How fashion's front line taught me the importance of making an impact
This article was first published in November 2012.
There is a brilliant scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda Priestley, editor of the fictitious Runway magazine, explains to her fashion-naive assistant the impact of key decisions by fashion's leaders on the clothes she was wearing.
A year after my youngest son was born, I found myself on a plane to Paris for my first international fashion shows where I got to witness the early adopter stage of this process. It was quite possibly the most exciting trip I had ever taken. As a teenage girl I used to dream about the fashion shows as I flicked through Vogue magazine in my bedroom. I never imagined that I'd one day get to go.
When I arrived in Paris, I took a taxi directly to the hotel, where my fashion director Valeryi Yong and her assistant were waiting. Literally five minutes after arriving at the hotel, Valeryi threw a camel-hair skirt suit, with cap-sleeved top, by hot designer Narciso Rodriguez at me and told me to put it on and meet her in the hotel foyer in 10 minutes.
"It's absolutely freezing outside," I said. "I'll catch pneumonia."
"But you'll look fantastic," she said. At her insistence, I braved the weather rather than throw on an unfashionable coat. It was my fashion awakening.
I managed to control the shivering by focusing on the excitement of attending my first fashion show in Paris. And straight up was Australia's most celebrated designer and second-timer at Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 1998, Collette Dinnigan. I had attended Collette's shows in Sydney, but I felt truly patriotic viewing her range alongside the likes of American ELLE and British Vogue. The show was a triumph and I did radio interviews with stations around Australia informing them of the world's reaction to the show. Collette had an after party for the Australian contingent, a group that was apparently growing in number year after year, as the broader Australian media began to recognise the consumer interest in fashion.
As the week went on, I was fortunate enough to attend the shows of some of the world's best designers. For each show, my fashion director had selected a stunning designer outfit for me to wear. A highlight was the Chanel show.
Fashion shows are a lot like the British class system. It's obvious where you sit in the pecking order of the fashion world by where you are seated at a fashion show. The Americans and Europeans are always front row, with the best seat in the house reserved for US Vogue editor Anna Wintour if she is in attendance. I have to admit that during the Loewe show, which was one of my favourites, I spent more time observing Anna Wintour from the lofty heights of my row ZZZ seat than I did observing the catwalk.
So I wondered where on earth the Chanel people would sit the editor of ELLE Australia? Next to the exit? Instead designer Karl Lagerfeld chose to design his catwalk so that almost every person sat front row. In order to achieve this, the show was on two levels with a dramatic staircase connecting the two. The models, that included Chanel favourites Kate Moss and Erin O'Connor, followed a catwalk that snaked around two very large rooms over two floors. Anna Wintour and the fashion elite were of course on the top level, with the rest of us on the bottom floor, but that didn't bother me. I got a small taste of what it was like to be fashion royalty for the five minutes or so that it takes to send models up and down a runway, and, more importantly, I was able to do the job that I had flown half-way around the world for – to actually see the clothes so that my team and I could determine the next season's trends for our readers.
Note to fashion publicists: if you are seated in Siberia, everything looks like Russia.
The fashion industry taught me everything that you need to know about making an impact in business and for personal career progression.
- If you make an effort to understand the desires of your audience, you will receive favorable press.
- Keep your personal brand consistent.
- Treat everyone like they are special.
- Listen to the experts, even if the advice is outside your comfort zone.
Do you have trouble making an impact?
Marina Go is the former GM of Hearst-Bauer, publisher of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan. She is chair of the Wests Tigers, a director of ASX-listed The Autosports Group, Odyssey House, McGrath Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Remarkables Group and Women's Agenda. She has an MBA from The AGSM and is a member of the AICD. Her new book is Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders.