Ron Hartleben

Sittings Assistant
New York

Ron found his first internship on Craigslist and from there he worked his way up in the fashion industry while also studying at Parsons. Soon he got an internship at CR Fashion Book that lead to a full-time assistant position. Ron was my boss at CR, so I can personally say that he is one of the most hard working, kind, and amazing individuals that I have met in this industry.

This interview took place between Tate and Ron at CR Fashion Book's New York office

TVPS: So how did you get here?

RH: I moved here in 2012 and started interning for Gus Romero, who’s mostly a commercial stylist. I didn't really know what I was doing. I just started cold emailing. I was looking at fashion internships online. Even on Craigslist where I ran into that stylist and he was really great in my evolution, and he taught me a lot of things. I eventually became his first assistant. This was while I was in school, so I was multitasking. I would assist him and then go to school from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm everyday. After that, I got a little bored, so I started interning at V and that taught me how to work at a magazine in a professional environment with other people and not just one stylist. That was a really huge part of me getting into this industry. From V, I started freelancing more. I still worked with Gus but I was working with other people too because a huge part of being a stylist or being a stylist’s assistant is word of mouth and who you know and friends of friends because people always need help.

Then Chris Bartley from V introduced me to CR. I was here [as a fashion intern] for about three months, and I really excelled here, and I built a really good relationship with Ben, and we stayed in touch, and he helped me get freelance positions at Harper's Bazaar, which was also a good experience. After CR I kept freelancing with other stylists and just doing my own thing.

Also throughout this whole time I was styling my own stories every time I had the chance. Then, Ben called me one day and said, "Do you want to work at CR?" I did. Now I'm here.

How did you make yourself standout at CR as an intern?

It's weird because I had a lot of experience before I interned at CR. I was being paid to assist people on sets, so I was already working professionally in the industry. I was just here because I loved the magazine so much and believed in what the magazine stood for and I admired Carine. I think that showed a lot. My experience showed and my knowledge of who Carine is and what her aesthetic is, really showed. Also, I'm really fast. It's kind of a joke to Ben when I have a thousand things to do; I'm really good at getting them done. When I have one thing to do for the day I'm so slow at getting it done because I love being busy. Also back then there was no market team. We had 4 less employees, so it was all hands on deck. Everyone had to help pack. I'd be here until 11:00 pm sometimes. I'd skip class. Not that you should skip class but I did to help and be on set and be a part of it, and people noticed that. Especially Ben and he really appreciated it. He always kept me in mind. I guess that's kind of how I stood out because I was just always so available and always so willing to be helpful.

Do you want to give an overview of your role now?

My position is called the sittings assistant. It's a little broad. Basically, I'm Carine's second assistant on set for everywhere in America and sometimes in Europe depending on who's available and what's going on. That applies to the magazine and all of her outside projects, too. All her ad campaigns and all of her collaborations and things like that. Part of my job specifically here is to find all the vintage and unique costume pieces that make the story more Carine. That's a challenge in itself because it's not something you can find on Style.com where you can go to Dior Look 53 and say "Okay. That's the perfect piece." It's something that's maybe in Europe or maybe in Idaho, and somebody has to hand make it the night before the shoot and send it. I do a lot of research on old editorials and old movies and stuff like that for inspiration for stories.

Another developing part now is that I'm styling a lot for online, and I am slated to do "x" amount of stories a month. It gives me a huge platform to work off of because eventually, I want to become my own stylist and not be an assistant, but for right now I'm in a really great spot and I have a really great platform to work with. It's a lot of work to produce content on my own for the website but it's also really rewarding and it's a huge, huge opportunity that a lot of people don't have.

What have you learned from your role?

I'm out of breath. Hold on.
I've learned so much from working with Carine, from working with Ben, from working with the team. It's a really small team, so everyone's kind of like a family. I've learned to not take things so seriously and be great at my job and do exactly what I have to do but also have fun while doing it because if you don't have fun, there's not really a point. Fashion is fun and there has to be some kind of energy and liveliness and enjoyable presence while you're doing it or there's no purpose. I've learned what I can't control and to just roll with the punches. To do as much as I can with what is in my power, but also let things take its course and be able to step back and breath. And say "You know it's just fashion and at the end of the day we're still going to shoot something and it's still going to be great."

Do you have a favorite time on set?

I think maybe the first time I was a little bit like, "Whoa. I'm here" is when I was working on Tom Ford with Carine and Ben in LA and Lady Gaga was there. That was kind of my first taste of working with these really major people. Lady Gaga was insane and did all of these amazing dance moves that you don't see in the video, people were crying and their jaws were dropping watching her perform. That’s kind of the first moment I realized, "Whoa. I'm in LA. I'm working for Carine. I'm on a Tom Ford campaign shoot and Lady Gaga is stripping in front of me and dancing and singing. This is incredible. I'm so lucky." That was kind of one of my wow moments where I was like, "I'm doing the right thing. I made the right choice." That's a good one. I'll always remember that.


