“It’s great to aspire to a profession, and there’s always a demand for good, smart people anywhere — but don’t aspire to a “lifestyle.” I have a good life, but it probably looks very different in person. Everyone should aspire to the life that authentically represents her — that’s the only way to be happy..”–Bonnie Morrison, publicity director of KCD
So after the “Breaking into Fashion” forum a few weeks ago, I started to receive *tons* of e-mails from fashion hopefuls looking to make their way into the industry as stylists, journalists, models, and the like.
Note, for example, a real letter I received from a lady whose e-mail identified her as “GaLittleMa”:
Ok… While most of you were a little bit more detailed in your requests, the sentiment was the same: you want to know how to get in the door, and for some of you, you want to know how to stay there.
I decided that in addition to looking at trends, people on the street, and finding celeb looks for less, I’d also do a series of interviews with successful people in the business, so you’ll know how they got their start, what they love about their job, and how you can one day be in their position.
After seeing her spread in Elle Magazine, I thought: who better to get in touch with first than Bonnie Morrison? Despite her busy schedule, she was gracious enough to offer a few words to you aspiring PR girls out there.
Bonnie, who graduated from Brown University, majored in Modern Culture and Media and American Civilization. About college she says, “I’m not sure that your major necessarily determines the career you choose or become successful in…The thing I believe about college is that it teaches you how to ask questions, refine your skills, and develop your references. Work is something entirely different, and most everything else about your actual job you learn by doing your job. I still learn things, and I have been working for 10 years.”
Morrison started off interning in boutique advertising firms before working in magazines, which is what she always thought she wanted to do. Though she didn’t begin her career entrenched in PR, she says, ” I always knew that fashion was the only field I wanted to work in (though I didn’t always know in what capacity), so it was my extra-curricular “study” that really prepared me: I read or watched anything fashion-related and absorbed it completely. I figured out which designers I liked and learned everything I could about the house; which photographers I liked and who they shot for. I studied the work of every editor, makeup artist, hairstylist, model. I learned the names for things — masthead, well story, sittings editor, collection, campaign, contract, run-of-show, casting, atelier, salon — and how to pronounce everything. That was the beginning of my fashion education…”
She knew that she could pursue PR as a career at her first big agency job. She says, “I was working more directly with designers on multiple accounts, dealing with the press one-on-one and traveling regularly–that’s where I really had the chance to develop and grow into the responsibility that was given to me. It happened over the course of an entire year, if not longer, and even then, it was just positioning me for more, bigger responsibilities in the future…”
She credits her current success to her insatiable work ethic. She says,” I work really, really hard. And I try to work smart — responsibly, efficiently and ethically. Any of the things I have achieved or am proud of in my professional life have been an extension of those principles. But this is the thing: I work hard because I care about it. So while “work hard” is obvious, the “secret” part is that you should find a job that interests you so much and that you have so much investment in that it’s easy, and fun, to work hard.“To future PR girls, she calls for a bit of self reflection. She says, “Ask yourself: what is it about publicity that you aspire to? How much do you really know about it? What are you willing to do to get there? The press and parties are just a fluke, and probably have less to do with my job than it might appear. For all the shows and parties I go to as a guest, I go to as many as an on-duty employee — working seating, backstage, press lines, and I’m more often than not in Chap-Stick, a messy ponytail and a flat shoe. That’s my real job. If people want that, I bet they’ll be great at it, because a lot of this business is instinct and lack of ego…”Lastly a few fashion tips for an aspiring publicist on a tight budget. She says, “If you have limited resources, seek out very basic things that make you look polished. Too many people think that it’s important to distinguish themselves with a lot of personality in their demeanor or personal appearance, and that’s not really what anyone is looking from an entry-level person! I was always told to keep my head down and do my work — what my friend Phoebe calls “clean your spaces and know your places...”
“...It’s not REMOTELY worth going into debt to keep up with people who can afford to absorb all of the trends of the season, so if you can’t pull it off, you’re much smarter to invest in basic, professional separates that fit you well — pencil skirt, white shirts, some black cashmere sweaters, a peacoat, pair of good heels, etc. — than trying to execute too many trends badly. A little goes a very long way.”
Hear that? Just look ‘polished’ as Andre Leon Talley would say. And work hard!
Well, that was amazing, no? And her advice on studying fashion–knowing all the industry lingo, designers, and editors–is something that we all can do, regardless of where we are in life.
Thanks so much to Bonnie for offering her expertise!
Stay tuned in coming weeks for interviews with stylists, editors, publishers….you’re gonna love it!
PS If you’re leaving for Turkey Day today, safe travels!