Former Vogue intern R.J. Hernández explores what it’s really like to work your way up the proverbial ladder at a leading magazine in his debut novel An Innocent Fashion. In a culture that is certifiably fashion-obsessed, naive outsiders tend to paint coveted positions—and those who land them—at popular glossies with a broad brush. It’s this author’s M.O. to challenge the often inaccurate perceptions and dive into the more inconvenient truths.
“The magazine industry is not a vacuum, and not everyone is a white woman backstabbing their way to the top using stilettos,” Hernández tells Vanity Fair during an exacting lament about the frivolity of other fashion-based novels. “Other books in this shelf space do not involve or even consider the distinctions of class, sexuality, race, or religion. They all operate on a very two-dimensional level, which was not at all my experience.”
Hernández —a 26-year-old Cuban-American graduate of Yale University from Miami—used his unique societal perch as a launching pad for the novel. With a sure hand, Hernández leads his readers into an overlapping world of Ivy-League pedigree (where money and drinks flow freely with the tides of friendship) and corporate hustle (where publicly demeaning a co-worker is a spectator sport.)
Our hero, Elián San Jamar, grows up pouring over the pages of Régine, a magazine whose editorial content offers him a vivid escape from an otherwise mundane childhood. Crackling with the energy of a yet-undiscovered visionary hungry for what’s owed to him, Elián whitewashes his multiracial blue-collar past, and the newly christened Ethan St. James rises from the ashes as he leaves his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the dust.
Like Hernández, Ethan receives a full ride to Yale, where he befriends Madeline and Dorian, two attractive offspring of wealthy and affluent members of a club to which Ethan has never belonged. After four years of studious bliss, the trio emerges as apparent equals only to be faced rather abruptly with their distinct differences in class. Opportunity readily lends itself to the upper crust, leaving Ethan to fend for himself. “We don’t live in a time, nor do I believe we ever lived in a time, where what a person starts with at birth doesn't effect them directly in the long run,” Hernández notes.
Upon arriving in New York, Ethan lands his dream internship at Régine, but his entire world is quickly turned upside down. Ethan’s new co-workers (who seem only to exist for the sole purpose of making his life harder) refuse to accept him as one of their own despite his dazzling degree and metropolitan moniker. Mainstream media’s usual wont is to demonize figureheads in the fashion industry, but Hernández breaks rank, by the final chapter humanizing the very characters hell-bent on his hero’s ruin.
“Ethan’s realization that there are certain limitations placed on him due to his background is this sort of devastating truth that I believe is behind a lot of people’s coming of age,” says Hernández in regards to the challenges both he and his character face within the social climate of their concrete jungle. “A majority of my generation enters the workforce with an ‘easy fame’ mentality—no thanks to platforms like reality TV and personal blogs—only to quickly realize that we’re not all destined to be stars,” Hernández aptly explains. “I think it takes a lot of hard work and growing up to realize that that’s okay,” he concludes.
That’s the beautiful thing about the huddled masses of colorful small-town heroes making their way to N.Y.C.: It takes a lot more than a single eye-opening epiphany to knock them down.
Source: vanityfair.com Author: Maxwell Losgar
Photos: Harper Collins; Hadar Pitchon