I've seen some overachievers in my day, but this week's Instagram style star puts others to shame. Please give a hearty hello to 20-year-old busy badger Helen Pena-Smicker (www.instagram.com/helenpenaa). This Miami native is a full-time advertising major at Boston University. She blogs for her own site, she's campus representative of UK-based retailer ASOS, she paints, and she spends hours sifting through the racks at second-hand stores. She's also vice president and art director of the student-run fashion magazine, which means she coordinates and oversees photoshoots, comes up with concepts for the shoots, and assists with layout. Watch your back, Grace Coddington.
Q. You've sifted through hundreds, perhaps thousands, of things at thrift stores. What's the most revolting piece of clothing you've ever seen?
A. Wow, that's a really difficult question because I see so many tragic things. There was one fatal 1980s prom dress that I remember. It was a bright orange princess dress that was drenched in sequins and came complete with puffy sleeves. How someone spent more than a penny for that dress, I have no idea.
Q. This question will be far easier. What's the best thing you've found, and how long did it take to find it?
A. I found a beautiful cerulean Dior midi skirt by chance one day. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, I never really am. The key for me is to go in with a fresh, open mind because otherwise you'll be really set back. I'm proud to say I bought it for $3. I'm not even kidding.
Q. As someone who's old enough to be your slightly older brother, I'm concerned that with all of your extracurricular activities you're not putting enough time into your school work. How were your grades this semester, young lady?
A. I'm going to use this as an opportunity to show off and tell you that last semester I was on the dean's list. Being involved just keeps me motivated to do well in everything.
Q. Given that you're so drawn to fashion, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're looking for a career in the field.
A. That's the dream. I've fantasized about a career in fashion since. . . well, I can't even remember. It's funny how it's evolved. I started off wanting to be a fashion designer, then a model, then a fashion designer again, then the next Anna Wintour. Now I just want to get my foot in the door. I won't give up until I've made it. So maybe we'll meet again someday at a Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Q. Do you find that your style fits better in Boston than Miami? Or vice versa?
A. This is a little difficult because I'm inspired by wherever I go. My use of big, bold colors is definitely very Miami. But I love the challenge that comes with dressing for different seasons.
Q. In describing your style, you mentioned the word "quirky." So, what's the quirkiest thing you've ever worn?
A. One time I wore a navy polka dot bustier-inspired crop top with a bright yellow pleated skirt, a thin red belt, white canvas sneakers, and a bright blue patent leather bow clutch. I paired it with red lips for the finishing touch. It was really fun and playful.