It’s time to tell the age-old tale of the California girl meeting southern hospitality on her way to fame. Never heard of it before? Then you are in for quite a treat.
Once upon a time, 20 years ago to be exact, there was a stunning girl, born all the way across the land in Santa Barbara, California. Not only were her looks charming, her knowledge far surpassed the rest, allowing her to receive admission to Duke University. And, traveling across the land, the English Major met many feats, taking on Dior, Teen Vogue, Saint Laurent, and even Harper’s BAZAAR. And while it may seem as though it is a fairy tale, Lauren Sachiko Alef is a real, living talent that I had the incredible opportunity of featuring.
Ah, Dior, Teen Vogue, Runway, such amazing feats, she must have fantasized about those accomplishments since she was a little girl, right? “Modeling was never something I even remotely considered growing up. Besides being short (think: 5’3” on a good day), I have an athletic build and was actually a bit of a tomboy. Ever since I was really young, I’ve been a competitive athlete (I was a very competitive swimmer and volleyball player, a scholastic All-American and black belt in judo, and now I’m on the Duke rowing team).
But at the same time, I always had a pretty creative mind. I was fascinated by art – observing it and making it – and towards the end of junior high, that sort of creativity began to translate to my wardrobe. I started experimenting with trying to express myself through my clothes, and became hooked as I began learning about different designers, trends, and styles.
At around the same time this transition was happening, I got my first modeling job. I was fourteen-years-old – a freshman in high school.”
Sad to say, that’s considered somewhat of a late start nowadays. So, what was the first job she was able to covet? “My freshman year of high school, my best friend and I accompanied our older brothers on a college road trip on the east coast. We saw a model casting in a Teen Vogue we were reading on the plane there, and realized we would be in the New York area around the time it was happening. We figured we would go just for the experience, and I truly had zero expectations of being chosen. The casting consisted of them taking polaroid shots and asking us a few short questions (like our favorite designers or to describe our personal style). Towards the end of the day, we came back and they announced 5 winners. I was actually the very last person they announced, and I didn’t believe it when they said my name.
The five of us were to walk in a prom runway show the next week at one of the Teen Vogue Haute Spots that was covered in an in-book listing in the magazine.”
Oh, so fancy. I would say what an incredible stroke of luck, yet, who would be that shocked with a face like her’s? But, I do want to hear more of this incredible endeavor. “The prom runway show I walked in for Teen Vogue was a pretty surreal experience. We came in for a fitting, and I got to try on a ton of amazing designer gowns and accessories. Ultimately, they chose 3 very different outfits for me to walk in (one bright, one edgy, and one romantic). On the day of the show, we had to get there a few hours early for hair and MUA. I loved the whole production of it – the styling and creativity behind it all. But in terms of the actual show, I was kind of a nervous wreck. As weird as it sounds, whenever I had been in the spotlight before that, I was never really aware that people were looking at me. For example, if I was playing a volleyball game, I was so engaged in the actual game that I would tune out the crowd. In this case, I had to be a lot more self-aware, and I definitely felt like I had to fake a confidence that didn’t come naturally to me. It was definitely challenging, but at the end of the day, it was really fun, and I got to meet some amazing people (like Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue).
After that experience, I was totally hooked on fashion. When I had met Amy, I asked her for some advice on how to be successful in the industry, and she told me to get as much experience as possible. So that’s what I tried to do. I started designing formal dresses, taking photography classes, working as a stylist at a local boutique, and interning in the editorial department at a local magazine. As this was all happening, Teen Vogue gave me the opportunity to enter the “Dior Diva” competition. For this, people voted on social media for the winner, who was to be flown out to NYC for a photo shoot to appear in the magazine. My friends were incredibly supportive, and I really think it was because of them that I won the competition.
