US-based digital consultant Rey-Hanna Vakili has a penchant for travel and education. An alumni of Yale University, Rey-Hanna’s first role was at American Vogue as an Assistant to influential editor Anna Wintour. Rey is currently studying in California at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business completing her MBA, balanced with frequent travel to her birthplace of Sydney and other incredible locations around the globe. Parlour X delightfully met with the modern and cultured globe trotter during her latest trip for a dress-up session in new season.
Tell us about your formal background and education.
If I could stay at school forever I think I would! I grew up on Sydney’s north shore and went to Pymble Ladies’ College. Even as a little girl, I always knew I wanted to study abroad. I have always been enticed by the limitless resources and educational opportunities offered at American universities and the Ivy league schools that have been immortalized in Hollywood had such a romantic appeal to me. When I was accepted to Yale, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would go. I did a double degree in Political Science and Global Affairs. Funnily enough, I never thought I wanted to go into fashion. In fact, every course I chose at Yale and every summer internship I did (including an internship at The Hague at the Special Court for Sierra Leone) reflected a passion for the law and I always imagined myself ending up at law school. It wasn’t until I started working at Vogue that my interest in the fashion industry and business was ignited. After two years at American Vogue, I moved to London to work at a booming startup in the influencer sphere called rewardStyle. I no longer wanted to go to Law School, but I felt my formal education wasn’t over— that’s when I decided to apply to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and voila! Here I am today.
How did your first role at American Vogue come about?
It was lucky timing! I had just graduated from Yale and was casting my net wide. I applied to another position at Vogue along with a handful of other jobs at different companies. Anna’s first assistant at the time had also gone to Yale. She was two years above me and although we didn’t know each other, we had some friends in common (as fate would have it, she is now a fellow classmate of mine at Stanford and a dear friend!). She told me that a position had opened up in Anna’s office and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for it. Seeing it as a once in a lifetime opportunity, I said yes, and then one thing led to the next. I interviewed with about five people before I interviewed with Anna. The day before I was meant to come back to Sydney for good, I received a call to tell me I got the job.
What were the highlights of working someone as profound and knowledgeable as Anna Wintour?
Anna is an incredible woman. Anyone who works for her would say the same thing. There isn’t an aspect of the magazine she isn’t involved in. There are the obvious perks to the job; designer discounts, an unlimited wardrobe at your fingertips, access to the best tickets for the theatre, music and the arts, not to mention the incredibly cool people you get to meet in every industry from business to politics. But there are also the less obvious perks to the job — the ones you carry with you for life. When you shadow the most powerful woman in the industry day in and day out you learn a lot of valuable lessons. The job instilled within me the importance of “the details”, an impeccable work ethic and a never say no attitude. I was given unprecedented access to the world of fashion and invaluable industry insights that I will forever be grateful for.
Post-Vogue, you moved to London to explore opportunities in the digital consultancy space. Why did you feel compelled to return to studies in California?
My time at Vogue had exposed me to a whole new world of emerging brands and online startups. I’d been bitten by the business bug and knew I wanted to explore it further. I knew I wanted to go to business school but also felt like I needed to gain some more hands-on experience at a growing startup— rewardStyle offered me just that. A long-time role model and mentor figure for me has been Indré Rockerfeller. Indré (also one of Anna’s former assistants) had gone to Stanford business school before acting as President to Delpozo and then launching her own luggage label Paravel. She was a former ballerina and similar to me had no background in finance or business. Her trajectory gave me the confidence to pursue an MBA at a top university even though I wasn’t a typical MBA candidate.
Courtesy of Vogue
What has been the most rewarding milestone for you so far?
Getting into Stanford GSB! It is the world’s most selective business school (they only accept 5% of applicants) so I really did feel like I was shooting for the stars.
The most challenging? What are your future ambitions and intentions?
Deciding what the next step will be. Up until now, I have had a very clear idea of the milestones I have wanted to achieve. With only one more year left at business school, it is quite daunting to think what’s next for me. I know I want to stay in the fashion industry, but in what capacity is yet to be determined. I am taking a class at Stanford this year called Startup Garage where we will be expected to design, create and launch a product and take it to market. I am working on this with two of my classmates, so stay tuned!!
What insights can you share for someone wishing to make the move overseas for professional or educational pursuits?
Just do it. Stop holding off until tomorrow, because tomorrow will become next month and next month will become next year. Studying abroad was the best decision I have made, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. If you ever need advice on where to begin, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m always happy to chat!
How do you keep connected with your family and friends?
It’s hard! Really, really hard. Time zones, exams, conflicting life schedules; all these factors make staying in touch with friends and family a constant challenge. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt that you can’t be best friends with everyone. I think you naturally make time for people that are important to you, and the number will inevitable shrink over the years. WhatsApp has definitely been a Godsend!
A true globetrotter, what are your packing rituals and essentials?
I am a master packer! A good suitcase is essential, especially if you’re an over-packer like myself. It is also important for me to maintain some semblance of routine even while I am travelling. I feel my best self when I have good skin, so I am religious about my skin care regiment. As you may know, I am a huge advocate of all things La Mer! I never travel far without my facewash, eye cream and soft lotion.
Would you say there are distinct style differences in America, London and Sydney? If so, could you define them?
Totally! If I were to describe Sydney’s style in one word it would be laidback. I think this a result of the weather and culture. California has a very similar vibe although I’d say it’s even more laidback — athleisure is king! I would describe New York as cool /chic and London with its European influence as glamourous.
You also have fun with bold prints, colour and experimenting with style. What are you wearing right now?
Pucci, Pucci, Pucci!! I’m all about bold colours and interesting prints. I think it’s very easy to dress well in all black— dressing well in colour is a whole new ball game and I think it’s a fun challenge trying to get it right. Other designers on my radar include Delpozo, Johanna Ortiz, Dolce & Gabbana and Brock Collection. As for Australian brands, I love Camilla and Marc, Bec and Bridge and Rebecca Vallance. And now that I’m in California, The Upside for athleisure wear! I’m obsessed with their prints.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Saint Moritz in Switzerland for the winter and Taormina, Italy for the summer.
What destination is next on your holiday list?
I am dying to get to Sweden’s Treehotel. The architecture is incredible. There are also a lot of places on the West Coast that I still need to check off my list, including Yosemite, and the Big Sur.
All images by Parlour X. Portrait courtesy of Mecca. Stay connected with Rey @reyvakili.