Every week I get emails from people wanting to know more about what I do, how I got to where I am and my professional journey. It is a REALLY long story and so, Aliece and Jennifer (and the rest of you) I have decided to put this in a blog post. I hope this answers your questions and please feel free to ask more questions below, if you’ve got ‘em. Here goes:
When I was in high school I wanted to be a singer. I also wanted to be a journalist, a diplomat, a teacher or work for a fashion magazine. I was kind of a nerd. I was always an overachiever and always had a million things going on: student government, school plays and musical theater, dance productions, after school jobs (I worked at ‘Express’ and got REALLY good at folding jeans). I took German, French and Spanish in school and I lived abroad in Switzerland my junior year of high school. Although part of me wanted to go to an art school for college, it didn’t even really seem like an option at the time–my family and friends all expected me to go the academic route, and so I guess I expected that of myself as well. I applied early decision to go to Yale and didn’t get in. It was the first time in my life that I gave something my all and it didn’t come through. Up until then, I had really believed that if I worked REALLY, really hard at something that I could always achieve it. It was a good lesson to learn, and a good time to learn it.
I ended up at UCLA as a World Arts and Cultures major. By this time I knew I wanted to work in the arts, and I knew I wanted to travel–but I didn’t know much else. I didn’t know if I wanted to work in the performing arts or the visual arts, and to put things in perspective for some of my younger readers, I got my first email account my freshman year of college and way back then we spent more time in the libraries than on the internet. I actually remember when one of the librarians at the UCLA research library introduced me to google. Ya, I know.
I worked through most of college. I was a cocktail waitress, I worked selling tickets at a local theater, I was a hostess at a fancy Italian restaurant and I sometimes got little modelling gigs which, along with my academic scholarship (and my parents) helped pay for all my travel.
My junior year of college I studied abroad in Italy and while I was there I focused on fashion and communication courses. I did a lot of drawing, concept development, photography (back then it was still all about film–I loved learning to develop the film myself and watching the photos appear like magic onto the paper. ) I’m fearless when it comes to speaking foreign languages (and yes, sometimes I made a fool of myself) so I picked up Italian very quickly. I met some amazing people (some of whom are still my closest friends) and I decided to move back to Italy after graduation. I also made a conscious decision to not pursue the performing arts as a career. That world was too weird and too gross. I worked with enough 32-year-old waitress/actress/singer/models to know how difficult a path it was, too.
I went back to UCLA after Italy and decided to minor in Italian and for my thesis project in the World Arts and Cultures program, I treated L.A. as though I was on my year abroad. I loved the fact that when traveling, every weekend was an excuse to see a different part of the world and go somewhere I had never gone before, so I treated L.A. like I was a foreigner. My friend Dana and I started a magazine called Infinity Mag where we documented these adventures. It was through this work that I first started to really get good on computers as it was a whole huge DIY project. I found that I really enjoyed doing layouts and picking out fonts and things and my interest in graphic design was sparked.
After graduation I did move back to Italy. My sister Faith joined me there and we signed up to go to the fashion institute called Polimoda (FIT’s sister school) mostly so that we could stay in the country and work part-time legally. I found a super random job at a literary agency where my boss blew cigar smoke in my face and stared down my shirt as I did translations, dictations and some minor graphic design and web design work (that I taught myself how to do along the way).
Once my sis and I finished fashion school and discovered that we wanted to stay on in Italy, we decided to become entrepreneurs. With the help of my boyfriend at the time (who is a lawyer) we started an Italian business and hired ourselves as the CEOs in order to get our papers. Miraculously, this worked and we got two-year renewable visas to stay in Italy. We started to design a line of purses and get them made in a town nearby to Florence where all of the high-end Italian brands like Gucci get their bags made. (And no, we had no clue what we were doing, really) but we decided that we needed an atelier space when we stumbled upon a very small cheap space not too far from our homes that happened to have a window onto the street. So, we looked at each other and were like “a boutique!” and we both saw stars in our eyes. We both had always collected vintage and we decided to open a shop with vintage and upcycled wares–lots of stuff that we carried at first were things we made ourselves or clothing and accessories that other students from Polimoda made. Soon we also began to stock objects and small furniture pieces. Every time we came back to California we would take extra suitcases of American vintage stuff back with us–especially vintage T-shirts which were a hot commodity.
