When You Don't Live in a Major City
"I decided that I wanted to work in fashion photography, but having zero idea of how to do that, I attended a program at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts."
Can you give an overview of how you got here?
I grew up in Saskatoon, Canada and attended the University of Saskatchewan. While I was there I tried out all of the different classes, although the only ones that stuck were photography related. But, I had no idea how I could ever make a career out of it. It was just so far fetched in that part of the world (central Canada).
I had an assignment to create a series of photographs that told a story. So, I started looking at a bunch of fashion magazines, and I found this Fall issue of W Magazine with a spread of Karlie Kloss shot by Tim Walker. There was this one image of Karlie standing over a broken humpty dumpty thing….
Oh, I know that image. It’s so good.
Yes! Immediately I fell in love with Tim Walker; I was amazed that he could tell this incredible story through images. The props were amazing, the styling was great, and I had no idea who Karlie Kloss was at the time, but I was just amazed by this whole thing.
I decided that I wanted to work in fashion photography, but having zero idea of how to do that, I attended a program at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts. It’s a 12-month intensive diploma course, and from there it helped me get a job at Aritzia. I worked there as an in-house retoucher for three years. During that time I would ask to assist the photographers that Aritzia would hire, and that's where I initially met Charlotte. Right away, I was captivated with her work; I loved how she always had this clever feminine humor towards it and of course her colors were so good. It was a lot of fun being on set with her and learning what life is like for a fashion photographer based in New York.
In fall of 2015, I left Aritzia and started working as an e-commerce photographer for Kit and Ace. We had a bunch of photographers in-house, and it was a lot of fun creating the content for the campaigns, e-commerce, and social media.
I had kept in contact with Charlotte since meeting her in early 2015, and in June 2016 I made a trip out to New York to assist her for a week. I was so amped up coming to New York and getting to work with Charlotte on set. I remember walking into Pier 59 Studios, and I was engulfed immediately by that world. A week after I returned to Vancouver she sent me an offer letter to become a full-time digital technician / studio manager / retoucher.
"In my freshman year, I was super involved with clubs, and I was also an on campus ambassador for ASOS and Rent the Runway. Then going into my sophomore year, I did my first internship at Seventeen Magazine."
So how did you get to where you are today?
I would have to say around my sophomore year of high school I started to recognize my interest in fashion. I was applying to schools and seeing where I wanted to go, and Florida State was one of them.
Where are you from originally?
I'm from Davie, Florida. When I was researching schools, Florida State had one of the best programs for what I wanted to major in. So, I decided to go there. They also had this whole in-college magazine called Clutch. It's really cute. I got involved with that during my years of college.
In my freshman year, I was super involved with clubs, and I was also an on campus ambassador for ASOS and Rent the Runway. Then going into my sophomore year, I did my first internship at Seventeen Magazine.
What does a brand ambassadorship entail?
ASOS and Rent the Runway would send us products, and then we would host events on campus. One of the events that I did was in collaboration with Clutch. I brought all of these ASOS cups; getting people to take photos with them and there were also all of these other incentives.
Oh cool. That was also right at the beginning when Instagram was becoming a new tool for marketing.
It’s crazy when I think about it. They were so ahead of the game when it came to influencers and campaigning, because they knew that these kids were going to buy what their friends had. It was a super cool experience, I took a trip to New York and got to visit the ASOS showroom, and meet with all the PR people there.
I was this bright-eyed young girl who wanted to get into the industry so badly, and I do really feel that my internships on campus and my involvement with our school magazine Clutch, helped me get that first internship at Seventeen Magazine. I was like "I'm not going to let anything hold me back. Just because there are kids that are doing three, four internships in New York during the school year, I can still get an internship during the summer if I work my ass off.
That's so smart. You're one of the first people that I’ve interviewed that got involved in fashion while not at a city school. That had to have made a huge impact.
