When Jane Keltner de Valle followed her former boss Amy Astley to Architectural Digest, there was some surprise: How would the longtime fashion editor make the switch to the world of architecture and interiors?
But for Keltner de Valle, it was a seamless transition. After growing up in New York City, where she found inspiration in everything from its many museums to its streets, she never set out to specialize in fashion, deciding instead to study liberal arts in college — a decision which continues to help her in her new field.
"I still firmly believe that you should major in what you love, and I do think that English and art history for what I do are great backgrounds," she says. "Unless you need to learn the technical aspects of putting a garment together or you want to be a designer, you don't need to go to school to study fashion."
She got her foot in the door through internships, first at a then-combined W and Women's Wear Daily, and then at Elle. They were all under the same editor, who would eventually call Keltner de Valle when a position opened up at Elle just a few weeks before she was set to graduate. She jumped right into the professional world without any time off after finishing school.
"I graduated and started working — I probably could have taken a little break, but I couldn't wait to get started," she says. "I think some people love being a student, but I couldn't wait to be out in the real world, working, and doing all of that."
From there, Keltner de Valle tracked an impressive resume, moving from Elle to Teen Vogue, where she spent 10 years under Astley, then clocking two years at Glamour before her current gig at Architectural Digest. It's quite the switch, but she's more than up for the challenge. The Condé Nast style director recently sat down with Fashionista to chat about the importance of having a varied resume and how to know when it's time to switch things up professionally. Read on for highlights from our conversation.
What first interested you about fashion?
I obsessively read magazines — I still have a lot of them at my parents' house — but I didn't grow up in this age where you have "The Hills," social media and things that made the industry as transparent as it is today; editors weren't really public figures back then. I got these magazines and I loved them, but I don't think that I put together that this was a career that I could actually have until I got to college.
I went to school in New York City, at Barnard. My boyfriend's ex-girlfriend had an internship at Mademoiselle, and got sick one day. She couldn't go to the Daryl K fashion show, and asked me to go and take some pictures for her. I went to the show, and it was just the most exciting experience I'd ever had. I actually positioned myself in the photographers pit; I brought my SLR camera, snapped every look, and was taking it very seriously.
That was when I put two and two together, that this could be a career. She help me get an interview with an editor at W magazine and Women's Wear Daily — at the time they were conjoined — and I got an internship. Then I worked at Elle until Amy [Astley] called, and then went over to Teen Vogue. I was at Teen Vogue with her for almost 10 years. Then I moved to Glamour for two years before coming here.
What were you doing at Elle?
I was hired as the associate fashion news editor. I'd been interning for over three years, so she hired me at a more senior level than assistant, which was amazing; I had kind of paid my dues. I started writing right off the bat; I started going to London Fashion Week and covering that right away. I was excited to do anything and everything, and I got a lot of amazing opportunities there.
What made you want to work at Teen Vogue?
I loved what Amy was doing with Teen Vogue. I've always been interested in youth culture, and [the magazine] set a standard for young people who are interested in fashion, but are still aspirational. With Teen Vogue I thought there was a little bit more freedom. Before street style became what it is, Teen Vogue was mixing high and low and showing real people who were interesting, cool and had a point of view, highlighting the idea of personal style. A lot of the things that permeate fashion today were little kernels that started at Teen Vogue.
How did your role change over those 10 years?
I started at the magazine as a fashion news editor, when editors still had behind-the-scenes jobs. During my time there, Lauren Conrad started interning at the magazine, and we got involved in the media circus that was "The Hills." People started doing their own first-person columns, which had been done before at Vogue. I had always looked up to Plum Sykes, who had a first-person voice of Vogue; Hamish Bowles, André Leon Talley. Amy asked if I would write a first-person column there.
Teen Vogue was a baby when I started, so I feel like I got to be a part of helping to shape the magazine, and grow with it, and work on features. One of the things that I loved about my job there, and every job that I've had since actually, is that I've gotten to combine visual and verbal. Really seeing a story through from conception, to writing and editing it, to putting together the visuals for it, working on the photo shoot, helping to art direct. I'm interested in the full 360-degree vision of the story, and not just writing or editing it when it comes together.
How did you decide to move to Glamour?
It's interesting, because I think that my moves both to Glamour and then here have coincided with different things that were happening in my life at the time. I was a new mom when the opportunity at Glamour came about, and I was really interested in looking at fashion and style through the lens of a working woman — in particular a working mother. That was definitely something that I tried to highlight in my time at Glamour.
Then when I came here, two years ago my husband and I bought and renovated a loft. I've always been interested in interiors, but I became obsessive. My husband is also an architect, so I've been peripherally immersed in this world for a while, but really became obsessed with it though renovating and decorating our home. I also saw a hole in what was out there versus what I wanted to see.
What opportunities did you see at Architectural Digest that really interested you about the job?
I think we're going through such a seismic cultural shift right now; there's so much crossover between architecture, home, fashion and art. It's really fluid, and just feels modern. I love AD, because it really is a lifestyle magazine, versus an interior magazine.
Flip through the magazine and you'll see ads from Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Hermès, Restoration Hardware, David Yurman, Rolex. I feel like that's so reflective of how we live today; people are as interested in their homes as they are in the art on their walls, as they are in the way that they dress and present themselves. It's interesting, being an outsider in that world; I think that gives me a fresh perspective on this. There are so many more ways to speak to that, and open up that conversation.
