After Natalie graduated from Syracuse University she interned under Elizabeth Sulcer who later brought her on as her first assistant. Natalie's sheer persistence and dedication is what escalated her career from intern to first assistant in under a year.
This interview took place between Tate and Natalie at Lucky Bee in New York
TVPS: Starting off, do you want to give an overview of how you got to where you are today?
NR: I went to Syracuse and studied advertising and minored in fashion communications, which covered everything from fashion advertising to magazine. Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to be somewhere in fashion. I worshiped magazines.
In between my junior and senior year, I freelanced at Teen Vogue as a graphic designer, but I also got to assist on set. I became obsessed with the energy of it all, I got to help style a bit and also art direct, which was amazing and confirmed that that was what I wanted to do. So after senior year, I interned for Elizabeth Sulcer. Then in September of this year, she hired me as her assistant.
Yeah, so it worked out well. I'm really happy at the moment.
How do you think you were able to stand out as an intern at Elizabeth?
It all just comes down to working really hard which sounds really simple, but I would always try to go the extra mile. It's definitely not a 9 to 5 job, with regular hours or regular tasks, so you have to learn how to be super flexible. Also, it’s important to always be thinking of new ideas and ways that you can contribute. I think if you’re always as helpful as possible then that will make you stand out. I was always putting 110% into that internship, and I think that is how I got to where I am now.
Can you give an overview of what your role looks like today?
Yeah of course. It is completely different depending on the day and what jobs we have going on at the time but Bella Hadid is one of our biggest clients so we’re always putting looks together for her since she’s constantly photographed. So that's a big ongoing job. For her, I’m always researching the newest up-and-coming designers for her to be the first to wear. Bella, especially, loves to wear the newest designers that nobody else has worn yet, which is great because I love finding them. I’ll dig them up on Instagram a lot of the time.
It's amazing if you can take a designer who's pretty new and put one of their pieces on Bella Hadid. It’s super rewarding if you can help a brand out like that. That's one of my favorite parts of the job. Then, of course, I’ll help with requests, sample trafficking, fittings, and assisting on set.
Elizabeth also styles the Victoria’s Secret photoshoots, so that’s another big one. They’re really fun too.
Who are your favorite designers?
That is such a hard question.
I have such a long list. I would say Vauthier is my favorite for red carpet. If we ever want a big moment for our clients, we always look to him. He is also really good friends with Elizabeth, so he makes a lot of custom stuff for us and his pieces are gorgeous. Then I also love Wang, Nina Ricci, McQueen, OFF---WHITE, Jonathan Simkhai, Redemption too many to name.
So on set, what’s your role?
Every shoot is totally different but usually in the morning we'll have a fitting with the model where we’ll choose the looks for her throughout the day. Then when we’re shooting, Elizabeth and I will keep an eye out to make sure everything looks ok or if we need to add a necklace or fix their skirt or something like that. It’s just about making sure everything goes right with the looks. Then there are always the last minute errands, for instance; “we need a red pump right now,” but I love it. It's so much fun to be on set and to see it all come together, and all your work paying off.
We work so hard on the prep. Requesting everything, getting it all together, making sure we have the right pieces, the right sizes. Then when it finally comes together, and you see it on the girls, it's so awesome.
How does your role differ if, for instance, you're dressing Bella for an event vs. street style?
With Bella it’s a very collaborative process. She has a lot of input and a very specific taste and style of her own, which we’ve been able to pick up on. So when we see something, we’ll pretty much already know if she’ll like it or not.
For street style for example, we'll get a bunch of really cool pieces and put them together into looks, and she'll come in and try everything on and either say I don't like this, I want this top with these pants, etc. It's a really fun process working with her.
Yeah, one of the things I love about the looks is that you can see Elizabeth’s feminine attributes melt with Bella’s downtown more gritty style.
That's actually a great description of her style, grunge, hard pieces with a lace bra on top. With Bella, we get to be really creative which I love. It’s awesome styling her because she's pretty much game for whatever as long as it’s dope.
What does the rest of your role look like?
For the rest of my role, it’s just about being up for whatever. Everyday is completely new, and I never know what’s coming. I have to stay on my toes and be ready for whatever new job we get. We can get a job that’s tomorrow, so then we’ll have to drop everything and prep for it. So it’s a lot of quick problem solving, and being as prepared as you can be.
It's so funny because whenever I ask people about their job, they're like, "What did I even do today?"
What did I do today? Yeah it’s such a blur.
What have you learned from your role with Elizabeth?
