Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.
It’s Fashion Week again? How often is Fashion Week? Like every 9 weeks? That’s like the gestation time of a ferret. This is ridiculous. Last time EIC Jennifer Wright apprised me that I should try to write something fashion-related, I came up with Bullish Life Fashion Week Edition: What Modeling Taught Me About Men, Money, and Life, and even Bullish: What I Learned About Business from Being a Low-Rent Model on sister site TheGrindstone.
My lifetime contributions to the fashion industry will undoubtedly be nil, despite my ownership of somewhat extreme quantities of clothing (see also Bullish: A Metaphor About Shoe Shopping That Is 100% Relevant To Hard-Nosed Business Thinking).
I wrote in Bullish Life: Gentlewomen Don’t Crash Diet about my 80/20 principle of beauty. You can achieve 80% of your maximum beauty potential in 20% of the time (exercise, wash your hair, wear some makeup that’s pretty much what you look like), but the other 20% of your maximum beauty potential will take 80% of the time (exfoliate body parts no one cares about! take fish oil capsules! soak your nails in lemon juice! lose that last 3 pounds!) I am the sort of person who routinely breaks the “Don’t wear everything the mannequin is wearing” rule (you’re supposed to buy one thing the mannequin is wearing, but then add your own spin). Fuck that! You know who dressed that mannequin? A professional. I am getting free professional advice by dressing myself exactly like that tiny headless body in the window. If it weren’t for mannequin-dressers, I never would have thought to wear a little belt over a cardigan. Sweet.
Anyway, enough about me. I did some poking around and discovered a few surprising career philosophies from the fashion world.
Motivate and inspire yourself with hate
I wrote in Bullish: How to Motivate Yourself to Be Motivated about the inspirational power of disgust, fear, and revenge.
From the New Yorker, about Miuccia Prada:
She has often said that when she hates something herself (crochet, for example) she works out her antipathy in a collection: it gives her the space “to be intrigued.” (She also hates golf, apparently, a theme of her June menswear.) Last year, she designed a collection, in cheap cotton, inspired by hospital scrubs.
I’m all about “working out your antipathy” in a productive way. (See Bullish Life: In Praise of Anger.)
Can I tell you the high-fashion look I hate most? The one where the model is dressed like a bum (or, as the inimitable girl group TLC enjoyed saying in 1999, a “scrub” ), but still laced into vertiginous fetish pumps. That look is the lowest possible ratio of aesthetic benefit to sheer physical pain. I know I’m so very plebian, but if your shoes are giving you blisters, you should at least get to look attractive to normal humans. (Total aside: I just discovered that Karmin covered “No Scrubs”!)
Anyway, I’ve always found hate (and the incompetence of others) to be motivating. I felt confident about doing standup when I saw other people do it badly, and plenty of other women comedians have been motivated by hatred of the bullying, aggressive, rape-joke culture of standup (see Bullish Life: If You Can Take a Dick, You Can Take a Joke, Lady.)
I could write about processing hate all day long (I’ve written before, somewhat controversially, about my willingness to ‘stab a gang-raping warlord in the throat’) but I mostly hated childhood, and was reminded of that today when a stranger on Facebook was bragging about taking away her daughter’s bedroom door (for “bad grades and lying.” ) I commented that forcing a lack of privacy on someone who already has no control over her living situation was “creepy”.
(Note: I currently own the top three Google hits for “stab a gang-raping warlord in the throat”! Try it!)
My hatred of the degradations of childhood informs all my columns here and I want us all to work harder and better than those around us, make our own money, establish expertise, negotiate better, take no shit, and control our own lives. So many columns have been thanks to those who try to screw me (us?) over.
I also don’t really care for crochet.
You don’t need a degree (or anyone’s permission) if you’ve got mojo
Of Alexander Wang, in Harper’s:
His first fashion show, at age 15, consisted of 33 evening dresses. “I think part of it had to do with my sewing skills and not being able to actually sew tailored garments,” says Wang, laughing. “No one ever taught me, and I never had formal classes in pattern making, so I was like, Okay, I’ll just drape, and I’ll sew as I pin it.
Wang later enrolled in, and dropped out of, Parsons. From Sandra’s Closet:
You went to Parsons for a four-year programme and dropped out after two years to focus on your first collection that was mainly about knitwear and sold to over 200 stores. That is absolutely amazing. Did you have any connections? How did you do that?
(Laughs) There has been the myths that my family owns production facilities. Probably because we are Chinese, people make that association. Other rumors said that we made a big investment. This is all not true.
