Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When we all need that pick-me-up

I sometimes wonder what fashion editors were like back in college. For the most part, I like to imagine that they were always stylish, coiffed, articulate, and experts at walking in five-inch heels. In the cases of editors like Teen Vogue fashion news director, Jane Keltner de Valle, I'm quite sure that's not too far from the truth.

Anyway, she attended Barnard College, so I asked her to write a letter to the readers of Hoot, Columbia University's student fashion magazine. It was published in the Fall 2010 issue starring Tinsley Mortimer, which you can read online here. Even if you don't attend Columbia or Barnard, I think you can gain a lot of inspiration by reading this letter:
Dear Hoot reader,

Full disclosure: When I was asked to write this letter, although very flattered, I was a little stumped. I didn't have the “typical” college experience. Never been to a frat party or a football game. My extracurricular of choice was WWD (fashion industry bible) not DDD (popular Greek house of worship).

Part of the reason I chose to attend Barnard is because I'm a strong believer that education extends far beyond just the campus gates. As a native New Yorker, I grew up with the Metropolitan Museum in my backyard. I never learned how to drive because I never wanted to have to forfeit all the merits of a pedestrian culture (street-as-runway being a central one). After touring various schools across America, I came to the conclusion that going to a first-rate college in a second-rate city seemed counterproductive. Within Columbia's gates on 116th Street is a historic academic enclave that appears totally cut-off from the city around it. You can barely even see the high-rises that lie just beyond. But as soon as you exit onto Broadway, all of New York City is at your feet.

I attended my first fashion show spring semester of freshman year. A friend at Parsons had a ticket to Daryl K, and she was too sick to attend so she passed it along to me. (Brief fashion history lesson: in the late ‘90s, Daryl K was pretty much what Alexander Wang is today—the coolest young designer in New York.) The fashion show was held in a huge industrial warehouse on the West Side Highway with rough wood planks for a runway. I can't remember if my friend's ticket was seated or standing, but it didn't matter. As soon as I walked in, I positioned myself right next to the photographers’ pit, and proceeded to photograph each and every look that came down the runway. I still have a photo album with all the images (this was back in the old days when pictures were taken with film, and developed not downloaded).

I started interning at W and Women's Wear Daily at the end of my freshman year. The subway commute from Columbia to the offices on 34th Street was only twenty minutes, but when I exited I was in a totally different universe. Whenever I wasn't in class, I was there. Other interns would arrive in June and leave in August, but because I was there year-round I became a part of the staff. Sophomore year, I remember receiving a call in my apartment on 110th Street asking if I had a passport. They needed someone to deliver a dress to a photo shoot in Poland that night. I wrote my first byline article about a year and a half into the internship. Meanwhile, at Barnard and Columbia, I sought out fashion- and journalism-specific classes to balance out my Victorian literature and art history classes. I took an incredible class on the history of fashion with Valerie Steele, the director of the museum at FIT. And I remember writing a comical piece about a Fendi sample sale for one of my journalism classes.

My college experience wasn't typical, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I also don't think I could have gotten it anywhere but Columbia University. I've been the fashion news director at Teen Vogue for a little over six years now, and it's no coincidence that two of my best interns were Barnard students. One is now the online editor of Teen Vogue, and the other graduates this May. I have no idea what she'll do next, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't keeping my eyes on her!

Jane Keltner de Valle
Fashion News Director of Teen Vogue
I keep this letter in a box of inspiration (with other knickknacks).

Miss Couturable

P.S. That online editor of Teen Vogue is the gorgeous Naomi Nevitt, and she has a pretty sweet Tumblr too.
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