By Bailey Calfee; Photography by Eric Isaac

Aya Kanai

Fashion Director, Cosmopolitan & Seventeen

| Boerum Hill

Aya Kanai has been fine-tuning her fashion knowhow for years— beginning with a middle school obsession for thrift store finds (talk about an early bloomer in the whole cool dept.). Growing up in a creative home, Kanai once thought she’d end up a fine artist or performer, but with a degree in visual arts and an eye for style, she landed a post-grad job as the fashion assistant for then-start-up, Teen Vogueshe was one of the mag’s first 15 employees— and her path turned “Fashion” forever. Crediting her say-yes-to-everything work ethic, she quickly climbed TV‘s editorial ladder to Senior Fashion Editor, eventually leaving for a Fashion Director position at the idiosyncratically hip mag, Nylon, and then began freelance styling gigs for the likes of Victoria’s Secret and style icons including Miranda Kerr and Sienna Miller. At the moment, Kanai wears more fashion hats than ever: she’s the Executive Fashion Director of Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines, plus she recently appeared as an expert judge on Project Runway Junior. Still, she manages to make time for bodega candy, brisket and archery day dates— #Boss. Here, Kanai sits down with CITIPHILE to reveal her little black book on NYC.

NEIGHBORHOOD STANDBY: I love BBQ, particularly brisket: Fette Sau (MAP IT, x), Humo Smokehouse (MAP IT, x) and Morgan’s Brooklyn Barbecue (MAP IT, x) are all delicious. But really, my husband makes the best brisket!

COFFEE OR TEA: The best cup in the city is at Bien Cuit on Smith Street (MAP IT, x). The coffee is delicious and the smell of homemade croissants is intoxicating.

ALL-TIME FAVORITE RESTAURANT: I was born and raised in NYC so I like old-school New York restaurants: Omen (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x) is a true experience; Honmura An had the best homemade buckwheat soba noodles, but unfortunately the SoHo location closed and now the only way to eat them is to visit Honmura An Tokyo. I also like Angelica Kitchen (*Location now closed); my first job out of college was working at their juice bar!

COCKTAIL DE LA NUIT: Growing up alcohol wasn’t around the house because I have a couple family members who are allergic to it so now, as an adult, I don’t drink that often. Sometimes in the summer, a cold beer is delicious or a vodka soda is refreshing, but for the most part, I don’t drink. That’s a boring answer, but it’s true!

GIRLS NIGHT OUT: My idea of a great girls night is a girls night IN! I love to go to a friend’s house or invite people over [to mine]. It’s so much more relaxed and intimate.

AFTER-WORK HAPPY HOUR: Interestingly happy hour happens at my office every Thursday so I don’t even need to go anywhere. It’s very exclusive at “Club Cosmo”… hah! As I mentioned before, I don’t really drink, but it’s nice to chat with my co-workers about non-work stuff. Out of the office, I like The Commodore in Williamsburg (MAP IT, x); I’m usually there about once a month.

MUSIC PICK: Robert on Bond Street in Brooklyn (MAP IT, x) has a fun jukebox and is good for a local hangout. I often go to Secret Project Robot (MAP IT, x) if I’m going to a live show. I live walking distance from Brooklyn Academy of Music (MAP IT, x), Barclays (MAP IT, x) and Roulette (MAP IT, x) so it’s pretty much a cultural explosion right outside my door!

BEST BRUNCH: On Saturdays, my husband and I used to do a morning run around Prospect Park and then brunch at Cheryl’s Global Soul in Prospect Heights (MAP IT, x), which is delicious— the routine feels like TWO great ways to start the day! We also love Montana’s Trail House in Bushwick (MAP IT, x) and the amazing Bun-Ker (MAP IT, x) for Vietnamese food.

BEST PEOPLE WATCHING: Dover Street Market on 30th Street (MAP IT, x). My parents live on that block and it has been wild watching that block change from relaxed Murray Hill to “Capital F” fashion town, USA!

HEALTHY STAPLE: ReViVer near Hearst Tower (*Location now closed) for the lemon chicken with broccoli rabe.

GUILTY PLEASURE: I indulge everywhere— I’m an equal opportunity indulger. I love cheap bodega candy as much as I like a fancy dessert. Betty on Atlantic (MAP IT, x) made our wedding cake so I love to pop in there for coffee and a treat, but I can’t do it too often. It’s dangerous in there.

