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How'd You Get So Far? Five Honest Answers to Succeeding in Fashion

Fashion's finest had their tough moments too.
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We know how hard it is to get a job in this industry, even in a good economy. And we'd like to help you as much as we can.

So we've gathered some of fashion’s finest to extend their sage advice on how to make it in this business.

We covered all the fashion career bases: designer, casting director, photographer, journalist and editor. Hopefully their real answers will help you when it comes time to carving your own career path.

Joe Zee, Creative Director, Elle magazine

How did you get started? Perseverance. I moved to NYC with only one goal: to work in magazines. It was the early Nineties and there was a recession but I didn’t care. I still sent out 18 resumes and got 16 job interviews. Ultimately, I started at Allure magazine in the fashion department.

Name one quality that contributed to your success. Being open and pushing myself. I am always open to new ideas, unique ideas and different viewpoints. And the best part is you never know where these ideas come from: I love speaking with everyone, listening to everything and watching it all. I can be inspired by everything from music to art to food. And I am always pushing myself to learn and do something new and embrace what’s next. In the end, isn’t that what fashion should be all about?

What is the best piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fashion editor/stylist trying to make it in the industry? Assist. There’s nothing like roll-up-your-sleeves, all-hands-on-deck assisting where you can see and learn everything. My advice is find someone whose work you admire and aim to assist them. Their knowledge, experience and expertise will be tremendous in your own career path and the people you meet along the way will be invaluable. But always keep in mind that no task is too menial or job too small---just do it all. I had the privilege of assisting Polly Mellen and Lori Goldstein when I first started out and that experience still lives with me in everything I do.

Dan Martensen, Photographer

How did you get you started? When I left RISD, my friends and I thought we were going to come back to New York and the whole city would be sitting around waiting for us to show them how great we were. Flash forward six months---a gallery show in Chelsea, a piece in Art Basel---and I was broke. Like broke broke. So I had to get a job, and I started assisting and working part time at Milk Studios as an intern.

Over the next four years, I spent my time hustling my ass off. I was always looking for assisting work, and eventually I linked up with a few photographers that had me working on all their jobs---some of them big names, some not. As time went on I became more confident in my knowledge not just of lighting and photography, but of on-set politics and production; in general, I was just kind of growing up. When it was time for me to leave I got really lucky. Alexander Wang was just 24 years old and in his second season as a designer. He had seen some of my photos on a blog or something, and called me to discuss a look book. When I realized that one day of working on a look book was equal to 15 days of assisting, I took the opportunity to pursue more jobs like it, and I was able to turn more and more assisting work down until I was "on my own". The rest is history I guess...

Name one quality that contributed to your success. I've always been opportunistic. I say that with a straight face because New York is the only place in the world where the word "opportunistic" doesn't have such a negative connotation. When you're young and trying to get noticed, you have to hustle. Put your best foot forward and always be ready for whatever opportunities may come. If you don't, you're wasting your time overpaying your landlord, and you might as well move to southern California and get a nice tan.

New York is a town full of hungry people, that are brilliantly talented, unique, and determined, who came here with voices that want to be heard, and you have to believe that they're all working much harder than you are. My point is if I wasn't hard working and ready for the opportunities I've been given, I'd have missed them, and I'd probably be waiting tables somewhere in order to pay my film processing bills. Regardless of where you are in the world, you can't expect things to come to you, but when they do, you better pay attention and grab them because they don't come often.

I'm blessed with amazing people surrounding me in every direction. I've got a support team that I couldn't have put together better if I tried. I wouldn't have made it six months in this town, or any other town, if I didn't have my friends and my family's support. That's the biggest contribution to my "success."

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What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a young photographer trying to make it in the industry? I don't think there's any way to plan your career out, especially at the start. You need to be proactive about shooting, testing for free, going out and documenting. It's really simple---just keep shooting. I think the mistake that most photographers make when starting out is thinking that they need to hold out for dream jobs, turning magazines down because they want to be in "better" ones, and making excuses why they'd rather not shoot at all than shoot for something that isn't part of their dream. This just doesn't make sense to me. It's important to keep shooting, regardless of what it’s for. No matter what, you need to keep working.

I shot for a ton of magazines that I'd rather not mention, work that I don't show a soul or even want to burn! But it was because I kept working---regardless of the "cool factor" of the client---that I was able to evolve and hone my craft. After a while I guess I started to stand out, and people started to notice. What everyone---from magazines to commercial clients to agencies---is looking for is progression. Anyone can put a photo shoot together. But if your images and message improve over time, that's what really turns heads. So it doesn't matter who you shoot for, make the mistakes while you're still new and nobody's watching.

Natalie Joos, Casting Director

How did you get started? I was Craig McDean's Studio Manager for six years. I did most of his castings.

Name one quality that contributed to your success. I think a lot of my success can be contributed to the fact that I am a social person. I met a lot of my clients outside of work. I go out, I am talkative and interested. I really value my personal relationships with clients. I work best with friends and people I can connect with on another level.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring casting agent trying to make it in the industry? There is a lot of competition in New York. Many people think they can and want to be casting directors. It's an easy fun job, and you don't need any kind of education or training for it. The only thing you need is good taste and an eye for relevant beauty. But casting agents are dispensable. The link can be easily eliminated, again because it's not that difficult a job. So the competition for those few jobs that do require casting is very tough, and if you don't have any experience or contacts, it's pretty much impossible to get started. So I would say, work with a talented photographer or in a company where casting is part of the curriculum and build contacts. Then start with one or two shows. And remember, in New York you are only hot for a minute; so if you do create a buzz for yourself, exploit it!

Pamela Love, Jewelry Designer

How did you get started? I started out wanting to do a million different things. College was a really confusing time for me, and when I got out I was completely lost. I was working on all kinds of projects and making jewelry with a friend of mine. It was more like a hobby than anything. But it quickly became something I wanted to dedicate all my time to. I wanted to learn everything I could about making jewelry. I didn't go to school for it so I had to learn on my own and through apprenticeships with jewelers. Every season I learn new techniques and work with new materials. I will never stop my jewelry education. I am really thankful that found something I am so in love with.

Name one quality that contributed to your success. It’s a combination of things. For me, working hard, following my instincts and having really supportive people in my life have all contributed to what I have achieved so far. I lost my father almost four years ago, and that also affected things for me. I really wanted to work hard and make him proud of me, and it also reminded me that life is short. It’s important to spend your time doing the things you love most and living passionately.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a young designer trying to make it in the industry? Follow your instincts! Don't get discouraged! Sometimes things can be really tough before they get good, and it’s important to not let that stop you.

Eric Wilson, Fashion Journalist, The New York Times

How did you get started? I called up the editors at Women’s Wear Daily, which I had been reading since college, and asked for a job. Repeatedly. I was turned down for the shampoo beat and an editorial assistant position before landing a job on the third try, covering ready-to-wear, the furs, suits and dresses beat. Name one quality that contributed to your success. Curiosity. I want to know why designers do what they do, why one suit can cost $4,999 and another costs $49.99, why one designer succeeds and another fails over and over again, why an editor has the power to change fashion, and why people buy so many more clothes than they could possibly need. After 13 years of asking these questions, I’m still curious.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a young journalist trying to make it in the industry? Keep your goals in mind and never forget them. Throughout your career, whether you are just starting out or have become part of the establishment, you will constantly be reminded that tomorrow, you could be nothing. It doesn’t matter. There’s always a day after tomorrow. Be honest. Be fair. If you are good at communicating what it is you want to do, whether writing a story, styling a model or building a career, you will find your subjects more willing to cooperate.