Do you want to touch on your decision process for leaving Parsons?

Parsons was great. I was studying communication design, which applies to fashion in a sense, but doesn't apply to what I'm doing now. It's a lot of graphic design, typography, and stuff like that. I was interested in that and I was good at that and it was always just kind of a backup. I excelled at working in fashion and styling and being an assistant, so I kind of just jumped ship without thinking twice once Ben offered me the position. I was always in school as I was assisting, but this was a full-time job and I wanted to be here full time and be completely in it. I just did it, and I don't have any regrets and I think sometimes life hands you these things where you don't know exactly what to do, but your instinct is always right and my instinct was always just to go with my dream job.

Did you start out knowing people in the industry?

Nope. I just went for it.

What does it mean to be a good boss?

It's kind of a joke we have in the office that the interns always love me and I don't know why but I think it's nice. I think it's because I'm always on set with them instead of in the office. On set, it's just them and me and I get to know their interests and what they want to do with their lives because I was an intern not long ago, so I understand where they're coming from. I don't know. I think it's because I care. I care about all my interns and I want them to do well and succeed and I can always tell when somebody really wants it, so I let them have it. I think it's about communication and not letting anyone feel like there's this huge weight on their shoulders. I'm very, very easygoing and lighthearted. I've never yelled at an intern and I'm very nurturing in a way, kind of like a big brother.

How would you describe your styling aesthetic?

I don't ever like anything to look like it's just a full look off the runway; I think that's boring. I like things to be a little eccentric even if it's not the most over the top styling technique. I like things to be a little bit off in terms of how did they do that or how did they think of that or why does that make sense? I always want there to be kind of an outlier or some kind of black sheep. Maybe it's a men's story but all the men are wearing earrings and have this kind of feminine sexualization with their outfits. I like juxtaposing things and clashing ideas together.

How has digital media affected stylists?

Anyone can be a stylist now, which is a horrible thing and a great thing. If you go on Instagram or Tumblr people, say they're stylists all the time and maybe that's true. Maybe that's not. Digital media has definitely opened a lot of people's eyes. Tumblr has helped me with references and being inspired, but also too much knowledge is not a good thing. Having all of these things that you just know about can't always be a good thing. So many people think they know everything, but really they don't.

It's always a matter of execution and talking the talk and walking the walk and I think a lot of people like to talk the talk on social media, but they don't walk the walk, which is fine. I think it's great that everyone has such a huge interest in fashion now because of the Internet.

All the brands are kind of doing their own thing with the calendar right now. How does that affect magazines and stylists?

I think it's annoying. It's better when people show less. I think it's annoying, for example, Tom Ford didn't show his fall collection and isn't going to show his fall collection until it's literally in stores.

Yeah, so what happens then?

Even we don't know. People that work with the collection don't know anything about it until it's ready and I have opposing views on that. I think one it's frustrating because you want to know and you want to see what's next. On the other hand, it’s also genius because you don't know what's next and we won't know until maybe it's too late. I think it's interesting the way he handled that and I think it's a good idea and I think more people should do stuff like that. With Celine, they never released their lookbooks until the clothes were shoppable, which I think is also really great.

But they had a preview for stylists right?

Yeah, exactly. Press gets the lookbooks in advance and there's always like an embargo stating that you can't show these images to anyone besides people that you work with. I think that's great because a lot of times people just copy each other and everything gets really diluted because there's always five designers that show the best collection and everyone copies it.

I think less is more and that people are starting to get that idea but I think right now we're still in the middle of people not knowing what the voice of fashion is.

So I guess now bi-annual magazines have a strong advantage because they’re on a less strict timetable for pulling clothes?

I think the advantage that bi-annual magazines have is that we have a lot more time to digest and really explore people's ideas in terms of their fashion collections. But specifically in regards to Tom Ford's collection, I don't think anyone's going to shoot it because even press isn't able to pull anything. It's kind of like a, "Fuck you" to everybody. "I'm not going to let you shoot anything. This is my label. I'm going to do what I want."

Yeah. Is fashion a good place to express ideas and evoke discussions about gender and sexuality?

Definitely. Is it always understood? No. Do people take advantage of it? Yes. My first story for CR online was a transgender story. I had a huge, huge, huge point that I wanted to make when we were planning it. I was like, "I don't want any of these girls to feel like we're just casting them because they're trans girls. I want them to feel like they are beautiful models because they all are" and they all looked beautiful and they all looked like fashion models and that was the point. It wasn't about them necessarily being a trendy topic or a trendy discussion. They all have such interesting lives and I want to know about it, I want to know what path they want to go down and what they want out of life and what voice they want to have in the future and what voice they have now.

