Turn on the TV or scroll through social media and you’re likely to see something—editors documenting Fashion Week on Instagram, The Devil Wears Prada on Hulu (again), an #OOTD on TikTok—that would suggest that the fashion industry is the most exciting and glamorous field you could possibly work in. And that’s true—until, of course, it’s not. A decade ago, to anyone in fashion or even outside looking in, Amanda Brooks, then the women’s fashion director for Barneys New York, and Shala Monroque, then the creative director of Garage magazine and personal muse and consultant to Miuccia Prada, were major players: front-row fixtures at fashion shows, at every party, jet-setting between London, Paris, Milan, and New York. And then, as ubiquitous as they’d been, they were gone.

Their stories are not related, but they follow a similar trajectory. In 2012, Brooks abruptly left Barneys. She and her husband, artist Christopher Brooks, traded their apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for the English farm where Mr. Brooks grew up. Her departure stunned the fashion community and was covered breathlessly in TheNew York Times. But her desire to get off of the fashion merry-go-round was relatable to at least a few of her peers.

Monroque, who moved to New York from Saint Lucia in 2000, shortly after graduating high school, never set out to work in fashion. But she found herself immersed in it through connections forged hostessing at sceney Manhattan restaurants. She held plum positions at Garage and Pop, was a sought-after party host, and dated art-world impresario Larry Gagosian; she had become the consummate It girl. She was all of those things and also deeply depressed. “Here I am with a career that’s successful, but I’m unhappy in it and I wanted to leave,” she says. Unsure of how to walk away from a life that was seemingly perfect, Monroque grappled with “serious, serious depression” before, like Brooks, packing her bags and moving far away, back to Saint Lucia.

Today, Brooks and Monroque are happily settled in their new homes—ones that they’ve turned into sanctuaries reflective of the personal taste that catapulted them to the upper echelons of fashion. Coincidentally, they both live on farms. They’ve also both found their way back to fashion, only this time on their own terms, not those dictated by the industry calendar or demands of an employer. They open up to Bazaar about the lives they left behind and the ones they’re living now.

amanda brooks posing holding plant

“You know when you’re on a train and you look straight out and everything is just doing that?” Amanda Brooks is fanning her hand into a blur in front of her face. “That was what it felt like.” From her well-appointed home office two hours northwest of London in the Cotswolds, Brooks is describing her life circa 2011, when she was living in New York City and working at Barneys: “I missed my son’s birthday two years in a row because I was in Paris for fashion shows.” She knows how out of touch it sounds, bemoaning a job that came with routine trips to Paris and Milan, front-row seats to Chanel and Prada, and invitations to champagne-fueled, caviar-laced parties. But two things can be true at once: You can be at the pinnacle of your career, keenly aware of that privilege, and also so burned out that you’re compelled to quit and move across the Atlantic.

No one reaches a breaking point overnight. Dressed in a Fair Isle knit vest over a collared shirt, Brooks recounts her fashion journey: Her mother, a New York-based interior designer, was an inspiration, “wearing Alaïa all the time—always perfectly dressed”; in college at Brown University, “there were girls wearing next-level fashion,” including friend Tracee Ellis Ross, who was “always wearing her mother’s clothing. … I just suddenly became interested in trying to figure [fashion] out for myself.”

And she did. After college, in the mid-1990s, Brooks moved to New York, initially working in galleries, and became known on the party circuit for her distinctive personal style—classically preppy with boho accents. She met Tuleh designer Bryan Bradley, and the two hit it off; Brooks became the brand’s creative director. From there, she left to launch her own marketing company, advising brands like Diane von Furstenberg and Tory Burch. Then, in 2011, Barneys came knocking.

“No one reaches a breaking point overnight.”

“It was my dream job on paper,” Brooks says. “I looked at the job description and I was like, I can do all this: private-label development, choosing looks, trend forecasting. [It] just felt so exciting and creative.” The thrill, however, was short-lived. Thirteen-hour workdays were common. When her son got pneumonia, she went to the office and he stayed at home with a nanny. Sitting front row at Céline was on her career bucket list, and she did it, but she has no memory of that first show.

kelly klein, aerin lauder, lauren dupont, lauren santo domingo, amanda brooks, allison sarofim and fabiola beracasa attend the calvin klein collection women's spring 2010 runway show on september 17, 2009 in new york city photo by billy farrellpatrick mcmullan via getty images

Brooks, third from the right, sitting front row at the Spring 2010 Calvin Klein show.


“It cost me too much of my personal life,” she says. “I had two kids, I had a husband, I had a life. And I looked at a lot of my friends who had been sitting in the front row of fashion shows for 20 years, and very, very few of them either had kids or stayed married. And I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice that.” Brooks stayed at Barneys for a little over a year, which “felt like forever.”

