We asked several top fashion industry insiders to tell us about the one bold defining moment that made them decide to pursue their career path, and what made them stick with it through the challenging times, until they succeeded.
Oribe – Hair Stylist to the Stars
What A-list star has celebrity hairstylist Oribe not styled? You’d be hard pressed to name one. A go-to for Vogue, Allure, Elle, W, and every other major magazine, he has carefully styled everyone from Jennifer Lopez and Diana Ross’s hair, to Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell’s. In addition, Oribe has a Miami salon and a luxe line of hair products.
Oribe: I love hairdressing. In my mind it was never an option to do anything else. I have stayed in this career for over 30 years. It is a profession where you are constantly growing. There are so many directions you can take your career in. There are a tremendous amount of projects. I love what I do, and every day I continue to learn and be inspired.
As for a specific defining moment, there wasn’t one, because I never considered my career with that mindset. I’ve had amazing moments throughout, whether it was working with Avedon, Meisel, Mert and Marcus, Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Versace, or Armani…. It has been an amazing career and I’ve been tremendously fortunate. I don’t take it that seriously – I enjoy it. It is something that allows me to express myself in an art form that I cherish. However, there have been many, many highlights. We just had a Las Vegas event that was a high point for me. I have an amazing product line that I love. Every time something new comes out – an amazing cover that I did the hair for or a new campaign that I have worked on – it gives me tremendous happiness.
I am just having an incredible time. This is the best time so far in my career even though there is still so much more to do. Teaching is part of the current phase of what I am doing. I have always loved to teach – so it is a natural evolution for me. I have a concept of hairdressing that I am trying to express and share with hairdressers, and I hope that it will help them tremendously.
Zang Toi – Designer of House of Toi
The creative force behind the more than two-decade-old label, House of Toi, Zang Toi has dressed innumerable celebrities including Selma Blair, Sharon Stone, and Meg Ryan.
Zang Toi: The defining moment for me was when Anna Wintour of Vogue featured a bright orange and hot pink knit and chiffon baby-doll dress in the November 1989 issue – a dress was from my very first collection. Unfortunately, I encountered a rough path when I separated from my ex-partner in 1995, because I didn’t know much about the business side of the industry. I seriously thought of closing-up and working for an established house. However, thanks to a few fair-weathered friends that thought I was a failure at that time, I decided to prove them all wrong and I did! That said, there is still a lot to accomplish at the House of Toi!
Robert Verdi – Celeb Stylist and TV Host
One of Hollywood’s preeminent stylists, Robert Verdi’s clients include Eva Longoria and Tony Parker, Hugh Jackman, Terrence Howard, Ana Ortiz, Bobby Flay, and Mariska Hargitay. Called upon for his style expertise, Verdi has hosted a number of shows throughout his career and now is the star of Logo’s “The Robert Verdi Show Starring Robert Verdi.”
Robert Verdi: I think that when I had a 9-5 job, I could have easily risen to corporate ranks, but I wanted to be autonomous and have my own schedule and create my own projects. I’ve always been driven by autonomy, which let me to my defining moment: I rented a camera and created a demo tape, having had zero experience in TV and production, and with that tape, landed my first TV job.
In terms of accomplishing a lofty goal, it was when I was doing the graphic open for my series, The Robert Verdi Show Starring Robert Verdi – that made me feel I’d accomplished what I set out ot do. I realized how long it can take to cultivate and grow the things you want. There are no overnight successes, but you can set a lofty goal and reach it.
Deborah Lyons – Designer of Nonoo Lyons:
One half of the design duo behind the outerwear label Nonoo Lyons (along with partner Misha Nonoo), Deborah Lyons’ eye for style has landed her designs in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and in covetable retail outlets including Intermix. Carefully crafted with an attention to detail and handmade touches, a Nonoo Lyons piece makes a statement, while still remaining classic enough to last innumerable seasons.
Deborah Lyons: In fashion, especially when you have your own brand, every day can feel like a struggle, and it’s always easy to assume you’d have it easier doing someone else’s job. At the end of the day, though, the rewards are incomparable. Misha and I had been friends for a long time before we ever even considered starting a line together. The idea for our jackets came up over some drinks one day while we were discussing what we felt was missing from our wardrobes. Every day is still challenging and really exciting, which does often give me a sense of accomplishment, but I think we’ve got a lot more to do before we can really feel like we’ve achieved our goals.
Rachel Blumenthal – Designer of Rachel Leigh jewelry
The design force behind the Oprah-approved Rachel Leigh line, Rachel Blumenthal’s line is a favorite of everyone from Jessica Biel to Blake Lively, and her work has appeared in countless magazines including Harper’s Bazaar and InStyle. With a presence in over 400 retail outlets and showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Scandinavia, Germany, Paris, the Middle East, Japan, Korea and Canada, the Rachel Leigh line has, in just six years, grown into one of the most sought after jewelry lines in the world.
Rachel Blumenthal: After leaving Yves Saint Laurent to take the leap and launch Rachel Leigh, I was approached by several luxury brands, such as Carolina Herrera and Tod’s, for senior level publicity positions. It would have been so easy to pick-up where I left off at YSL and continue on the publicity career track that was both glamorous and safe. But I wanted something more. I wanted the personal and professional challenge of launching and building a new brand from the ground up. I wanted the ability to leverage my business and creative skills on a daily basis, and to be able to make high level decisions that came instinctively without having to wait to climb the ladder to the top of a corporation.
