Fashion Group International hosted their Nex Gen #GetWithTheProgram event at Space 530 on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 with a packed house to hear pearls of wisdom from fashion PR and People's Revolution founder Maven Kelly Cutrone. The event started with a cocktail reception before settling the room down for Cutrone’s talk. Cutrone opened up the talk by asking the audience what they wanted to learn from her over the course of the one-hour event. The topics varied from “do you believe in seasonal lines?” to “how do I get a job a specific area of fashion?”.
Cutrone then started by sharing what the industry was like when she first started. She explained that there where very few fashion editors and you knew them all and they were the ones who showed up at fashion shows. Those editors knew, lived and breathed fashion. Once the internet started to evolve so did fashion bloggers who were unexpected guests at the party, who didn’t necessarily know fashion.
What was once a controlled audience and message became a free for all and suddenly reviews (good and bad) were showing up from people the industry didn’t know but had hundred or thousands of followers. While the industry has adapted some, Cutrone says it still needs to evolve to embrace this expanded audience. One example she provided was Lookbooks which she said are completely outdated. “Who’s printing on paper?” she added.
Cutrone went on to explain what it takes to be successful in fashion, “In my world, what comes down to making a really successful brand is good product; well-made, good production, good margin, good marketing, good PR, good sales, great imaging, viral and traditional advertising and celebrity dressing.” She added the advice to “own your own stores. The reason is when you have your own stores and your own advertising campaigns, you are in control of your own message.”
She encouraged anyone wanting to make it in fashion by emphasizing, “There is room for everybody. It is not a nepotistic society that is full. In order to work in this industry, you need to be either super filthy rich, a masochist or have no money. If you have no money and you have no idea where you’re going or what’s going to happen to you, this is a great industry to be in."
Cutrone noted that many people in the industry act like they come from pedigreed backgrounds, however she noted, “most people in this industry come from the middle of nowhere.” Then humorously added, “most of the ones I know who are really successful are "freaskville." So if you are "freaksville," don’t be afraid. If you have OCD, ADD, addiction issues, you want to live in a unicorn world where no one gets hurt. Welcome aboard! This is a good place for you.”
When asked about starting her own line, Cutrone laughed saying “It’s an expensive business to be in. You have to be really poor or really rich and I’m neither so I’m crying.” Of her new line, Electric Light Army, created with designer Chris Burch, she says, “We started small selling at Neiman Marcus, ShopBop, Kitson, Dash, Scoop and some other stores. It’s done really, really well. I need to keep very focused on my life right now, so I want to keep it tight and right.” She added, “Does it feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach by some meth addicted kangaroo 700 times? Yeah. All I do is keep getting up and doing it over and over. I had really great experiences making it, but I’ve had really horrible experiences.”
Cutrone lamented on some of the minute details a designer must pay attention to such as zippers. She equated picking a zipper to “eating saltines. It’s like getting a book of a thousand saltines. There is a saltine for one cent and one for $10 and you have to try all the frickin’ saltines. By the end of the day you’re screaming ‘just pick a zipper!’” Throughout the evening Cutrone encouraged people to reach out, make connections and be willing to work hard. She offered “When you're following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first.”
She walked the walk by offering to help make connections for several people in the crowd as well as generously offering access to a fashion week show this fall to any in the audience who have never been to show. Cutrone’s sage advice ran the gamut and her dry sense of humor kept everyone laughing through the evening with the focus on starting and promoting a brand and generally getting a break in the industry.
Kelly’s advice on promoting your own brand: A showroom. “If you don’t have access to a showroom, meditate, close your eyes and think who was me before." Was it Norma Kamali? Robert Lee Morris? Anna Sheffield? Call their showroom, don’t call the owner; call their assistant. “If you don’t have a lot of money, don’t pay create a lookbook. Take your stuff, shoot it on a white background with your iPhone and send them an email, then call.”
Kelly encourages anyone in fashion to come to these types of events. “You’re going to meet people in the industry. Somebody is going to help you. This is a very tribal industry. It’s a very helpful industry. Everyone who is having success is also, including myself, simultaneously failing and scared. They have also been helped by people who should have never helped them but they did. We all believe that we will give it back to you because it will help us in our own little narcissistic world to get across the finish line."
Other words of wisdom from Kelly included, “Do not do your own sales ... It’s a disaster. Nobody will call you back.” She added "try not to do your own PR .... Would you do your own brain surgery? Would be your own gynecologist? Would you do your own pap smear? No, so pay for the PR.”
Kelly’s advice to anyone wanting to go into the fashion industry: It’s not about who you know; It's about what you have to offer. You need to figure out what you have to offer. Do not think this is any industry made of rich, snotty people. There are a lot of people who become rich and snotty, but they didn’t start off that way. There are more really nice people.
Other tips included don’t apply for a job in May. Just because you’re getting out of college that doesn’t mean anyone in fashion cares. People aren’t hiring in May. Here’s when they hire: January 10 and August 10. Here’s when they fire: February 20 and September 20 – right after fashion week. Plan your vacations then. Nobody cares if you have a communications or fashion degree.
“Pick you’re butt up and get an internship and do the dance. Come to as many events like FGI or go stand by the fountain at fashion week. Vivienne Westwood, you want to meet her during fashion week? She’s by the fountain eating her sandwich during fashion week. You better know who these people are and what they’re selling." Last, but not least, do your homework. “I find something to talk about with every person I have a meeting with. They deserve that time and they deserve your respect.”