We started cutting up the T-shirts–mostly to make the ones that were too huge, smaller. And the cut-up shirts always flew off the shelves. Sometimes we even had lines of ladies waiting to get shirts custom cut. It was then that the idea for a T-shirt cutting manual was born. Faith and I called up some friends from fashion school, told them our idea and they were down. We were doing a trade show at the end of the month and wanted to have the books done by then so we all camped out in the living room–we took turns (wo)manning the shop, drawing, cutting up shirts, writing the instructions and scanning in the projects until “99 Ways to Cut, Sew, Trim and Tie your T-shirt into Something Special” was born. My parents loaned us $5,000 for the project and we got it printed at a local printer–made it cloth-bound and beautiful and printed out the first 200 copies.
A month later at the trade-show we presented the book with the help of a Collective that we started made up of bunch of our former fashion school friends. They helped us to do live demos of cutting up the T-shirts. We wore nurses hats and called ourselves The Style Clinic. People were into it. We sold out of the 200 copies of the books in two days. We got offered a small publishing deal from a local publisher and we got picked up for a few features in some big Italian magazines–including a 5-page spread in Italian Glamour.
People started to call the store from far-off places looking for the book (from Japan to Australia) and after printing a second run, we would just send the books off one by one as orders came in (we did not even have a website for the books!) Finally we decided it was time to get a publisher to help with the book and sent it (blindly) to places like Pepin Press, Thames and Hudson and Taschen (all European publishers) to see if they could help us with distribution. Shockingly–two of the three publishers (the first two) got back to us with offers. We were THRILLED. We would be able to totally pay back our parents and have a little leftover, too.
It was at this time that my sis had the brilliant idea to get an agent. So that’s what we did and the New-York based agent ended up hosting a bidding war and she sold the book to a US publisher for almost ten times what our best European offer was. Crazy. Random House’s new craft inprint, Potter Craft bought the book. It was around this time that (after four years) we decided to close the store. As fun as it was to have a shop, it was tough economically. If she or I weren’t in the store, and we were paying someone to work there, we were losing money. It was also around this time that my sister got pregnant. There was a lot of buzz and excitement about the books (and of course the pregnancy) and we could barely even believe how it all came about. We were flown out to NY to be on NBC’s The Today Show, our book lept to #4 on Amazon and just a few months after the release of the book Random House commissioned book #2. We were also consulting with a few Italian fashion brands and taking trains back and forth to Milan really often. It was an exciting time…But things in my private life were a bit hectic. I was going through a tough break-up and needed a scene change. My new niece had arrived and Faith was a mom now. We were growing up and I felt like I needed to shake things up a bit. I decided that after almost seven years in Italy that I wanted to move to NYC. Plus, if any of you have ever lived in a foreign country, you may know this feeling–after a while I was just tired of being a foreigner and longed to come ‘home.’
When I moved to NYC I was shocked to find the huge DIY movement that was blossoming here. I literally had NO clue. We didn’t even have internet in our homes in Italy, let alone wireless. In NY there was Etsy and Readymade Magazine and tons of shops so similar to ours in Italy, and BLOGS! Woah! I moved into a loft with a couple of girlfriends in Williamsburg. I didn’t even know what a hipster was. I’m telling you I had never even heard the terminology. Ha! I had some serious catching up to do.
So I was in Brooklyn and looking for jobs, working on finishing up our 2nd book and dating a new L.A.-based American boy. It was a welcome change from Italy, but New York was also really tough. I found it to be expensive, kinda lonely and isolating. The winters were freezing the summers–hot and muggy. I got a job as the DIY editor of Venus Zine (a freelance job for a Chicago-based magazine), which was a really fun a great experience but really poorly paid. I continued to work on more books, did creative projects for a lot of other books and brands and began to pick up some graphic design jobs on the side, mostly friends and friends of friends doing business cards, simple websites and I started doing logos and things too.
