. I guess we’re on the same wavelength and our clothing choices reflect that.
Melissa: What’s the one piece of jewelry you never take off? Why?
Gina: I never wear anything consistently—not even my wedding band. I often switch it out for other bands or rings. I like the change.
Amy: My wedding band. I feel naked without it. And last year, Gina gave me a Perennials necklace which I never took off until I gave it to this awesome woman we were meeting with. We were having a fascinating conversation around what it means to be ‘perennial’ and it was time to pass it along. Luckily, we had just made another 50 necklaces to sell and gift, so I didn’t have to be without one for too long.
Melissa: I’ve heard stories about you being advocates for buying yourselves jewelry—for example, right-hand rings and diamond rings specifically. Tell us more about that.
Gina: My husband bought me a lot of jewelry in the early days, but we had a robbery over a decade ago and everything, including my engagement ring and many rare vintage pieces, were stolen. It really changed my relationship with owning fine things. Many friends were heartbroken for me that I lost such a precious collection, but I was truly grateful that we were not hurt or violated for something as superfluous as sparkly ornaments. Nowadays, I buy fun pieces and a lot of baubles for girlfriends—one for me, one for my bitc..ladies!!
Amy: Aside from my wedding band, all my favorite pieces were either gifted to me by girlfriends (TY GP) or I purchased them for myself. I still have my first big purchase, which was a Maurice Lacroix watch. I bought it when I got my first steady gig after moving to SF. I wore that piece every day and was so proud. That was just the beginning.
Melissa: What’s the one accessory you’re really long on/hoard? Shoes, bags, sunglasses, jewelry, scarves?
Gina: I’m a sunglasses fanatic and wear Karen Walker, Celine, Moscot, Thierry Lasry, and Tom Ford. Imagine my delight when I moved into my new house and discovered that my neighbor is the fabulous eyewear designer Blake Kuwahara.
Amy: Hmmm…cheap sunglasses because I lose or crush them too often to own any fancy pairs. Although, I have managed to keep a pair of Dior and Karen Walker shades intact for several years now. Other than that, I seem to have been collecting Freda Salvador shoes for the last three years. I own 8 pairs and just bought their lovely new espadrilles for summer.
Melissa: Do you rely on a particular uniform now when you’re ‘on the air’?
Gina: We both tend to wear a lot of black. We were guests on Dr. Oz a few times and were urged to wear color, which does not come naturally. We ended up feeling like we didn’t look like ourselves. Amy wore a purple sweater on national TV. I think that’s the last time I ever saw it on her.
Amy: I am trying to get away from so much black. My bestie in NC laughs at me every time she sees me and always challenges me to purchase just one thing that’s colorful. It’s a challenge, I’ll admit. Going forward, I know to stick with my uniform—some version of a silk blouse (my faves are Vince, L’Agence and Careste), and jeans (Rag & Bone, always) or slacks (love my ALC’s, Helmut Lang and Veronica Beard). Oh, and a good blazer, always.
Melissa: Show us what’s inside your bag!
Gina: I don’t carry a purse, but I’ll show you what’s inside my fanny pack.
Amy: Same. I just carry my ‘The What’ tote. Holds all my crap and is super cool. We’ll even give you one 😉
Melissa: Most important question of all, can you and will you still wear high heels? Gina: Always. I have 200 pairs of Louboutins because my BFF Sarah Panahi in Paris worked for Christian when he first launched. In fact, she’s credited as the muse behind the red sole. So, I’ve been receiving roughly 10 pairs a year from the press sales since 2000. I used to wear heels daily but now it’s a few times a week since I work from home a lot. Heels have never bothered me. But I’m obsessed with my new buttery leather lace-up combat boots from Freda Salvador, which I have been wearing almost every day since I bought them.
Amy: Oh, the big question! I can and I do, but not as often! It’s so sad. I didn’t even know how to walk in flat shoes ten years ago. They felt foreign on my feet. Fast forward ten years to my life in Napa Valley with a barn full of chickens, a vineyard and a young son, none of which are agreeable with high heels. Luckily, I’m in the City a few days a week and get to put on my fancy gear. If I’m not walking too much, I’ll throw on my Louboutins or Stuart Weitzman booties. Otherwise, you can find me in my Freda oxfords.