Lawyer, Doctor, Painter... The Unconventional Paths Of Fashion's Finest



Fashion has a special place in its heart for sartorial prodigies. The success stories of media darlings like Jack and Lazaro, Karlie Kloss, and Tavi prove that the elusive combination of ambition, talent, and luck can create industry legends. But for every account of the sudden sensation, there’s at least one more that tells a lengthier, less-than-straightforward tale. Read on for a look at these four stylish movers-and-shakers and the unconventional paths they took that got them where they are now.

evaEva Chen, Beauty Director, Teen Vogue

What were you doing before you got into beauty? Where do you work now?
"I went to college at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. While I was there, I was premed, and I never thought I would end up in magazines. I’m a first generation American. My parents are from Taiwan and China. But, I wanted a change of scene, I guess, so I spent the summer between my junior and senior year interning at Harper’s Bazaar. It was a really eye-opening experience for me. I had always been into health care and nutrition and all that good stuff. I guess I was just shocked that someone could be paid to do these things that I had always considered to be hobbies.

"When I graduated, I was really ready to work in magazines, but it was around 2001, post 9/11. The economy was in a tailspin—much like it is right now. When I couldn’t find a magazine job, I took a job at a law firm. My family really values stability, so I thought maybe I’ll go to law school, which is what a lot of people say when they aren’t sure what they want to do. Immediately, I knew it wasn’t for me. I had always kept in touch with every single person I had interned with. Eventually, one of them emailed me and said that she was hiring at Lucky magazine. So I went to work at Lucky in the fashion department as a freelance assistant. I did that for a few weeks, and then actually got a job at Elle. I worked at Elle for almost three years. It was an incredible time—climbing the ladder and learning so much. Then, I got a call from Amy Astley, who asked if I would be interested in coming to work at Teen Vogue. That was seven years ago, and now I’m the Beauty Director at Teen Vogue."

At what point did you realize that fashion was more than a hobby?
"Day one at Harper’s. It wasn’t a slow-dawning realization. It was as if someone had smashed me over the head. This is meant to be. This is what you’re meant to be doing. You can’t really know what you want to do until you try it. And so if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to try something—anything—I think you should absolutely take it."

How did your parents react?
"Parents all want the same thing for their children. Of course, they want financial security, but also happiness. I think my parents saw how unhappy I was working at the law firm, but they didn’t really understand the industry. I always tell kids who are interviewing: If your parents are unhappy, take the time to explain your plans to them. Sit them down and say, “This is what I want to do. Here’s how I’m going to do it. I’m going to be an assistant for this many years, and then an associate for this many. And this is what my salary is going to be.” If you kind of map it out for them, you can take away a bit of that fear. I think at first, my parents were a little traumatized! But now, having a daughter who is a beauty editor is a bragging point for my mom. When she meets up with her friends, she always takes a bunch of samples with her."

What sacrifices did you make to work in magazines?
"I think when you’re really happy and satisfied with what you’re doing, it doesn’t really feel like sacrifice. I didn’t think of it as a sacrifice. But sure, the magazine career is a slow burn. It’s not charted quite as logically as the legal profession or the medical field. Those are very linear paths. And to work in this field, you give up that predictability. Magazines are a little bit more of the wild, wild west."

What role, if any, does your previous experience play in how you do your job today?
"Your skills are applicable no matter what you do. When I was working at the law firm as a paralegal, my responsibilities were very administrative—making photocopies, assisting the partners. When I went to work at Elle, I was basically doing the exact same thing. At the assistant level, so many of the tasks that you’ll be asked to do are the same, it’s just that the jurisdiction is different."

Beauty is important because...
"It’s the lowest common denominator. Everyone is invested in looking and feeling their best."
warisWaris Ahluwalia, Jewelry Designer, House of Waris

Where did you work? What do you do now?
"My 20s were a period of exploration with no boundaries. I’ve pursued various paths including publishing, non-profit work, and film to name a few. None of them seemed to hold my attention for too long. My current road is quite a surprise to me. You see, I never intended on designing jewelry. As I always say, I didn't choose this path — jewelry chose me. I fell in love with the world it allowed me to create. More than just design, it’s adventure: Travelling the world to find the best craftsman is rewarding in more ways than one."

At what point did you realize that jewelry was more than a hobby?
"It was never really a hobby; It was more a project than ran alongside others. This one just ran faster. When we added Dover Street Market and Colette, I knew I had my hands full and this was no longer just a project."