But again I got flown out to NYC and set up in a hotel in Times Square for a few days. I got to tour the Teen Vogue HQ. On the day of the photo shoot, a car took me to Industria Superstudios, and I went through hours of hair, makeup, and wardrobe styling. The shoot was for Dior makeup, so the focus was portrait images. This was my first photoshoot, and I expected it to be different from my runway experience in that I wouldn’t have a ton of people looking at me. But I was definitely wrong. I didn’t realize that it takes a village to make a photo shoot happen. There were a ton of people on set, and it took me a little bit of time to get comfortable in front of the camera. But it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and it solidified my interest to work in fashion.”
Well, maybe this is a fairy tale then, as all of it sounds incredibly surreal. Yet, this is not the only talent Ms. Alef possesses in the fashion industry. While she was found behind the camera, she also can be found behind the company. “As much as I enjoyed my modeling experiences, I never saw it as a viable career option. I think Teen Vogue was a special avenue for me because they were so accommodating to different looks and builds. But at the same time, I wasn’t particularly passionate about modeling. I was passionate about fashion and the production, creativity, and community behind it.
So, once I got to college, I began to experiment in different parts of the fashion industry with summer internships. My first summer, I worked in the PR department at Saint Laurent in New York City. There I handled a lot of the sample trafficking, and saw VIP and editorial requests through start to finish (from the initial requests to pulling looks, to accumulating coverage of the product). It was a really hands-on experience, and I got some cool opportunities (like helping dress Scarlett Johansson for the Tony Awards) and got to work with some of the most hard-working, fun people I’ve ever met. After working there, I wasn’t completely set on a direct career goal, but I did realize that I want to work in a creative capacity in the industry, and I want to work with people.
The next summer, I decided to switch things up a little bit and work in the Marketing department at Harper’s BAZAAR in NYC. The entire department was filled with such nice people who were so invested in making sure I was getting the most out of my experience there, and because of that, I got some really cool opportunities. One of the most memorable ones was getting to assist at a photoshoot for The Coveteur (one of my favorite websites of all time). Having just finished my experience there, I’m still not entirely set on a particular department, but I know I like working at photoshoots and at events. Because, like I said before, I like to express myself creatively in a collaborative environment.”
With such incredible experiences in the fashion industry, an industry that finds home in New York, why Duke University? “I have the biggest heart for Southern California, but I figured I should have an out-of-state experience for college, just so I could experience living in another part of the country for a part of my life. Duke had everything I wanted in a school. Strong academics, amazing athletics, school spirit, a social scene, and not too severe winters. And it’s totally provided.
I’ve had a great two years at Duke so far. I’ve gotten involved in a lot of different things there – some new and some old. I walked onto the Varsity rowing team. I was an RA for freshman (this year I’ll be one for upperclassman). I’m in a sorority (Kappa Kappa Gamma). I’m a leader for Campus Outreach, an on-campus ministry that’s provided me with really solid, loving community. And in terms of fashion, I got to intern for Rent the Runway during the school year, and I work as a Fashion Editor for FORM, Duke’s fashion magazine.”
So, with such a full plate, full of numerous talents and opportunities, what aspirations and goals lie ahead for Ms.Alef? “There are a couple things I’m passionate about. First – people. I love meeting and working with people. And not on a superficial level; I like really getting to know and connecting with people at a heart level. So I know whatever job I (hopefully) get, I will be working with people. I’ve been so fortunate to work with really friendly, kind people in the fashion industry, but for me it’s so important to reflect that wherever I work. I know sometimes the industry can get a bad rap for being harsh or superficial. In regards to that, I do have sort of lofty aspirations for the industry. I’ve found that a lot of the time, people are searching for something to make themselves feel complete. For me, I don’t want fashion, beauty, or self-image to be the thing that completes people. I want to help people to feel fully complete on their own, and have fashion as an enhancer – as an avenue of self-expression. Because at the end of the day, fashion really is fun. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing when I graduate, but hopefully you’ll see me working hard in the fashion industry, working with people and getting to express myself creatively and influencing people in and out of the industry.”
And so the tale is told to here, but fret not, for this fair maiden has much farther to travel, many more feats to accomplish, and with the talents she possesses, in no time, I’m sure she will be ruling the land.