Eva Chen's 'Lucky' choice

Eva Chen, Hopkins grad, leaving "Lucky"

Eva Chen is a fashion magazine prodigy.

Chosen by the longtime Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Chen became the youngest magazine editor in the history of Conde Nast in 2013 when she was hired to lead Lucky, the shopping-focused glossy, at the age of 33.

Chen, a Johns Hopkins University graduate, has overseen a number of memorable covers and a series of sweeping changes, including an overhaul of Lucky's website.

But just as the magazine announced its latest metamorphosis — switching from a monthly to a quarterly — Chen confirmed a change of her own: She's leaving Lucky. Her reason? Motherhood.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing firsthand the milestones that a 6-month-old has," said Chen who lives in New York City with her husband, Tom Bannister, and daughter, Ren.

Chen, 35, gave birth to Ren in December and continued the rigorous life of a magazine editor, which requires a mix of traditional office work, fashion-related events, guest reporting stints with "Entertainment Tonight" and interacting with the public, which Chen has made a priority.

"I basically did not ever go away [on maternity leave]. It took a ton to make the launch happen," she said, referring to the Lucky website's transition from an editorial site to an e-commerce portal that focuses on a mix of articles to read and products to sell.

The news of Chen's planned departure from Lucky raised more than a few eyebrows.

"I was shocked. I'm going to miss her," said Danielle DiFerdinando, an Ellicott City native who is founder of Danielle Nicole, which makes handbags and accessories. "She's definitely the Lucky girl. I really respect her for what she's done on social media. And how she's brought social media and the magazine together. She's relatable to the Lucky follower."

Chen has been an integral part of Lucky's evolution.

Last year, the magazine announced it would spin off from Conde Nast into a separate company called Lucky Shops, a partnership with e-commerce startup BeachMint. The collaboration is one of the first of its kind in the fashion industry. Chen was named its chief creative officer.

"It's been a sprint to the finish line since then," said Chen, adding that the company has signed 200 brands to be sold on the site. "It's kind of scary and amazing at the same time."

Chen has also made diversity a priority for the covers of her magazine — a constant sore spot in the fashion industry.

"I would love to shoot more of every [ethnic group]. It's incredibly important to me," Chen said. "Fashion appeals to everyone. … Everyone gets into it. I wish there was more I could do."

Chen has practiced what she's preached. Under her leadership, Lucky has featured a number of women of color on its covers, including Kerry Washington, Zoe Saldana, Solange Knowles, Eva Mendez and, most recently, supermodel Joan Smalls.

"Last week, I looked at all the covers. I feel very happy that there is more diversity represented in this magazine," Chen said during an interview this spring. "I do feel very proud."

Chen cites the magazine's accessibility to readers as one of her greatest contributions.

"It's that person-to-person contact via social media and email," she said. "I put my email in the magazine each month. I get so many emails from our readers."

That effort has enabled Chen to connect with her readers. Her Instagram account has more than 374,000 followers. Her Twitter account has more than 119,000.

"She's been on the forefront of social media," said DiFerdinando, whose bags have been featured several times in Lucky and during one of Chen's appearances on "Good Morning America." "She's connecting and relating to the fashion girl. It's very important. There's so much competition out there — magazines, editors and bloggers. It's key to being successful — connecting with followers and readers."

DiFerdinando praised Chen's ability to maneuver through the fast changes of the magazine world — especially as Lucky has been on the industry forefront with a new business model.

"Her work ethic is amazing," she said.

Chen's quick rise in the fashion industry began in the most unlikely of places: Johns Hopkins.

Like many children of Asian immigrants — her mother is from Taipei and her father is from Shanghai — Chen says that she attended the university to pursue a career in medicine.

"It's quite common in our culture to be pre-something," said the New York City native, whose parents own a consulting textile import-export business. "It is ingrained."

But Chen's heart wasn't in medicine. Her favorite courses in college were English classes. In between her junior and senior years, she took an internship at Harper's Bazaar to "try something new." It was there that the light bulb went on.

"That's kind of what sparked my interest," she recalled. "It helped me get to where I am."

Chen graduated from Hopkins in 2001 and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

She then hit the ground running. Chen worked in fashion, beauty and health at places like Vogue, Teen Vogue, Elle and The Wall Street Journal Magazine. She spent seven years at Teen Vogue, where she held a number of editorial positions and began to make a name for herself.

Chen still holds Hopkins and Baltimore close to her heart.

"I loved my time at Hopkins," she said, adding that she serves on a young alumni group for the university. "I would say I am unapologetically nerdy. I was always a little awkward. Hopkins is ultimately the school for nerds in the best way possible. It's a place where people who love learning get excited."

As part of the alumni group, Chen periodically returns to Baltimore. Her most recent visit was in 2014.

"The quality of life in Baltimore has changed so much," Chen said. "It's also nice to see it flourishing and growing."

Classmates at Hopkins recognized Chen's drive and potential in the late 1990s.

"To me, she'll always be the girl in sweatpants and a headband, rushing to hand in a paper days late who still manages to eke out an 'A' despite her tardiness," said classmate Lauren Rothkopf, who met Chen freshman year.

Rothkopf praised Chen's ability to remain the same even though she's achieved fame.

"Though her appearance and style have evolved, her strong personality and core self have always remained constant," Rothkopf said. "Eva is always willing to help other people. She doesn't step on people to get to the top. She just works harder."

Chen is a role model for young girls — particularly minorities, according to Stella Yi, an assistant professor in the department of population health at New York University School of Medicine and a friend since high school.

"One of the reasons we became so close was because she was so strong and she was so certain of herself," said Yi. "She's extremely hardworking. Her success to me is not a surprise."

Chen's professional future remains unclear. Right now she's looking forward to witnessing her daughter's milestones.

"I want to hear her first words be my name," Chen said. "I'm looking forward to taking a little time off and enjoying this amazing blessing of motherhood that I've had."

And Chen will enjoy watching Ren develop her own sense of style.

"I wanted her to wear little Doc Martens, but she's such a girly-girl," she said. "I dress her from her enormous closet of fluffy dresses. I will just defer to her. Let her have that as a creative outlet."

Chen said she will depart from the magazine this summer.

Asked if she envisioned returning to the magazine industry, Chen responded: "Never say never."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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