How to roll with the punches and figure out a plan. Issues always arise like the package with the one dress Bella wanted doesn’t arrive on time. You always have to be able to think on your toes and have backup plan because if you're counting on one dress, it'll never get there on time. So mainly just being able to problem solve and think of the best solutions rather than freaking out.
Have you seen yourself grow since you got the position?
Totally. I feel a lot more confident now with myself and my skills. It was definitely intimidating in the beginning for sure, but I feel as though I’ve learned a lot very quickly.
What does it mean to be a good assistant?
Work hard, don’t complain, and be up for doing whatever needs to be done. Elizabeth has been in Fiji this past week for a job, and that’s an 18-hour time difference. So if I have to respond to texts at 3 AM you just gotta do what you gotta do.
Your favorite time on set?
It was a shoot with Russell James and Elaine Irwin. I did it by myself, Elizabeth was in Paris at the time.
It was a really awesome feeling to take the reigns by yourself. I pulled all of the samples, went to the shoot, set up and put all of the looks together, and it all went really well! Elaine has the best personality and was so beautiful, and Russell is such an amazing photographer.
It was really cool seeing something and being able to say “That’s my work!!”. It was definitely super nerve wracking at first, but it was so worth it because it turned out so great. I would say that was one of my favorite moments because I saw my own work be produced.
Do you want to be a stylist?
Yeah I would think so. I'm not completely sure what I would want to do from here, but I know that I love what I'm doing now. It’s possible, but there are so many options. I really love the creativity and freedom that comes along with being a stylist; creating your own brand with your own name is a really awesome idea.
Elizabeth has an amazing reputation. You can go anywhere after this, really.
I feel like this experience has been a great starting point for whatever I would want to do in fashion just because I'm getting a bit of everything at the moment, styling clients, assisting on set, etc.
Is there a specific trait that makes an intern standout?
Definitely. For example, when I interviewed Noor, I knew right away that she would be amazing.
She's so cute. We're obsessed with her, and you could tell from the beginning that she’s in love with the industry and she also has great experience. She worked with Patti before so she knew what this position would entail, she said all of the right things, she researched Elizabeth, etc.
It’s about showing that you’re passionate about what you're applying for because interviewers know that translates into working hard. Noor works really hard and will do whatever task is needed, which are sometimes crazy because that’s the industry that we’re in.
It’s not always the most fun, and definitely not glamorous, but you need people on your team who are willing to take it head on. Although it looks glamorous on the outside, we have to do anything and everything. So having a good attitude and doing whatever is asked of you is what’s most important.
I also want the interns to contribute a lot. Interns are not there to just run errands. I want their input, I want their help, and I want their opinions. So someone who has a really strong sense of style that's their own is definitely an asset. If you can contribute a cool new brand that you found on Instagram, please do.
I know Noor’s really happy where she is right now, and it’s awesome that I get to watch one of my closest friends grow so much and be so excited about what they’re doing.
She is such a big help. We love having her. I'm obsessed with her.
And that’s another thing, having someone who you get along with and who’s fun to be around in the office is super important too.
What does it mean to be a good boss?
Being able to give constructive criticism for one. I always try to be super encouraging with the interns because you want to keep everyone's spirits up even if there's a lot of things going wrong. Also to teach by example is super important. I never want to tell them to do it one way and then do it another way.
So yeah I would say being calm and constructive, but also letting people do things their own way as well. Everyone’s mind works differently, and everyone has different ideas which can help the office grow. If you can think of a more efficient way to do the task, please do it that way.
How has the influx of digital media affected stylists?
It’s helped, for sure. Instagram is an amazing tool for stylists, it’s so easy to find new up and coming brands now. Also Elizabeth has a huge Instagram following and because of that a lot of people know who she is. It’s crazy the number of people that you can reach.
Regarding magazines, though, it’s a little bit less beneficial obviously, but I think print will always exist in some form. When I was at Teen Vogue it was all about growing their online presence. I think it’s more of a learning curve than necessarily a negative. I don’t think print will ever completely disappear because people will always want to hear from the experts.
Agreed. With this industry becoming increasingly democratized, it’s important to also listen to the people who’ve studied fashion versus the general public's opinion. Anyone can be an influencer. So a balance is good and print definitely holds that one side in tact.
Of course. I think the expertise and reputation is what keeps publications alive. I think also the extreme influx of fashion bloggers and influencers has a negative effect on their power. With so much dilution it’s hard to know who to trust or which accounts to follow so consumers turn back to the experts.
True, magazines have built up trust, which has followed into the digital era because it’s so unknown.
