Phoebe Gates, the youngest child of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates and current sophomore at Stanford University, has been interested in fashion for as long as she can remember. While studying abroad in Johannesburg, South Africa, she recalls meeting a fellow student who was a fashion designer and being struck by the possibility.
“I was like, ‘wait, you can do that at this age?’ And I remember being so excited,” Gates says over the phone from Palo Alto, California, where she’s already back in the swing of classes. “I’ve always been interested in sketching and design and I’m a huge writer.”
She spent this past summer internering at British Vogue, rotating between the publishing, features and fashion teams and it was there that she connected with the staff’s sustainability editor and ended up traveling to Copenhagen for its fashion week in August.
“It was super interesting, and it was where I was like, ‘OK, I want to do a bunch more stuff,’” she says.
Her interest in sustainable fashion then made a friendship with Stella McCartney a natural fit.
“Her and my mom are actually good friends,” Gates says of McCartney and her mother Melinda Gates. “Even when I was little she would send me stuff and little notes and I’d be so excited. I’ve been asking my mom forever and ever if I could meet with her.”
The two finally got together this summer while Phoebe was in London for her internship, and “we instantly hit it off,” she says.
“I felt very connected to her, I feel like because she’s been able to use the platform she had, because of who her dad is, and then she took that and instead of being like, ‘oh, people define me by this,’ she took it and she was like, ‘OK, I have this immense privilege, now I’m going to use it to leverage something,’ and what she chose to leverage is to launch a brand that is completely sustainable. So I think we are really deeply connected because that’s a lot of what I think about: ‘OK, I’m my parents’ daughter, that gives me immense privilege, but it’s not what I’m defined by. I want to have my own identity, I want to be my own person, I want to branch away from that, but how do I do that in a way where I can yield some sort of change?’”
Since they met this summer she and McCartney have remained close through texts and the designer invited Gates to attend her show in Paris, her first trip to Paris Fashion Week. For the occasion Gates did a fitting in New York and ended up selecting a pair of white pants with a hummingbird print, a black bra and black (faux) leather jacket.
“They had a ton of different options and they put outfits together, but I was like, ‘I kind of want to do something more va-va-voom that stands out,” Gates says. “I went through the stuff and I was like, ‘I think it’d be really fun to do a bra with the leather jacket.’ So I did that and I love the hummingbird pants so much, they are so sexy and fun.”
The rest of her fall quarter will likely be spent on campus, though she hopes to travel to Los Angeles for the occasional fashion event and remains in contact with British Vogue and McCartney’s team, with hopes to collaborate in the future.
“As soon as I could get an internship in the fashion industry, I jumped on that, but I also wanted to be careful and do it in the right way, because fashion has so many different lanes you can go in,” Gates says, “but there is some toxicity in the industry and I have a huge interest in women’s health as well, so I wanted to work somewhere where it didn’t feel like those were confounding with each other. So I really liked British Vogue because of Edward’s [Enninful’s] work and he’s so progressive with the magazine, so that was a huge choice for me.”