Yeah, I originally really wanted to go to NYU, but it was just too expensive and I had a scholarship to go to Florida State. I remember when I got that email from Seventeen. I was so happy. That was my first summer in New York; I was living on the lower east side. It was the picture-perfect moment for my first time living here.
Yeah, it was like your introduction to everything.
Yeah, it really was. At Seventeen, I was a fashion closet intern. I met a lot of people that I'm still in touch with. You learn so much. When I first went on set, it made me realize how much I enjoyed working in magazines, whether it's in styling or market.
After Seventeen, what did you do?
I went back to school and continued with the brand ambassadorships. I also did this other brand ambassadorship with a local boutique called Henri Girl. It was an amazing experience and I got to know the retail side.
I think it’s very important when you’re first starting out, to see as many sides of the industry as possible.
Definitely. I knew that I wanted to go into magazines so I made sure to intern in PR so that I could see the other side. I did one PR internship with Anthropologie and then went on to work at HL group as an Account Coordinator. Both these experiences have helped mold my work ethic and how I handle stress.
What were your expectations for your first internship versus reality?
I think when I went into my first internship, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe something from along the lines of when Lauren Conrad interned at Teen Vogue on The Hills.
This was my real first time living in New York and being delved into a very fast-paced environment. I came from a small town. So, being in New York was a whole new experience. It helped mold me into the person that I am today because I don't have high expectations for anything. I kind of go into it with a clear mind.
When you first started at Vogue, you were the freelance jewelry market assistant, how do you think you made yourself stand out?
I think it was just my willingness to learn and eagerness to want to grow in the company and that's what they recognized. Every time I was given a task, I just wanted to do it well and see what else I could do.
"I was 25 years old doing an internship with 18-year-olds.... I was appreciative that I probably had my head on a bit more than my 18-year-old self."
So how did you get here?
I grew up in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne. I always wanted to be a writer, but I’ve always been very self-conscious about my work. I’m a Virgo, so in other words, I’m a perfectionist, and nothing I do is good enough. I thought, "Well, I can't be a writer because this person is better than me. They read more. They've got a bigger vocabulary." So for a bit, I decided to study PR aswell because I assumed that it’d be easier to get into, or at least more fruitful financially.
I was still in Melbourne and since the fashion industry wasn’t as huge there, I had a difficult time trying to figure myself out, find the right career and people to look up to who felt like me. After a while I was thinking, "This is not working for me here. I'm going to move to London."
I was 20, and this sounds very privileged, but my mom asked, "What do you want for your 21st birthday?" And I said, "I don't want a party or presents. I want a one-way ticket to London. I think it was about £300." So she sorted that out, and 3 weeks later I was here. I thought, "Cool. I'm going to go to LCF," but the tuition was 10k, so then it was “Guess I’m not going to LCF.”
I scrapped my degree and made my way around London doing a lot of hospitality work, and eventually got into consumer PR a few years after making some money in restaurants. It wasn’t for me – it wasn’t the creative work I had craved. So I took 2 years off to work in hospitality again while I figured it out. I was 25 at that point, and that’s when my now ex-boyfriend, his parents, asked us to look after their apartment while they dealt with some family things overseas.
Oh, sweet deal.
So I picked up my studies again but this time with a focus in journalism. One of the modules that I needed to complete was an internship. I was searching on this website called fashionworkie.com and saw that Dazed had a listing for a receptionist intern, so I thought, "Okay. I'm going to do that because 10 people are going to apply to that one in comparison to 100 for the editorial one.” When I applied this amazing guy, Harry Pearce, emailed back, and asked for me to come in the next day. I was freaking out. I ran out and bought the latest issue of Dazed; I didn't have it. People think that you have to be obsessed with the magazines that you want to work for. You obviously have to appreciate them, but you don’t have to be an expert. You just need to be prepared to learn and throw yourself in head first and whole heartedly.
I looked up everyone in that issue, but they actually didn't ask any of that, they just wanted to get to know me. Harry was asking me questions about my personality and who I am, what I want to do, and I mentioned I wanted to do journalism, and that I was studying it. He said, "Great! Well, you know, if you had the opportunity to intern here, you could obviously, speak to those departments." He’s one of the people that I list for really giving me a leg up.
