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Inspiring Stories, Inspiring People

Anh-Minh Le, writer/editor

Anh-Minh Le, writer/editor

Anh-Minh Le did the unthinkable: She started a print magazine when other publications were folding left and right. Her brainchild, Anthology, now has a cult following and is praised by the country’s top stylemakers and designers. This talented writer and editor knows how to tell a good story—including her own.  


PPF: When you were little, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?

AML: Well, when I was in pre-school/kindergarten, I wanted to be an artist. I was a prolific drawer at that age. But it wasn’t too long after that that I realized that writing was for me. I was about six years old when I started playing around on the typewriter, and I guess I haven’t really stopped!


PPF: How long did that dream last?

AML: Not very long. But even though I figured out pretty early on that I wasn’t going to be a professional artist, I’ve continued to dabble in drawing and painting. Nothing serious. More like, “Oh, we need something to cover this ugly electrical box in the hallway. I’ll go out and buy a canvas and paint something!”


PPF: What was your first real job?

AML: Let’s see, that would be working in the office where my dad was employed. I spent my first couple of high school summers there, doing whatever office tasks needed to be done—and could be done by a 14- or 15-year-old. My first non-nepotistic job was at the Gap. I was hired as seasonal help, and I guess I sold enough jeans and chambray shirts and pocket tees for them to keep me on. That was the first in a string of part-time retail gigs for me.


PPF: You worked in the dot-com industry for awhile, right? Were you in the thick of the dot com boom, or the aftermath of its fall?

AML: It was the late ’90s, so I guess I was right in the thick of it? I was finishing my masters in journalism at Berkeley and was prepared to accept a traditional journalism internship. But a Berkeley alum who I had done some fact-checking work for told me about this copywriting job at a startup in Emeryville. I figured I’d give it a shot, and I could go back to traditional media if it didn’t work out. So I’ve been a copywriter and/or editor at,, and I met my husband at Petstore—which is way better than any stock options, right?


PPF: What is your current job?

AML: So I don’t really have one job right now. I’m juggling a few things, and collectively, it’s a fantastic balance between work that pays the bills and work that is creatively satisfying. In 2010, I cofounded Anthology with Meg Mateo Ilasco, a very talented writer and designer; I’m the editor in chief, and she’s the creative director. And I’ve been freelance writing for the San Francisco Chronicle for a while now, too. Mainly in the Home & Garden section, where I have a weekly column called the “Stylemaker Spotlight,” and I contribute features on a fairly regular basis.

It’s funny to think about how I started with the Chron though: The copywriting/web work I had done was really rather boring, and I wanted to start writing about things that I found personally interesting. So I emailed the Chron Home & Garden editors one day and was like, “You know what? I feel like your coverage isn’t really speaking to people like me—young people who want to create a nice home for themselves but don’t have a lot of disposable income.” They were like, “Okay, what do you think we should be writing about then?” I think I might have offended them! But I pitched some stories and after the first one—which was about dollar-store decorating—the assignments kept coming.

And now this is the part of my work life that usually surprises people: I also have a part-time, three-days-a-week job in a financial management office. My brother-in-law used to run a hedge fund in Silicon Valley, and I worked full-time for him back then. When he decided to close the hedge fund and operate a family office, I was able to scale back on my hours but still pitch in there.


PPF: I love that you wear so many hats, and balance everything with such grace. Were you formally trained to do everything you do now? 

AML: The office job is mostly administrative, and I did that kind of work in between undergrad and law school–more on that later. And the journalism stuff, I did indeed receive formal training for. I minored in journalism at UC Santa Cruz, did several internships, and got my masters from Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.


PPF: I didn’t know you went to law school! Was there a watershed moment in your life that caused you to change professional gears along the way?

AML: I think there have been a number of turning points for me. Like law school. Toward the end of my first year at Hastings in San Francisco, I realized that the lawyer thing wasn’t for me. I thought maybe I would parlay what interest I did have in the legal system into a career in legal journalism. So I decided to apply to the journalism school at Berkeley, to do a joint degree between the two schools/programs. After the first of my two years in J-School, I knew I didn’t want to go back to law school. So I’m a law-school dropout.


PPF: Probably the best decision you ever made…

AML: The decision to email those editors at the Chronicle turned out to be pretty important to my career. And I actually did that in response to a rejection I had recently received: I applied to be one of the founding editors of Apartment Therapy San Francisco. I didn’t get the job, so started thinking about other ways I could get involved in design writing. (I later became an AT:SF contributor.)

