‘Cheap Chica’ Lilliana Vazquez sizzles in New York

Philadelphia InquirerDecember 4, 2013 

— Studded Aeropostale bag in hand, “Cheap Chica” Lilliana Vazquez bursts into the Westville diner ready to chit-chat.

Short on time, she immediately hands over the final version of her first book, “The Cheap Chica’s Guide to Style” (Gotham Books, 2013). She’s headed uptown to film live segments for Rachael Ray’s show and “New York Live,” NBC’s local-affiliate afternoon talk show.

“If ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ and one of Suze Orman’s financial-advice books had a baby, my book would be it,” said Vazquez, the “Cheap Chica” blogger who, until three months ago, was the go-to budget fashion guru in Philadelphia. Now Vazquez is living in the Big Apple.

Her 324-page softcover is a guide to affordable chic – and an organized closet – designed to help women conquer the intimidating, pricey world of style.

The manual is filled with eye-catching illustrations, and throughout the book are product shots – think tweed pencil skirts and sequined cardigans – arranged into ensembles sensible enough for cul-de-sac moms with an edginess a downtown diva can appreciate.

Cheap Chica’s is all about the hot lists too, including every woman’s must-haves (topping that list is nude pumps), the best sample sales, and what’s splurge-worthy (like the pair of wax-coated Rag & Bone jeans she’s wearing right now).

And like every other great girlie advice book, Cheap Chica’s is chock-full of those time-sucking personality quizzes. So yeah, the book is cute. Super-cute, even. But does the world really need yet another how-to fashion book?

“Not really,” Vazquez said in a tone that was as honest as it was matter-of-fact. Actually, the world doesn’t need any more books, period, she concluded.

Building a brand

But Vazquez, master brand-builder that she is, needed it. It was the next logical step in her plan to be a consumer lifestyle expert. Her Cheap Chica’s blog was averaging about 20,000 page views a day, and she had formed lucrative relationships with Cover Girl and Maybelline, Loft and Banana Republic.

Not to mention that Vazquez’s “successorizing” tips, such as shop the clearance rack for bags, belts and jewelry, were popular on NBC’s “Today” and “The Nate Berkus Show.”

“The goal wasn’t to be a blogger,” said Vazquez, 33. “I never wanted to be a blogger. But you have to exist in the digital space, you need to have a book, and you need to have products. … Otherwise you are never going to make it.”

So now she’s in the process of gaining exposure for her book from every available avenue.

These days, Vazquez does “The Rachael Ray Show” about twice a month, and she’s regularly on the “Today” show.

She visits Steve Harvey’s couch, and she talked fall trends last month with Katie Couric.

Long way from Texas

It’s a long way from her roots as a kid growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, wearing private-school plaid jumpers – definitely not chic, but certainly frugal.

Her mom made sure, however, that Vazquez had the right saddle shoes and monogram sweaters to accompany her uniform. “But she’s no sucker,” Vazquez wrote in her book. “There was no way she was going to pay full price.”

She attended George Washington University on scholarship and double-majored in international business and entrepreneurship. She worked on the college radio station and the school newspaper.

She landed a job at W! magazine, and while she loved high fashion, she didn’t like the editors’ snooty attitudes. One day she was wearing the same knee-high boots as a supervisor, who asked how she was able to afford what she thought were designer boots. Her response: Why not? They were from Century 21 (a New York department store for bargainistas).

She left the glossy and took a job at an advertising agency. She worked on a J.C. Penney campaign that planned to use real women as models, but at the last minute, the store opted for professionals. That was Vazquez’s light-bulb moment.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, we have these gorgeous women; they look fantastic in clothes, and people don’t want to see them?’” Vazquez said. “I thought, ‘This is what I want to do: Show real women with real bodies how to dress on a budget.’”

Vazquez moved to Philadelphia in 2007 and got a job at West Chester, Pa.-based QVC as an on-air expert. She started “Cheap Chica” in October 2008 on a cold Sunday afternoon while her husband was at an Eagles game.

She wrote her first post on Wordpress about a T.J. Maxx shopping trip where she found a Theory blazer for just $39.

“I committed to writing three posts a day for 30 days before I went public with it,” Vazquez said. “Then in December, Glamour featured me, and it was huge.”

“I grew up (the daughter of) immigrant parents, and now I get to go on TV and talk about things I love,” she said. “That’s unbelievable.”

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