Christina Gorman ’92
Christina Gorman ’92 is Senior Vice President Design at Elie Tahari in New York, NY.
1. BE NICE. Fashion is a cutthroat industry, and it’s not an easy business to navigate. But I’ve found that being nice to people is always a good idea. You can still be powerful and chic while treating the people around you with kindness and respect. And while you’re at it, be honest. Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.
2. First impressions are everything. If you are going on an interview, do some research on the company. Google the company’s history, visit a store that carries the line and check it out. Look at the details, the price points, and the aesthetic. Be able to answer questions about the product. Check out your interviewer on Linked-in. Quadruple-check your resume for typos. If I receive a resume with one typo, I file it in the garbage. If a candidate isn’t careful enough with their resume, how can I know that they will be precise with their sketches, specs, presentations to valuable clients, etc? Do whatever you have to do to get this right. Go bring your old High School English teacher a Latte and ask them to check through it. What to wear? Very important decision, being this is the fashion industry. If you really want the job, you need to look the part, but ideally be true to your own style too. And do we need to talk about social media? Be smart. Be professional. Think.
3. Make yourself indispensable. With a little work, it’s not hard. Always bring your boss a solution. Or better yet, tell them about the problem after you’ve solved it. Be reliable (on time, always prepared, etc.). Be resourceful and think outside the box. The most valuable people on my design team are like this.
4. When it’s up to you to create a team, surround yourself with people who make you look good. Then treat them well. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses – and work with them. Learn to build a great team. Over the years, I’ve witnessed directors hiring and keeping mediocre staff because they were concerned about someone surpassing them in their position. This is not a good idea. Strong, talented, and energized people can help make you shine. Sometimes, you will need to let someone go; many of my toughest days through the years were when I had to do this. It’s never easy to do, but the decision can be surprisingly easy. Ask yourself “If this person came to me today and told me they were resigning, would I be upset or relieved?” The answer is often painfully clear. Do what you have to do, but be nice about it (and never do it on a Friday).
5. Know your worth, and know how to ask for it. Already be doing a higher-level job before you ask for the actual promotion or raise. Or, even better than a raise – a salary adjustment. Some people subscribe to the theory that moving around is how you move up. Not so.
6. With that said, know when it’s time to move on. For example, when you stop loving what you do every day, it’s time. Of course, there are some days when you are going to feel dread on your way into the office, but when that is a weekly feeling, get your resume together. When you fantasize about wearing nothing but sweats and tees for the rest of your life, you’re ready for a change. When you can’t possibly find a decent work/life balance where you are, put your feelers out.
7. Never stop learning. Never let yourself think you know it all. You don’t. Especially in Fashion. It’s always changing: colors, proportions, trends. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. And never let a lack of skill or information force you to compromise your design.
8. This may seem obvious, but make things that are pretty. Underneath it all, this is how women want to look. Pretty sells every time. Sometimes we can get carried away with a new trend or silhouette, but always think about what the customer wants at the end of the day. She wants to feel beautiful. Learn to look hard at your designs and be your toughest critic. Learn the importance of editing.
9. Remember that too much ego will kill your creativity.
10. Remain calm. I’ve never understood it, but sometimes a design studio feels more like an ER. And for some reason, I’m usually able to remain unruffled. People comment on it all the time. I tell my staff something like “Guys, it’s a blouse, not a kidney on an operating table losing its freshness…. “. And it’s true. It’s just clothes. Stay focused, strong, and calm, and the line will come together.
11. Be grateful. For your talent, for the opportunities you are given, for your teammates, for a supportive boss. Be grateful that you are getting paid to create beautiful things! Someone wise once told me that it’s impossible to be grateful and depressed at the same time. I think it’s true.
12. “The Devil Wears Prada” is real. She also wears Marni, Dolce, Chanel, etc. But you don’t have to exist in that reality just because you work in the fashion industry, (see point 6.) Especially if you are the Boss (see point 4.) And if you are nice (see point 1). You can still be successful without the drama. Just remember to be grateful.