Everyone wants to know what it takes to “make it” in fashion. While a killer fashion sense sure helps, it goes far beyond carrying the must-have bag and rocking standout shoes to make it to the top.
While Aya Kanai has an enviable sense of style, it is her intellect, perspective and a whole lot of hard work that have helped Kanai secure positions at fashion powerhouses such as Teen Vogue, Shopbop and, currently, as Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan Magazine. From overseeing teams of editors to dressing celebrities to styling major advertising campaigns, Kanai continues to push the envelope and has us wondering if there isn’t anything this talented Fashionista can’t do.
We caught up with Kanai as she shared her story, dispensed some stellar advice and more!
CollegeFashionista: Where did you go to school and what was your major?
Aya Kanai: Oberlin College, Double Major in Visual Art and Religion, Minor: East Asian Studies.
CF: What skills from college do you use that didn’t initially relate to your interest in fashion?
AK: The power of developing analytical thinking and strong public speaking skills are the most important parts of my job. Styling and fashion direction of course are in my job description but you can’t “direct” anything if you can’t communicate your ideas. 
CF: What are your main responsibilities at Cosmopolitan Magazine?
AK: My job is to create the fashion point of view for the magazine. I run a team of about 14 amazing editors. I style our cover celebrities and style fashion editorial spreads. 
CF: What is the most fascinating part of your job?
AK: Collaborating with photographers, hair and make-up people is the most fascinating part of my job. There are so many creative professionals who work in fashion. I get to work with some of the best! 
CF: How has your style evolved since your experience starting at Teen Vogue to now?
AK: I used to want to look like the most kooky wild girl in the room. Now I want to look understated and grown-up. I am almost thinking I should just get a uniform that I wear everyday. I am into simplicity. 
CF: If you could tell your college self one thing now, what would it be?
AK: If you want a creative life, become culturally aware of art forms outside of your one chosen field of interest. By that I mean, if you want to do fashion, take care to also learn about fine art and film. It will help you form ideas and be a better fashion editor. 
CF: If you could have tea or coffee with anyone fashion designer, who would it be and why?  
AK: I would want to have tea with Cristobal Balenciaga. I would want to learn about his fashion philosophy and what motivated him to create clothes. I would also want to ask whats his favorite karaoke song – just kidding.
CF: What advice would you give to college students who are interested in becoming stylists?
AK: Intern and assist. Keep in mind that being a stylist is waaaay more than just loving fashion. As a stylist you are shaping the whole concept of the story. 
Photo via Phil Oh,