Her reaction to the stress of the job was visceral. “I had [to get] two spinal steroid injections in my back,” she says. “I was physically falling apart, as well as emotionally. And I know that might sound ridiculous to people, like, ‘Oh, she shouldn’t be complaining,’ but that’s the toll [it took].” Just after she resigned, she got shingles. Still, she says she was disappointed in herself for quitting. “I was a nervous wreck. I felt ashamed. I felt like a failure in some ways.”

new york   february 09  amanda brooks reads at the lela rose fall 2005 show during olympus fashion week february 9, 2005 in new york city  photo by paul hawthornegetty images

Brooks at the Fall 2005 Lela Rose show.

Paul Hawthorne

istanbul, turkey   september 30 amanda brooks and zac posen attend zac posen at vakko black tie dinner at les ottomans on september 30, 2006 in istanbul, turkey photo by billy farrellpatrick mcmullan via getty images

with Zac Posen in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2006.

Patrick McMullan

new york city, ny   february 17 tory burch and amanda brooks attend proenza schouler fall 2010 collection at mil on february 17, 2010 in new york city photo by billy farrell patrick mcmullan via getty images

with Tory Burch at the Fall 2010 Proenza Schouler show.

Patrick McMullan

While her husband suggested moving to a new city for a year—Shanghai was a thought—Brooks craved somewhere remote. “I just wanted to be in the countryside,” she says. “I wanted to be quiet.”

That first year in the Cotswolds, Brooks was a different kind of busy. She was renovating an 1820s farmhouse, cooking, and gardening. “I was really just making sure my kids were happy,” she adds, “picking them up every single day from school and indulging every single maternal instinct. After a while, they were like, ‘Mom, can you get a job again? You’re not cool anymore; you’re annoying.’ ”

She did go back to work, regularly contributing to magazines and writing two books, Always Pack a Party Dress, about her time in fashion, and Farm from Home, about life in the Cotswolds. In May 2018 she opened a boutique, Cutter Brooks, in the nearby town of Stow-on-the-Wold. The shop is inspired by the English countryside and filled with elevated housewares, designer clothes, and a selection of vintage and antique goods. Online, it has become a place where the more than 137,000 people who follow Brooks on Instagram can buy into her enviable lifestyle.

amanda brooks poses holding a basket of green apples

pink flowers in a grassy field

Maureen M. Evans

1820s country home

Maureen M. Evans

close up of an apple tree


interior of amanda brooks 1820s country home in england


While Brooks travels to source merchandise (and will still go to the odd fashion show), she doesn’t miss the breakneck pace of her former life. “I remember sitting at a fashion show at the end of my time at Barneys, and I was looking at [Chicago luxury boutique owner] Ikram Goldman,” she remembers. “She was there with her husband and her two kids, and I was like, Well, there’s a woman doing it on her own terms. I was on the edge of tears, so miserable, and I just thought if I ever found myself back in Paris at a fashion show, it would have to be on my own terms. I feel like I have done that.”

shala monroque sits and smiles at the camera wearing a white dress

Before social media ushered in a new age of It girls, influencers who had mastered the art of the candid pose as well as the algorithm, the title was reserved for a select few like Shala Monroque—fashionable women-about-town whose social calendars, style choices, and romantic relationships became fodder for gossip columns and society pages.

Monroque found her way to this rarefied social strata after landing a hostessing job at early-aughts see-and-be-seen eatery Man Ray. “Everybody came through,” she says, “so that gave me a glimpse of New York society and an understanding of that world.” At the time, she was dressing in a mix of designer pieces she found at Daffy’s (her first purchase in New York was a Daryl K coat) and basics from Old Navy and living in a fourth-floor walk-up with a shared bathroom in Harlem. She refined her style working at yet another hot spot, Kittichai, occasionally picking up shifts at sister restaurant and fashion-industry favorite Indochine.

shala monroque

Monroque at a party at Don Hill’s in 2010.


shala monroque

at a benefit dinner at Sotheby’s in 2010.


Circulating in these spaces, Monroque became friends with Russian-born socialite and art-world fixture Dasha Zhukova. In 2009, Zhukova was named editor in chief of the culty fashion glossy Pop and asked Monroque to join her team. “She [hired] a bunch of her friends,” Monroque says. “None of us had worked in fashion; it was not our thing. But I guess she admired my sense of style and my point of view.” Monroque’s career took off. After meeting Miuccia Prada, the two grew close and Monroque became a Prada muse and unofficial brand ambassador, attending shows and hosting parties for the house around the globe. When Zhukova launched Garage magazine in 2011, she named Monroque creative director.

