I sat down with Diandra Barnwell, former brand coordinator for Cosmopolitan magazine and co-star of the E! show So Cosmo in a conference room in the Cosmo office at Hearst Tower overlooking Manhattan. Diandra is a inspiration for young women and proof that with hard work and dedication, you too can live your dreams. She shared with me her journey, challenges, and joys of working in the fashion and publishing industry. Get to know Diandra in our style files.
Tori B. : Where did you grow up?
Diandra: I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico with my parents and my little brother. My mom and her side of the family are from New Mexico and my dad is from Kentucky. My dad was in the military so I spent a large chunk of my childhood moving. We spent some time in Italy and traveled all through Europe where I learned to speak Italian, but I also grew up with Spanish as a second language. But, New Mexico is home.
Tori: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Diandra: I went to Albuquerque High School then I attended FIDM in Los Angeles and I studied Fashion Design, Marketing, and Merchandising. It was a challenging transition but it was easier than my transition to New York because LA is about an hour and a half flight away from home. It was easy for me to go back home more often than I’m able to now.
Tori B: What was your dream growing up and how does that relate to your career?
Diandra: I always knew I wanted to do something fashion or media related. I was never sure [of what that would be] but I was always obsessed with magazines. I still have my collection back at home. Every time I’ve moved, my parents have helped me and I’ve been adamant about bringing my magazines along with me. But my vision has definitely come full circle because, here I am—and I really, really do mean it when I say I am living the dream.
Tori: So you made a big move from Albuquerque to the big city so what was that transition like for you and what advice can you give to those who are from a small town and dream of moving to a city like NYC?
Diandra: Well, I moved from Albuquerque to L.A first, and that was a big transition. I was 17 at the time. I was really young, had never been away from my parents, and never lived on my own—I didn’t even drive. It was a huge transition, but it was an extremely important time in my life because I had to grow up. I think everyone should try it for at least a year. You gain so much independence and you learn so much about yourself. I have to say, I really grew up in L.A because I had to figure things out. I didn’t have anyone there telling me what to do, and without that guidance it was up to me to make things work. It was an amazing life lesson!
My advice to those who want to move away from home is to have confidence, have faith in yourself and at least stick it out for a year, because home will always be there. My parents always told me that everytime I called home crying ha!
Moving from LA to New York was also huge transition. I was 22 at the time, and I had just gotten my job at Cosmo. It was hard to get out of my routine from living in L.A—I was so comfortable. When I moved to New York, I didn’t know anybody, I left behind perfect 80 degree weather, my friends, and everything I’d known and went for it head first. There were definitely moments when I was like, “Oh my gosh. What have I done?” haha but every day got a little better, and little bit easier, and I was finally able to fully embrace the city!
Even during my darkest days I learned that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. And let me tell you, it was dark for about 8 months—I will not sugarcoat it, it was not easy. But, I am so glad that I did it because if I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have had half of the opportunities I do now. You always have to keep in mind that you can always go home, but there is a whole world out there just waiting to be taken. Even now, sometimes when I need a break, I’m just like “I can always go home. It’s just a flight away, but I have to stick it out to make my dreams come true.”
Tori: I totally get it. Moving to a big city can be really intimidating.
Diandra: It can be very intimidating. I still feel like a small fish in a very big, cutthroat pond. I still feel out of place sometimes even though I’ve been in the industry now for five years. It’s still intimidating at times, but it’s worth it!
Tori: Did you always want to move to New York City?
Diandra: Yes! I always knew I was going to end up in New York City, but my journey here just happened to be extremely expedited. I moved about five years earlier than I expected! I was very young and inexperienced, but I did it anyway . My mom and I would read magazines together and I would always say my name is going to be on the masthead of one of these major magazines one day—and here we are.
Tori: Let’s talk about you living the dream here in New York. What are some of the perks of being the brand coordinator for a major magazine like Cosmo?