Starting Anthology was also sort of rooted in rejection: I was in the running for a writing job with a big home/design retail store. They went with someone else, and again, it got me thinking about what I really wanted to be doing. A few months later, Meg and I met up and started brainstorming the magazine.


PPF: Rejection is so hard, and can be mentally and emotionally exhausting in the moment. And yet so many great stories of success come from rejections—or the direction rejection sends a person. I cannot tell you how happy I am that your particular course led you to start one of my most favorite magazines on earth. I’d love to know, was there a particular mentor, or a person who believed in you and gave you a chance when no one else would?

AML: Hmmm. I don’t think there’s been any single person who I can say I owe this or that to. I’ve been lucky to come across a lot of encouraging people at various jobs I’ve held. I interned for a while with a great attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and really loved that part of the whole law school experience. But just not enough to ultimately go down that career path!


PPF: You have written for the San Francisco Chronicle quite a bit—in the Home & Garden section, as you mentioned.  Who are some of the most interesting people you’ve met along the way?

AML: That is a tough question to answer! I truly believe that everyone has a great story to share—whether they know it or not. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions and bringing it out of them. But I have to say, anytime I get to meet and write about someone whose work I’ve admired for a long time, that’s pretty special. This summer, for example, I interviewed architect Howard Backen and his wife Lori at their home in Napa Valley. I was so nervous, but they could not have been nicer. Really. And not long after that, I interviewed chef Michael Mina and his wife Diane in their amazing Marin County backyard. Again, I thought they would be sort of intense and intimidating—and I was so wrong!


PPF:  Journalism really gives you that gift of intersecting with people and getting a look behind the personas, at the real people. Anthology is so great about doing that—telling the stories behind the stories that everyone else is telling. Can you tell me a little bit more about how the magazine actually came about?

AML: In early 2010, I posted on Facebook that I was contemplating self-publishing a magazine. This was not long after a bunch of really good titles had shut down. I love, love, love magazines. And it made me sad that I was constantly walking away empty-handed from the newsstand—but there just wasn’t anything there that really felt like me. And I thought maybe I wasn’t alone in feeling this way; maybe there were other people out there who wanted something like Anthology.

One of those people was Meg. She emailed me after seeing my Facebook post and we decided to meet up and talk about our ideas. It turned out, we were pretty well aligned in our vision for what we wanted to see in a magazine: a narrative approach to decorating, entertaining, design, and culture pieces; beautiful photography; not too product heavy; not reliant on advertising. And then we started contacting people we knew—writers, designers, photographers, artists, stylists—to see who was interested in collaborating with us. We’ve been really fortunate to work with so many great people across myriad fields. And our staff is still tiny, but awesome.


PPF: What has been the biggest challenge with starting a magazine?

AML: With our past experiences—Meg has authored, illustrated, and designed a number of books—we did have an understanding of some parts of the production process. But a lot of it we just learned as we went along. My feeling is: None of it is hard. It’s just that you have to be willing to do all of the work involved, not just the fun stuff.

Meg and I had to go out and research printers, fulfillment centers, mailing services, distribution channels, subscription management systems, etc. Honestly, I can’t say that I enjoy these aspects of self-publishing, but they’re necessary in order to do what we do. Since Meg and I are very much involved in every facet of the magazine and business, we may spend X amount of time every day addressing customer service or scheduling matters, but then we also get to spend a lot more time creating this magazine that we’re really proud of.


PPF: As you mentioned, you launched it in a time when everyone said print publishing was dying. What gave you the courage to go for it, despite the dismal market?

AML: Maybe we were just naïve! But the thing is: Meg and I are alike in that once we decide to do something, we just do it. We’ll deal with the obstacles as we come across them.

One decision we did make right away: The loss of advertising dollars is what did in a lot of the big publications, so we knew we had to figure out a way to produce and price Anthology so that we could operate with just wholesale and subscription revenue. If we have zero ad buys in an issue, we can still pay the freelancers, the printer, the fulfillment center, etc.


PPF: Anthology has a cult following. Who are your readers?

AML: I’m not a marketing person, so I’m not good at rattling off demographics—that our readers fall into this age group, make so-and-so amount of money, are likely to shop a certain number of times per month. I know this is a very simplistic way of viewing readership, but I think that our readers are people who are similar to Meg and me. We only feature stories that we’re really into, and hope that others will be, too. There’s nothing in the magazine that we don’t personally believe in on some level. So chances are, if you like the magazine, we’d get along great if we ever met or hung out in person!


PPF: How did you get the magazine ‘out there’?