“Then I woke up on December 3 and I was just like, I’m not starting the year here. I don’t care what it takes. I’d rather be where I’m happy.”

“I was having fun. I was living on the Upper East Side. I was jet-setting all around the world,” says Monroque. “There was a point when I could literally have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in three different countries.” Monroque was in Paris when she got a call from Town & Country asking her to be on the January 2012 cover. “I didn’t really want to do it,” she says, adding that her life was already starting to feel like “a fishbowl.” But her then-boyfriend, gallerist Larry Gagosian, urged her to reconsider, noting how rare it was for a Black woman to grace the cover. She acquiesced.

Over the next two years, the attention and travel started to wear on Monroque. She began going to therapy but didn’t find it helpful. “It felt like I was on a train but I wasn’t in control of it,” she says. A call from her mother in 2012 put things into perspective.

shala monroque

Monroque at a Rodarte after-party in September 2011.

Zach Hyman

“I was hosting some event in London for Miu Miu,” she recalls, “the most decadent three-day event where they rented out a whole hotel. I remember partying and dancing and screaming, ‘I’m so happy!’ I flew back to New York, and a few hours later I got a phone call from my mother, crying that my brother had been in a car crash.” Monroque got on the next flight to Saint Lucia and arrived to find her brother clinging to life. He survived the accident, and she stayed in Saint Lucia for a few months to help her mother care for him. She returned to New York and made a commitment that she’d go home more often. But subsequent visits weren’t enough to stave off the waves of sadness.

shala monroque sitting on a horse

Shining Star by Marilyn Lubin knit dress; Nikkibiedes necklace.


“I didn’t feel I had anything I wanted to say any more with [Garage],” Monroque says. “I started withdrawing. Every time I would get into a room [at a party], I’d get chest pains. I realized it was affecting me physically.” Monroque decided she was ready to end the high-fashion, party-all-the-time chapter of her life.

Following yet another work trip in 2014, Monroque remembers, she returned to New York and stayed in bed “for like three days.” “Then I woke up on December 3 and I was just like, I’m not starting the year here. I don’t care what it takes. I’d rather be where I’m happy.” Monroque shipped off her books, put some things in storage, and bought a one-way ticket home. “I arrived in Saint Lucia on December 28, 2014, and I never looked back.”

“I’ve come to find healing at home, in the garden, with my family, who I can be myself with.” – Shala Monroque

shala monroque for harpers bazaar november 2021

Back home, Monroque took up diving and photography and spent her days aimlessly roaming the island. Every morning, she had breakfast with her mother, which she never got to do growing up because her mother worked mornings at a hotel. Her initial plan was to move into her late grandparents’ home and give “more life” to the house through basic renovations. Upon discovering structural damage, she decided to rebuild the house entirely, milling trees on the property for wood. Monroque also began an organic farm. “What I’m doing is more of a regenerative forest farm, so it’s going to take time,” she says. The trees she planted—among them coconut, orange, and golden apple—just started to bear fruit. “I had a couple of goats to weed the property initially, and I remember being on the phone one day with some friends from New York and I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go tie up the goat.’ ” Her friends were taken aback; it was such a departure from her life in the city. “It was weird hearing myself say it as well,” she says, but being with family and surrounded by nature has proved to be therapeutic. “I’ve come to find healing at home, in the garden, with my family, who I can be myself with.”

shala poses wearing knit dress

Shining Star by Marilyn Lubin knit dress; Nikkibiedes necklace.


In early 2019, when Marni creative director Francesco Risso asked Monroque to walk in the label’s fall show in Milan, she embraced the opportunity. The same was true a year later when then–Chloé designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi asked her to appear on the runway. Because she wasn’t tied to a brand or a magazine, “there was not this rush to do everything,” she says. She was able to enjoy herself. In addition to occasional Fashion Week appearances, Monroque is currently working with Turkey-based Haitian designer Sophia Demirtas on a capsule collection for Demirtas’s label, Fanm Mòn. Collaborating with Trinidadian designer Meiling has also been occupying some of her time.

shala monroque stands on the beach beside a tan horse

Shining Star by Marilyn Lubin knit dress; Nikkibiedes necklace.


These days, Monroque is often dressed in bathing-suit tops with either cut-off shorts or leggings. Her wardrobe is a fraction of what it once was—“I got rid of a lot; it was bogging me down,” she says —and when she does dress up, she insists on comfortable footwear. “I never wear heels anymore, and I don’t miss them,” she says. “Most of the time, I’m without shoes, and putting [heels] on now, I’m like, Why did women ever do that to themselves?”

Photos of Shala Monroque by: Junior Sealy; Photos of Amanda Brooks by: Maureen M. Evans.

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, available on newsstands November 9.