“I did have this intuition and feeling in my gut that I wanted to go to Paris. It was like - this is where I have to be.”
– Kate Betts
There is something about Paris; the romance, the architecture, the city of lights. And in Kate Betts’s inspiring memoir, My Paris Dream, Paris comes to life. A must read, her story is brave, bold and honest. In a recent phone conversation with the former Editor in Chief of Harper’s Bazaar and Fashion News Director of Vogue, this is what she had to say.
Charlotte Moss: What is the question that you thought people would have asked you but nobody has?
Kate Betts: Well… there’s not really one, except one thing that I think is interesting, that you said to me just now, is that you thought I was so brave and honest. Frankly, one of the things that really inspired me to write this book, because it never occurred to me to write a memoire, is because I felt like I wanted to tell my story. In the New York world, especially in the media/fashion world, people project onto you what they want you to be. I have always been a very honest, direct person and I thought “No, that’s not who I am, whoever you are projecting onto me. Let me tell you my story.” So I wanted to tell my story in a very frank and, hopefully, inspiring way. That’s why I wrote the book. Not for the media world, but for young kids coming out of college, who had that same kind of moment I had, who thought “Oh my god, what am I going to do?” I wanted to show them that a career trajectory is not a straight line, that you have to make mistakes and take risks.
CM: If you hadn’t gone to Paris where would you have gone?
KB: There weren’t really any other options. I didn’t have another job lined up, I wasn’t thinking in the back of my mind well I can always go to law school. There was no backup plan. And really, it was a day to day, week to week, winging it situation. I wanted to convey the panic of ‘what am I going to do – what if this doesn’t work out?’
CM: Of all the things that you learned from John Fairchild, what stands out?
KB: One of the great lessons I learned from him, and I say this in a metaphoric and literal way, he said to me “Always pick up your own phone.” You never know who is on the other line, you never know where the next story is coming from, or what you’re going to discover. And he was right. I remember in my mind some of the darkest moments in my career were those moments when I wasn’t answering my own phone, and I didn’t feel connected. Fairchild was a reporter at heart, and I think that’s why I really identified with him. When I was Editor In Chief of Harper’s Bazaar in a corner office with two assistants, I never felt so out of it or lonely in my life. All I wanted to do was be in the bullpen where everyone else was. Even though Fairchild owned the company he never had his own office. He used to come in and sit down at other people’s desks and answer their phones and go through their drawers. He was out in the bullpen, he was rarely in a private office. He had to know what was going on and what people were doing. Really, he was smart like a fox. He did not separate the aesthetic side of fashion with the business side –that was the whole “follow the money” lesson, that it was all one picture.
CM: Christian Louboutin– you clearly saw something in him that foreshadowed his success today. What did you see there?
KB: Well to be frank, I didn’t see anything specific in Louboutin, so I can’t take credit for that. But what I saw in him and what’s hard to miss is his incredible personality and generosity. He was really fun to be with and we became instant friends. He was determined and he did it against all the odds. I think it was his personality that convinced me something was going on there.
CM: What are you reading right now?
KB: What I’m interested in reading right now is blogs. I feel like its instant, and we are so used to getting everything immediately now. I’m not going to wait a month or three to read about Haute Couture, I’m going to go to Instagram to watch the Chanel show as its happening in Paris through the eyes of people I respect in the industry, or someone I don’t even know.
CM: Who are you writing for now?
KB: I’m kind of done with the magazine business. I feel like I’ve done that. What was interesting for me after I left Bazaar was I got to work for the Times, which was actually my dream. I knew I wanted to work at Time magazine and I was rejected twice for internships there. That was an amazing experience for me. And I remember at the end I had another very intuitive feeling. I cant really describe it, but I thought, ‘Ok, this chapter, this magazine business, this idea of thinking about who I’m going to put on the next cover, is over. I’ve done it. I’ve done it with the best. And I’m going to do something else now.’
CM: In fashion world… if you had to go buy a dress for an event tomorrow night, who would you go to? Who are some of your favorites?
KB: Dressmaking is a real art, and I think there are some people who know how to cut a dress, and those people are: Roland Mouret, Erdem, and Antonio Berardi. There are very specific people I go to depending on the garment. In my dreams I would definitely go to Yves Saint Laurent, he’s really the master.
CM: Is there another book on the horizon?
KB: Yes! I’m trying not to think about it right now. But I definitely want to write another book. I’d love to write a novel.
Kate Betts is an award-winning magazine editor and author who has held top positions at two of the worlds most successful fashion magazines, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In 2003 she was named editor at large at Time magazine where she created the first globally published style supplement, Time Style & Design.
Join Kate at Harbor books this Saturday, July 11th at 6pm for a book signing!
20 Main Street
Sag Harbor, NY