Somehow I got it and when I started, I was really appreciative to be there, but I was thinking, "How do I get from this point to writing?" So I just said “Hi” to everyone because I was the first person that people saw in the morning. People think that being the receptionist or handing out the mail is trivial but no, it builds relationships. Those people remember you because you've done something for them. I would also ask questions when I could and soon I got to a point where I felt comfortable emailing those people and asking, "Hey, I'm a journalism student, I'd love to write something." And they'd say, "Yeah, pitch some ideas go for it." But nothing was really getting picked up.
Then I thought, "Whatever, I'm just going to email the fashion features editor,” who's now our editor-in-chief, Isabella Burley. She's a huge inspiration, and I was nervous, but I emailed her and asked, "Do you have anything that I can write?” She emailed back saying, "Hey, write this. Someone's written it, but I'm not happy." I was freaking out because she wasn’t happy with the one that she paid for! But I wrote it and sent it back to her, and she said, "This is great. When can you come and intern for me?"
So I did and I made myself indispensable. I was still working part-time at the restaurant, but I was just so excited to be there. I would go home and stay up all night transcribing the editorial team’s transcriptions. This one time I knew what I had transcribed was going to be in print so when it came out, I was like, "Oh, I transcribed those words." It’s so silly but it’s the small things that you really take hold of and appreciate.
Also, Dazed is really DIY, and we're still independent, which filters through to the way that things are structured and how we work. Everyone is doing a million jobs at once, and since there’s no time to micromanage, you're thrown right into the deep end which is the best thing. I never had to get anyone coffee or walk someone's dog. Instead, I was transcribing, coming up with interview questions, working on brand features, from the get go. I was so scared, of course. I was good scared, though. I would stay up until 4 AM writing something. But the feedback that I got was so helpful where I just hung around after my internship ended and did things for Isabella here and there.
Also, another thing is that everyone is really friendly, you just have to put yourself out of your comfort zone. I was 25 years old doing an internship with 18-year-olds, and I wasn't like, "Hey, I'm a failure. I'm 25, doing my first internship." I was appreciative that I probably had my head on a bit more than my 18-year-old self. I put my pride aside. I didn't take it personally when they would say something like, "What is this sentence you've written?" Instead, I would say, "Okay, great, I'll change that." I feel like if I had done that internship at 18, I don't know if I would have been the same person doing it at 25. Every time I was transcribing and researching I took that as a real learning opportunity.
Then a freelance job popped up at Nowness when they were relaunching their site so I took that. I was recommended by my colleagues at the time, Trey Taylor and Owen Myers – I’ll never forget how appreciative I was to them, and still am. At first, it was a lot of menial tasks, but soon, the editor in chief at the time, Terence Teh, asked me do a few interviews for them. Also, just meeting all of these people, they might not do something immediately for you, but 6 months down the line, they're going to say, "Hey! I remember that person." Hopefully. I always thought that even though I wasn’t the best writer but if I was nice, friendly, and open then I might land on my feet.
So after a year of interning and assisting, I was getting pretty antsy, like “Shit I’m real tired and broke, and where is this even going?” Luckily though, the digital assistant was leaving Dazed, and Harry, who's always looked out for me, said, "On the down-low, nobody knows this yet but the digital assistant is leaving her position, and you should apply before it's announced.” So I did, and, after a few interviews and serious moments of doubt, I ended up getting it.
Within that year a lot of things were changing, so I sat down with the HR and said "This is what I'm doing, this is what I have done and this is what I can do. I need some more faith; I need a different job title." Then the guy who was our editor in chief at the time, Tim Noakes, said, "Do you know what? You're going to be our Arts and Culture editor, but we can’t pay you anymore right now. You’ll see though; this will open a lot of doors.”
