Adolescent trips to couture shows and an internship at Vogue Paris helped Bay Area beauty Vanessa Traina earn her fashion stripes
by Derek Blasberg illustration Hiroshi Tanabe
Vanessa Traina’s career as a New York-based sylist started long before she moved to the east coast. Born and raised in San Francisco, she grew up at the hem of her haute-couture-collecting mother, the seminal novelist Danielle Steel. Between trips to Paris fashion week and home-cooked meals with family friends like Christian Louboutin and André Leon Talley, she had an early entré into the world of high fashion. To date, her career has included roles as model, muse and what she prefers most, stylist.
Derek Blasberg Let’s start from the beginning. What are your first fashion memories?
Vanessa Traina I remember being taken to Paris when I was very young and being hypnotized by the beauty. I can remember playing with my mother’s clothes and watching her get dressed in her magnificent dresses.
DB Was San Francisco a very fabulous town when it came to style?
VT When I was younger it was all I knew. My mother and her friends always dressed beautifully, but I wouldn’t call San Francisco a fashion capital. I think people in San Francisco have other priorities – not in a negative way.
DB There are some fabulous women in San Francisco. Did your mother know Dodie Rosenkrans [a San Francisco society doyenne prone to extravagant outfits]?
VT Oh yes, she was incredible. She was definitely a fixture because of her incredible taste in all fields: art, fashion, her home, her jewelry collections. She was divine and unique. Her grandchildren were friends with me and my sisters.
I remember being taken to Paris when I was very young and being hypnotized by the beauty. I can remember playing with my mother's clothes and watching her get dressed in her magnificent dresses. -- Vanessa Traina on her first fashion memories
DB What were some of the rules your mother taught you about fashion?
VT She was never verbal with advice, and she always wanted us to be our own individuals. So we observed. How could we not? She takes risks, buys what she loves and it is all about quality.. She does what she feels and what she wants, and I guess we do that too.
DB Is fashion an industry you always wanted to work in?
VT Absolutely. Two of my sisters [Samantha, an LA-based stylist and fashion editor, and Victoria, a consultant at Proenza Schouler] are in fashion and the three of us all knew that we wanted to do this. It was something that we all had in common, and something that we explored together. It was never competitive. It was exciting.
DB How did you get started?
VT When I was 14 or 15, I started going to shoots and watching how the stylists worked. It’s what I wanted to do. So I interned at Vogue Paris in the fashion department. I was one of three interns, so we all got a lot of firsthand experience. I worked on many of Carine [Roitfeld]’s shoots.
DB That’s pretty good training…
VT It was a dream. Are you kidding? For that to be an introduction into the industry, and to see her work and see her process? I was on cloud nine.
DB Let’s talk about our friend Joseph Altuzarra. How did you guys meet?
VT We actually met at Café Matisse in Paris through a common friend. He was still working for Givenchy at the time, and we just hit it off. Some people become friends because of work and some people become friends because of their personalities. For us, it was definitely the latter. We ended up moving to New York on the same day, so we started hanging out together all the time, meeting for dinner and finding our way in the city.
DB When did you start to see his work?
VT Before he even launched his own collection. From the very beginning.
DB Joseph has called you his muse. Do you like that word?
VT It’s definitely flattering, but it might not be the best word to describe our relationship. I feel like that inevitably we influence each other – it could never be one way. We spend so much time together and our work and personal relationships benefit from our friendship. But the fashion industry just loves that word, doesn’t it?
DB What’s better than “muse”?
VT “Best friend”? I don’t know. “Collaborator-in-life” sounds good to me.
DB I like that. So, how do you work together?
VT It’s organic, and it’s a thorough process. He starts with his research, and he’ll bounce ideas off me and then we’ll talk. Maybe I’ll give him ideas for a silhouette or he shows me fabric and sketches and then we chat some more. He really involves me in the whole process, which is exciting and interesting for me.
DB It shows that he trusts you.
VT And I trust him.
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