When Harriette Cole attended Western High, she knew what she wanted to do -- be a writer or involved in fashion. She managed to do both.
Twelve years later, the former model and now fashion editor of Essence was back at her alma mater last Friday sharing her life and experiences with the students.
She found the experience humbling and gratifying. "It was nice to be appreciated and have a place to share my successes," says Ms. Cole, 30.
She told the all-girl student body about growing up in Forest Park, where her parents still live, and her high-profile job at the leading lifestyle magazine for black women.
When she's not working out of her Manhattan office, the energetic Ms. Cole says, she's jetting to locales around the world -- tracking trends in Paris or translating African styles into American fashions.
"I'm going to take the fashion team [at Essence] into the '90s," says Ms. Cole, who was the magazine's editor of contemporary living before becoming fashion editor three months ago.
Having been employed at Essence since 1984, Ms. Cole understands the magazine's readers, who are primarily black women from the United States, the Caribbean, and even Africa and Europe. "Essence women want to move ahead without losing hold of their culture," explains Ms. Cole enthusiastically. "By traveling to primarily black countries like the Ivory Coast, as well as the international shows in Paris, we take an Afro-centric direction toward today's fashion."
Ms. Cole wasn't always watching the runway, though -- she walked it. While attending Howard University in Washington, she modeled in the school's semiannual fashion productions, which are among the larger shows in Washington.
While working in an administrative position on Capitol Hill after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Howard, Ms. Cole occasionally modeled, although her real desire was to write. "I knew how to write and I knew about fashion," she says confidently, "so I convinced two free Washington papers to let me write fashion columns for them."
It was only a year later when Ms. Cole was hired by Essence as an assistant editor of the contemporary living department and moved to New York. Knowing that she had to decide between modeling and writing, she decided to pursue the behind-the-scenes position at the magazine. "Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not all glamour," Ms. Cole says. "I knew I had to give it up if I was going to be devoted to writing for Essence."
In her seven years with the magazine, Ms. Cole has continually showcased the black woman as a fashion leader.
"We must continue to portray the black woman in the uplifting, positive light that is within her."