Tao Okamoto, Anja Rubik, Katja Rahlwes, Sissy Vian — BTS from NYC 2009

The Art of International Travel, in Vogue

The biggest reward of my job at Vogue was traveling. Staying in one place always made me gasp, like a bird trapped in a cage, suffocating. With such a big world out there to explore, it seemed absurd choosing not too. Our first trip to New York City birthed important lessons I continue to live by.

Vogue Japan Milano was in one of Condé Nast Italia’s buildings then. Carnet slips covered Gianluigi’s — head of operations — desk and he explained the process. As a smaller branch of Condé we worked differently but learning multiple facets of the powerhouse publishing machine was essential. This was the Harvard masterclass of mastering the multi-task with grace and poise.

I’d gotten to know my Italian and French prs personally. Consistently, I knew what was at the showrooms outside of the main collection. The fuori sfilata bits mixed in with accessories were needed to express the essence of the editors style, quel tocco in piú — pulling a full look as previously styled was pas créatif et pas chic. In Milano we’d stop by Alessandro Dell’Acqua to meet him and Gwenn last minute, running through the archives and new arrivals. In Paris I’d stop by Chanel with a bouquet of flowers for Cristina B. to preview couture and catch up on life. Those relationships were so important. Keeping things human within fashion aided inspiration.

The US teams preferred email. A disappointing shock of cultures; they were cold and often snobby. Every few months prs you finally got comfortable with would have left and there’d be a new email and name to memorise. My New York Market Editors, Jen, Dora and Emily, connected me with Stella Greenspan. She’d been freelancing a few years in NYC and being Swiss understood my confusion in what gains came from such behaviour. She assured it was just the way the American fashion press did it. Stella showed me the Big Apple ropes, introduced to me to all the boutique shops one wouldn’t know unless living there.

Since we didn’t have the budgets and because competition for samples left confirmations last minute, Carnet was never an option. Of which I felt relieved, it seemed a tedious logistical nightmare. In order to avoid having to explain to the TSA you’re not trying to sell on the black market, all tags had to be removed. With international travel you never kept the fashion on hangers, every milligram counted. In order to avoid being overcharged for overweight one needed to evenly distribute density. You’d pack as if folding ribbon; a few looks laid flat at the bottom, the following three looks lay opposite, and so on. The bottoms of trousers and gowns would be neatly folded and sleeves smoothly extended. Shoes would have their own hard suitcase, those that didn’t fit would be filled up along the sides of the duffle bags. Heels facing upward or inward because we all know how luggage is handled at the airport.

Sissy was about punctuality, being ahead of the clock was key. The morning of the flight I picked her up at 5am, fresh faced, high waisted black jeans and 4 inch heeled booties. Once our five oversized and neatly overstuffed bags were checked, I was ready for a nap. I decided to keep my assigned booking seat rather than heed my editor’s advice. The philosophy for work travel was; pick an aisle seat closest to an exit ensuring a shorter customs line. The sooner you get off, the sooner you’re in the cab. I learned a hard lesson that first trip. Window seated somewhere in the 20s, and even with my American passport, I’d keep Sissy waiting forty-five minutes at baggage claim with all of our duffles. She was pissed, and rightly so. After a long flight, the stress of preparing back to back editorials, the hour cab ride ahead taking us straight to Condé Nast International in Midtown; that extra time spent getting off the flight could have been avoided. Sissy always said, every moment counts. In order to maximise yourself, your strength, every minute should be calculated. I live by that now. Whatever I’m able to control, why would I choose to let it get out of control, thus creating more work for myself. Easier said than done of course.

Being in for the first time New York City as an adult was magical. Downtown, Uptown, East and West, there were so many hidden gems. A late lunch at Bar Pitti with Stella, talks of her potentially going to American Vogue and cultural conversations of European luxuries missed. Memories that still bring a smile.

First up, Dan Jackson at Pier 59 Studios and The 80’s was the issue theme. Supermodel Tao Okamoto interpreted our empowering mit a splash of militance mood with excellence. Admittedly I felt as a deer in the headlights. My brain was still being trained into the Rolodex of memory it is today. I was overwhelmed, in awe of having the opportunity to be at Vogue, working under my icons. I spoke up little and tried so hard to pay attention, learn, and absorb. The excitement of looking at the career I’d chosen from the inside, at levels that shaped global culture, often left me in moments of paralysis. I couldn’t have gotten through that first shoot without Stella. A subtle disbelief that I’d made it here, despite the odds. It was only the beginning, and this was more than what I’d ever imagined.

Next, Industria Studios with Katja Rahlwes and supermodel Anja Rubik. We were still in The 80s but this fashion story was ultra glamour, animal prints, and sheen. This set, as the previous, were like a family. They’d all worked together many times before, even Stella knew well the hair stylist and producers. It was refreshing to be in a work environment that wasn’t facade. Something went wrong with the lighting batteries. As I’d most likely be myself, Katja was frustrated and before I knew it her and Sissy were arguing. The cultures I’d came from made it normal to dispute in times of distress, especially with family. Anja and I stayed back in wardrobe with hair and makeup. The women talked it out quickly and we made it through. It was inspiring to see two female entrepreneurs at the top of their game — despite some harsh words and higher tones — able to communicate in a way that didn’t distract from the communal goal. A few looks less than hoped for, but the photos were stunning.

The cab ride to the airport was quiet. I’d taken the brunt of the tension. Sissy needed to vent it out and having been raised with military parents, I respected her position and chalked it up to education. I could see Sissy was drained. Katja had been harsh; women, we can fight each other like vipers, especially us passionate creative types. What mattered was their ability to hash it out together toward solution. Sissy must have repeated herself over a thousand times that trip; Kish, if you are unsure, ask me! I made errors because I feared having to admit I was indeed unsure. The result proved how important it was to do something once the right way, not many times half way. There was always a logical and benefiting reason something was done a certain way.

The flight back Sissy and I sat together — lesson learned. She ordered two Nastro Azzurro’s and apologised for having been so hard on me. Although I didn’t think I needed it, I appreciated the apology. I knew there’d be loads to learn and don’t believe one grows without making mistakes. She was sincere, open, vulnerable, and it made me admire her all the more. Women letting their guards down with one another, seems to unlock unimaginable unifying strength. Sissy was one of the toughest bosses I’ve ever had, but what she taught me, those skills acquired, priceless. I understood the worth in assistance and building a loyal support system. There was indeed a method to the madness.

A contributing fashion editor trying to dig deeper. ‘Think before you speak. Read before you think.’ — Fran Lebowitz

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