Andrea Barna: "The Road Less Traveled"
Jewelry designer Andrea Barna talked to The Stylish City about the path that led her from her quaint native Westchester town, where she grew up in a family of lawyers, to the decision to join the world of fashion in New York City, first through fashion and accessories editorial positions at some of the most prestigious fashion publications, and eventually to start her own jewelry line, A by Andrea Barna, at age 23, inspired by the energy and culture of the city she loves and calls home.
Although she is often trying to get friends together, and seems full of energy and initiative, you get the sense that Andrea is not the pushy kind of friend who’s all over the place, that she likes the comfort and privacy of her home as much as she loves to explore the city. Somehow the combination of those different sides of her personality made the experience of starting a business that allows her to make her own rules, work in her own space and at her own pace, and at the same time connect with people through her work and expose herself to new opportunities every day, a very fulfilling one. When I visit her apartment, which sometimes doubles as her office, it pretty much matches my expectations- it is elegant and faces Park Avenue, but it also has an artsy touch, as well as playful, girly glam details, like the leopard-print pillows that contrast nicely with the brown leather couch (her long-haired Chihuahua’s, Benny, favorite spot), and the white flowers and candles which decorate her terrace, from where one can admire the lights of Manhattan in all its glory. The large living room table is covered with jewelry pieces Andrea designed, as well as tear sheets and a portfolio filled with images of the still life shoots she styled during her stints at W and WWD. “I love my space, and I am very independent,” Andrea tells me. That pretty much sums up my impressions of her and of the place she inhabits. At the same time Andrea is very accommodating, and when her former high-school classmate Marisa, the make-up artist on the shoot, arrives, Andrea’s spontaneous, funny and informal side comes out, as the two young women start to chat about former high-school mates, Chappaqua, and, inevitably, about New York. Suddenly, I feel like I am among old friends, so I join in.
The Stylish City: We’ve heard a lot about your native town, Chappaqua, because former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hilary, moved there. What was it like growing up there? Did it inspire you in any way to work in fashion and was anyone else in your family involved in fashion?
Andrea: Growing up in Chappaqua was pretty amazing. I had an extremely tight group of friends and most of us are still close. It doesn’t get much more beautiful than Chappaqua, it’s so picturesque. It’s changed a lot since I lived there, it’s much more populated now and after the arrival of the Clintons the real estate market has gone up.
The Stylish City: Did living there inspire you in any way to work in fashion, and was anyone else in your family involved in fashion?
Andrea: I have always loved fashion. Each day at the Horace Greeley High School was like a fashion show for me and my friends. Slightly like the high-school halls from the show “90210.” It was fun!
My family is FULL of lawyers. I carved my own path in fashion, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I guess you could say that I took the road less traveled. I grew up coming to NYC with my family. I loved all the museums here and loved going to the theatre, and it’s only 45 minutes away from Chappaqua. I knew I wanted to live in the city when I grew up. I moved to NYC when I was 19 with my family, which now resides on the UWS.
The Stylish City: You started to work for fashion publications (W, WWD) at an early age, 19. How did you get the job, was it an internship? And what was it like working with all these well-known editors, journalists, stylists, designers when you were so young?
Andrea: I began as an intern at W and WWD, the summer before my senior year of college at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. I hated going to that college, I was studying business, and I don’t know why I didn’t transfer to Parsons or F.I.T. But my step-sister knew someone who worked at W and WWD, so she is really responsible for getting me the job! After I finished the summer internship I became a fashion assistant for the two publications and it was one of the best times of my life. I have all kinds of memories…I remember that I picked the Jimmy Choos which Jennifer Lopez wore at the VMAs in 2000 and when I watched the awards show and saw her walking around in those Jimmy Choos I was so excited! I did so much there, from assisting Joe Zee on a photo shoot with Hilary Swank, Alex White on a Kate Moss photo shoot, to a lot of menswear shoots for W Men’s Portfolio, and I remember assisting men’s editor Marcus Teo on an issue that included a portfolio dedicated to influential men in media, and we styled Anderson Cooper, Patrick McMullan, Euan Rellie and Darren Aronofsky, among others. I also styled still-life shoots for the WWD Beauty (editor Kerry Diamond was my mentor in the beauty department).
The Stylish City: Do you feel that the book and the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” were an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a young, fresh-out-of-school woman working in fashion media?
Andrea: Haha, “The Devil Wears Prada” was an amazing movie, but no, my experience was nothing like that. I loved working at W and WWD, I learnt a tremendous amount from some of the most talented, intelligent and world-renowned editors. I can’t think of a better place to have started my career. Some of the very editors I worked with at 19 (beauty editor Kerry Diamond, fashion editor Joe Zee), have been very helpful people who have shaped my career.
The Stylish City: Did you know at that that point that you wanted to design jewelry or was it an unexpected direction and craft that you became familiar with while working with accessories at W and WWD? What prompted you to make the transition from fashion journalism to jewelry design?
Andrea: After W and WWD, I worked at Mode magazine as an assistant accessories editor, which was a step up from being a fashion assistant, and I had a lot more to say in what was going on in the accessories department, I produced photo shoots, called in product, and was able to use my PR contacts from W and WWD to call in products from high-end designers that Mode hadn’t had access to before, because the magazine did not have the prestige that W and WWD had. It was then, after years of calling in product, that I thought to myself I can come up with something great too! My years at fashion magazines were a great experience, but like any industry, it had its limitations- a long path to a position that pays well enough for one to live comfortably in Manhattan, job insecurity (Mode folded since I worked there), and I craved independence so eventually I came up with a business plan and I started my line in 2003, and I love doing this, it’s my passion! I also get to use what I learnt in college when I studied business, in order to implement this business. After I started the line, things took off pretty fast in terms of press coverage, prestigious store wanted to carry my line, I was very lucky.
The Stylish City: Did you take classes in jewelry design or are you a self-taught designer? How useful were the fashion publishing experience and contacts when you started your own jewelry line?
Andrea: I took a beading class in the Union Square area, and that was really it. I design from inspiration through trending fashions, and study old issues of Vogue a lot. There is an amazing store called Gallagher’s in the East Village that has archives of almost every single magazine ever published.
The Stylish City: You seem to be very much a New Yorker, very fond of the city, its people and its culture. What are some of the New York places, characteristics, people that inspire you? If you didn’t live in New York, where else would you like to live?
Andrea: I can’t really imagine living anywhere else in the world besides NYC. I love the seasons, the culture, the nightlife, everything about it really! The only other place I can maybe imagine myself living in besides New York is L.A. My step-sister and her family live there, as well as many of my close friends. It’s a really fun and magical place.
I’m known to be a homebody at times. I love to watch movies, and to spend time with friends. I love the energy of the city but I also love to go home and I am privileged to have a spacious apartment by NY standards and to be able to work from home sometimes.
The Stylish City: What are your favorite restaurants, places to go out, shop, spend your free time at in the city?
Andrea: I love going to dinners at restaurants with friends, and would really rather spend my time there than in nightclubs. I am not the type who goes out and networks all the time. I used to go to Mr. Chow on 57 Street with my stepsister at least twice a week, it was by far my favorite restaurant ever! I also love Elio’s, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. My favorite store is definitely Henri Bendel. It’s quintessential NYC!
The Stylish City: In your opinion, what are the best and the worst things about living in New York?
Andrea: The best things about NYC are the seasons and the culture, the worst thing is by far the traffic!
By Doris Sangeorzan
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