Ilanka Verhoeven
Written on February 13, 2023



Don’t be afraid to start all over again. You may like your new story better.

If there is anyone who likes to plan ahead, it would be me. At the age of 21, I thought I had it all figured out. My whole life trajectory was written out on paper. But life had other plans for me, plans I wouldn’t have imagined for myself.

First time in New York

The first time I ever set foot in New York was in 2012. I was flown out by a german fashion company called the NewYorker as an influencer, to join their two day event. I was staying at a prestigious hotel on the Upper East Side, overlooking the vibrant city. A view that was once only accessible to me in the movies, unfolded right in front of my eyes. To be completely transparent, I wasn’t impressed. 

The city everyone always talked about, simply wasn’t very appealing to me. Sure, two days might not be enough to get a clear impression of any city, but all I can remember was that I didn’t leave with the “New York fascination” that many others seem to have had when visiting the city. 

New York is dirty. Dirty might be an understatement. While Manhattan might look clean most of the time, especially in touristy areas, you will encounter anything and everything in New York, from trash on the streets, pizza eating rats, to feces on the subway. It smells and people can be very rude in this fast paced city. The city is wildly expensive and there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Walking around in the city, especially outside the better areas, you will be confronted with the many homeless people swallowed by the difficult conditions in New York. I have seen a dozen of ass cracks being revealed in broad daylight, some coming to a 45 degree position to leave their “mark” in the city.

Melting pot of cultures

Fast forward to May of 2019, I was in New York once again, but now working as first assistant to a celebrity stylist who had clientele in Europe and the States. This time I set foot in Brooklyn, far from the Upper East Side life I had seen during my first visit. I saw people that reminded me of home, growing up in Rotterdam, in a mixed family. It felt like the melting pot of cultures I’m very familiar with, along with a buzzing feeling of freedom. Men wearing mini skirts, hearing my favorite latin music blasting out speakers on the streets, the oozing of go-getter energy… It started to make sense to me why people gravitated to this city. At that time I worked on jobs that many stylists dream of, among them the MET Gala which made this city indeed feel magical. 

Still, with the many other things I had witnessed during my stay there, I wasn’t smitten by New York and I was very comfortable going back and forth between Amsterdam and the Big Apple. It’s true. New York is  a stunning, cinematic city. It’s exciting, energetic and vibrant. There is always something new to discover and you will come across so many different people, from all walks of life. That same city however comes with many dark sides, among them a very broken system, poverty, homelessness and more. It makes me feel uneasy. Sadly, after a while, you just get used to it. 

You can sleep when you’re dead

I came back to New York that same year, this time in November. And this trip would change everything. I spent three weeks completely focused on a busy work schedule and somehow found the energy to go out on dates. The mantra “you can sleep when you’re dead” energy everyone else seemed to have, juggling heavy work loads and social lives, was infectious enough to carry over to my mindset for those three weeks. I had been single for over five years, hardly dated during that time and dating in New York would be a nice way to see the city.

On December 8th, my last night before flying back to Amsterdam, I had my last date. A date that was so special, that the life I had planned for myself would be thrown out of the window shortly after.

Change of plans

Having my life planned out to the “T”, has always given me a sense of security and structure. It has given me a sense of direction and simply made me feel safe. Comfortable.  Throughout my life, I always had people close to me say things such as “loosen up”, “don’t overthink” and “be spontaneous”. While certain life events did force me to see that I can’t always plan for everything, it wasn’t until this moment, at the age of 29, that I realized that I got too comfortable. I was living my life according to plan but I wasn’t necessarily being challenged or at a place where I could reach my full potential.

As mentioned before, I was very comfortable going back and forth between Amsterdam and New York. My career as a stylist in Amsterdam was going well, I had my own place, a vibrant social life and a routine. Moving to New York wasn’t something I planned, nor overcoming a pandemic and many more hurdles in the midst of the move, but it has been one of the best decisions I ever made. It wasn’t easy. Leaving my family, my friends and everything I was comfortable with behind, to essentially start over again was overwhelming. Especially for someone who likes to plan everything. The outcome however, has been so rewarding. 

I’m a year into my new life. Career wise I have worked with Naomi Osaka, Beats by Dre, VOGUE, Elle Mexico and more. I’m still in a loving relationship with the man who swept me off my feet back in 2019. I have learned to adapt to a new environment, make new friends at the “ancient” age of 31 and live in the now. All of this from a journey I had never planned.

From me to you; make plans, write out goals but always leave room for the unexpected, as you never know what life may have in store for you. 

Written by Ilanka Verhoeven
Ilanka Verhoeven is a stylist and creative director. She launched her career in Amsterdam and now works an resides in New York. She’s worked with big names in the fashion industry such as VOGUE, Elle Mexico and Cos and dressed models such as Romee Strijd, Imaan Hammam and many more. You can find her work at