5 Stories Of Women Taking Risks — & Winning

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
Ask any woman how she got to where she is today, and you'll be in for a long story. The truth is, the road to realizing one's dreams is full of diversions and wrong turns. For some women, it’s a never-ending journey full of big risks, multiple shifts, and giant leaps of faith. Those can include moving to a city where you don’t know a soul, deciding to spend the rest of your life with your kindred spirit, or refusing a promotion to pursue an entirely different career path. And, sometimes we follow our gut only to realize we need to shift gears yet again — and that's a good thing.

Channeling Cartier's wish-themed Amulette collection, we tapped five women who have followed that instinct — detours included — to chart their own course. Ahead, R29's own EIC Christene Barberich and four women who inspire her discuss their unique paths, how they deciphered what they really wanted, and what it took to get there. From a model who just had her first solo art show to a one-time budding Vogue staffer who pivoted to human-rights activism, we decode their drive and find out what's on the docket for their next acts. And, with each wearing a bejeweled talisman, they not only have talent but also luck on their side. Of course, they don't need too much of that.
Advertisement
1 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
Tali Lennox, Model & Artist
The young model, who has worked for iconic brands like Acne, Burberry, and Prada, recently revealed she's a total natural off camera, too. And, we're not just talking runways. The self-taught painter made headlines after her art debut this spring at the Catherine Ahnell Gallery in NYC; she was not only the first woman to get a solo show at the gallery but also the youngest person ever, at just 22.

My Dream
"I've been drawing and doing creative things since I was a child. Both my parents are creative, so I was always encouraged. I studied acting and started modeling when I was young."

My Influences
"My mom [singer Annie Lennox], to be honest. The more I create, the more I realize how similar we are. We are highly sensitive and hyperaware. I listen to her feedback. Both of my parents get my art. I can do something super dark and contorted, or something that other parents might find disturbing, but they totally get it and feel it. It’s so nice to have that support."
2 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
My Pivotal Moment
"I moved here when I was 19 without a plan or friends. I was doing well in London with modeling, but I felt insecure about not creating anything that I could call my own. I've only been seriously painting about a year and a half. I’m mostly self-taught, but my boyfriend really pushed me to pursue it. I was shocked when I met Catherine Ahnell and she took me on at her gallery."

What Drives Me
"There aren't that many female artists that have recognition these days, and really that just makes me more defiant. I hate going into a gallery and seeing that everything is by men. Women make up half the world, why shouldn't we take up half the gallery walls, make half the income? I think it's nice to encourage other young girls to create."

Looking Forward
"I'm working on a new series of time-lapse portraits. I'm still experimenting with my style, and I think it's okay that I'm still figuring it out. If you feel like you haven't found your style or your calling or what you're meant to do, that just means you're hungry and that you're curious and open and interested."

Amulette de Cartier ring and bracelet, Céline collared shirt, Jil Sander Navy shorts, Acne cracked-leather loafers. For a similar Amulette de Cartier style, try:
Advertisement
3 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
Christene Barberich, Editor-In-Chief, Refinery29
Christene Barberich cofounded Refinery29 10 years ago, but you won't catch this boss lady resting on her laurels. She just published her first New York Times best-selling book, Style Stalking, with R29 executive creative director Piera Gelardi, and is in the final stages of overhauling a (very) quirky loft apartment with her architect husband.

My Dream
"I always wanted to be an editor. Even at the age of 9, I was writing stories and making magazines by cutting up and pasting together phrases and pictures from old books. I pursued that path hard in college — I mean, I must have sent out at least 200 résumés…any magazine, book publisher, or periodical in existence! I lucked out and ended up working at The New Yorker as an assistant and, later on, Gourmet as an editor. At the latter, I was lucky enough to work with some of the most fascinating writers, helping to shape their stories and hone their voices. It was possibly the best training ground, but ultimately, working at a big company with so much history and tradition (read: bureaucracy) just wasn't for me."

My Influences
"My mom worked from the time I was 3 when my dad lost his job; this was in the early '70s, and that had a big impact on me. She never wore dresses — always cool bell-bottoms and sexy blazers, very daring for a law secretary in an office environment. It's probably no coincidence I have a lot of those pieces in my wardrobe now, too. My mom's youngest sister had the same sort of liberated style vibe. She was a fashion illustrator back in the '70s, and her life as a young creative woman making it in New York City was super inspiring to me. I do remember her telling me that some of the students at FIT back then would wear overalls minus a bra. I loved that sense of freedom and confidence in a woman, even if it seemed a bit crazy."
4 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
My Pivotal Moment
"When I met Justin [Stefano] and Philippe [von Borries], the founders of R29, the Internet was just becoming a thing. But, something about that very first meeting and talking about the possibilities — the seeds of what was crystallizing digitally in the world — I knew it was a path I had to follow. That and getting married were probably the biggest risks I've ever taken. Both required a lot of faith, total commitment, and a good amount of compromise… You have to be prepared for that and how it can change you for the better. Instead of feeling repressed or stifled, it's made me a better listener, malleable, and open to possibilities that not only affect my own development but everything that I touch."

What Drives Me
"Refinery29, and great, special content, in general, has never been just a job or business for me — it's like a living thing that's taken on a life of its own. That's made me extremely proud and grateful…and, being honest here, totally freaked out! If you're not a little bit scared, I suppose, what's the point?"

Looking Forward

"Piera and I just started working on the sequel to our book, Style Stalking. It focuses on how women all over the world express themselves using makeup, wild hair color, tattoos, etc. We want to learn more how they're using beauty and their own self-taught tricks to celebrate and inform their identities…not to mention, empower their lives. As for my other life, my husband and I just spent five months renovating a strange little loft apartment in Brooklyn Heights (pretty sure the whole building is on a slant!). As with anything, it's always the final stretch that's the killer — but in the end, I really believe those are the details that count the most."

