REAL STYLE Karyn Johnson

I meet lots of beautiful women in my line of work, and happily, they come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s those women who unapologetically embrace who they are that I look up to most—women who accept themselves, follow their hearts and find joy in dressing up not for the world, but for themselves. I guess it all comes down to passion, attitude, and confidence. And all three are key to Karyn Johnson’s show-stopping style. The 32-year-old is a poster girl for plus-size optimism, and her flirty and fun approach to fashion is nothing short of empowering—whether you’re size 2 or 22. “It’s a simple equation,” coos the bubbly Miss Johnson, who I met recently at the media launch of my new EDIT plus-size line for retailer Addition Elle. She was was wearing skin tight, hot pink pants, and “WOW!” was the operative word for the impression she made. “If you feel good, then you’ll look good—which in turn will make others take notice of you and your style.”

Originally from Winnipeg, Johnson moved to Cambridge, Ontario when she was 7, and then to Toronto when she was 25, where she now lives in a funky apartment with an entire room dedicated to her upbeat and fabulously feminine wardrobe. Johnson’s longtime personal idols are the late pop icon, Anna Nicole Smith (to whom she bears a striking resemblance), and Marilyn Monroe. “Other than the fact that they’re both curvy, blonde bombshells, like myself, they possess the kind of confidence, elegance, and femininity that I absolutely adore,” says Johnson. “It’s these qualities that give them the power to make anything look good, from an expensive gown to a pair of jeans.”

A big fan of the ’50s era, you could call Johnson a “pink-aholic”. The spirited fashionista is absolutely addicted to the colour. “I’m also dress obsessed,” she admits. “I own more dresses than anyone I know. My dress to pants ration is probably about 50 to 1,” she shares. Like most of us fashion die-hards, Johnson’s also a devotee of high heels, and boasts quite a collection. “I love how a gorgeous pair of heels on display can look as beautiful as a piece of art. Heels make my legs looks longer and leaner, and my calf shapelier. Johnson invited me into the dazzling dressing room at her home last week, and I was blown away by the eclecticism of the clothes on her racks. She’s a strong proponent of bright tones and bold patterns, and just feasting my eyes on her vibrant stash of garments and accessories was empowering. She’s got a handful of favourite retailers in the city, but finds some of her more unusual, fashion forward pieces online. Adamant about sharing her style savvy advice with others who are plus-size, and often frustrated by the fare they’re offered, Johnson created an engaging website that’s rife with tips and information (www.killerkurves.ca).

Beyond the striking outfits she struts, Johnson’s crowning glory is her gorgeous hair, something she’s very adamant about getting right. So she maintains a fierce loyalty to the stylist she’s been going to for over a decade, at Romeo Salon and Spa, in her old hometown of Cambridge. “ My stylist knows exactly what I like and I always leave the salon with the perfect shade of blonde. That makes it worth enduring the two hour drive there and back, just to get my hair done,” she laughs. On the day I visited Karyn Johnson she was decked out in a “SWAK” dress from Gussied Up that cost $72.50, high wedge boots from Addition Elle she got for $89.99, bangles and a ring that were gifts from a friend, and a $19.99 teardrop necklace, also from Addition Elle. But, according to Johnson, her ultimate “accessory” is always her adored Yorkshire Terrier, named Monkey—a wee rescue dog which she delights in dressing up. Indeed, Monkey’s own closet rivals Karyn’s for assortment and attitude, making him the perfect little side-kick.

What is a fashion faux pas in your stylebooks?

Wearing the wrong bra size. Every woman should do herself a favour and get a bra fitting. A great bra in the right size can make someone look slimmer, younger, provide them with better posture and make their clothing look 100% better on them.

What are your favourite places to shop?

I am so lucky to have an adorable plus size boutique in Toronto called Gussied Up right around the corner from my house! I have also recently re-established my love for major retailers like The Bay, Addition Elle and Penningtons. They’ve all really stepped up their game over the last year and I have been walking away with some fabulous finds. I also do a major part of my shopping online. As a plus size woman my options are sometimes limited, and online shopping has opened up a whole new world of fashion to me. Some of my favourite online shops are swakdesigns.com <http://swakdesigns.com> , asos.com <http://asos.com> , torrid.com <http://torrid.com> , nordstrom.com <http://nordstrom.com> , bloomingdales.com <http://bloomingdales.com> , pinupgirlclothing.com <http://pinupgirlclothing.com> , cherryvelvetplus.com <http://cherryvelvetplus.com>
What is the most important or beloved item in your closet?

My dress that belonged to the late Anna Nicole Smith. It was custom designed for her by Heatherette for her return to the NY Fashion Week runway in 2004, just 3 years before she passed away.

If you had to, would you rather be over-dressed or under-dressed?

Over-dressed! Growing up in a smaller town I was always that girl in the local pub who was way over-dressed. But I LOVED it! Actually, my boyfriend (who is my complete fashion opposite) always complains that I am getting way too dressed up for whatever plans we have for the evening. But I never listen, if I want to look glamorous while everyone else around me is in jeans and a t-shirt, then so be it!

Best fashion advice?

Dress for your shape not your size! I find women are so stuck on buying what size they are (or think they are). I see so many women in clothing that is much too tight or even too large. Women need to realize that the sizes at various retailers can vary greatly from piece to piece. I may be a size 18 in one thing but a size 20 in something else. Instead of relying on your size you need to know your body shape and start from there.