Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pay Your Dues

Play your cards right; be fashion’s glass half full-personality

Relatives and acquaintances are frequently wondering what are you doing with your life and where you see yourself going. All the while, coincidently,you are asking yourself- how do I get that career I have always dreamed of?

It is in your reach. But how do you get there? Where do you start? Who do you go to, who do you mentor and volunteer for? In a phone interview with Cynthia Hall Searight, Creative Director of Self Magazine, I gained insight into the fast-passed and intensely competitive industry. We can examine and learn from her, the steps to further our own dreams and turn them into achievements, just as she has done.

Oh George!: How many years did it take you to get to the position of Creative Director?

CHS: I have worked as a creative director for 25 years and started in the industry in 19 83 and became a creative director in 1986. At the age of 24, I spent 1 year as an assistant art director and then became an associate director for 2 years working with a group of 10 creative directors.

OG: What type of education and experiences helped you attain this accomplished and successful career?

CHS: I went to school in Connecticut for Design and took advertising. After school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my education. By starting to work temping as a secretary I was put on a job for Red Book Magazine. That opened all the doors to where I was meant to work. Your first job determines the path of your career. It helped me realize what I wanted to do and helped me to make connections. The connection helped set up an interview with Weight Watcher Magazine. One of the people I worked for put in a good word. I started with test publications and gained experience working for a German magazine. Soon after, 1988, I started at YM Magazine and worked there for 5 years. My next move was to be the Creative Director at Mademoiselle Magazine for 7 years. Then I did 3 ½ years at Victoria Magazine, a home furnishing magazine. After which, I went back to CondeNast magazines to work with the Brides Magazine for 4 years. I have now been with SELF Magazine for 4 ½ years.

OG: What would a typical day at work be like for you?

CHS: 9:00am-6:00pm. There is little time for lunch unless I have a meeting with someone. The majority of the days consist of meeting for visuals. I collaborate with the styling teams and give direction for images. I read the text of the magazine but focus mainly on the visual packaging and website of the magazine.

OG: Which photographers and celebrities have you worked with that stand out in your mind and have made an impact on what you do?

CHS: The most exciting part of my job is shooting covers, like the one that took place in Los Angeles with Kate Beckensale. Also, the Photographers at Mademoiselle would always be different from the ones I would choose for Self. Each is very unique, has a different point of view, and perspective that is charming. They each have incredible strength and you need to give assignments that play to their strengths. If you give them a try and let them their own spin on it, you then get more creativity and it works out for the best. Celebrities can be difficult. The shoot with Kate Beckansale was difficult because there was a lack of communication with Bechansale’s personal stylist and she did not want to wear the 3 outfits that were selected for the shot. She refused to wear pink or v-necks. It is extremely important to gather information on all aspects of the celebrity’s image, because they are easily upset. It is always best to find out their sizes but also have something larger that can be easily tailored. It is also important to find out if the celebrity has any aspects of their body they wish to hide.

OG: Do you find you have time for a family life or do you find it difficult to juggle between career and personal time?

CHS: It was a lot more stressful when I was starting in the industry at 24, paying my dues and working my way to the top. You learn the ropes and experience how to deal with the stresses. It makes it easier that women run publishing. They understand that if you have to work till midnight to get the job done then you will. But they also know that if there is a kid’s game to be at @ 5:00 then you have a priority to be there. There are a lot of sacrifices that go into the decision to work this lifestyle but there has to be good support and communication at home to get through it.

OG: It is a very competitive industry, what advice would you give to someone interested in the industry?

CHS: The more experience the better to help you decide what aspects of the industry you would really love. Intern so that it will help you make contacts and open a lot of doors. It’s all about whom you know.

There are numerous career possibilities in the industry. Finding the right niche is really a matter of experiencing as much as you can. Connecting the applications and technical sides to any future endeavour in the industry would help in becoming a jack-of-all-trades. Experience and networking are of the utmost importance. It is all about whom you know.It is of course; a fast passed lifestyle, demanding, stressful, and competitive but also very rewarding. The more you work, the more experience you will gain, and the more successful you will become.

Working with fashion designers, photographers, celebrities and a talented team of co-workers, solving creative challenges, is an exciting job. To be able to work 9:00- 6:00, you really have to pay your dues. You have to be willing to put your nose to the grindstone to work your way to the top, with a glass half- full mentality about all your experiences. You will then find your niche.

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