AML: Marketing and promotion is not my strong suit! And we don’t really have much of a budget for that sort of thing. We’ve been fortunate that some very popular sites and blogs, as well a number of traditional media outlets, have featured Anthology. Anthropologie found us pretty early on and started carrying the magazine, which has been huge for us. And we’ve got a lot of great small, independent stockists who have been so supportive and helped raise awareness about us, too. And never underestimate the power of word of mouth.


PPF: What has been the lowest point in your career?

AML: You know, the lowest point was when I wasn’t doing the kind of writing that I enjoyed, that I wanted to be doing. The copywriting work paid well, but I felt like the longer I did it, the further I was getting from journalism. And that really freaked me out. There were nights when I couldn’t sleep because I was worried that I would never be a reporter/journalist ever again.


PPF: What has been the highest point so far?

AML: There hasn’t really been a single high point. Every issue that we release presents a new milestone and sense of accomplishment. The fact that this magazine that we created—that we sit around and brainstorm about, and then turn into a tangible product—has resonated with people is so special. We didn’t start Anthology to have an excuse to throw parties or to get our names and faces out there. We did it because we thought we could make something that others would appreciate and enjoy as much as we do.


PPF: What is essential to help you do your best work?

AML: It depends on what part of the work we’re talking about. For the magazine, obviously, I think Meg and I are able to put out the best possible product we can because we have a great partnership. You have to have the right mix of skills and temperament to start and successfully run a business, I think. And I feel fortunate to have Meg as my business partner; we complement each other very well.

Also, my husband Jon has played a key role in whatever success I’ve had. He actually does help out with the magazine, and is just one of those people who you want on your side—because if he is, you know everything’s going to be okay.

What else. My workspace is important. I usually do my work on our ten-foot-long dining table—and then clear off just enough space so Jon and I can still have dinner there every night. There’s a lot of natural light and open space in the living/dining area, and there’s something about that that energizes me and makes me more productive. I just feel good when I sit down at the table, laptop in front of me, looking out onto the redwood trees.


PPF: I saw a story on your house on Refinery29. I love it—and your personal aesthetic. I want to come see it in person. And I really want to see your shoes. You have quite the shoe collection, or so I’ve heard. What are the five pairs of shoes you wouldn’t be able to get through a year without?

AML: Ha! It’s true. But here’s part of the reason: I have small feet. I used to buy a lot of my shoes in the children’s department; I’m a size 2 in kids’ shoes. But in recent years, a lot more designers and shops have started offering women’s shoes in size 4. So now I can get my shoe fix from the grown-up’s and kids’ departments.

Okay! To answer your question. Five shoes:

1) Converse are a year-round favorite for me. Right now, I’m especially fond of a pair of leather, studded high-tops I picked up in L.A. earlier this year.

2) Tall, flat boots—or maybe with a half-to-one-inch heel—that you can just pull on and run out the door. Or take on and off easily at the airport. I love to travel!

3) Flat gold sandals. You know that site They have the best sales. I bought a pair of Pucci gold sandals that were half off—a ridiculously good deal, and they’re so comfortable and versatile. I can wear them with jeans or a dress or shorts.

4) A pair of nude flats. Again, comfort and versatility is key.

5) I feel like my fifth pair should be a little funkier. I have this pair of peep-toe black suede shoes, and the wedge heel is made of what looks like thin goldish/bronzish metal strips for this mirrored effect. I know, it sounds very disco. But these shoes are really comfortable—I just wore them to a wedding the other day and didn’t have any problem dancing and walking in them for hours—and add interest to any all-black ensemble.


PPF: I’m going online for gold sandals tonight. I want to borrow a little of your effortless style, if I may. I’d love to know how you have translated that at home. How would you describe your own house to someone who’s never seen it?

AML: I never really thought about what my dream house would look like—until I walked through the front door of this house. It is it. It has an open floor plan, with really high ceilings, wood beams, lots of windows that allow for an incredible amount of natural light.

The style of the house itself is pretty clean-lined and simple. And our furniture is really a mixed bag: a dining table that resembles a giant slab of wood—with the uneven edges—paired with sculptural, walnut Cherner chairs. Nearby, there’s a metal, industrial cabinet. The living room includes a movie theater chair (that needs to be reupholstered) as well as a Franco Albini rattan ottoman and a chaise from DWR. There’s no specific style or era that we adhere to; we buy things, and hope that the scale of the pieces all works together. If not, we move things around to other rooms.


PPF: What do you love most about San Francisco?