The night I decided to leave my position at Yves Saint Laurent to build Rachel Leigh was one of the most emotional moments in my professional life. I distinctly remember James Taylor’s Greatest Hits playing in the background of my dark apartment as I contemplated the pros and cons of this career move. Five years later, as I sat in my apartment late at night, responding to emails, while watching Oprah on DVR. Gayle King introduced James Taylor to play a few of his greatest hits for the studio audience as she wore one of my most distinctive Millie necklaces. That moment truly felt like a sign that the decision I had made five years earlier was indeed the right one. Regardless of our 400+ retail doors, expanding customer base, significant editorial coverage, celebrity following, and brand recognition, it was that moment in which I was able to step outside of my bubble and have perspective on my accomplishments.
That moment, and the Oprah O List feature a few months later, solidified my perspective on believing in yourself and following your instincts. I can’t say that moment defined my career goals, as it was bigger than that – it defined the importance of believing in myself and following my gut. I am certain that if I am able to continue to do that throughout my career, I will be able to reach my potential with whatever I set out to do.
Heather Thomson – Designer of Yummie Tummie
You know you’ve got talent when you’re up against Marc Jacobs for a CFDA award – a situation Heather Thomson, the woman behind Yummie Tummie, found herself in while working as Sean John’s design director. The awards Thomson has garnered from her celeb-favored Yummie Tummie line are innumerable. Who knew shapewear could be effective, comfortable, and so well designed that you don’t even notice that it’s shapewear?
Heather Thompson: There was a major decision point early in my career, although I’m not sure if you’d call the choice I didn’t make the “safer” one. Even though I’ve always been creative, I didn’t go to fashion school. In college, I studied communications and business, and then decided I wanted to be a designer after I graduated. I learned hands-on design, on the cutting room floor at a company called Cypress Apparel, in the Berkshires. They designed robes, sleepwear and intimate apparel, and I worked there for four years.
When I decided it was time to make a big change and move to NYC, I sent my resume to literally every help-wanted ad in Women’s Wear Daily, but even with my experience, I couldn’t get a response because I didn’t have a fashion degree.
In the spirit of wanting to make a big change, and because I have always had a passion for travel and philanthropy, I also applied to the Peace Corp. On the day that I got my papers saying that I’d been accepted to the Peace Corp, I finally got the first call back from one of my resumes: Calvin Klein.
I had to make my decision to accept the assignment from the Peace Corp immediately, or lose it. The Calvin Klein job wasn’t a sure thing, it was just a first interview, but I decided to follow my heart, turn down the Peace Corp, and take the opportunity try for a job with Calvin Klein.
The happy ending is that I did get the job, and I’ve been in fashion ever since.
I would have to say that the defining moment for me came right after college, when I was working in a ski shop. After graduation, I went from wanting to be a business woman, to an anchor woman to…I didn’t know what. Finally, my mom said, “You’re an expert skier, go work at a ski store for a while.”
I got a job at Kemper Limited this fancy ski store that my family actually could never afford. I was in the “hard goods” section, with boots and equipment, but I’d always wind up in the “soft goods” department with my customers, helping them find something to wear, too. I had the highest sales! While I was there, I noticed that they were missing an entry-level price point – that’s why I could never shop there when I was growing up. They didn’t want to bring in down-market brands, so I suggested that they create their own line, and to my surprise, they agreed.
I could always draw, so I started sketching designs and as I was drawing fleece jackets, I realized, “Of course, fashion! It’s always been fashion!”
Since, I’m happy to say, there have been a couple of times when I’ve felt proud, but I’ve never felt totally accomplished – there’s always more that I want to do, and not enough time.
The biggest achievements in life are my children, period, bar none.
When it comes to my career, one of the first big moments came when I was Design Director at Sean John, with Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, and got nominated for the CFDA for best new designer of the year. The other nominees included Marc Jacobs – it was the moment when I felt like I’d showed the world that I was a designer, and had really proven myself.
Another moment was fairly recently, when Yummie Tummie was awarded a patent for the three panel concept for shapewear. It’s validation to the market, to the world, that this is a new innovation, and I’m very proud of that.
Thinking about this question, when I look back on how many people want to be designers and look around at my business, I’m very happy. It’s a great reminder of how important it is to stop and embrace the moment that you’re in – I’m still teaching myself to do that.
Louise O’Connor – Owner of OC61 Salon & Spa
As the owner of one of New York City’s most highly regarded salons, OC61 Salon & Spa, Louise O’Connor has cultivated a loyal following of clients, while also leading the hair teams for high-profile fashion shows and shoots for clients including Oscar de la Renta, Ports 1961, Catherine Malandrino, J.Mendel, Versace, and Gucci. Among the celebrities she has worked with are Beyonce, Jessica Simpson, Kirsten Dunst, and Coco Rocha, and she’s been interviewed for countless shows that have aired on MTV, VH1, NBC, FOX, and more.
Louise O’Connor: There was a time when I was in London where everything seemed so hard and I was about to leave the industry completely. It wasn’t until I was offered another job in the fashion industry working as a showroom assistant that I realized if I ever wanted to return to hair styling, I would have ruined all of my training, and it would have been so much harder to get back on track. At this point, I decided this was where I needed and wanted to be. Later on, surrounding myself with people like Oribe just really confirmed that I had made the right decision. All of the people I worked with in London also played a huge role in helping to define what I should be doing.
I feel accomplished everyday when I walk into my salon and see my staff and the team that I have created, and the way we work together. The art that is created in the salon or for runway shows just inspires me to become stronger and better.
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