I want them to be able to express whatever they want to express and use this as a platform as much as I'm using them as models because I think it's a two-way street when you work with anybody. I always try to meet the people that I work with before I work with them and I think especially for that case, in terms of gender identity and gender idea, it's super, super important to respect that and super important to understand that. I think fashion has a really good way of understanding that but I think that also can be misinterpreted a lot of times. It can go wrong in a lot of ways but I think it's important that fashion is all about acceptance and change and differences and uniqueness which is what makes it the perfect place for that discussion to happen.

If I'm hearing you correctly you wanted these girls to feel like the fact that they're transgender didn't define them?

Yeah. Exactly.

Cool. What are some of the challenges of making castings more diverse?

There are a lot of challenges. I've done casting a few times and it’s really hard because there's always going to be a huge, huge, huge influx of white models because you can find thirty Russian models on the street sooner than somebody will find an African American or middle eastern model that they'll want to sign. It’s just because of stereotypes or image or whatever. It’s disappointing.

On the other hand, I think the industry is trying to be better at diversity and their casting choices and also what it means to be a global brand that represents more than one race. But I do think it's really hard and I do think the agencies don't make it any easier. The brands don't make it any easier. All in all, it's a difficult situation but I think it's getting better.

Why is it important to diversify castings?

Not everyone is a five foot ten, blue eyed, blonde haired woman. Also, no one wants to see a five foot ten, blue eyed, blonde haired woman all the time. People want to see themselves in clothes. People want to see a Latina who's short in a Louis Vuitton dress. People want to see a trans black woman in a Roberto Cavalli dress. People want to see Beyonce in a dress. There're all these different types of people that come from different places in the world that are so beautiful and it's just such a shame that we can't celebrate their lives as much as we celebrate this idea of this Caucasian mold that we are so used to. Not to say that these white models aren't beautiful or aren't gorgeous in their own right, but I think it's totally, totally, totally important to make room for everybody. Not just one mold of model.

Why do you work in fashion?

I'm very much in love with women. Obviously not in a sexual way, but I just think women are so beautiful and everything they stand for and everything they do and everything they can create. I'm obsessed with women. I think it's really, really important to celebrate women and to celebrate good design. I'm not excited about a lot of things on the runway right now, but when I am excited I think of why I got into fashion. It's the fantasy of it and the excess and the extravagance and who's going to wear this $40,000 handmade dress?

I always wanted to be able to see that $40,000 handmade dress and now I do get to see it and things like that aren't as exciting now because now I'm in it, but I think it’s the idea that things can still be exciting; things can still change. People still have a point of view and people are trying to shake the status quo up all the time. I think that is what fashion is to me is the hope that something more exciting is coming. I mean in a way it's also a double-edged sword because people are always going to want more and a lot of times people can't deliver, but I think that feeling of expectation and excitement is what really drives me to love fashion. We're working with all the fall/winter collections right now and I can't wait to see all the spring collections and that's not going to happen for another two months but I’m still so excited.

Are there any specific designers that are exciting to you right now?

I'm excited to see where Raf Simons goes and I think a lot of people have a really good idea. He's the key reason why I got into fashion in the first place. That was kind of my first really big jolt of fashion fashion not just like a Dolce and Gabbana dress on the cover of Vogue fashion. Also, I think Balenciaga is going to be exciting again. It's a lot of recycled ideas, but I think it's the kind of ideas that we need right now. There's not the kind of craziness that there was in the early 2000’s with John Galliano and in the 90’s with Margiela. I think that crazy, wild fantasy nonsense is kind of dead and I think that Vetements and Balenciaga are bringing it back and sticking with it. Yeah, maybe each collection is kind of similar but you're not going to see it anywhere else really and it’s inspiring a lot of people to think outside the box.

I'm excited to see Celine. I think it's been a little safe recently for whatever reason but honestly Phoebe Philo is probably the most talented designer alive right now.

Then I love Nicolas Ghesquiére. I love Louis Vuitton. I'll always be a die-hard fan but I also want that to be more exciting.

Favorite stylists?

Carine, Robbie Spencer, Olivier Rizzo, Camilla Nickerson, Grace Coddington

Who do you look up to?

