Amy Astley never intended to work in the magazine world.
While she’s a self-described “bookworm” who loved writing stories as a child growing up in Michigan, her dream was always to become a professional ballet dancer. Instead, when Astley realized this wasn't in the cards, she graduated from college early, moved to New York City, and landed a job at Condé Nast that changed everything.
"My career has been combination of some luck, some timing, definitely hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and being open to whatever falls in your lap," Astley, 52, said.
Astley is the founding editor of Teen Vogue, and since 2016, has served as the editor-in-chief at Architectural Digest, where her interests in style, design, entertainment and culture have collided in one publication.
Astley always stayed true to her passion no matter what publication she was working at — when she launched Teen Vogue in 2003, Astley was a young editor and mom whose "teen years were still so alive in me.” Today, the Tribeca resident's life is all about the "comfort and beauty of home," which is reflected in the pages of Architectural Digest.
Astley’s interest in journalism peaked in college, when she majored in English and started thinking about her future career. "I knew it wasn't going to be writing a novel," she said, "but I was obsessed with storytelling."
Her parents had subscriptions to Vogue, House & Garden and Architectural Digest, and Astley was "very seduced by them," she said. "They were a portal to another world for me." She loved the glossy covers, stunning photos, and detail-driven articles. "I trained as a ballet dancer, and I am super visual," she said. "I often think I am attracted to things that look really beautiful on the surface, and behind the scenes are very difficult."
After graduating from Michigan State in 1989, Astley was hired at House & Garden as the assistant to editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod, and when the magazine shuttered in the mid-1990s, a colleague recommended Astley to Anna Wintour, the powerhouse editor of Vogue. This was when supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell still dominated the runways, but Kate Moss and Amber Valletta were rising through the ranks. "It was a really exciting time in fashion," Astley said. "I thrived there. It was a challenging place to work, but I loved it."
She moved her way up the Vogue ladder, starting as associate beauty editor. While serving as the magazine's beauty director, Astley realized she was "actually a decent leader, and I remember having a moment where I thought, 'I could be an editor-in-chief,'" she said. "It was shocking. Women are trained not to be too ambitious or lofty in their goals. I tried to temper that thought, but I kept circling back to it."
The opportunity came sooner than Astley expected. In 2002, Wintour, inspired by her daughter Bee Shaffer, approached Astley about launching Teen Vogue. She worked on four test issues, and the concept was a hit, with the magazine's first issue hitting newsstands the next year.
"I had an unprecedented amount of freedom and creativity," Astley said. "It's extraordinary to make your own magazine, at a time when magazines were really reigning in the culture. To have that freedom and the strength and prowess of Condé Nast behind you was absolutely a gift."
Right from the start, Astley had a clear vision for Teen Vogue. It would be a girl-centric magazine that wasn't about finding a boyfriend and 101 ways to keep him. There were features on sexual, mental, and physical health, personal style, and activism. Teen Vogue was about pleasing yourself, not anyone else, and readers quickly let Astley, a mother of two daughters, know this was the magazine they were waiting for.
"We received an avalanche of positive feedback," she said. "There was a demand for that kind of product."
Astley spent the next decade building the Teen Vogue print and digital brands, guiding her team through a changing media landscape. In 2016, Wintour, now also the artistic director of Condé Nast, approached her with a new opportunity. She knew Astley was a versatile editor, and they often spoke about their mutual love of homes and gardens. She asked Astley if she was interested in switching titles, becoming editor-in-chief of the storied Architectural Digest.
"I really relished the challenge," Astley said. "I loved that it had this legacy and is a rich, historic brand, in opposition to Teen Vogue, which never previously existed."
Over the last few years, Astley has helped Architectural Digest shed its staid and conservative reputation, bringing in new, younger readers while still respecting its longtime devotees. She has developed AD's YouTube channel, which now has nearly three million subscribers, and is focused on making the magazine feel more inclusive and colorful, showcasing more women and buzzy celebrities and removing features that weren't clicking with the audience.
"We wanted to shake it up and surprise people," Astley said. It's working — her first issue featured fashion designer Marc Jacobs' dog Neville on the cover, and "we got a call from the printing press to see if it was a mistake to have the dog's Instagram handle on there," she said.
Architectural Digest is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the past century has been "glorious," Astley said. With so many gorgeous homes and cutting-edge designers and architects out there, she's never at a loss for material. "I think our most exciting years are ahead of us," Astley said. "The best is yet to come, and I'm just excited to be part of it."
She's often asked to give advice on how to make it in journalism, and she recommends young writers distinguish themselves by becoming specialists in one field, like music, design, youth culture or politics.
With the internet making it easier than ever to get your voice heard, it's imperative, she said, to embrace all platforms, sharing stories on Instagram, Twitter, and personal websites. "You don't have to wait around for someone to tell you you're talented," Astley said. "The world will tell you if you're on the wrong path and your talent lies somewhere else."