Amulette de Cartier necklace, Nomia sleeveless jacket, 3.1 Phillip Lim cropped top, Zara culottes, Louis Vuitton python sandals. For a similar Amulette de Cartier style, try:
5 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
Amy Sall, Founder & Editor-In-Chief, SUNU
This street-style favorite got her foot in the door with the fashion big leagues and appeared in Barberich's first book, Style Stalking. But, despite her sartorial prowess, another calling won her over. Now, the 25-year-old Senegalese-American is getting her master's degree in human rights and working to get SUNU, her digital journal devoted to youth empowerment in Africa, off the ground.

My Dream
"When I was young, I wanted to be a fashion journalist. I went to school with the intention of doing journalism and interned at Vogue. Though I was interested in fashion, I realized it wasn't my passion. What I was passionate about was Africa. My parents are from Senegal; I’m first-generation. My dad worked for the United Nations for over 20 years and would go on missions to the Congo. I was very exposed to the issues that were going on."

My Influences
"The people who I call my friends are pretty inspiring. Saran Kaba Jones is the CEO and founder of Face Africa and does tremendous work finding clean water for communities in Liberia. I'm always supporting the work of other women, because one woman's achievement is another woman's achievement."
6 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
My Pivotal Moment
"I came to a full-circle moment where I realized that whatever I end up doing in this life, I want it to tie back to Africa. I want to impact and address issues of human rights, development, and international affairs. Now, I'm finishing my master's in human rights this semester. It's interesting that in my early twenties is when I actually opened my eyes to what's always been there."

What Drives Me
"I am really lucky to have found something that I'm so passionate about. It helps me handle all these major projects and personal stuff at once, though that's something I've definitely had to work to get better at. No matter what, you have to do everything with grace and humility, and that’s what I’m all about."

Looking Forward
"I hope to consult for the U.N. or the World Bank for a year before getting my PhD in African studies. I don’t know how my work will directly affect issues like education or women's rights, but I do know that writing about these things isn't enough — I really want to change things."

Amulette de Cartier necklace, Balenciaga top, Céline colorblocked trousers, Lanvin white patent-leather pumps.
7 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
Anna Gray & Jen Steele, Founders, Girls I Know
By day, Anna Gray is an editor at Homepolish and Jen Steele is a freelance art director and stylist. But, after hours, these two pour their hearts into Girls I Know, their digital love-child full of interviews with the cool, inspiring women in their lives, including Barberich. Now, their sights are set on print and film, and with their first zine under their belt, they're well on their way.

My Dream
AG (left):
"My one goal in life was to do cool stuff, exciting stuff — I wasn't sure what, but I knew I wanted to do it in New York. I discovered I was good at writing, and when I graduated, I started working in PR with fashion brands and doing some modeling off and on."

JS: "I actually came to New York for an acting audition and just never left — even though I didn't get the part! Since I'd studied journalism in college, I started interning at fashion magazines and ended up working as a stylist for Cosmopolitan. I had so much fun, but after a while, I just felt like my heart wasn't in it anymore."

On Gray: Amulette de Cartier bracelet and ring, J.W.Anderson asymmetrical dress, No. 21 leather mules. On Steele: Amulette de Cartier necklace,Versace cropped racer-back tank, Céline pleated silk trousers, Stuart Weitzman suede loafers.
8 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
My Influences
JS: "My grandma always told me that I could do whatever I wanted, that I could move to New York if I wanted. She taught me that a good work ethic will take you a lot of places."

AG: "My parents were super-inspiring people. They both said to do whatever you want if that's what makes you happy — and that's all you can ask for."

My Pivotal Moment
JS: "When I quit my job to start Girls I Know, people asked, 'Are you nuts?' But, I thought about how when I was young, if there was this secret website with women saying powerful, strong things, I would have been drooling. So, that's what I do now: showcase awesome women with different careers doing things that make them feel good."

AG: "When I met Jen, I was on and off as a model and in fashion PR. Both were fun, but I was still feeling listless and pathless. Then, Jen asked me to help her with this new website, and I was like, This is perfect for me! Girls I Know is honestly so fun — it doesn't feel like a job. It's a passion project and bleeds into everything we do."
9 of 9
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBBIE FIMMANO.
What Drives Me
AG: "I think humans are super fascinating, and I love talking to people about themselves and learning from them. It also helps to have jobs and responsibilities and people like Jen to push me and give me an outlet for my creativity."

JS:
"Anytime I hear someone tell me that I can't do something, or that I shouldn't do something, I will probably try to do it. Growing up in Wisconsin, I didn't get great grades, and my guidance counselor was like, 'You're going to have to go to a tech school down the road.' I thought, We'll see about that. I ended up getting aid to go to this little private fashion school in Boston. It wasn't out of spite, but I wanted to show her that no one could hold me back."

Looking
Forward
AG: "We're hoping to eventually make Girls I Know into a photo book and branch out into film. Other than that, I hope my future brings more travel, more meaningful moments, and strong relationships with people I respect. I think I'll be figuring out what I want to do with my life 'til I die, but I think that's great."

JS: "I just turned 30. I never thought I would last this long and be able to support myself in New York. And, I'm really excited about the coming year: I'm currently shooting Girls I Know's second zine, and I've discovered that I really love photography and art direction and want to do more of that. I'd love one day if we could just make Girls I Know our full-time job, but even if it never makes any money, I won't be sad."
Advertisement