Diandra: My job is extremely multifaceted, which makes it so much fun, but also challenging! The best part is that I work with so many brands across many different industries, so I’m always meeting new people and learning new things. No two days are the same, and that works for me! For example, I take the connections I’ve made with wine and spirits brands very seriously, because they end up becoming sponsors for our large scale events— one of the reasons why I plan happy hours, even though they are extra-curricular. I don’t belong to a particular department, but I do work closely with our events team and that is a very important part of my job—I’ve learned the most in that role. As an extension of my role at Cosmo I’m an ambassador for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy—a non- profit that is near to my heart. I help plan a luncheon every year with big media partners. This year I’m co-hosting as an influencer which is my dream come true! In addition I work on a ton of our brand acquisitions—I literally have my hand in everything. There is not one day that is monotonous, and I like it like that.
That’s why I wanted to go into a creative field. I could’ve been a doctor or lawyer. That’s what my brother wants to do. I wanted to do something that’s going to excite me everyday. Not that those jobs aren’t important–it takes a very strong person to do that. Kudos to all of those people. And don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of days when I’m sitting at my computer answering emails or going over calendars, but overall it’s very exciting. Especially for me as a people person, I get to meet all different types of people from different walks of life who do different things. I pick up skills and apply them to my job here.
Tori: What was your most challenging moment in your career—so far?
Diandra: I feel like life is a roller coaster, so there really isn’t one defining moment for me when I was like, “Well, that was a challenge.” I have challenges everyday. I’m going through a lot of transitions right now—trying to figure out what my next steps are going to be.
It’s both a curse and blessing to be a Type A person who’s ambitious because you’re definitely someone who strives for more and more—you work hard to get where you want to be—but, I’m always already three steps ahead. As soon as I accomplish something, I’m already thinking about the next things. That’s something I do need to work on, but I’m always like, “I need to do better.”
I will say that getting into this industry is hard, but staying in is even harder and that’s something I struggle with everyday, for sure. I’m still very young, one of the youngest on the team. So it’s hard to be in an industry that focuses so heavily on hierarchy. I’m coming in like the new kid on the block, and even though I have been here for almost five years, people often overlook that because they tend to look at me like I’m inexperienced (which I am compared to 10 year veterans) but I was raised to be a confident person, and I know the value I bring to this company and I know what I’m doing. Even when I don’t, I figure it out quickly! I know my place, but I’m confident in my skills.
Tori: It’s so important to stand your ground. There were a few instances on the show when you may have been talked down to or belittled for your job and you handled it with such grace and poise. You definitely are great at knowing your place and standing your ground.
Diandra: Yes, it is so important to stand your ground, but to do so in way way that is dignified and classy. Especially as a woman of color, it’s even more challenging for us. People expect us to act out and to react negatively in those situations. For me, being on camera and knowing women all around the world were going to watch the show, I had to remain cool, calm, and collected. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, that’s okay. You still have to work hard and remain focused on your main objective. Mine happens to be being the best business woman and role model I can be. I’m a big believer in manifestation and visualization, so any energy I have is being directed toward positivity and my goals. Besides, I have a very full life and incredible people outside of the office, so as long as they love me I’m good!
Tori: Cosmo has recently featured so many familiar faces like Ruby Rose, Zendaya, and Jessica Alba. What stars have you met here in the office?
Diandra: I’ve met so many different people. Off the top of my head, I’ve taken a selfie with Kylie. I’ve met singer/songwriter, JoJo. I’ve been a fan of JoJo since back in the day. I was like, “Girl, I’ve been waiting for your album for like ten years. Where have you been?!” Haha! JoJo was incredible. I’ve met Diane Von Furstenberg, and I mean how incredibly inspiring is she?! Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Valerie Jarret, who was advisor to President Obama—that was incredible.
Tori: What is some advice that you can give to those who want to work for a top magazine like Cosmo?
Diandra: Be very realistic about your goals. From the outside, it looks very glossy and glamorous—and it is all of those things—but, it’s a lot of sacrifice. What are you willing to do to get there? I see my family maybe three times a year. I give up a lot of family and personal time. Also, It’s very competitive. Everyone is competing for the top spot. Everyone’s trying to get the attention of the editor-in-chief or whomever is in charge. It’s like The Devil Wears Prada, “there are a million girls who would kill for this job.” But, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with the job. For every glamorous aspect there’s a lot of hard work behind it. The perks are fabulous, I’m not going to lie to you. I go to a lot of cool parties, get a lot of free products, I do a lot of cool things but I have to say, it’s only 30% of the job.
