Kate Betts’ life reads like a fairy tale. That is, if fairy tale princesses worked diligently, carving a place for themselves in the pantheon of fashion legends and creating a career spanning decades and various publications. As a fashion journalist, Betts became known for her time as fashion news editor for Vogue and as editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar before landing her role as editor at large for Time magazine. But prior to all of this, she was running around Paris, cutting her teeth as a reporter for the Paris office of Fairchild Publications—an entrée to the fashion world that has become the basis of her new memoir: My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine.
In celebration of the book’s release, Barneys’ own Daniella Vitale and Charlotte Blechman hosted a luncheon pegged to one of the over-arching themes of the book, the relationship between mentors and their mentees. Guests were invited to bring either a trusted mentor or a fledgling mentee as a guest, and many shared personal notes outlining the unique relationships they have with each other.
Read on for an excerpt from My Paris Dream where Betts recounts the tumult of her tutelage under the inimitable John Fairchild, her own mentor. You’ll also see images from the luncheon, along with the notes that mentor/mentee hosts Vitale and Blechman shared with each other. But the story doesn’t stop there; head over to barneys.com to pick up your own copy of the book and to have your own Paris Dream.
Excerpt from My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine
“More than just moxie and wit, [John B.] Fairchild’s style of reporting required sophistication. Working in the Paris office of Women’s Wear Daily was a lesson in the aesthetics of everyday life, a subject Mr. Fairchild found endlessly fascinating. Watch the French, he would tell us. Eat their food, sit in their cafés, visit their ateliers and their salons, and learn about the art of living. Discover their sense of civilization through the details. Breathe it.
“Run through the lavender fields!” he barked at me once when I asked him what exactly I should be doing on assignment in Provence. Just go!
Usually, the sources of his most impassioned ideas were personal, drawn from his travels, his passions, or his real estate interests (we had a joke in the office that an assignment in Provence meant he wanted to sell his house there). James Fallon, the London bureau chief, was once dispatched to Dresden with orders to find the hotel with “the wonderful string quartet in the lobby.” Fallon spent five days searching every hotel in the city. Finally he found a lone flutist in a hotel bar. “That’s it! That’s the one!” Fairchild exclaimed, shocked that Fallon had delivered. Dresden was still under Communist rule, and the hotel lobby was dilapidated and dirty. The photos were hardly glamorous. The story never ran.
“You never know where the next story will come from!” Fairchild would exclaim. Even if Dresden seemed like a stretch, we had to go. We were instructed to dig deeper, always. Mr. Fairchild was a reporter above all else.
The bizutage—or hazing—was never easy. If you didn’t deliver what Mr. Fairchild wanted, there was hell to pay. Or, worse, you would be frozen out, which meant the story assignments ceased. Invitations dried up; even small talk and conversation came to a halt. You were persona non grata. The prospect of a Fairchild freeze-out kept us on our toes. We jumped at any and all requests.
After a few months I started to wonder why I was jumping so high, especially at the cost of my social life. Sure, Mr. Fairchild had impressive journalistic skills. He had all of Paris’s designers eating out of his hand, but what was my place at that table? I didn’t pause long enough to search for the answer; I was too consumed by work and ambition to contemplate the hollowness of it all, the abyss in the middle of the van¬ity fair. My mother questioned my attraction to this world of couture clothes and titles and over-the-top parties. “Aren’t those people terribly bitchy?” she asked me on the phone one evening as I was describing a drama at the office. “Are you sure you want to do that?”
Yes, I did feel sure. Success was within reach. I knew I was on my way up at Fairchild, and that gave me enormous confidence.”
Excerpted from MY PARIS DREAM by Kate Betts Copyright © 2015 by Kate Betts. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“I have known Charlotte for over 15 years, five of which she spent working for me at Gucci. PR and Communications were a big learning curve when I became CEO, and Charlotte was my Nutty Professor. She began with the following pointers: stand up straight, stop talking so much, take the drink out of your hand, “No, you cannot tell the NY Times reporter what you really think of them,” and she even told me that my stomach looked big in a picture from an event and that, no, she would not run that picture. Oy! It was a rigorous course, but think I am in much better shape today. I was once included in a NY Times article (which I was quite honored by) and Charlotte called me at 7:00 in the morning and said “You are on the front page of the Style Section with a drink your hand!” I had failed her.
“All kidding aside, she is a talented, creative, spirited, beautiful and very tough (she is Colombian, after all!) woman, but with a warmth and kindness that transcend just about everything. She has that uncanny knack for making just about anyone feel at ease and comfortable. Charlotte is one of the rare people I call genuine: you can see it in her beautiful family, the good friends who orbit around her, and the loyalty of the people she works with. I consider myself part of all three.”
Throughout my life—in every book I have read about moving up in the workplace, how to build your career, being a working mom, work/life balance, every article—they all have one thing in common: the importance of having a mentor. Having that guiding force in your work life to drive and guide you. I am so blessed that I have that in you. I was at a luncheon where Ariana Huffington was talking about mentors, and she said that a mentor should inspire, guide, support, and challenge you—not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level. That is exactly what you do. You drive me to work harder, to be better and be smarter, to be a better mom, a better boss, a better wife, and a better friend. You are a role model in every sense of the word, and I thank you for that. Thank you for making me better.
Love and gratitude,