As her senior year at Princeton came to a close, Kate Betts ’86 found herself without a plan for her future. “So many people around me seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do, and I had no idea,” she recalls. An aspiring journalist, she decided she would move to Paris.
In My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine, Betts — a former editor at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar — recalls her five years in Paris absorbing everything she could about how the French cook, dance, and dress. When she first arrives, she hunts fruitlessly for work, eventually landing a short-term newspaper internship and then freelancing until she gets a job at industry bible Women’s Wear Daily, which was run by John Fairchild ’49. She becomes a top fashion reporter, visiting Yves Saint Laurent’s studio, befriending Christian Louboutin when he is an unknown shoe designer, and learning to follow fashion’s commercial calendar, which means orchestrating photo shoots for winter clothes in the summer heat. Along the way she tries mightily to fit in with her French friends and colleagues, though she often felt “self-consciously American,” and hones her reporting skills and industry knowledge until she is recruited to work at American Vogue by Anna Wintour.
Though she loves Paris, Betts comes to realize that “I had to go that deep into the culture to understand that fitting in is not belonging. I would never really belong there 100 percent,” she says.
Betts hopes her story strikes a chord with young people today who are starting careers, and parents who are witnessing their struggles. “There’s this incredible pressure to know who you are and what you want to be as a young person. Who knows that at 26? I hope people see you have to take risks — it’s not going to be a straight line. The idea of growing and changing and discovering before you really settle down is so important.”