Lastly, to work in this industry, you have to have thick skin. I’m a West Coast girl and we radiate sunshine, haha. It was hard for me to develop that thick skin. It was a lot of tears —especially for me because I’m a crier—a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of anxiety—but it’s definitely worth it. Be confident for sure—no matter who you are, where you come from, and who you want to become.
Tori: Yes to all of that. So, let’s get into your personal style. How would you describe your personal style and how does it reflect who you are?
Diandra: I always say I’m in between Kim K. and Michelle Obama, haha. I have a very classic style. I’m not a very trendy person. I love monochrome looks. Victoria Beckham is definitely my style muse. I like simple, clean looks. I’m definitely a bit more understated. I like classic silhouettes and very body conscious looks. I’m half-Latina so I love showing the curves God and my mama gave me. So, I would say classy with a sexy undertone.
Tori: Who are some of your style icons?
Diandra: Victoria Beckham for sure. I like the new Kim K, it’s a little more provocative now, but I love her. Definitely Carine Roitfeld is my style icon for life. She is super tailored and sexy. And my mama! I still wear her pieces. A lot of the clothes I wore on the show are from her closet.
Tori: What’s the best style advice you’ve ever received?
Diandra: “You work hard for your body so don’t be afraid to show it off and keep it classy.” My mom told me that. She’s definitely one of my number one style icons. Obviously, I’m wearing a turtleneck today, and if she saw me she would be like, “Oh my gosh Diandra, you’re wearing another turtleneck, what are you doing girl? Stop dressing like a grandmother.” Haha! I love being a woman and it’s about embracing that. Style is super personal, and I feel that as long as you feel comfortable, you should wear whatever you want. I believe in that style philosophy to a t. I love being conservative but, I love being sexy too!
Tori: What was your initial reaction when you heard that Cosmo was getting it’s own show?
Diandra: I was so excited. I’ve done television before, and I always tell people I’m more comfortable in front of the camera than I am in real life. You get to be this more elevated and polished version of yourself, and that to me is playing a character. Not that I’m not being true to myself or anything, but I knew what it was going to be like, and I saw it as a opportunity to create a platform. I saw it as an opportunity to really reach the masses and spread a positive message.
So Cosmo is an international show. It premiered in over 140 different countries, so I knew I could make a difference and inspire someone. I wanted to be the best role model. And even if it was only for an hour, I wanted to do something each week to send a positive message. Not everyone gets this opportunity and I was very aware of that. I went into it very professionally and with a clear objective in mind that I wanted to be the best version of myself.
I will say there were parts of the show that exaggerated my personality a bit, and I was totally fine with it because it made me seem like more fun ha! I’m definitely not going out as much as it seemed, you can find me in my house on the weekend with my robe on, a seaweed mask, looking at recipes haha.
The best part about the show, is it brought a lot of light to issues that I’m really passionate about. Being a woman of color, it’s so important to me to be a positive influence. Listen ladies, you can be on a television show without it being about who you’re married to, dating, or flipping tables. There is a classy way to go about it, and I think So Cosmo portrayed that perfectly. The show was about my job and the jobs of my coworkers. Of course it showed some personal life, but first and foremost, it was about the job. I’m super proud of that, and I think It’s a great lesson for young women everywhere!
Tori B. : I’m glad you brought that up. On the show, you were talking to your best friend, Amy, about how you felt as though it’s your responsibility to represent and be a role model for girls who look like you because you didn’t have that growing up. Honestly, that meant a lot to hear and I know that statement came from an emotional place and I felt how genuine you were in that moment.
