Current career-boosting guidance maintains that networking is the be-all and end-all of setting yourself up for success. In an increasingly fast-paced and crowded job-search environment, such logic makes sense—it is often who you know, not necessarily just what you know, that can seal the deal. This is especially true in the world of fashion, which tends to insist that you climb it’s oft-inflexible career ladder, rung by rung, starting from the bottom in a less appealing way than, say, Drake.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, and the hard work and time you put into the early stages of your career will most certainly pay off in your twilight years. But rather than flitting through your initial entrée into the fashion workplace and making speedy, often superficial connections with people (that amass to little more than fluff and a knowing smile at parties), it’s important to slow down and work on building valuable relationships that will not only enrich your career but can help point it in the right direction as well.
I’m still essentially in the zygote stage of my (*shudders to call it this*) career, but a combination of luck, good timing, and my penchant for sending bold e-mails has allowed me to meet a handful of really cool and learned industry folk. Two of those people—Laura Brown, the executive editor of Harper’s BAZAAR and Leandra Medine, of The Man Repeller—happen to be fashion world favorites, and with good reason. They stand out in the crowd for their infectious humor, silly self-deprecation, and never-not-fresh ideas. Neither one of them follows the “rules” of fashion. They create their own, whether it be, in Laura’s case, by formulating fashion spreads based around cartoon characters or up-and-coming modern artists, or—c/o Leandra—by making the discussion of armpit hair and anti-outfit-coordination somehow (dare I say it?) trendy. Put another way: these lovely ladies don’t settle for precedent, they become the precedent for others.
In the hopes of co-opting some of their brilliance for my own path (as someone more spiritual than I might say), I bothered them both about their experience with mentorship and their thoughts on fashion-world relationships in general. Below, a sampling of their wisest words, starting with Ms. Brown:
When you first started out in the business, did you have a mentor that helped guide you to where you are today?
You know, I didn’t really, just a heightened sense of delusion. I really loved magazines, so I kind of organically ended up in magazine…places. I studied journalism, and then interned, interned, interned! I was offered my first job when I was 19, and had to finish university by correspondence.
What are the ultimate benefits of having a close mentor in the fashion industry?
You know that somebody’s been through it before and they’re still alive! It is tremendously reassuring. Especially when you’re starting out, and everything feels so foreign—it’s great to have someone to guide your instincts.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from a mentor-type figure?
Again, see my first answer. I actually think introductions can be as good as advice. That certainly worked for me. And for that I need to thank Libby Callaway, who was the fashion editor of the NY Post when I first moved here. Her generosity was incredible and she’s now one of my best friends.
Now that you’re in a mentoring position for many people (read: me me me), what is the most valuable advice you have for anyone trying to “make it” in some way in this industry?
Work hard—don’t expect anything. Entitlement is the biggest failing I see these days. Follow what you love, follow opportunities, but don’t force them. I know this seems odd, but, “under-think” it. Oh, and really WORK HARD. IN CAPS.
And Leandra’s take?
Sophia Amorouso of Nasty Gal once told me that she is reluctant about mentorship because she doesn’t like positioning anyone as wiser, or better than she is which I thought was really, really interesting. Generally, I take a lot of business advice from my dad and have been lucky to find myself really close with industry people in the same vertical–I think we deal with a lot of the same pressures/perils/benchmarks of success and sharing that empathy is really valuable for me. Re: myself as a mentor, the only advice that I would give is don’t take my advice!
Well, I’m going to have to disagree with that last part, given Leandra’s trailblazing success. Overall, though, she makes a great point about not getting too hung up on someone else’s triumphs as a marker for your own. Individuality and a person’s own work ethic are obviously crucial in the eyes of both of these women, but they also hint at mutual admiration societies within the business that have been really beneficial to their careers. The deduction? Do you (assuming that that you is passionate and hard working), but be sure to get out there and meet people. And don’t be afraid to reach out! As someone who has bit the pride bullet and hassled a few industry people I can tell you that it often works out. Here’s looking at you, Laura and Leandra ;)
Sidenote: I can’t confirm or deny that we’re starting a girl group called L L Cool … J because neither party has responded to my request.
Side-sidenote: Coincidentally, these two are goofing around on the latest episode of The Look today, so be sure to check it out when it goes live.