I’ve always been a fan of Amanda Brooks’ style — I’ve taken photos of her at least 2,550 times during fashion weeks (I also visited her apartment in New York) — but now I’m also a fan of her lifestyle. For three years now, Amanda has been living with her family and animals in the English countryside — a total 180 degree lifestyle change (and the kind of thing we all secretly dream of doing, at one time or another).
Taking this step back has given her a whole new perspective, and now she’s come back with a book, Always Pack A Party Dress, telling us all about her twenty years in fashion, from being a it-girl, to an assistant to Patrick Demarchelier, to fashion director at Barney’s.
I think the book is fantastic. It’s honest, simple, personal, fun, and it answers lots of questions we’ve all asked about the fashion world.
I had lots of questions for her myself, so I did what I do with my girlfriends — I set up a Skype date. Here are all the essentials from our discussion!
Garance: Hi love!!!
Amanda: Hi hi!
Garance: Okay, so I’m gonna try to not make this too long, we’ll do it typing so it feels more fun and natural. You’re ready ?
Amanda: Sounds good to me!
Garance: Perfect. Let’s go!
Are you on your farm right now ?
Amanda: Yes, next to my dog and one of my cats! I am surrounded by animals all day!
Garance: That’s amazing. I imagine you with a cup of tea looking at a beautiful landscape.
Amanda: You got it.
Garance: I read your book and I loved it, and it also made me realize what a socialite you are!
Is socialite a bad word ?
Amanda: You mean what a socialite I was?!?
Garance: Yeah, maybe that’s more accurate!
Amanda: And thank you for the compliment. I accept being called a socialite. I am a very social animal. I love to be around people. But I also like alone time. I guess on the farm I am exploring the other, more quiet side of me.
Garance: More than being just a super socialite, which is a kind of success of it’s own, you had an amazing career in NYC. How did you decide to leave it behind and move to a farm far, far away from all the New York madness?
Amanda: I really loved all the experiences I had in NYC and in the fashion world, but I came to the feeling that I hadn’t quite found the thing – the job, the lifestyle, the home – that I felt I could stay with for the rest of my life. I always felt there was something else out there I had yet to discover that was going to feel more true to me. Finally, I decided that I had to leave NYC for a bit to find out if that was true. Now that I have perspective on it, I love New York and fashion more than ever, I just like to have it less intensely. What I realise I really love is having a double life – a city one and a country one.
Garance: So you do feel like you have a double life.
Do you come back often ? How do you keep in touch ?
Amanda: Absolutely! I really love my down time at the farm where I can focus on my family and get writing done. We rarely socialise during the weekdays and we have a very healthy lifestyle. Then, every other month I come to New York for a week and it feels like I never left.
Garance: That’s New York. The most welcoming city in the world.
Amanda: It really is. My NYC bed still feels like being at home more than my bed here. I guess that will take a while to change. But I feel like I just slip back in and carry on from the last time.
Garance: Reading your book, I learned you were kind of born in the fashion industry, you could have had a deep case of withdrawal. What did you learn about the fashion business and the NYC scene from that sudden perspective ?
Amanda: Well, now that I’m in the REAL WORLD (outside of the industry for the most part), I actually enjoy shopping more because I haven’t seen all the clothes before! About the industry itself, I have very happy feelings towards fashion. I met so many gracious and generous people that guided me and supported me. That was what I most wanted to share in my book – I wanted fashion to seem like a warmer, more relatable place than most people assume it is.
Garance: I was at the CFDA awards yesterday, and I realized I knew everyone, and that everyone was so nice to me.
I thought, wow, I’ve only been here for 5 years…
And I feel at home. It’s not always easy, but there is definitely a deep sense of community.
Amanda: And about New York City, I can see so clearly that the reason to be there is to work and make money!! Everything about the city is in support of that. Here, it’s harder to work so many hours because there are so many pleasurable distractions like cooking, walking, riding horses, gardening…….
I felt that the CFDA awards was like a high school reunion! You feel proud to be a part of that community and familiar with everyone around you.
Garance: I can imagine ! That’s also the thing that stresses me about New York. I feel like I’m missing some REAL WORLD life sometimes… !
Yes. It’s actually amazing and I can totally see the sense of having such a ceremony.
Okay, back to your book!
You share very intimate thoughts about your career. What was the mission you gave yourself with your book?
(I need to edit myself ahahah I repeat “book” every second)
Amanda: The mission when I sat down to write the book was to reflect on the last 20 years working in fashion and share all the things I thought might resonate with a girl who was just starting out. I guess you could say I “came of age” in fashion, and so I wanted to tell a coming of age story about all the good things, bad things that happened to me. The times I succeeded and the times I felt stuck or made mistakes.
Garance: I love your honesty. It feels real and relatable.
Amanda: Also, the other girl I thought of was one that is about my age and thinking about her life and her family and how to manage it all. I wanted the idea of taking a break not to seem so scary.
