This article originally appeared in the summer 2018 issue of Harker Magazine.
Noël Duan ’09 is a fashionista entrepreneur who has succeeded because she isn’t afraid to fail. When she was a student at Harker, she tried to start a fashion club for two years, but no one came to her meetings. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t care if no one is interested in fashion – I am!’” said Duan, who pursues her passions with vigor.
“I decided to start a teen fashion blog to meet other people who were as passionately nerdy about fashion as me!” Her blog, Miss Couturable, gained traction. Teen Vogue wrote about it and raved, “From filling us in on the trials and tribulations of college applications to dishing on the latest runway trends, Miss Couturable is truly a daily delight!”
While the blog gave her a forum to discuss ideas, it was an internship at Seventeen magazine before her senior year at Harker that opened her eyes to the publishing world and East Coast culture.
“Noël was always driven by an organic and true love for ideas, the human story and the arts,” said Donna Gilbert, chair of the upper school’s history and social sciences department. “She applied herself with creativity and intellectual passion to every project and was always a deep and courageous thinker fully invested in her studies.”
It was this courage and her experience in New York that led her to Columbia University, where she studied sociocultural anthropology and art history. “I went to Columbia thinking I wanted something more,” remembered Duan. “I was in the middle of the publishing world and that’s when I decided I was going to become a writer.”
Within her first week, she met fellow student Jina Lim and they realized that Columbia didn’t have a fashion magazine – so they launched one. Hoot magazine, which covers fashion, art and culture in New York City, was founded in 2009 by “a group of fashion-obsessed students.”
The magazine is still going strong with a print publication, an active blog and an Instagram account that shows off student style at Columbia. Duan thrived at Columbia, but upon graduating, realized she wasn’t done with her academic pursuits. She was passionate about women’s rights and ecofeminism, so she decided to pursue a master’s degree in women’s studies at the University of Oxford, where she interned at British Vogue while writing her dissertation.
After she graduated from Oxford, Duan moved back to New York City, where she met makeup legend Bobbi Brown. “She hired me on the spot to be her assistant editor as Yahoo! was launching their beauty section,” Duan remembers. “I got to work with Bobbi and her amazing team and learned not just about physical beauty but understanding and unpacking that beauty is about identity and so much more.”
Today she describes herself as “writer, reader, editor, researcher, rider.” She lives in New York and San Francisco and was a culture/lifestyle writer at Quartz, a digital business publication owned by Atlantic Media. When she’s not behind a computer, she’s raising a puppy, fostering more puppies (20 at last count!) and enjoys getting out of the city to ride horses – a hobby she picked up at Oxford. Her love of animals led her to launch Argos & Artemis, a literary magazine about dogs. She chose to do it in 2018, the year of the dog, and plans to publish hard copies and launch an online edition before the year ends.
The literary contributors to the magazine include New Yorker staff writers, Guggenheim fellows and New York Times bestselling authors – all united by their love for dogs. And if that’s not enough, she’s also working on a novel about adolescence in pre-2008 recession Silicon Valley.
“I’m drafting a novel to stay humble,” Duan said with a confident smile and the spirit of an entrepreneur who has big plans.
Vikki Bowes-Mok is also the executive director of the community nonprofit Compass Collective.