Diandra: It was a very vulnerable moment and it was very powerful for me to express those feelings. For me It’s not all about the glitz and the glam and the parties, it’s so much deeper than that! It’s a bigger responsibility and I take that responsibility very seriously. I did so much research before we started filming. I watched every season of The Hills, The City, Laguna Beach, and many more. I watched interviews with main characters like Lauren Conrad, and I paid attention to what made viewers connect to them. I found that the more genuine and vulnerable these main characters were, the more I connected to them! It’s about being real, so I held nothing back.
Tori: Inquiring minds want to know if there will be a second season of the show…
Diandra: No, and I’ll tell you why. We’re all very sad, and we loved filming. But, with the changes and transitions happening at the company, the timing just isn’t right. So, unfortunately not right now, but we’re thinking of doing something later down the road.
Tori: You’re a very hardworking woman in a very cut-throat industry. With your new following, connections, and knowledge of the industry, do you have any plans to create your own platform? Maybe a blog?
Diandra: Absolutely, especially with this newfound following, which I now take seriously! Listen, I love social media, I really do, but I am a really private person, and that all had to change when the show came. After the show, it [my following] has definitely grown in a huge way and I feel like not taking advantage of that would be such a waste. I’m in very early preliminary stages of developing a website/blog. But I’m taking my time doing research because I want it to be a meaningful, very inclusive community. I’m going to have a lot of tips and advice on what I do, and my friends in the industry will contribute as well. It’s going to be very interactive, and I’m going to have a whole section dedicated to career q+a. I didn’t have a platform like that as I was in the earliest points in my career, so I know how helpful that will be. Of course I’ll have beauty, some fashion stuff, and I’ve even recruited Evan to do some fitness stuff with me! Lots to come so be patient and stay tuned.
Tori : Since you brought up Evan, are you guys together now?
Diandra: Umm, I’ll be really candid with you. Evan is one of the most special people in my life. We are absolutely best friends—we care about each other immensely. We love each other, that’s for sure. But, I think at this point in our lives, it’s not a thing [right now]. But, listen if I called him tomorrow and needed him, he’d be there in a second and vise versa. There’s a mutual respect we have for each other. I’m hustling and he’s hustling. That’s what it is. Maybe down the line, we’ll move forward with our spin-off “D&E+3”. But for now, I’m doing my own thing. I’m single—and mingling. But I told myself, this was going to be my year to really focus on my career and my platform. I have a lot going on right now, and I want to keep up that momentum. I want to dedicate everything I have to what I have coming up professionally. But, yes, Evan will always be in my life. We are as close as you can get, with a really fun flirty relationship.
Fav Snapchat Filter: I’m loving the pig these days. I used to love the leopard one, but the mask gets annoying sometimes. Haha. When I’m sending snaps to my family and friends, I use the funny ones. But, the pig takes the crown right now.
Fav Cocktail: If I’m being good—and I try to be most of the time which is so annoying, who wants to live life like that right? haha— a vodka soda with two limes. But, I’m really into extra extra dirty martinis these days.
Red Wine or White Wine: I have to say Rosé. We call it summer water in NY. I’m a foodie so I like to try a lot of wine pairings.
Fav Vacation Destination: Jamaica or anywhere with a beach.
If you could sit front row in NYFW for any designer who would it be? Victoria Beckham, for sure and Valentino.
Song title that best describes you? Confetti by Tori Kelly or if I’m feeling myself Fancy by Drake.
Fav 90s jam: Anything by the Spice Girls, Mariah Carey, or Destiny’s Child haha.
Books your loving rn: I’m reading 3 right now, but I love anything by Jojo Moyes!
Top 3 favorite pieces in your closet: Red plaid pants my Mama gave me, Adidas leggings, and my Gucci loafers.
Beauty Fav? Glossier stretch concealer and anything by Mario Badescu
Favorite TV Show: Scandal, which I need to catch up on! Or Gossip Girl of course.
First Job: Hautelook
Last movie you watched: Under the Tuscan Sun. It’s a fave!
Favorite season? Summer. Wish I could live on the beach in a bikini.
Country you’ve always wanted to visit: South Africa
Favorite Food: New Mexican
Hidden talent: I sing! I can also do any accent haha.
Article originally published on The Stylette on April 24, 2017.