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Spotlight On: Aya Kanai

Featured, Influencers, Persons of Interest  /   /  By Nina Louie

Recently, we ducked behind the scenes for a quick conversation with each of the women starring in our new Find Your Perfect ad campaign. Tune in as we talk closets and careers, brunch spots and beauty secrets, and more. 

Don’t get us wrong: We think old-school editors like Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington are absolutely brilliant. But lately we’re noticing a new crop of tastemakers who are, fascinatingly, way more down to earth. Instagram lets us in on every detail of their lives. From their giddy, on-the-spot engagement announcements to their wan weekend bodega runs, we see it all and we “♥” it all, right along with their actual IRL friends. Aya Kanai is part of this next generation of fun they’re-just-like-us editors. Read on to meet her, and then go follow her on IG.

SS: If someone were to dress as you for Halloween, what would they wear?

AK: They would wear Chelsea boots, and either skinny jeans or leather pants. I’m more of a tomboy, not a dress type of girl.

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It looks like you’ll be wearing a lot of layering pieces for this shoot.

Definitely. I like anything that has multiple uses—anything that’s reversible, or if you can zip off the sleeves, or change the shape in any way. Sometimes I’ll justify a purchase if I’m like, well, you can wear it five different ways.

I also like to have layering options because the weather can be so unpredictable and I’m often outside due to the nature of my job.

What do you do?

I’m the fashion director at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines. I’m also a judge on the television show Project Runway Junior. We just had the finale for our first season.

I watch that with my daughter. She loves Project Runway and was excited to see the junior version.

Oh really! I love to hear feedback from people who watch it with their kids. The show has a really good message. The kids—the designers, I should say—were so talented. They created amazing work, and I got to see it all in person.

A lot of the time on these competitive reality shows, it can become about the drama between contestants, whereas with these kids, they became such good friends. They were really tightly knit. I think they had never really been around people like themselves.

Their own ilk.

Yeah, they really found their tribe, especially some of the boys around 14 and 15 years old. At one point, when we had to boot someone off, we were all just weeping uncontrollably. The whole crew was crying, because it was impossible to kick this person off—they had become so important to everyone there.

I really feel good about these kids having the opportunity to express their creativity.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I use the normal resources, like Pinterest and Instagram. And my mother is a fashion historian. She has a lot of great books that I consult.

What’s one great IG account that you’d recommend?

There’s an amazing London bookstore called Idea Books Unlimited. They have awesome vintage fashion books, and their Instagram is incredible.

Was your mom a source of style inspiration when you were growing up?

Very much so. I’m lucky to be living in the city I grew up in, so I can see my parents and catch up with them pretty much any time I want. I get inspiration from them as an adult too, not just as a kid.

What did you like to wear as a child?

In the ’80s and ’90s, there was a store called Charivari that I couldn’t afford, but I would go and look for inspiration. It’s like now, when you check out Barneys or Dover Street Market. You’re not buying anything, but you’re getting excited about what you’re seeing there.

Do remember your first meaningful fashion purchase?

Yeah, when I graduated up to being an editor, I bought a YSL Muse bag. It was white patent leather. What a crazy thing to buy. But I wore that thing until…

Until it fell apart?

Exactly. I don’t know what happened to that bag. I don’t have it anymore.

Do you have any saved searches on eBay?

I’m always looking for embroidered items—like jackets, whether satin or leather or jean. I’ll add the word “embroidered” when searching.

I also love vintage patches that you can sew on to any of your existing items. eBay has some really beautiful, unique ones.

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And then, of course, T-shirts. I found this one I’m wearing looking for a shirt that has a tuxedo print on it. I got that, but then within that search, I found this one, with this New York Magazine font and this rose. I no longer have the tuxedo shirt, but this one lives on. My husband and I share it.

Do you have a favorite shopping city?

Hmm. Tokyo—but maybe that’s a boring answer because it’s everyone’s favorite. I will say that as a fashion editor and stylist, I don’t do much shopping. Each season, I add a couple pieces, but I don’t want a crazy volume of stuff. I’m looking at clothes all day…It’s like if you work in an office with a bunch of files. That’s what clothes are to me—they’re my files. And if I’m going to add something to my file cabinet, it has to be really worthwhile.

Do you have any go-to designers for those special pieces?

I’m really into this cool outerwear brand called The Arrivals. They only make coats—men’s and women’s. The designer is a former architect, so the clothes he makes are really functionally considered; the inside pockets have a purpose and the fabrics are thoughtfully selected. And it’s a direct-to-consumer brand, which is an interesting business model to support. They’re like the Warby Parker of coats.

There’s also another cool French brand called Pallas, which only makes tuxedos for women, and they’re really beautifully tailored. I have a few of their blazers that I mix in with a lot of the clothes I wear.

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Is there anything that you wear every day?

My grandmother’s gold chain, my wedding ring, my Cartier rolling ring. A lot of my grandmother’s jewelry is really special to me. That’s what I would take in a fire.

How did you choose the clothes for this shoot?

When you do pictures with Todd [Selby], he really wants your own personality to come through; he doesn’t want you to feel like you’re living a fake life. So these are clothes that are actually in my wardrobe. And I have a really active life. As a stylist, you’re not behind a desk, you have to be up and moving around. You have to be comfortable in what you’re wearing. Those are the considerations when I get dressed.

Love Aya’s look? Browse rocker styles with a tomboy twist here.

If you’ve read all our behind-the-scenes interviews, check out our videos! First up, Jamie Schmones Erickson lets us raid her closet.

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