When she returns to Baltimore, Zoey Washington walks the streets with relative anonymity.
She'll pop into local boutiques unnoticed. This isn't the reception you would expect for a woman who founded a nationally recognized styling collective, LittleBird, focused on the teen and tween demographic, and who has held editing positions with some of the world's best-known glossies.
Washington, a 31-year-old graduate of Garrison Forest School and Columbia University, prefers it that way.
But Washington's resume reads like a who's who of fashion elite: She's held positions at Marie Claire, Vogue and Essence. She's working at People Style Watch as a senior fashion editor and as an accessories editor at Elle. And her styling work has led her to work with the cast of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" and the Broadway revival of "Annie."
We asked Washington about her quick ascent in fashion and the differences she sees between Baltimore and New York, where she lives most of the year. An edited transcript appears below.
When you were at Vogue, I hear, you modeled for Annie Leibovitz. What was that like?:
[Laughter] It was amazing. I think the term "model" is a stretch. The higher-ups called me the night before the shot and said, "Zoey, our model dropped out and we would love for you to sit in her place." I was beyond excited. They were shooting Jenna Lyons because J. Crew was launching bridal and the concept was for Jenna to be shot by Annie Leibovitz surrounded by a ton of brides. As we were shooting I noticed that I was slowly being pushed out of frame. After the shoot they told me that I wasn't in any of the shots. It was pretty hilarious.
How did you go from Baltimore to Essence, Vogue, Elle and People?
At Garrison Forest, every senior completes a [senior project]. I wrote to the fashion director of Cosmopolitan magazine every day for roughly two months until she agreed to let me do my [project] with her (she was a graduate of Garrison). I don't recommend that anyone repeat my behavior. I made it my business to go to college in New York so that I could pursue fashion and become a fashion editor. I was lucky enough to go to Columbia University, where they pretty much let you do whatever you want in terms of an internship. I continued interning, and it just always led to more opportunities and jobs.
What is it like being a black woman in the fashion magazine industry?
I have seen the industry change as I have grown up. When I first started, there weren't a lot of black editors working at publications that served a multiracial/ white audience. But you really see a change now in how publishers and editors look at women of color and what they bring to the table as editors. Now you have a black beauty director at People Style Watch and Teen Vogue. The accessories and fashion features directors at Allure and Glamour, respectively, are all African-American (and both very good friends of mine). The fashion director at Elle is a woman of color. It is a great thing to see, and [it is] such a different experience than when I was an assistant, and I sincerely think that the publications and sites are the better for it.
Who are your style icons?
I love classic, but individual style. I have dreams about working for Phoebe Philo at Celine. She is my idol. I also love Stella McCartney. I just love women, in and out of the industry, who have a strong sense of self. I am not impressed when someone has the newest bag or the "it" shoe. It doesn't take creativity, vision or personality to go out and buy what everyone else has. That is why it saddens me whenever someone asks me: ‘OK, what bag should I buy?' I understand the question, and I get why they may ask what is a smart investment, but the truth is you should invest in yourself and your own look ... not throw money at someone else's.
What is your ultimate goal?
To establish a successful lifestyle brand. I would love to headquarter it in Baltimore. I look at UnderArmour, which is obviously a lofty aspiration, and I love how it has become part of Baltimore's culture and pride. I want to build a brand that has cachet nation- and worldwide but is a source of pride for people in Baltimore as well.
Describe Baltimore's sense of style.
Baltimore is a special lady. Baltimore is like your fun aunt who has done some really cool things in her life, but you didn't realize it until you were older. She is eclectic, slightly preppy, quirky, but then you raid her closet and find an old Chanel or [Salvatore] Ferragamo bag.
How does it differ from New York?
New York isn't afraid to take calculated risks. In New York you can get away with a lot of different looks or all black all day every day. In Baltimore, the look is much more friendly but less risky.