Garance: The Tods story, anyone can relate!
I think this is a great mission :)
I think that’s my favorite thing about the book, it’s a mix of dream and real life stories… Except they all happened to you !
Amanda: Thank you. The TODS story was the time I felt closest to being fired. It was an awful feeling. That said, so many of my friends have been fired and it was was such a great thing for them, I think everybody should be fired once. Maybe my turn is still to come!!
Garance: Ah ! Or dumped, at least !
Amanda: Well, the backdrop of the story is fashion, so it’s obviously glamorous and exciting but I wanted the stories to feel more real.
Garance: I always tell my young friends you need to be broken up once to understand that it’s not the end of the world. Being fired is the same.
Garance: I remember sitting with you at Bar Pitti and asking you about the Met Ball, listening to your stories with wide eyes. You told me later that my questions inspired you to write that piece – one of my favorites in the book – about your years going to the Met Ball. Is it difficult to see that, what people in the industry view as their normality appears to others as a glamorous dream ?
Amanda: Yes – you were the inspiration behind the whole Met Ball chapter!! You told me to dissect every outfit from every year and I did. It’s amazing how many I looked back on and hated!
Yes, I am aware that when you are speaking to a large audience it’s important to realise how amazing all those experiences sound to them. Now that I am not in fashion every day, I think of some of the things Ive done and realise that they are definitely NOT NORMAL!
I know, sometimes I think about going to live on the beach and I’m like, would I miss that ? I have no idea… !
Amanda: I think you have a way to go until you wouldn’t miss it. I really had to make myself very, very ready to leave. I was thinking it about it for 5 years before we decided to go. I really had to drive myself into the ground in order to feel ready to leave it all behind. If we’d moved when I first thought of the idea I dont think I would have appreciated it as much.
Garance: That’s great advice. I think I always try to go too fast, think too fast.
You have to mature these ideas, and make them something workable, like what you did.
Becoming a writer works so perfectly for your lifestyle.
Amanda: It felt like it was such a hard choice to make for so long and then, suddenly, I felt I had no choice but to go!
Garance: Was there one story that you weren’t sure you would actually include?
Amanda: Well, the writing allows me to have structure and include “work” in my life but also include all the wonderful things I mentioned above about living in the country. When I wrote my first book I Love Your Style, I was writing AND attending to 5 or 6 consulting clients at the same time!
Garance: Omg that’s crazy. I just finished writing my book and it was probably one of the toughest things I ever did, so I cannot imagine.
Amanda: Yes, there was. There was a brief time in my early 20s when I really struggled with perfection – I was in my last year of university and I got straight As, ran 8 miles (yes 8!) a day, and was very strict with what I ate. It was weird because I was the most happy, carefree, relaxed child and teenager. I tried to leave that obsession with perfection behind when I moved to NYC but it lingered for a few years. I wanted to include that but it was hard to link it back to fashion and I didn’t want to start the book on a downer. I did mention it towards the end of the book but I was tempted to discuss that in more depth because I know so many young women struggle with similar feelings of feeling like they have to over-achieve.
Garance: That’s so interesting. I always feel like New York pushes me to that. It’s very much a struggle to stay grounded and happy with who I am…
I would love to read that piece one day !
Maybe you can write it for my blog :)
Amanda: Oh sorry – I didnt answer your question correctly. You wanted to know one I DID include that I almost didn’t – well the Mick Jagger one because, after the Madonna chapter, I didn’t want to feel that I was just bragging about all the famous people I met. But for me that was a humbling story and it was 100% true so I threw it in there.
Garance: Or do another book !
Amanda: I would love to write it for you. xx
Garance: It doesn’t feel braggy. It’s exactly that, interesting and real.
And says a lot about the person you are, in a great way !
Amanda: The next book is about living in the country and it includes a LOT about food and balance, so maybe I will work in a part about letting go of perfection.
Garance: Yes ! And also write it for me…
Okay, last question !
Garance: What’s the one thing you miss the most about life in New York ?
Jumping on beds with crazy dresses on ?
Amanda: My neighborhood – I live on Chrystie Street between Stanton and Rivington. I feel so at home in the blocks surrounding our building. There is every walk of life, style and inspiration. You feel like you see the whole world in a very small area.
Garance: Thank you Amanda !
Amanda: Ha! Did you see the pic of me in the book jumping on the bed in a ball gown from Vogue? When i was doing your shoot I was thinking this is the 2.0 version!
Amanda: THANK YOU GARANCE. Great questions. I so enjoyed answering them. Sending you love xx
Garance: Totally! It’s so funny I saw it the day after! I love that photo
Love to you. Hope to see you again soon. Hug the cats and dogs for me
Photo taken at The Plaza Hotel during Amanda’s short stay in New York.
Amanda wears a dress from Oscar de la Renta