The brand started off very small with only six styles. It was just that people really responded to the authenticity, to the genuine feeling. When you have someone who really believes in doing something and would do anything to make it happen. Luckily, I had a very big support in terms of a family and I donâ€™t mean just financial.
The people around me encouraged me to keep going. My mum who let me leave school and friends who encouraged me to do what I believed in and not listening so much to what the stores were telling me to do, what the showroom wanted me to do. Saying so what, that is my customer, this is the one I want to design for, that is the one, I want to sell to and this how I want to approach it! And I just stuck with it.
My best friend Molly Crabapple is an art school dropout who is publishing her sixth book, regularly raises tens of thousands of dollars for art projects directly from fans on Kickstarter, and whose Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School now exists in over 100 countries. We were friends back when she was in art school.
I had recently read the advice (here– in the comment from “Opinionated” ) that the surest path to social mobility in America is to get into a top university with need-blind admissions, move to a big city, live cheaply while networking like crazy, get your first professional job – and then you’re able to control your own destiny from there.
I really enjoyed someone saying that so bluntly. And I certainly did at least the first three steps: financial aid at an Ivy, move to NYC, live cheaply (see Bullish: What I Wish I Had Known When I was 18 and Bullish Life: Be Broke Without Going Crazy).
I tossed this idea to Molly, who responded that there was some truth to that, but that moving to a big city was even more important than the degree. True. (I can tell you from experience that if you get a fancy degree and return to a dead-end hometown for reasons other than taking over a family business or caring for someone with cancer, people assume that your degree just didn’t stick. And surely no special opportunities come your way.)
I wrote in Bullish: What I Wish I Had Known When I was 18 that I’m against going to grad school just to delay life. (I’m all for it if you have a good reason to attend and you’re not going to spend the rest of your life in debt.) One reader of that column commented that some people are, at the age of 22, just not “intellectually ready” for the real world. Hahahahahahaha. If you have mojo, you can let those people spend their family wealth on degrees while you proceed to beat them at pretty much everything. (This is one benefit of a blue-collar background: in my family, eighteen year olds are adults. Done.)
It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission
According to my dad, that’s something they say in the Navy.
In an institution in which, literally, everyone’s job has a manual covering every possible eventuality, you really can’t get an exception made for your brilliant idea. (What if the boat sinks?!) So, if you’ve got a brilliant idea: it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.
Here’s one of my favorite stories of clever rule-breaking. From a Harvard Business Review interview with Kenneth Cole:
In the early 1980s, there were two ways of addressing shoe buyers. One could take a room at the Hilton Hotel with about 1,100 other companies, where the buyers would walk all the rooms. Or one could take a big fancy showroom near the hotel. I didn’t really have the resources to afford either. So, on a whim, I called a friend who was in the trucking business and asked to borrow one of his 40-foot trailers. Then I called the mayor’s office and said, “Excuse me, how does one get permission to park a trailer on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 56th Street?” And they said, “Sorry, son, they don’t. This is New York. You get permission only under two circumstances: If you’re a utility company servicing our streets, or if you’re a production company shooting a full-length motion picture.) So I hung up the phone and changed the name of my company to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., and the following morning I filed for a permit to shoot a motion picture called The Birth of a Shoe Company. I opened for business on December 2nd. I had a cameraman, stanchions, and klieg lights. Within two and a half days, I had sold 40,000 pairs of shoes. And the company today is still Kenneth Cole Productions to remind us of the importance of resourcefulness and problem solving, and that the best solution is rarely the most expensive and almost always the most creative.
Apparently, you can do anything if you make a movie of it. Or, more generally, if you exploit the rules for all they’re worth.
See Bullish: How to Sell Without Selling for a less impressive (but still clever, I think) story about marketing a business with no money.
Somewhat ironically, Fashion Week occurs just as the season ends for my favorite look — wearing a bikini while holding a work session with my laptop on my balcony (see Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE.)
And yet, I’ve enjoyed researching and writing this column. Molly and I often talk about how you can’t make it in the art world if all you want to do is make art -you’re running a business, and it takes a fiendish work ethic and the willingness to look outside your own field for ideas and expertise.
The fashion world seems to operate in much the same way: unless you’re born into a famed fashion family, you’ll have a hard time making it in fashion if all you care about is fashion.
As always, the magic ingredients are an undeniable expertise in your field (generally developed through difficult and solitary single-mindedness), surrounded by a penumbra of fiendish hard work, networking skills, marketing acumen, comfort discussing and asking for money, ballsiness, and willingness to circumvent rules and requirements for a higher purpose.