Empowering girls with a walk in trailblazers' shoes
With her new children's book, 'Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes,' Eva Chen fulfills a lifelong dream
Scroll through Eva Chen's Instagram page, and you'll encounter plenty of famous faces: There she is with model Kendall Jenner, designer Donatella Versace, and actresses Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Duff, and Mandy Moore. In fact, when reached on her cellphone, Instagram's director of fashion partnerships is about to head to a conference in Ojai, California, where she'll post a selfie with TV stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Constance Wu. But ask Chen the last time she geeked out over a celebrity, and her answer might surprise you. "I met Jodi Picoult a few weeks ago and I totally fangirled," she says of the blockbuster author. "To be able to pick her brain, to ask things like how she stays creative—it was definitely a moment with a capital M for me."
Recently reaching a million Instagram followers, Chen, A&S '01, is a style tastemaker with her own popular hashtag—#evachenpose documents her daily shoe and handbag choices from the back of an NYC taxi. Her résumé includes stints at Elle, Teen Vogue, and Lucky, where she was the youngest-ever editor-in-chief of a Condé Nast publication. But she's as likely to post about her favorite novels and story time with daughter Ren, nearly 4, and son Tao, 18 months, as she is about the latest Dior clutch or Aquazzura heels. Now Chen has achieved a lifelong goal: becoming an author. Her debut, a picture book for 4- to 6-year-olds titled Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes, was published in November by Macmillan imprint Feiwel & Friends, and sequels are already in the works. (She also designed an exclusive collection for children's clothing chain Janie and Jack, which was inspired by the book.) Chen says she's always had a love of storytelling, recalling how as a child she would jot down stories in a composition notebook whenever she'd go on long trips to Asia with her parents on business or to visit extended family. "I once wrote an embarrassing book that was similar to The Baby-Sitters Club, except it took place at camp," she laughs. "A children's book was always the top thing I wanted to do, since I was probably 5 years old."
Described by Vogue as "a fairy tale-slash-fashion handbook," Juno follows a young girl on an adventure through time to find a lost pair of shoes. Though the book is superficially about a search for the perfect footwear, Chen wanted to push beyond the princess trope: Throughout Juno's quest she tries on shoes that belong to trailblazing women in history—from Cleopatra to Frida Kahlo to Serena Williams—and is transported into their worlds. In the end, Juno decides she's happiest with her own shoes. "It sends a message that girls can choose their own path," Chen says.
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Meet Juno Valentine! She likes to jump in muddy puddles, play with dinosaurs, and never stays in the lines when she colors. One day, when she loses her favorite pair of shoes, she goes on an epic adventure through time and space to find them. Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes hits bookstores November 6th, pre-order your copy today at the link in bio!
Chen says she's had a book of essays "on the back burner for a long time" but was motivated to create Juno after reading so many children's books to her own kids. While there are plenty of strong female characters in fiction for youngsters these days—"to me, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter is an icon"—Chen says she hadn't seen many who combined female empowerment and fashion. Some might not see a book about shoes as a lesson in feminism, but Chen notes that women have long used what they wear to broadcast their beliefs; she points out that early suffragettes, for example, wore white to show solidarity, a sartorial choice often adopted by Hillary Clinton and her supporters during the most recent presidential election. "Fashion can absolutely send a message," Chen says. Still, she adds that the book's story—aided by collage-style illustrations by Derek Desierto—is a timeless one. "Juno is really for anyone who wants their child to grow up to feel empowered," she says.