Two years ago, I went to the 92Y to hear David Chang and Anthony Bourdain speak- as expected, it was great, but one thing in particular hit home. David was reminiscing about when he opened Momofuku. He said that during that first year, he didn’t let his parents dine there. The whole audience was shocked- how could he! He then followed up, saying that when he finally let them through the door, he charged full price. If only your friends and family support you, your business won’t succeed.
This brings me to the conversation of talent and figuring out who, among the latest crop will make waves in their respective industries for decades to come. Compiling a list of influencers takes an understanding of the past, the present and a primal instinct of who’s work is producing new conversations- ones that prompt altered perspectives.
Does the work solve a commercial problem or is it solely art? If it’s art, what are the global and political influences and who’s consuming and reacting to it? Does technology or technique play a part? Does the artist or team have the resources they need for longevity? Are early adopters paying attention, and I’m not talking about friends and family- who’s along for the ride?
I’m a big believer that creators of this caliber can come along at any point in life- not only in their teens and twenties. Finding your voice and honing the talent required for this level of output and influence can come as a result of life circumstances. Whether you’re in school, just quit a job, had the death of a loved one, are newly single, are capitalizing on years of industry experience or simply redirecting free time from an empty nest. The point is, the story is written anew for everyone.
In my own journey, my creative path has been a winding one. I first worked in a museum gallery under the direction of Lenore Miller for four years in Washington, DC. She was an incredibly tough and uncompromising boss. I was shy and she took a liking to my focus and quiet drive. She gave me piles of responsibility: Go write a grant! We need funding to bring the public school kids into our space! After you make that happen, write some programs – what are you waiting for- go do it!
Before I knew it, I had become a teacher with the fancy title of Art Literacy Specialist, and was loving it. I would simplify our exhibits into digestible fun bites and create accompanying art projects to follow each tour. During the summers, I would do the same, guiding children in and out of the Smithsonian Museums, working with their staff to create unique and memorable programming.
In 2003, I moved to New York. I remember lugging two tremendous suitcases onto Amtrak with an address in my pocket from Craigslist. I went to Houston instead of Hudson and was out of breath and late by the time I showed up for my first appointment. What a crazy year that was. I ended up moving into the first apartment I visited- unheard of, I know, and lived with the sweetest, kindest, coolest roommates. I was eager for change and was ready to become a creator in addition to a curator.
My first job was at a massive footwear company as a pattern designer. Everything was at turbo speed. If you didn’t keep up, the girls would talk about how slow you were behind your back at lunch. I became incredibly close with a girl named Deanna and we were an inseparable team. We’d go to trade shows and meet with forecasting companies, all while building multiple product lines at once- we’d be designing patterns for Rampage, Osh Kosh, Lord and Taylor and Walmart all due by 5pm. Consequently we both quit for new opportunities at the same time as well.
From there I went to Playboy, where I jumped from the side of Licensee to Licensor. Those first few years were an education in mass market licensing, branding and global product design. From the unglamorous florescent-lit offices along the West Side Highway to the sleek and sexy Fifth Avenue enclave of Playboy, it was an interesting and sometimes bumpy ride reacting, designing and trying to keep up with the intensity of the fashion world. That year, I opened the first US Playboy store in Las Vegas, managed the suppliers, the store layout and window displays. I was part of a slim, talented creative team that was constantly compiling directional style guides to service an ever-growing list of international licensees.
Then I turned 25 and went freelance. In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing. I remember having conversations with all of the talented stylists, illustrators and photographers that we’d hired over the years. It seemed like they knew the secret to a happy balanced life in New York and I was ready to try it out for myself. I won’t lie, the unchartered waters were somewhat defeating at first. I signed up for representation under every headhunter in town (not something I’d recommend doing today), hoping to be fed my next gig. I didn’t really know my style at that point, as working for a brand til 11pm every night skewed my creative taste and sensibility.
But then came the first gig- I got to make children’s patterns and sophisticated repeats at a bedding house for four months under the creative direction of Elsa Rueff-Lyon. The designers in the office were kind and worked well under pressure- which was a welcome change. I got to paint, problem-solve and learn Adobe’s color separation shortcuts, all while getting paid a decent hourly rate. Then the ball really started to roll.
Opportunities came in from lingerie and beauty offices, then later from marketing, social media and technology companies. Before I knew it, one job bleed into the next and I was upping my rate (sometimes too slowly), proving that an independent lifestyle was doable and the fastest way to learn the in’s and outs of running your own business in Manhattan. I also began traveling between projects- with the goal of pattern, color and trend spotting around the world.
Ten years later, I’m still at it. Running Pattern Pulp, ready for the next big challenge- excited to launch Role Modolls as well as contemplating joining a team full-time in the museum, art or pattern-making worlds. If you’re still reading and have made it this far (bravo!), I’d love to hear your thoughts and aspirations- what are you trying to perfect on this crazy creative road? Are you looking to go solo, work with a partner? Dealing with Visa issues or simply stuck? Alternatively, are you in a full steam ahead mode where things couldn’t better or more productive?
Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next cultural influencer.