Carine. It's an honor to get to work with her all the time and be on set with her and she's so nurturing and she lets me try so many things. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't, but when it works she's always the first person to say congratulations on that idea or she's always the first person to say, "That's so smart." I think working with her is so... I see myself change. I see my ways of thinking grow and develop and become so much more like her in a way. It's kind of really weird to think that I'm learning from this woman who I was watching her documentary in my house before I even thought that I could work at CR and now I'm here. Now I'm on set with her and she's telling me, "Oh that's great that you put that light blue shirt with that red because that's exactly why Gucci was so popular when I worked with Tom Ford and Mario Testino back then." It's crazy to hear that from somebody who's such an icon. I think we all look up to her.

I also look up to my parents all the time. Everything I do, I do for my parents to make them happy and proud and they're so proud of me. My aunt too. They all helped me get to this point.

Is it tough to develop your own aesthetic when you're under the umbrella of such a huge icon?

I thought about that before. I think it's definitely easy to have blurred lines and kind of have something that she did already rehashed by me and not even realize it, but I think I've been really aware of like, "Okay. I'm going to do this and maybe she did that, but I'm doing it this way" and I think it's definitely still my aesthetic. You can't help but be touched by her presence and her way of thinking and I think it just makes me a better stylist and makes my personal taste and aesthetic even stronger.

What's the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

The most rewarding aspect is picking up all the clothes in the duffels every single morning and piling it into cars. Piling twenty-seven duffels into three SUVs and breaking my back everyday. No. That is not the most rewarding. The most rewarding is-

You just gave me a major flashback.

I guess seeing it in print and smelling the paper. I love the smell of freshly printed paper and just knowing that we are creating something that some ten-year- old boy is going to see or some girl is going to see in some suburb that's going to inspire them to move to New York or move to Paris and follow their dreams because that's what I did.

I saw CR and my life changed. I thought, "Wow. This is incredible. I need to be part of this" and that's exactly what I made happen. I think that's the most rewarding thing is seeing the actual book or seeing the actual campaigns that we worked on and seeing the final product and being able to say, "Wow. I was a part of this and this is going to be a part of somebody's mood board or idea or reference and help whoever, wherever, accomplish whatever."

How would you like to see this industry evolve?

More money.

There’s money. It's just not in good places right now.

Yeah, it's not like it was.

More diversity. More equality. More opportunity. I think one of the biggest things and you touched on this with your website. I didn't have something like this when I was looking for internships. There are so many people that need help, and there are so many people that want help and you don't know how to get in touch with them unless you know somebody or you have some kind of reference or some kind of idea of who to reach out to. I think we can definitely build a bridge so it's not so hard to find help and less of a shot in the dark.

That's one of my main goals with this project.

Yeah. I think you are the change we want to see.

Then how will you be a part of this industry’s evolution?

I always try to be really diverse in the casting. Every time I do a story, I always try to have a really diverse cast. I think I am very aware and conscious of who I cast and what I'm doing and the images I put out there. I also think I like to give people a chance. I like to give interns a chance. I like to ask people who maybe would not normally be ready to be on set or know exactly what to do on set or something like… You know what? I'm an underdog. I don't come from a rich family. I am self-funded. I got myself here and I am paying for my own college debt. Anytime I see an underdog or somebody who has eighteen jobs and still interning here and wants to be on set at six in the morning even though they finished work at midnight. I think that's amazing because I did that and I know so many other people do that and I think it's such a testament to their work ethic and their values and I always try to give those people a chance. It's not always about who you know. Sometimes it's about really, really hard work and really, really wanting it and I always, always try to find those people.

What advice would you give to a kid that looks up to you?

Work really hard. Don't take anything personal. Keep emailing. Just work your ass off. There's so many times I could have been at a party or been just being irresponsible and acting my age and not caring about what I was doing for work or not caring about what my career path was leading towards, but at the end of the day I always cared and I always made sure that I got to exactly where I needed to be. I think what’s super important is to give a shit. You have to really, really give a shit. So many times I've seen people just lose interest or not understand why they have to pick up fifty garment bags but we have all those garment bags so we can create this fantasy world that you see and some other person sees somewhere around the world and it inspires them and helps them move on to the next day. It helps them feel like there's something more to live for. It sounds really dramatic, but it's true. Some people see these magazines, not just ours, other magazines and it gives them something to dream of and work towards. I think when you have the chance to be a part of something like this, you need to really, really show that you want it and that you're hungry for it and do it in a way that's not cutting and not aggressive to your peers because that’s horrible. I don't think anyone should ever be mean to anybody in this industry. I think not working with nice people is such a bad way of living and I'm lucky enough to say that I work with all really, really great and nice people.

Just be nice to your peers. Be nice to all your interns. Be nice to the people you work with because in 5 years they’re going to remember that you didn’t help them load all of the cards because you didn’t like them personally. They’re going to remember that when you’re requesting looks for a shoot and they’re going to say Nope. Sorry. The looks aren't available." So I just think be nice to people and work hard and be patient and just don't give up.