What role, if any, does your previous experience play in how you do your job today?
"My previous experiences have a lot to do with how I do my job today. Beyond any successes it’s more the failures that define who I am. This should sum up how I feel:
'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.'
— Theodore Roosevelt, CITIZENSHIP IN A REPUBLIC, Speech at the Sorbonne Paris, France, April 23, 1910"

Design is important because...
"It makes the world a better place."
preetmaPreetma Singh, Fashion Assistant, Vogue

Narrate your pre-editorial life. Where did you work? Where do you work now?
"I used to be a lawyer. I went to law school and worked at a law firm in New York for a little over two years. Now I’m at Vogue, working in the fashion department as a fashion assistant. My job is to help with a lot of the market work. I’m responsible for getting clothes in for shoots and helping to organize some of the front of book shoots. I also work on fittings and production, but mostly I do market work and make sure the right pieces end up in the magazine."

At what point did you realize that fashion was more than a hobby?
"I guess it started with my blog. Obviously, working at a law firm, you have to be careful about what you wear. A law firm isn’t really the place to test out crazy runway trends. It’s so important to come across as a professional. And I had all of these colleagues and friends ask me about how to dress well, while maintaining that appropriateness. So I started a blog to try to test out that world. Was fashion something I actually wanted to pursue, or did I just like to shop? Once I started my blog, I realized how much I enjoyed writing and developing my ideas about fashion."

How did your parents react?
"They were actually really supportive, because they saw how frustrated I was at the firm. And they knew I had something really solid to fall back on, if magazines didn’t work out. I had gone to law school. I had even practiced law. They had faith that I could take care of myself. I do come from an Indian background, and the culture can be reluctant to embrace more creative or off-the-beaten path choices. I’m lucky to have parents who, first and foremost, really want me to be happy."

What sacrifices did you make to work in fashion?
"I started from scratch. I had put in time working at a law firm. I went to law school. But in fashion, I had to start at the bottom. When I left the legal work, I started as an intern at Refinery29. You reach a certain age and you think you should be in a certain place with a certain title and salary. Giving up that mentality is a sacrifice, I guess. But I think it was progress, for me, personally. Financially obviously—I’m just going to be straightforward about it—it’s a huge change to go from being a lawyer in New York to being a fashion assistant. That was definitely a sacrifice, and I needed to make sure I loved fashion enough."

What role, if any, does your previous experience play in how you do your job today?
"At the most basic level, it taught me to be really organized and be able to multitask. A career in law is just non-stop, all day attention to detail. It’s how you live or die. As a junior assistant, you learn that a little semi colon can make all the difference. And I really carried that with me. In market, if you get the date wrong or there’s a typo on something an entire shoot can fall apart. In both industries you learn how to deal with demanding people. Law and fashion are both full of perfectionists, and so I learned how to be graceful under pressure. Or at least I hope so!"

Fashion is important because...
"At its best, fashion is inspiring and as important as art. And yet it’s also something that’s just so basic. I love that it has that dimension—it’s completely abstract and at the same time, it’s a necessity that you need to live."
danaDana Lorenz, Jewelry Designer, Fenton/Fallon

What did you do before you were a jewelry designer?
"I have degrees as a painter, and then I worked for Gucci and Donna Karan. I am a self-taught jewelry designer and I have two collections: FENTON and FALLON."

At what point did you realize that making jewelry was more than a hobby?
"I collaborated on men's jewelry for a friend—Alexander Plokhov—when he had his men's collection. A week later Barneys and Vogue called. At that point I started to take this very seriously."

How did your parents react?
"My parents have always supported me. They actually gave me a few thousand dollars to get started on first samples and I grew the company from that small investment. They are overwhelmed and elated by my success."

What sacrifices did you make to work in design?
"People think fashion is all glamour. You sacrifice a bit of everything to make sure your business survives—time, money, social events. Anyone planning on becoming a designer should know they will 'live' their career."

What role, if any, does your previous experience play in how you do your job today?
"I think everything I have done has shaped my approach. How I approach making art has a lot to do with how I compose a piece of jewelry—the juxtapositions, the editing, the adding, removing."

Design is important because... "Jewelry design is a functioning aesthetic. All good design pushes ideas forward. All good design influences design in other industries."