STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: Talk about your career path in detail. Did you face any obstacles?
I studied Interior Architecture at UNC Greensboro. At the end of my fifth and final year in the program, I surprisingly found out I had been cast as a host and designer on We TV’s, “She House” series. I moved to New York within a month and started filming, while finishing my degree. It was one of the craziest and best experiences of my life, but my dream was to work for Ralph Lauren. I finally landed a job at Ralph Lauren as a Windows designer for the flagship stores on Madison Ave. and in the Hamptons. That was probably the most creative work I’ve ever done. It was like creating sets for theater. I learned so much so quickly, collaborating with some super talented people whom I still call friends today. But when the opportunity came to work on the RL Home team, I jumped!
Finally after, four years in NYC I landed my dream job, as Creative Director on Ralph Lauren Home’s Creative Services team. While I was there I designed and built Home showrooms, styled Home editorial advertisements, and helped style and plan many special events. Again, I was astounded by the level of talent and capabilities of not only my team, but every team I collaborated with, from product designers, to art directors, to vintage and art buyers, to architects…. I tried to be a sponge. Polo taught me how to think, perform, and problem solve as a designer. Of course I faced obstacles while on the job, but Polo taught me there is always a solution. When I left there, I felt I could do anything.
Nowadays I am the North American Visual Director for a well-known luxury Italian fashion house. It’s amazing because I have been able to travel the world in this job and learn a whole other side of the business. Despite all my experience, I still consider myself to be a student first, who is constantly learning and evolving.
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: Did you always know what you wanted to do in life? What did you want to be when you were little?
I always knew I would be a ‘Creative.’ In high school, art was my focus. My father influenced my decision to study Interior Design and Architecture. Every Sunday morning we would watch shows like Bob Vila’s “Home Again,” and the local real estate shows. I would study the floor plans of his home design and repair magazines. Initially, I thought I would go on to become an architect, but then I realized I could possibly have more fun as a designer. When I was a freshmen in college I told all my friends and family I would go on to become a Creative Director for Ralph Lauren Home. I was so blessed to see that dream come into fruition through hard work and perseverance. It is still one of my greatest accomplishments. Now I just want MORE!!
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: Do you have any advise for someone interested in becoming a fashion Visual Director?
In my experience, the best creative teams are made up of people with a variety of creative/ visual backgrounds, that can rely on and draw inspiration from each other. I have worked on teams with people with experience in theater, event design, art history, carpentry, etc. I truly feel there is no direct path and you do not have to have a degree in one particular thing to succeed. You do need to have talent, a hard work ethic, and passion. In this business, authenticity goes a long way. There will always be someone better than you- don’t be intimidated, learn from them and blaze your own path.
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: What is a typical workday like for you?
One of the best things about my current job, is that every day is different. I’m in a different place, with different people, doing different work daily. One day I might be in our Soho store installing windows, and the next day designing a showroom for a press event, or putting on a fashion show for private clients. I also travel quite a bit. I go to Milan to see and work with the collections at least twice a year and I have six boutiques and six outlets across the U.S. I love communicating and connecting with people around the world. It is such an incredible experience.
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: How does your career affect your stylistic choices?
My style has evolved so much over the years. When I was in college and broke, I wore tons of vintage. My friends and I would go to Carolina Thrift in Greensboro every week to shop. I experimented a lot with my clothes. Now, the older I get and the longer I work in fashion the less I really think about my style and the less I shop. I feel as though I know what works on my body, I invest in quality pieces, and I trust my instincts. My style is innate. If I had to describe it, I would call it: High/ Low but always modern and chic. I go from Y-3 sweats and Jordan’s, to collection gowns and Jimmy Choo’s. My job is so physical, that I need to be comfortable. I wear jeans and boots to work. But when I go out, I go all out!
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: Where do you get your inspiration for creative direction?
I am inspired by so many things: film, design books, magazines, blogs, fashion, photography, architecture, food, travel, music. New York City affords me exposure to endless cultural offerings and I actively participate. Like I said, I received the best training possible at Polo. It was there that I learned how to conceptualize and develop my ideas. For me, I love to work off of rig boards. I need to see my ideas. I pull tear sheets from magazines and books. I print stills from films or images from my travels. I like to talk ideas out with my colleagues and friends. I have the most diverse, talented friends, who constantly inspire and push me to be my best.
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: Describe the process behind creating visual merchandising for Etro?
I receive regular directives from Milan. I travel there 2-4 yearly to work directly with the Visual team and learn the style direction for each collection. Once I am back in the U.S., I translate those ideas to fit our stores, showrooms, and demographics. There are four people on the U.S. Visual team, we communicate regularly to ensure we are creating the best most cohesive displays for our stores and events. We work very closely with our Italian counterparts until every project is approved by the U.S. GM and my boss in Milan.
STYLISH SOPHISTICATE: What do you do to de-stress? How do you balance work and play?
I run! My late grandfather, Wilbert Harlan, introduced me to track. He was a coach for the Steel City Striders, in Gary, IN. Another one of my greatest accomplishments is completing the 2013 NYC marathon in under four hours, in his honor. Sometimes it feels as though my life is moving at 100 miles per hour. Running keeps my anxiety levels low and my head clear. And while we are talking great accomplishments, mentoring a bright, beautiful, college bound young woman, Daniella, is another one. I made a commitment through iMentor, to mentor D through her high school career.
I love spending my free time with her. I initially signed up because I wanted to get involved in my community and to give back and work hands-on with young women that looked like me. I have been partnering with Daniella for almost two years now, and what she has given ME has surpassed my wildest dreams. She is kind, smart, savvy, quick-witted, and passionate. She inspires me! If can could give her anything (she doesn’t need much) it would be to know deep within herself that she can do and be anything she chooses in life and to never let any person or any relationship diminish her… Period.
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