Editor’s Note: I’ve followed Noel’s blogs for years now, so it’s an extra privilege to have her interview appear in Side B Magazine. Noel is a star – there’s no other word for it. She’s among the hardest working, most dedicated, and most driven people I’ve encountered online or offline. Creator of the Miss Couturable fashion blog, and founder of Columbia University’s first fashion magazine, Noel has been a personal inspiration of mine. I’m happy to share this interview with our readers today.
You have quite the following since you’ve started in 2007! What sparked your interest in fashion? Oh, so many things — when I was really young, I was more interested in historical costume than anything else. I read every single book in the historical costume/fashion section of the children’s section of the library, and I would sketch Greek chitons and Korean hanboks and dream about wearing them. Anyway, I read a lot of fashion magazines, too, because I didn’t have a cool older sister to teach me about pop culture and fashion and beauty. I guess I was a pretty timid child, so dressing up became a way of expressing myself without using words. In high school, I interned for a local fashion designer on a whim, and I became hooked. I really loved the creative drive and energy of the industry.
Has your Asian heritage influenced your style or helped you embrace different types of styles?I mean, I don’t think it has. Asia’s also a big continent — we can’t be simplified into one entity… Just because I’m “Asian” doesn’t mean I grew up wearing qipaos or silk embroidery every day, just like how being “American” (which I am) doesn’t mean you grow up wearing daisy dukes and cowboy boots every day.
If anything, I pay more attention to Asians in the fashion industry because I’m Chinese American. For example, my freshman year of college, I organized a charity panel discussion, Asian Americans in the Fashion Industry, with panelists such as Phillip Lim, Joe Zee, and Humberto Leon. In the words of one of the panelists, “Asians own the fashion industry.” I’m extremely proud of my fellow Asians in the industry, and I’m happy that this is one of the few industries (versus politics, for example) in which we do not experience barriers as minorities. I definitely own a lot of Alexander Wang and Prabal Gurung!
Being dubbed a “fashionista” is quite an honor. Is there a particular designer you look up to for inspiration?
Cliché answer, but I wrote a research paper on Coco Chanel and her role in pre-feminist movement feminism in high school, and I think she’s quite the strong woman and independent spirit. She was a complex woman with imperfections like any other human being, but she was also brilliant and visionary. Also, I love Vera Wang and her whole story — how she didn’t make it to the Olympics as a competitive ice skater, was fashion editor at Vogue for many years but didn’t get the position of editor in chief, and decided to leave everything behind to start her own line. Goes to show that you never know where you’ll end up in life!
With your online presence, what kind of message do you think you portray to others? Is it the same message you would have hoped to send?
Haha, you’re better off asking one of my readers! I don’t think everyone who stumbles upon my blog or Twitter agrees with me all the time, but I think my blog has been an experiment in growing up and discovering myself — and that’s something we can all get behind. Originally, I wanted to be an anonymous fashion-only blogger, but I guess I couldn’t stop myself from writing whatever came to mind.
What are you currently working on besides Miss Couturable?
Doing well in my classes! Seriously. I’ve realized how much I love education and I intend to apply to grad school. I’m also interning forTeen Vogue.
You discontinued Miss Couturable for half a year to focus on your personal website but returned at the beginning of 2011. What was your intent when ending what was a huge part of your life and identity? How did returning change your mindset?
I just wanted to connect with my readers in a different way. Also, I had started college and I didn’t have time to blog with such diligence anymore. I decided to return because I enjoyed writing about fashion on Miss Couturable, even though it no longer was a priority for me.
By starting Miss Couturable at such a young age, has it shaped the way you look at life and pursue your interests?
I think I’ve become more open and more opinionated due to Miss Couturable — in addition to becoming more thickskinned. I’m pretty fearless at pursuing what I want. Also, I’ve learned how important it is to be kind on the internet, even if you’re anonymous. At the end of the day, these are real people behind the monitors.
From what you’ve learned as a fashion blogger, do you have any advice for younger girls who are seeking to be a part of the fashion industry?
Be thickskinned. Get educated — focus on school. You have your whole life to love fashion; take advantage of your youth to get an education and a new perspective on the world. I think a lot of younger girls think of school as a stepping stone to a future career — change that mentality. Knowledge is a luxury and one of the few things in the world that can never be taken away from you.
Do you plan on branching out and starting new projects separate from Miss Couturable or otherwise in the future?
I co-founded and was editor in chief of Columbia University’s fashion magazine, Hoot (hootmag.org), for two years. I did a lot of extracurriculars at school, and i interned on the side. Other than that, though, I’m just focusing on school. I’m studying in Paris next year, and I’m preparing to do research for my senior honors thesis. I’m actually really excited about delving deeper into my academic pursuits, and I’m glad I discovered my love for academia for it became too late.