How to Make It as a Fashion Editor
Introducing How to Make It, Clover's career column. Here, some of the smartest, coolest, and most successful women we know share career tips, life advice, and other invaluable wisdom they've learned along the way. First up, Rachael Wang of Allure tells us how she went from punky high schooler to fashion director.
What were you like as a teen?
I was complicated. But I think being a teen is just complicated in general. It's a time where everything is up in the air and anything can happen. I cared a lot about school so I studied hard and got good grades but I expressed myself through my appearance in a really eccentric way, which caused teachers to underrate me sometimes. I think I always felt a bit outside of the standard groups, perhaps because I had so many diverse interests (sports, theater, art, science) that it made it hard for me to stick with any one group. Music became really important to me because at a time when it felt really hard to "fit in," I found acceptance in the punk scene.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
I would love to share the hard-earned wisdom that perfection does not exist and it's damaging to spend all of one's energy trying constantly to be perfect. Also, don't take yourself so seriously. It's OK to be a kid!
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
I started off as an intern in the W fashion closet getting coffee, making photo copies, checking in, and returning samples. From there I was able to land my first paid job in fashion as a sittings assistant at Selfmagazine, where I packed and unpacked trunks of workout gear and swimwear in the most lovely beach destinations around the world. After about a year, I decided to try my luck as a freelance stylist assistant so that I could work with a range of stylists and brands and really expand my fashion experience. I took every single gig that came my way, which included assisting J. Crew shoots to working with stylists like Camilla Nickerson, Alex White, Bruce Pask, Havana Laffitte, and Joe Zee. I often worked 20 hour days, 7 days a week checking in clothes and accessories, packing trunks, unpacking trunks, dressing models, and keeping track of credits but eventually landed a full-time position assisting top stylist Edward Enninful.
Edward really taught me the ropes of styling for editorial and advertising clients, and it was only after working with him that I went on to hold a junior level styling position at Glamour where I really honed the craft. After about 3 years at Glamour, I was offered the position of Market Director at NYLON, which was a tremendous break. At NYLON I was able to work closely with other departments like art and photo for the first time, which helped me to really learn how a magazine worked top to bottom.
After about a year at NYLON, Nicole Phelps reached out to me about the Market Director position at Style.com which I absolutely jumped at. Style.com was the first website I worked for, and I had to learn how to operate at a completely different pace. I had only been there about 8 months when Conde Nast decided to evolve Style.com into an e-commerce platform and thus let the majority of our team go. Michelle Lee, whom I had worked under for a short period at NYLON, reached out to me about the Fashion Director role at Allure and her timing couldn't have been more perfect. I started in this role in January and have been loving every minute.
What's one thing you wish had known then that you know now about having a career?
I wish that I had spent a bit more time gaining life experience before charging single-mindedly down my career path. I wish I had known that it wouldn't have hurt me to take some fun electives in college, travel, and perhaps live in another city. I was always extremely driven, which has absolutely helped me along my journey, but I firmly believe that I still would have gotten to where I am had I taken 6 months to backpack through India or spent a year living in Tokyo and teaching English. The thing is, once you get momentum going on a career path, you don't want to stop, so it's easier to take time to learn as much as you can about yourself before seriously committing to your path.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
Show up on time, eager to work, and with gratitude for the opportunity which could have been given to someone else. Take pride in your work, do the best that you can do, and be open to constructive criticism but take nothing personally.