Amanda Brooks Is Taking Her Leave

May 31st, 2012

Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times

A CALLING Amanda Brooks was inspired to leave New York by a mother of four who lives on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma.

IT was a little more than a year ago that the New York City socialite Amanda Brooks was appointed fashion director of Barneys New York, to some cluck-clucking in the industry. After all, Ms. Brooks, 38, had little experience in retail, other than acting as a muse and later creative director to the fashion label Tuleh, and was more often photographed in preppy classics than the avant-garde brands for which Barneys had been known under the stewardship of her well-regarded predecessor, Julie Gilhart. As the blog Fashionista put it, “We’ve always thought of Brooks as more of a Bergdorf girl.”

Ms. Brooks’s duties included overseeing private labels and creating trend reports, informed in part by the street style of “it” girls, many of whom were part of her impressive network. “We didn’t need more retail help,” Mark Lee, the store’s chief executive, said of the hire at the time. Indeed, a lot of her job seemed to involve attending fashion shows, where she was a front-row regular, and going to openings and galas.

But in March, Ms. Brooks pulled off yet another surprise. She announced that she was not just quitting the Barneys position, but leaving Manhattan itself and planning a yearlong move with her family to a farm in Oxfordshire, England, that is owned by the family of her husband, the artist Christopher Brooks.

Was the Barneys brass disappointed in the high-profile hire? (Through a spokeswoman, executives there turned down requests to be interviewed on the matter.) Had Ms. Brooks — such a clotheshorse that she wrote a 2009 book on personal style — somehow soured on fashion shows? Or, as some in the news media speculated, was the move in support of her brother- and sister-in-law, Charlie and Rebekah Brooks, charged with perverting the course of justice (the term in British law) in the News of the World phone-hacking case?

None of the above, Ms. Brooks said recently, dining on a sunny Friday at Freemans, downstairs from the apartment she’ll soon be renting out. (A North Fork residence will also be leased, to the artist Rachel Feinstein, a friend.)

“It was because of Ree Drummond’s blog, The Pioneer Woman,” said Ms. Brooks, who has recently returned to a blog, ILoveYourStyle.com, that she started after publishing the 2009 book, which had the same name. Reading a New Yorker profile last year of Ms. Drummond, a mother of four who lives on a cattle ranch outside Pawhuska, Okla., and posts prolifically on subjects like how to make cornmeal pancakes (using catchphrases like “yahoo, yippety”) “got me really fired up,” Ms. Brooks went on. “It’s the idea of having a career on your own terms, anywhere.”

At first glance, Ms. Brooks, a consummate urbanite with coolly styled looks, could not be more diametrically opposed to Ms. Drummond. At lunch, several days after the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute benefit (to which she wore a minimalist graphite Calvin Klein ensemble), Ms. Brooks was dressed casually in an open-knit beige sweater, black trousers and black flat sandals. Her blondish brown hair fell in an enviable natural wave, and her figure was willowy.

“I lost a lot of weight working at Barneys,” said Ms. Brooks, nibbling delicately at the turkey sandwich with bacon she’d ordered along with an iced tea, then hastening to add, “It was the 14-hour days and then all the traveling.”

Since she married Mr. Brooks in 2001, in a wedding attended by such diverse personalities as Christian Louboutin and Tama Janowitz, the couple have tried to maintain the integrity of their family life, she said, agreeing to limit work events to two nights per week, a difficult feat in the hyperactive art and fashion scenes. They have two children, Coco (not after Chanel, but an abbreviation of Carmen), 10, who has yet to take any discernible interest in fashion, Ms. Brooks said, and Zach, 8.

She said she was reveling in her days off, scrapping her daily Women’s Wear Daily reading habit — “It’s refreshing to clear your mind,” she said. After lunch, she planned to take Zach to a birthday party.

In Ms. Brooks’s view, domestic harmony and success at work are inextricably intertwined. “That fearlessness, to be able to jump around in my career, came from a certain amount of stability and foundation I’ve always had at home,” she said. “I’m defined by my history, my family. I was never looking for my career to define me.”

Ms. Brooks grew up in Bronxville, N.Y., and Palm Beach, Fla., the younger of two daughters of Stephen Cutter, a real estate broker, and Elizabeth Stewart, an interior designer whom Ms. Brooks remembers wearing Alaïa to teach Sunday school. (Amanda’s older sister, Kimberly Cutter, is a novelist.) She attended public elementary school, then Horace Mann and Deerfield Academy, where she was a New England diving champion. While majoring in photography at Brown, she roomed with Patricia Lansing, a daughter of Carolina Herrera, for two years. She also briefly dated Alexander von Furstenberg, the son of Diane, who soon became what Ms. Brooks called “my fashion fairy godmother.” “It had nothing to do with Alexander,” Ms. von Furstenberg said of the bond between the two women. “But I have always had that special complicity with Amanda because of how we started.”

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