The best people in this industry are the people who really, truly love their jobs—they love their jobs so much that they inspire you to love your job even more. When I met with Us Weekly fashion director Sasha Charnin Morrison (@SashaCharnin) a couple of weeks ago at a midtown Starbucks, I already knew I liked her. How can you not like a woman who is so frank, so open about her experiences in the industry, from the terrors and triumphs of the Vanity Fair fashion closet to the experience of working under legendary Harper’s Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis?
What distinguishes Morrison from many of her peers, though, is that she owns it all. Over the course of our conversation, she walked me through every single one of her major career moments—never glossing over the bad parts, or over-emphasizing the good parts. Because to her, each step played a key role in her life—not just her career. I’m not a stylist, or a fashion editor for that matter, but Morrison’s path truly inspires me to be better at my job. And hopefully her words will do the same for you, too.
Fashionista: How did you get your start?
Sasha Charnin Morrison: Started in this business? I’ve been in many businesses.
What did you do before?
I grew up in New York, in Manhattan. My father and mother were in show business—so it’s a true born-in-a-trunk but stayed-in-the-Village story. [Morrison’s father, Martin Charnin, is the famous Broadway director/lyricist behind Annie.] So in the beginning of my very long career, I started working professionally: singing, dancing, acting, at 13. Various things, commercials, off-Broadway. I did a video–I was in “Love is a Battlefield.” And it was just based on a relationship—I met the choreographer on vacation. And he said that I had the look, I guess, of a knocked up hooker. So I said, “I’ll take it!”
My mother gave me a bit of the fashion bug; my father, both of them were so wrapped up in clothes and fashion and not labels necessarily, because in the early ‘70s, late 60s, fashion was so different. It was so exciting and there were just these little boutiques and they would find things. And you know, to have a straight dad who likes fashion is kind of insane. So I had that bug, and then when my parents had separated, my dad met this woman [Jade Hobson] who happened to be the creative director at Vogue. My first meeting with her I was about 12, and it was in the Vogue fashion closet. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I went to NYU and interned doing costume design and scenic design. I was supposed to be acting, but I was failing in acting—they were giving me the big fat F—and I said, “All right, I don’t want to do this.”
So I was working in costumes. Which led me at one point after I graduated to do assistant work for this guy named Kevin Gordon, who did costumes for this show that Madonna, Sean Penn, Harvey Keitel, and Lorraine Bracco were in at Lincoln Center. I was assisting him, and he was creative director of a beauty magazine. He told me that after my show business thing was over, I could give him a call and maybe I could get a job with him if there was still something open, and there was. So I started doing everything at this magazine called Beauty Digest. I would call in the craziest things, the things that I knew, Geoffrey Beenee for shoots, which was kind of ridiculous. But fashion was so different 27 years ago. I would just wing it and ask my stepmother things.
But I was still in showbusiness a bit and I had one week where I was auditioning for Starlight Express, the skating musical, and I was up for a position for the second assistant at Vanity Fair. And I said if I got one over the other, then that was going to be the career I was going to then choose. Well the Starlight audition was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was easier to have children—twins—than to do that audition, okay? And I interviewed for Vanity Fair and I got that and then that was it. I just closed that other book. Because in show business you have to sacrifice everything—including like, young children—in order to pursue that career. And since I was born into it, I didn’t have that [desire]. But I had the passion for this other thing.