The December issue, actually, is a perfect example. We have Lauren Santo Domingo giving us a tour of her new Moda Operandi Madison space, which she decorated herself. We have Lisa Perry talking about how she cares for her outside art. In the center-book, we have a story on these Roman monuments that Italian fashion and jewelry houses have sponsored the restoration of. I feel like those are just a few examples of the crossover that I was talking about, with how fluid these worlds are today.
Did you do anything to prepare for the switch?
I don't have the same network of contacts as I do in the fashion world. I'm trying to go out, meet as many people as I can, and develop relationships. But I also think that what I can bring to the magazine, and why I think Amy brought me onto the team, is to open up the conversation a little bit and tap into this broader style network.
I'm still trying to find the balance. Even just juggling my events schedule and deciding which fashion event to go to, versus an interiors event. It's fun to juggle the different worlds. I think at this point in my career it's rare that you get to step into a totally new world and have the opportunity to really delve into that in a serious way.
How has social media impacted your job?
I think social media has been great, because it's made it so much more of a conversation between the magazine and the reader. It used to be that we put out a magazine, and that was at it. Then with digital it opened up the conversation — people could comment and give more immediate feedback. But with Instagram, for example, the conversation is just immediate.
For AD in particular, it's a 360-degree brand, and I think there's so much that we can do, not just across print but across digital. Amy recently hired a new digital director, which is really exciting. Whenever I'm thinking about a story, I'm thinking about it from that 360- degree view, how it can play out across all of the platforms.
The September issue with Marc Jacobs is a perfect example. I wasn't seeing tons of interior stories being regrammed on Instagram before that, but you take someone who people are really interested in, and who is really compelling and relevant for today — that's a story that is beautiful, elevated and relevant for the print magazine, but it's also totally buzzy on Instagram.
You were one of the first editors to really emerge as one of the street style "stars" when that phenomenon was first starting. How did that impact your career?
I would not describe myself as being a street style star, but I like how it democratized fashion, and has given different people a voice. I'm always interested in personal voice, so I think street style is great in that way — seeing how people [take] what they see on the runway and put pieces together for themselves. I also think that it's given different people a platform, and a voice. I loved it during my first-person column for Teen Vogue, and then for Glamour, having an opportunity to communicate with people — not just from a third person, like in this glass-box platform, but in a more direct way.
How have you seen the industry change?
When I started, magazines were a product, and now they're brands. The digital and social platforms are as important as the print product.
How have you known, in your career, when the time is right for a new opportunity?
I am someone who likes to constantly challenge myself, so if I'm feeling too comfortable, then that's the sign that I should be doing something else. Sometimes you can look for a new opportunity where you already are. At Teen Vogue I was able to do that for many years. There were so many different opportunities that either presented themselves, or that I put myself out for; we published a New York Times bestselling book, and I got to work on that really closely.
I'm not someone who has moved around that much in my career. But I do think that working for different people and at different places can help you grow and learn as a person.
How important are your connections — both the ones you've already made in the fashion industry, and the ones you're making now — to your day-to-day job?
I don't think I could do my job just sitting behind a desk all day. People bring stories to you, or want to work with you, because of the relationships you have with people. You need to be out there to be inspired, you need to see things to have ideas. I think it's key, and I'm so excited to be exploring this new world. I've been going to fashion showrooms and designers' studios for years; this is a totally new world for me.
How important have mentors been in your career?
So important, and [Amy] has obviously been an incredible mentor to me. She's so approachable, warm and genuine, but also has such an incredible focus and vision. She hires people she believes in, and gives them the freedom to do what they do — she's not a micromanager. That's a really rare gift; it takes a lot of confidence to do that.
I also really admire the way that she's balanced her career and her family. She has a great husband and two beautiful, bright daughters. To me, she's always been an example that that can be done.
What do you think the most valuable lesson in your career so far has been?
To always be open to new experiences. When I started my career, I think I had a very set idea of what I should be doing, and where I should be going. Everything has changed so much. It was a huge leap, in a way, coming to AD — scary and exciting all at the same time. It's certainly not a predictable path, I would say.
I'm so happy to be here, and I can't imagine doing anything else now. In the art industry, in general you really have to be open, because things are changing at such a rapid rate. If you just think of yourself as a print editor, or just think of yourself as this, or that, you're not going to move forward.
What advice would you give to somebody looking to follow in your career footsteps?
Number one, to really love and have a passion for it, to study and have a real understanding of the industry and the history. It's interesting, because you can't really intern, at least at the two big publishers, anymore. We just hired a new editorial assistant at AD, and she had intern experience at various auction houses and museums. I thought that was so impressive — actually more impressive than if she'd had internship experience here. She's bringing all of those different references, and rich things that she's learned at those places here. I think internships and experience are still important, but I don't think it has to be in the exact field that you want to work in.
What is your ultimate goal for what you would like to bring to AD?
In terms of what I want to bring to AD, it's definitely to open up the conversation; to make AD something that people want to look at, and live with, and talk about, whether it's something that they're putting on their coffee table, or something that they're posting on Instagram. I think those are the goals that we all have. It's exciting to see that buzz around AD, from the traditional audience and also inviting in a completely new audience.
Oh gosh, I mean, I just got here, and I'm still settling in here. We'll see — I try not to think too far ahead.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.