Lady Somm Style: Carlin Karr

This edition of Lady Somm Style is one of my favorites yet! Carlin Karr, of Frasca in Boulder, has some great insight into her life as a sommelier. And I love her sense of style! I feel like we are style sisters. If that’s even a thing. Ballet flats for life!

How did you become a sommelier?

During my senior year of college, I became obsessed with cooking and throwing epic dinner parties.  I decided to move to San Francisco in 2008 after graduation and enrolled in culinary school.  A few months in to culinary school, we had wine class – I was instantly obsessed.  I immediately dropped out of culinary school to pursue wine.  I had never worked in a restaurant before so it was pretty much impossible to get hired in any position at any restaurant in San Francisco.  I relentlessly applied to any wine-related jobs while studying wine independently.  After passing my certified sommelier exam in 2009, I was introduced to Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarity through mutual friends.  Matt and Teague were opening a small restaurant in San Francisco, also with very limited prior experience and were willing to take a chance on me.  The three of us opened Sons & Daughters in May 2010 and somehow managed to earn a michelin star and the enthusiastic support of the Bay area food and wine community.  I was the General Manager and Wine Director for Sons & Daughters until May 2012, when I moved to Colorado to take the sommelier position at Frasca.

What’s your daily uniform for work?

Clothes: I’m all about tailored, feminine, and functional silhouettes for work.  There is no specific dress code for the wine team at Frasca, so there is a lot of freedom.  I think the biggest challenge for me has been appearing professional and mature while staying true to my style.  I generally try to avoid anything too girly or cutesy, but always want to be feminine and in flattering silhouettes – most first time guests are surprised to realize I’m the sommelier since I look like I’m 19 years old – It always makes for an interesting initial interaction.  I wear tailored dresses and a-line skirts with cardigans/blazer or a slim cut pixie pant suit.  I absolutely can’t wear something without pockets and sometimes take dresses or skirts to my tailor to have pockets added.  My go-to pieces come from J.Crew, Club Monaco, Vince, and Philip Lim.  I also love buying great bags and belts when I’m in Italy at Bugatti in Udine.  I’m a lifelong J.Crew devotee,  and love how classic yet sharp their clothes are.  I wear a blazer or cardigan over my Navy blue J.Crew Allie dress (sadly discontinued)  a lot – it’s perfect: lightweight wool, pockets, and super feminine.  I also have the same dress in blood orange, which I love wearing on the busiest nights.  I also love my Vince leather ‘boxer’ skirt – its a bit more edgy but still understated and has hidden pockets. I used to avoid pant suits because almost all of them feel awkward and masculine, but have started to love the chic silhouette and functionality of a modern pixie cut pant suit, especially because it allows me to ride my bike to work.

Hair : I always have my hair pulled back in a low chignon or in a simple ballerina bun.  I know a lot of women in the hospitality business wear their hair down, but at the end of the day, we are serving food and the chance of stray hairs landing in a guests food or wine is not okay.

Jewelry : Super simple – just my Datejust watch and a David Yurman citrine ring from my mom.

Shoes: BALLET FLATS – I was born in ballet flats.  I can’t imagine wearing anything else at work – they make me feel light on my feet and don’t leave much potential to slip and fall in the back of the house.   My favorites are from Tory Burch, Lanvin, and Vera Wang.  I commend any sommeliers who wear heels, but know that I will never have the grace or coordination to work a busy night in anything but flats.

Make-up: I keep make-up super simple- eyeliner, mascara, and concealer.  I also whiten my teeth almost everyday because I am paranoid about having the wretched purple teeth of many seasoned somms.

Do you transition your outfit from daytime duties to nighttime floor action?

With the exception of inventory, I usually go to work dressed for service.  The hours prior to service always seem to fly by, so I usually don’t have time to change.  Two of the three Frasca businesses (Frasca Caffe and Pizzeria Locale) are open during the day so I inevitably interact with guests and regulars, and prefer to be dressed in the same way I would be during service.  That being said, Boulder is an extremely small town, and I rarely leave home without running into Frasca guests, which definitely makes me more conscientious of my appearance on days off – something I never thought twice about when living in San Francisco.

What are the three things you can’t leave home without when heading to the restaurant?

1. My Cartailler-Deluc Couteau sommelier wine-key.  It’s the only one I’ll ever use – simple, understated, and lightweight.

2. Great lip balm – my favorites are Trish McEvoy and Guerlain.

3. Tide-Pen. If I am wearing a white blouse, without fail, I will splatter red wine on it.  I also sometimes offer it to guests who spill on themselves – It happens to the best of us.  The Tide Pen works (and works better than Wine-Away.)

Three things a somm should never do or wear?

1. Have too much to drink during service. It’s sloppy, unprofessional, and embarrassing.

2. Draw attention to themselves or make it “about them” rather than “about the guests” – humble, thoughtful hospitality is always at the core of the best wine service, yet so few sommeliers perfect it.  Aldo Sohm, Alan Murray, and Yoon Ha exemplify the perfect combination of humility, knowledge, and style on the floor.

3. Perfume is never okay – neither is bad breath.

What do you usually drink and/or eat at the end of a shift?

I sit down for dinner every night with our owners, GM, bar manager, and fellow sommelier.  Our chefs are incredibly hospitable and make us whatever we want to try from the menu – such a luxury.  We always try various wines with dinner and enjoy each others company.  On Saturday nights, Bobby (owner and Master Sommelier), Matthew (wine director) and I blind taste a flight of 6 wines – 3 whites, 3 reds – not from our wine list to fine tune our skills.  I’ve learned more about wine from doing this with them than I would have ever expected.  We are all super passionate and competitive so it’s a fun ritual.  Needless to say, this means that I often find myself sipping on all types of classic wines, from Bordeaux to Australian Riesling.

  • Brian Larky
    April 25, 2013

    Bravissima! Now I know where to get accessory advice, not just hand-holding through Frasca’s gorgeous list. Un grande abbraccio – Brian

  • Christie
    April 26, 2013

    What a thoughtful introduction she provided….I love the use of the word silhouette. Way to go Carlin!

  • Alison Trujillo
    April 27, 2013

    Love this post! Carlin, you are inspiring.

  • Hardy
    April 27, 2013

    Awesome! We miss Carlin in CA, but love seeing her succeed in CO!

  • Your Dad
    May 1, 2013

    This young lady makes her father very proud. I’m waiting for her to turn me on to a good $4. wine.

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