FIRST THING I MISS WHEN I’M AWAY: My husband and my family. I’m lucky to live in the city where I grew up. I’m a townie!

REGULAR AT: Some of my favorite spots include Greenlight Bookstore in Forte Greene (MAP IT, x), Joanna Vargas (MAP IT, x) for facials, Paisanos Meat Market (MAP IT, x), Robert for a local Brooklyn bar, DanceBody (MAP IT, x) with Katia Pryce for dance cardio classes, Y7 Studio for yoga (MAP IT, x) and Paintbox (MAP IT, x) for manicures.

DATE NIGHT STANDBY: Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg (MAP IT, x) for dinner and a movie is the perfect date night standby; it’s romantic and relaxing. Recently, our best date spot has been Gotham Archery (MAP IT, x). My husband is into archery so I tried it and we’ve been back a couple times since; it’s fun to do an activity that requires your whole concentration to do well.

TO ESCAPE AND UNWIND: Juvenex Spa (MAP IT, x) for a Korean body scrub.

GO-TO GETAWAY: I like Kripalu in the Berkshires (MAP IT, BOOK ITx) for a yoga getaway; I usually go once a year for a week by myself. I also love The Ranch in Malibu (MAP IT, x) for a hiking retreat; I’ve been there a few times and always feel like I’ve had a full reset when I return.

CLOSET CHECK: My personal style has always been a tomboy mash-up. I have a footwear addiction to Chelsea boots, Oxford brogues, loafers, sneakers and smoking slippers. I don’t shop often because I think it’s fun to find new combinations of the things I’ve owned for years; however, I will (of course) add in a couple new pieces usually from different places each season. I love Barneys (MAP ITx), Bergdorf Goodman (MAP IT, x), Net-a-Porter (x), and Shopbop. I also always check out the stretch of stores on Fifth Avenue between 14th and 21st: J.Crew (MAP IT), Nike (MAP IT), Athleta (MAP IT) and Banana Republic (MAP IT).

BEST HOME DÉCOR: My interior style is still in development to say the least! I love clothes, fashion and accessories. I’ve been a fashion and celebrity stylist for over ten years, but I don’t know the first thing about home décor. It all seems so intimidating! That said, I’m lucky to have a partner who created the beautiful bookcase in our living room (which is the focal point of the space); with it, you don’t need much else to draw attention. Our couch is affordable, comfortable and I love it. My husband found it at CB2 (MAP IT). We picked our coffee table together when we first moved into our apartment; the metal gives the room a bold look. As for great finds in NYC, I enjoy and recommend taking an afternoon to check out all of the antique shops on Atlantic Avenue.

BEST HOST/HOSTESS GIFTS: Cire Trudon candles (MAP IT, x) always make people happy. I love a good mask so I like giving hostesses a gift set like this Kiehl’s one (MAP IT) to help them relax and beautify. Food of course works too: Russ & Daughters (MAP IT, x) is a classic. Sometimes I even bring gifts from here to my Japanese relatives. I know it seems crazy to mule macaroons and chocolate-covered orange rinds all the way across the world, but people love it.

FIT PICK: I enjoy running in Central Park— there’s no better way to start the day. There are so many great fitness boutiques in NYC too so I go to various classes (listed in questions above) sporadically with friends. It’s all about mixing it up.

ULTIMATE NY MOMENT: It sounds cliché, but New York moments happen to me all the time because I’m from here— sometimes I’m in a cab driving past Mount Sinai Hospital where I was born and I think how lucky I am to live in the city where I was born and raised. I grew up here, made and still have my best girlfriends here, met my husband here, started my career here, the list goes on and on. I can have dinner with my parents; I can take the subway to my high school reunion; and I can attend fashion events all in the same place. I feel lucky to have memories here from every part of my life that continue to touch my daily life. CP

Aya’s New York

From L to R: First Row:

From L to R: First Row: Fried chicken sandwich at The Commodore; Montana’s Trail House; Dover Street Market; Croissants and coffee at Bien Cuit. Second Row: Angelica Kitchen; Eclair’s at Betty’s Bakery; Morgan’s Brooklyn BBQ; Central Park.


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