Design By Humans
Published On: Tue, Jun 19th, 2012

We talk with Daniel Cappello, editor of the new book The Ivy League

The Ivy League is so much more than a group of eight universities. Attending one of these prominent schools provides entry into a world of exclusivity and private clubs—a membership that never expires. Through photos and text, The Ivy League admits readers to the world’s most revered institutions, portraying the character of each school and what sets it apart, from renowned graduates and dominant political stances to athletic rivalries, architectural styles, popular fashion, and more. Here, I talk with editor Daniel Cappello of  The Ivy League.

What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

I had been working with Assouline, the publisher of the book, on various editorial projects over the past few years, and one day I got a phone call from Martine and Prosper Assouline asking me to come in and talk about the Ivy League. Their son was applying to college at the time, and they couldn’t find one book that brought all of the Ivy League schools together at once, to really paint a picture of what each one was about. They knew I had gone to Harvard, and they were full of questions about what made one school different from the next. By the end of our conversation, we had an idea for a book of our own—one that would summon the spirit of each Ivy League school while distinguishing what sets them apart, from dominant political stances to athletic rivalries, architectural styles, fashion sense, and so on.

How has the college culture changed since you went?

I think college culture, just like our culture at large, is becoming more and more fast-paced and jam-packed with hyperactive schedules. When I visited campuses this time around, a lot of students looked like they could be in New York City, running around at scattered paces on their iPads and smartphones. When I was an undergraduate (a mere 15 years ago!), no one had a cell phone on campus. We checked in with our parents maybe once a week, used email but didn’t live or die by it, and really spent a good deal of our time engaged with fellow students on campus. It felt like we were “at college”—living within our own little world—not part of a bigger, interconnected world.

The upside to all of this technology and connectivity is that students are processing more information at a faster pace, have increasing resources and capabilities, and are able to achieve more at maximum capacity. I think what’s vanishing are those spontaneous moments of unaccounted-for time, which allow for introspection and self-discovery, or time spent with one another. So I did sense that college life as a whole feels a little less like a culture of its own, and more like an integrated part of a larger world beyond the campus gates.

You are the Fashion Director at Quest magazine. Who are your favorite designers and why?

At Quest, I’m fortunate to work with the best of the best: Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren, Gilles Mendel, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino (or Maria Grazia Chiuri for Valentino now). They also happen to be among my favorites because they consistently offer a beauty of design that unfailingly manages to stay relevant and fresh. I’m also very excited about some younger designers, like Katie Ermilio, whose collections I can’t get enough of. She combines a kind of Givenchy-like couture heritage with a modern, fanciful imagination. Christian Cota comes from a whole other place—a Mexican background and an eye for art history—and always puts out finely crafted, vibrant collections.

For men’s wear, I happen to be a big fan of Simon Spurr, whose clothing I like to describe as Duke of Windsor perfectionism meets James Bond cool. With The Ivy League on my mind, I can’t help but love Ralph Lauren, Michael Bastian, and the positively preppy things Christopher Bastin is doing for Gant’s Rugger label.

Tell me about your company, 47 Ventures?

I tend to have my hand in several projects at once, and 47 Ventures is the creative consulting company I started to bring all of my assignments under one umbrella. A few years ago I found myself simultaneously consulting on a runway show with a fashion designer, organizing a wedding reception, starting production on a TV show, and editing a book. When I told a friend I was going to start my own business to bring all of this together, he challenged me to come up with an appropriate name for all the different things I was working on. And so I gravitated to a favorite time and place in my life for the inspiration: the year I spent working and living in Paris, at 47 avenue Georges Mandel. So 47 Ventures is something of a tribute to my Paris address, and to the very happy and formative year that I lived there.

We all love Jackie O. What was it like working on her exhibit at the JFK Library in Boston, and what was the most interesting thing you learned about her?

The most interesting thing about that was getting to know so intimately a person I had no relationship with, down to just about every note she had ever written and every piece of clothing she cared enough about to keep. And when that person happens to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—someone the world seems to know so much about, but who remained so private and such a mystery—it was an even more poignant experience.

I think she’s fixed in the national consciousness as a certain figure, but she was a complex, thoughtful, and extremely—penetratingly—smart person. She had an almost encyclopedic wealth of knowledge, and about so many subjects: history, literature, poetry, the arts, and on and on. If President Kennedy needed an example from the classics or a quote from Pericles or Shakespeare for a speech he was working on, she could often recall it for him verbatim from memory.

One of the things about her that stands out in my memory is what a copious note-taker she was. I helped organize her archives and remember going through countless yellow legal pads written out in her own handwriting. She did her homework, always wanted to learn more (even about subjects she was seemingly already well-versed in), and was a meticulous note-taker and memo writer. In the end, she knew her subject matter and she knew exactly the right way to do things and how to go about getting them done. In this way, she was very naturally gifted as a politician in her own right. She was so successful at working at causes that mattered to her because she was so smart about them.

Another icon you’ve known is Richard Avedon. You worked on his last photo portfolio called “Democracy.” What image from that project stands out in your memory, and why?

I’ll never forget the image we published in color of a burned army sergeant, who was recovering at an army hospital in Texas for third-degree burns that he suffered while in Baghdad. His face was all pink, red, and scars, and yet so stoic. Dick had traveled to Fort Hood, Texas to photograph a lot of the armed forces in training for deployment in Iraq, but he was really moved by the injured soldiers who were convalescing in the hospitals down there. And that portrait of the burned sergeant was just so honest that you immediately connected with it in such a real and personal way. It literally brought you face-to-face with the war.

You have written for so many different publications that cover so many different subjects. What do you feel is the next frontier for you having already covered media, politics, design, fashion, and the arts?

I’m working on an idea about a historical book, or maybe historical fiction, depending on how it goes. There’s a story I’ve been pursuing about a certain figure in Renaissance Florence who’s truly fascinating but about whom very little has been written. It’s a very modern story, set against the backdrop of Florence in its golden age.

You are a founder of the Junior Council of American Ballet Theatre. What’s ahead for them?

The Junior Council continues to grow and bear its own unique influence at American Ballet Theatre. We’re pursuing our mission at the company with a very strategic and goal-oriented approach. One of our most successful efforts has been the Juniors For Juniors initiative, which we launched in 2010. It’s an evening dedicated to raising enough funds to sponsor a scholarship for one of the students in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT, the company’s pre-professional training program. The school is open to students from ages 11 to 18, and many of them go on to graduate into the main company. We saw this as an opportunity for us, as the junior board of the company, to invest in the junior dancers at the company—hence the name.

Since its inauguration, Juniors For Juniors has raised nearly $40,000 for sponsorships of JKO students. We’re incredibly proud to watch these students pursue their dreams and refine their technique—they’re evolving and transitioning before our eyes, and that’s a real honor to be a part of. Today the Junior Council provides scholarships for three students annually at the JKO School, and we hope to see that number grow in the next few years.

The Ivy League by Daniel Cappello is available in bookstores nationwide. For more information, please visit

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We talk with Daniel Cappello, editor of the new book The Ivy League