AML: I live about 45 minutes south of San Francisco, but am there pretty regularly because of my work. I appreciate different neighborhoods for different reasons. I spent my very early childhood years in the Haight, so I always get nostalgic when I’m in that area. I think it’s not so much a specific store or restaurant that makes San Francisco so great to me; it’s all the memories I’ve made there. When I was a kid, my parents used to take us to Chinatown almost every Saturday morning. The first place I lived after college was in the Inner Sunset. My husband and I got married in the Presidio. The list goes on and on.


PPF: Describe your version of the perfect day.

AML: I’ve always been bad at this question! I would say that any day where I don’t have to think too much about what time it is—when there aren’t a lot of things that have to be done or places where I have to be—is pretty darn good. If I’m surrounded by family and friends, even better. Good food wouldn’t hurt either. I don’t cook much, so I love eating out.


PPF: What, or who, most inspires you and why?

AML: My parents have been a huge inspiration. They didn’t have much when they arrived in the U.S. in the mid-’70s, but they created a good life for themselves—and their four children.


PPF: What job could you never—ever—do, no matter how broke you were?

AML: Maybe it’s because when my parents came to the U.S., they basically took the jobs they could get—my dad had two jobs for a while, including delivering fried chicken at night—I don’t know if I could say with absolute certainty that I would turn down a legit job if I was in dire straits. Sure, there are some I don’t think I have the stomach for—like cleaning up crime scenes—but if I’m broke and it’s a job that I can physically handle, I don’t know if I would say no. I hope I’m never in that position to find out!
PPF: What print magazines do you relish the most?

AML: My regular purchases and/or subscriptions include Vogue Living Australia, Jamie Magazine, Living, Etc., House Beautiful, Elle Décor, Elle Decoration, Garden and Gun, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, Imbibe, Afar, Architectural Digest, Wrap Magazine. I also like WSJ. Magazine, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Deborah Needleman does at T Magazine.


PPF: What blogs do you read most frequently?

AML: I admit: I used to read a ton more blogs. These days, I tend to only read those that are penned by my friends.


PPF: When have you been most daring in your life?

AML: I don’t know if I’ve ever been that daring! Does starting a magazine during a recession count?


PPF:  I should think so! When have you been most afraid?

AML: This isn’t related to work at all: September 2005. My husband and I were in Seattle, spending time with his parents, who were also there on vacation, when we got word that my dad had suffered a serious heart attack. We didn’t know if he was going to make it—or if he was going to survive, what condition he was going to be in. We ended up returning home early because I was just a wreck up there. I think I cried the entire plane ride home.


PPF: What is the best advice you ever got?

AML: It’s not really advice—but I’ve been lucky enough to have people around me who have set good examples on how I’d like to live my life. For example, my brother-in-law was doing his residency when he decided that a career in medicine just wasn’t for him. With risks can come some great rewards. And I thought a lot about that risk he took when I was thinking about starting a magazine.


PPF: Here are five fun questions now that everyone answers:

What’s on your bedside table right now?

AML: A Michael Graves for Target table lamp base topped with a Pottery Barn shade. A little Ritz Paris dish that I bought on eBay; it holds fortunes that I especially like from fortune cookies. We stayed at the Ritz during our honeymoon. A Tivoli clock/radio.


PPF: What’s the trip you keep talking about taking one day?

AML: Well, my bucket list is pretty short: I want to attend all four of the tennis Grand Slam events. That’s really all that’s on my list! So I know I have to go to Australia at some point, during the month of January.


PPF: First concert you ever went to?

AML: U2 at the Oakland Coliseum. Or whatever that stadium is called now.


PPF: Best concert you ever went to?

AML: We went to the Bridge School Benefit last year—I think it was its 25th anniversary. The lineup was amazing. And the fact that the concert is for charity just makes it that much cooler.


PPF: Song that would be the title track to the soundtrack of your life?

AML: Off the top of my head, I’d say: “It’s Nice to Be Alive” by Ball Park Music.


PPF: Best meal you ever had?

AML: Alinea in Chicago. Toward the end of the meal, chef Grant Achatz comes out and makes dessert right there, on your table. It’s crazy and brilliant.


PPF: What are you really good at that would surprise a lot of people?

AML: I am an excellent packer. Even if we’re going on a two-week international trip, I try to stick with a carry-on. But I don’t know—is that a surprising fact? Hmmm. I’m also really good at swatting flies. That’s random, and not very cool, is it?!


PPF: You and my husband are the only two people I know who can easily swat flies, and I come from the South, so that’s saying something. If you could interview someone and ask him or her these questions, who would it be?

AML: Deborah Needleman or Grace Coddington.

**Photo of Anh-Minh Le by Kelly Ishikawa





















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