A career in fashion is not a frivolous pipe dream. Sure, it can involve working with lush fabrics and volatile personalities, and, yes, it is a cutthroat industry in which only the most tenacious survive, but it is nonetheless attainable for those who know how to manipulate their creativity and esoteric aspirations.
Though unconventional and, as designer Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel has proclaimed, often devoid of rules and laws, the world of fashion is a business, and one that requires the proper gall and know-how.
Fashion designer Raf Simons had this to say about his experience in the business:
“What I’ve learned about working with a big company like Jil Sander is how important the structure is. You can have ideas and you can have money, but if the structure isn’t right, if everybody at design and management and marketing and sales isn’t in the same key, it’s not going to work” (Fantastic Man, Issue No. 14, 2011).
Even the most skilled craftsman, most talented inventor, and wealthiest heir to a fashion house won’t maximize potential success if he or she does not quickly develop a strategic plan—a profitable relationship between money, employees, and resources, plus a trajectory for ideas, goals, and the brand. This recipe for success is of course somewhat arbitrary and dependent upon many situational factors, but a few keys to fashion prowess span the advice and experience of the pros.
For one, Eric Daman, Gossip Girl stylist and Charlotte Russe designer, has stressed, “you shouldn’t be afraid to put yourself out there or track people down for an internship,” despite your young age, lack of experience, and—in my sixteen-year-old self’s case—underdeveloped business savvy. Relevant internships are certainly necessary and, though generally tough to secure, are more accessible as your career develops.
While a junior in high school, I was selected to participate in a three-day workshop in New York City entitled Teen Vogue Fashion University, in which I attended five sessions taught by renowned fashion journalists, stylists, and designers, including Eric Daman (whose above quote was directed toward me and my fellow participants), Diane von Furstenberg, and Derrick Lam. The program was intended to educate approximately 500 young fashion hopefuls from around the globe on the fundamentals of the business and how to get their feet wet.
Expecting an extravagant celebration, I instead received profound enlightenment. As anticipated, many of the activities were excessively promotional and indulgent, as the Teen Vogue-sponsored event was designed to attract its target audience of sixteen-year-old fashionistas. Yet, amidst all of the fluff and glitter emerged consistent cases of entrepreneurial innovation, indicating expertise beyond the realm of mere stylistic enterprise.
Whether an attendee or a presenter, an amateur iron-and-screw necklace designer or a marketing extraordinaire like Thia Breen of Estée Lauder, many of these women possessed a unique combination of creative and business skills, evident to the discerning eye. These individuals could not have sold so many necklaces or cosmetics from such a young age without cultivating both skills.
Likewise, while speaking with Alexander McQueen’s successor, Sarah Burton, New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn advised prospective fashion journalists to “Talk to people in the houses,” and maintained that being a good fashion journalist is not about receiving invitations to all of the shows. “You want to be able to have information that nobody else has.” You want to be able to surpass your equally creative peers with the business acumen necessary to sell and make a living off of that creativity as well.
Perhaps more than in any other business venture, visibly well refined and well synthesized individuality is key in the fashion industry.
Below is a simplified conceptualization of the four steps necessary to successful fashion marketing:
- Discover your talent for styling, designing, writing, photography, or make-up.
- Determine that your talent is unique enough to receive unexpected attention from fashion experts and enthusiasts alike. To drive the coveted fashion train to recognition and triumph, you must first possess the golden ticket, attainable only to a select few.
- Develop a plan to gain knowledge and internships in the field and to then use your education to integrate your personality, money, and eventual employees into a successful business initiative.
- Build your business structure as a function of capital, staff, and time allotted to various tasks, in order to maximize sales, profit, and brand awareness.
As a business requiring determination and competence equivalent to that of any other—just using idiosyncratic materials and mannerisms in the process—the fashion industry demands both uncanny creativity and a commercial knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
Photo: Raf Simons, the fashion designer. Credit: FANTASTIC MAN