At that point, I was walking to work, I was so broke. Tim was right though, quite quickly, things did start to change. So many doors opened which made me realize that, of course, you need money but if there’s any way that you can make it work, prioritize on getting the job that makes you excited to go to work every day.
It was tough; I used to try and get on the tube and not pay the fare. Where I was living, I could take the DLR, and there were certain points where you could get on and get off, and you wouldn't have to tap in. There are no gates. Or I’d get on a bus and not tap in or whatever. Don't do that though; I got done a few times. It's not great.
Someone said this the other day, and I think it’s true, I find that it’s the journey up to wherever you want to go that is the most important because once you get what you want, it's even scarier. I guess because you have to decide what to do with it. But that journey is the most rewarding and when you're going through it, it's important to stop along the way and think, "Wow! This is what I'm doing.”
I feel like today everyone is so focused on what’s next and I want to say enjoy where you are, don’t look at who's around you or who you think might be doing better, appreciate where you are. And just move forward with your own thing.
"I studied fashion at Blanche MacDonald Center in Vancouver, Canada. It was a 12-month diploma program. During the course I developed a great relationship with one of the professors who was really inspiring to me. His name is Tyler Udall, he’s the fashion director at Blanche, and he had previously worked in London as a fashion editor at Dazed and AnOther Man."
How did you get to where you are today?
I studied fashion at Blanche MacDonald Center in Vancouver, Canada. It was a 12-month diploma program. During the course I developed a great relationship with one of the professors who was really inspiring to me. His name is Tyler Udall, he’s the fashion director at Blanche, and he had previously worked in London as a fashion editor at Dazed and AnOther Man. I pretty much knew that I wanted to move to London after I graduated – I really wanted to experience the fashion world in one of the major cities, so London was perfect. So I applied for a UK visa and moved almost as soon as I graduated. I was so lucky to have met Tyler, he’s really the reason I’m here in the first place, he shared his experience, was very encouraging, and connected me with a few key people.
Once I arrived, one of the people that I emailed shared some of her contacts with me as well - basically a lot of styling assistants and stylists, and one of them got back to me. It was Katie Shillingford's assistant. She just said, "Yeah. Come in for an interview. I actually need a new intern." So I did and then she took me on as her intern for 3 months.
That experience was invaluable, funnily enough, because I realized that I didn’t want to be a stylist, which I think is something that you can only learn from experiencing it. But also I learned so much in such a short space of time. It was really hard work and people could be tough, which is to be expected at a magazine like AnOther. But I think I just realized that I was a lot more interested in the whole picture, rather than specifically the clothing. I loved doing research and helping to inform some of the ideas and direction.
After that I got an internship under the Art and Fashion Director at Mario Testino's studio which was completely different than AnOther Magazine.
He has a beautiful studio in West London. It was incredible and I learned so much. The woman I was interning for was nice, yet tough, and very talented and I respected her a lot. The roles within the company are more definitive, and it's a lot more structured than the work environment that you would find at a magazine. I was in the art department, so my role was assisting with research, casting, and sending out internal newsletters to people in the company informing them of what was going on in the fashion industry and, more generally, in the world.
How big is the company?
It's pretty large actually, because he has a studio called Mario Testino +, which does art direction, production, finances, everything. All together it's a 3-story building with around 30 people.
It was good to see the level that they work at. Everything is pristine and perfect. Every morning the whole team would have a meeting. “What are you up to?” “How can I help you?” Kind of thing.
That was a 4-month internship, and near the end I wasn’t really sure where to go from there. Then Katie Shillingford's assistant that I had interned for messaged me, "I'm leaving. Are you interested in potentially taking over as her assistant?" At first, I didn't respond for a day or two, and I was thinking no way - I couldn’t see myself being an assistant when I didn’t even want to be a stylist, but I spoke to my mom, of course, and my friends, and I knew that it could really be an amazing opportunity to be a part of the magazine as more than an intern, and to work with those people at such a high level. So I went for it. I did a trial run for 2 months and at the end, she asked me to be her assistant.