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She'll Always Have Paris



    Kate Betts didn't set out to be a fashion writer.

    “I was a senior at Princeton and all of my friends were interviewing with Goldman Sachs or going to law school," said Betts. "I remember sitting in the cubicle at the career services office with Grey Advertising or something like that when I thought, I can’t do this."

    Now she's the author of a new book, "Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style," which hit stands Feb. 8. The volume's been garnering plenty of praise for its exploration of the first ladies' personal fashion histories.

    But Betts -- a European history major who spoke French -- jumpstarted her career in Paris, not Washington. “It was a romantic and naive notion, but I wanted to try it," she said.

    Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style

    [DC] Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style
    'In many ways, she's similar to Jacqueline Kennedy,' said author Kate Betts. 'They both came to the White House as young mothers and both have a fashion fluency.'
    (Published Monday, Feb. 14, 2011)

    She was lucky, landing an internship at the International Herald Tribune and freelancing for European Travel and Life. For the latter, she wrote a story about boar hunting in Brittany that caught the eye of the publisher, John Fairchild.

    "So, when my papers ran out, I took a job with him in the Paris bureau of Women’s Wear Daily, which was my start in fashion,” Betts recalled. “It was the late '80s and Paris was really the center of the fashion world, with designers like Christian Lacroix just starting. Fairchild was kind of the leader of the fashion industry.  Back then, WWD was a trade newspaper so it was at the intersection of culture and the whole fashion scene.”

    Niteside wanted to know the truth behind a perceived irony: that French women who live in the fashion capital of the world are said to only buy one ‘outfit’ a year.
    “It is true,” Betts said, “although I never thought about it that way. The French are... just not a consumer culture.”

    Speaking of consumer cultures, though: After Paris, Betts moved to New York to work for Vogue under icon Anna Wintour. So what was it like working for the (alleged) subject of “The Devil Wars Prada"?

    “It was great for me because I had a lot of freedom and was able to continue reporting on the shows, writing co-files and creating sections for the magazine. And it was fun, " she emphasized.  "It was hard work though, but really fun.”

    After eight years she moved on to Harpers Bazaar, freelanced for Time and then landed a full time job there. “Actually, I had always wanted to work at Time magazine, so ended up writing about fashion and design there and edited their supplement from 2003 to 2009 when the recession hit.  That’s when they decided to close the supplement down, so I just stayed on as a contributing editor.”

    Around that time, she also signed a contract for her book -- "which explores the societal and political implications of Michelle Obama’s style, why style matters and whether it is a part of a person’s character," Betts said.

    She's also a contributor to The Daily Beast under Tina Brown, who hosted a luncheon for her last week, where Brown proclaimed that Betts “cannot write a bad sentence.”