Right, exactly. That's basically what magazines exist on is that they are the most knowledgeable in their field. Also print can feed back into digital. I know People Style Watch has this feature where you can scan the print page with your phone and then you can click and actually buy what's on the page, so I think they can work together like that.
Did you see the Garage issue when Binx pops out of it via an app on your iPhone?
Yes! That was when I was doing graphic design so it was interesting to look at it from that perspective as well.
So do you think digital can help print survive?
Yes totally! A lot of the time magazines will post one photo from an editorial on Instagram and it gets me excited, and I’ll want to buy the issue.
Do you think studying graphic design has had an influence on your aesthetic and your take on the fashion industry now?
Totally. It’s especially helpful for being on set, specifically in regards to art direction. It deepens your knowledge of basic design principles which can help you see what will look good on a page and also online, or on a screen.
Oh, wait one second Elizabeth just texted me. So sorry.
Don’t worry that happens in every interview! It’s the trademark of being an assistant.
How has the accessibility factor influenced the fashion industry?
It’s a huge change for sure. It’s awesome that now you can go on voguerunway.com and see all of the shows. It used to be so much more exclusive, and editors would have to sketch really quickly what went down the runway. On the other hand, the fashion industry thrives off of this exclusivity, so it’s about learning how to deal with that. Overall though, I think it’s a good thing. If you’re passionate about fashion, doesn’t matter where or who you are, you can watch the shows as they’re happening. It also gives designers a broader reach as well.
Does the See-Now-Buy-Now initiative affect you?
Not really. I haven’t noticed a change in terms of requesting for clients.
I find that so interesting because there’s been such an uproar about it in the industry but then whenever I ask that question to a stylist or a stylist's assistant they always say that it hasn’t affected them.
From a consumer standpoint though, I think it’s a great thing that needed to happen. We live in an instant world with everything at the click of a button, which made waiting months archaic. The industry needed to keep up with that.
What do you like about working in the fashion industry today as opposed to another era?
There’s a lot more resources, which gives us more opportunity. As we’ve said, social media is great for getting your name out there, networking, and research.
Do you think it's important for the fashion industry to support new and upcoming talent?
Totally. But I think the fashion industry isn't great about that. It's definitely hard to break in. It’s a very competitive field, especially if you don’t start out knowing someone. I think people who have a lot of experience in this industry should reach out to younger people more who want to be in their shoes one day and vice versa.
It’s the circle of life.
Exactly, they’re not going to be in their position forever. It’s super helpful to have someone to look up to, who you can shadow or have as a mentor. I think that's something that the fashion industry can do a little bit of a better job at. I mean, obviously, we're all super busy. I actually just got a call from a girl at Syracuse who wants to be in this industry. I tried to give her as much time as I could, and tried to answer her questions honestly because I think it's really important to learn from someone who already has the job, if it's right for you, or if maybe you might want to go in different direction. So it's really important to reach out to the younger generation, because they're the future of the industry.
When you were looking to get into this industry how do your then expectations of it differ from your reality now?
What I'm doing now definitely exceeds my expectations for a first job. If I had told myself when I was in college that I would be working with Bella Hadid and assisting on Victoria's Secret sets, I would have said: "no way, that's not going to happen." It's not as glamorous as it sounds of course, there’s a lot of grunt work too, but the end result definitely exceeds my expectations.
Who do you look up to?
I’ve always wanted to be Grace Coddington, yeah definitely Grace.
I love her life story and her work speaks for itself. My mom went to her book signing for me when I was in school, and got her to sign a little postcard saying “To Natalie, Sorry I missed you. XO Grace” and it’s my prized possession.
I love that, so sweet.
How would you like to see this industry evolve?
Maybe to be a little bit more of an inclusive industry? I’d like the infamous Devil Wears Prada attitudes to dissolve. I think it might be time to be a little more accepting of new people and ideas.
Will you be a part of that evolution?
I definitely try and start the change that I want to see with myself.
With my interns, I never want to speak down to them or make them feel lesser because we're all working on this together; we're all a necessary part of what's happening. It's never that they're the ones going to grab me a coffee or something. I need their help doing the real work that has to be done. Collaboration is the best way to move forward and to get things done in every work environment, so I do my best to treat everyone with respect and to see their view and artistic vision. It wasn’t so long ago that I was an intern, so I remember what it is like to be the lowest on the totem pole.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
It’s going to be hard, but if you’re passionate and have a vision, stick to it. That's what's going to make you stand out in the end. Have something that you stand for and something that makes you different and more valuable than another candidate. Some people might not like it, but some people will love you for it and you'll find a place that appreciates you for your unique ideas.