Eva Chen Is Inspiring a New Generation of Nühanzi

By Allison Haunss
Brooklyn, New York

It’s not often that you meet someone as popular with the preschool cohort as she is with the fashion elite. But Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships for Instagram, effortlessly endears herself to the young, the old, and just about everyone in between. After working for Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Teen Vogue, Vogue, Lucky, and The Wall Street Journal, the fierce fashionista is now fulfilling her biggest dream yet: becoming an author of a children’s book that is flying off the shelves.

Chen is the kind of woman who can walk into any room and immediately put people at ease with her unique charm and strength. Even those who have never shared a room with her can experience this magnetism via Instagram. With more than 1.1 million followers, her feed features authentic moments from her daily life, both personal and professional. Together, they portray a perfectly imperfect mother, daughter, wife, friend, and executive. Her hilarious Insta stories highlight the great lengths she goes to to wrangle and entertain her two adorable kids, Ren and Tao, and how her good-natured, supportive husband Tom equally shares in the wrangling responsibilities.

Raised in New York by two immigrant parents (and yes, they get plenty of screen time on her Insta feed too), Chen attended the Brearley school and then went on to Johns Hopkins to study medicine. But after an internship at Harper’s Bazaar, she was sucked into the world of fashion, which has guided her career ever since. Her love of fashion and beauty led her to be appointed the youngest ever “editor in chief” of Lucky Magazine by Anna Wintour.

Fashion is a central theme of her latest passion project-dream come true, a children’s book called Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes. Described as “equal parts fashion fairytale and girl power handbook,” it’s becoming a favorite nighttime read for kids everywhere. The book was recently named a New York Times bestseller and was even featured in Oprah Magazine’s coveted holiday gift guide. The New York Times has called Chen an “authority in great books to read,” and Adweek calls her a top “young influential.” But her toughest critics, her children, simply refer to her as “silly Mommy.”

And that is where Juno Valentine has its origins. Chen, who reads her children at least 42 books a week, had plenty of firsthand experience and inspiration to create the book. The story follows Juno Valentine on an epic adventure through time and space (even outer space) to find her lost shoes. Each time she steps into a new pair of shoes, belonging to icons from Frida Kahlo to Serena Williams to Gloria Steinem, Juno is transported to a colorful new world — and learns a valuable lesson about herself. “Rockstar, astronaut, ballerina (or a mash-up of all three), I hope that Juno Valentine gives the next generation of girl bosses the freedom to define who they want to be,” Chen said in a press release.

On the Sunday we met Chen, she was reading from Juno at Stories Bookshop on Bergen Street in Brooklyn. It was standing room only as moms, dads, and kids parked their strollers outside and packed into the room to catch a glimpse of the famous fashionista and, of course, listen to her read. It was hard to tell who was more excited, the kids or the adults.

Chen told the audience that the creation of the book took about a year and a half from start to finish. One of the toughest parts of the process was matching her words to the images of the illustrator, Derek Desierto.

“For the little boys in the audience, I really think it’s important to read them books about strong women, too, because you want them to be used to the fact that strong women are out there,” she said. “They’re kicking butt and they’re going to do what they want to do and if you make that normal, it becomes normal to them for their whole lives.”

She also had a message for the females in the crowd: “Girls can never be told enough that they’re important and that they can be anything they want to be. Right now, we are in a time that people are being told that they can’t be certain things or we can’t do certain things, and I wanted to write something that put that seed in their brain that they could.”

Earlier this month, Chen told Hello Giggles that Juno was “meant to be gender fluid” rather than “a girly girl.” She explained: “One of the details that you’ll notice in the book, if you look at all the different characters, they all have an element of Juno’s outfit, whether it’s the bandana print or the stripes. So Juno remains Juno, even when she’s in the shoes of Queen Elizabeth. ‘Remaining yourself’ is the ultimate message I always point out to [my daughter] Ren. And she’s like, ‘I know mom. I know.’ I’m like now, but just wait until you’re 15, young lady!’ [laughs] Hopefully she’ll remember.”

That’s a message that Juno will surely give girls for years to come. How could she not? She’s a strong, authentic, real girl who speaks her mind, takes up space, and is ready for a challenge.

She’s a Nühanzi, just like her creator.

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