I spent a ton of time at home in front of the computer and probably didn’t go out as much as I should have considering I was paying so much to live in one of the most incredible cities in the world. My sister Faith and her 10-month old daughter, Noa joined us in Brooklyn in the spring. They got a little place just a few blocks from our loft and we worked on some more creative projects together. We worked on a clothing collection, we did the Renegade and hosted workshops at Etsy and Madewell. There was a lot of buzz but not a lot of cash.
I started to fly out L.A. whenever I could to see my L.A. boy and after two years of back and forth and still not loving New York–I decided to move to back L.A. in 2008. Out here I started doing more graphic design work, I began developing brand identities for small companies and found a lot of work through word-of-mouth. I started consulting with lots of companies, helped open a boutique and start a fashion line. I even taught art and design to children one semester. I was working sometimes as art-director, sometimes as stylist, sometimes as graphic designer. I started my blog. I found an office space and had dreams of having the same kind of ‘collective’ vibe we had had in Italy, but it never really worked out that way. I found myself to be in front of the computer alone again, all the while being more and more passionate about interior design. My then ‘jungalow’ was featured in Apartment Therapy’s book of Small Cool Spaces and I started to take on small projects in interiors and styling and offering up these services to clients to build up my portfolio.
Blogging became really, really fun and I was waking up earlier and earlier to photograph, layout and style my posts. I learned a lot just by doing it every single day.
This was all going well but I was working 60 hour weeks and not making the same kind of money that my friends with full-time-jobs were making. So I decided that I wanted to try (for the first time in my life) a ‘full-time’ job. I joined a creative staffing agency and got offered a few jobs as art director for some super-random, super-corporate companies. The jobs were all really well-paid but not my vibe at all and so I waited until finally I was offered a job as Communications Director at the Woolly Pocket Garden Company. I took the job and it was awesome but tough. Start-ups are always exciting but challenging and I was not used to the 8-5 (which often turned into 8-7) work hours. I got home from work totally exhausted and basically ate dinner, watched some TV and went to bed. I woke up at 5:30AM every morning so that I could keep up with my blog and went on like this for as long as I could until I decided that the 8-5 life was not for me. The steady pay check was nice, but not everything.
At this time I got more interior design clients and began to take both decor and blogging more seriously. My blog following started to grow (I had already been blogging daily for over two years) and I realized that blogging and decor was really where my heart was. I got to do all of the things I have always been passionate about: fashion, writing, photography, interiors, vintage, thrifting, DIY and handmade–I got to do it on my own schedule, without a boss or a client dictating or imposing their vision on mine. I got to be a writer, a designer, and an editor. So I put all of my focus into these two things: decor and blogging.
Very shortly thereafter I got pregnant with Ida, got married to my L.A. boy, Jason and that’s where I am today. My days are pretty crazy. I blog first thing every morning. I wake up before Ida and Jason and do my post for that day. (If you were wondering if I schedule posts in advance I rarely do). I currently have three interior design clients that I’m working with and so I am often shopping for them, or going over to their homes to supervise, style or bounce off ideas. I have a couple of larger partnerships in the works with companies that are social-media related and that you’ll see here on the blog in the next month or two. I have plans in the pipelines for a small product line. I do styling work as it lands in my inbox. I also have two graphic design projects that I’m working on at the moment–both for friends because I’m not taking on graphic projects in general. I’m picky about the work I take these days–if I have any sense at all that the client is going to be needy, crazy, flaky or wishy-washy, I say no. If the client tries to bargain with my already reasonable prices, I *usually* say no. I’d rather work for free on a project I really love, than work for a little bit of money on something that’s annoying.
I’m always laying a ton of eggs, waiting to see which ones hatch. Sometimes they hatch, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they hatch years after I lay the eggs or when I least expect it.
The tools that I have found to be the most useful in getting where I am today have been:
-The ability to follow my heart
-Teaching myself how to use the Adobe Suite
-Teaching myself web design
-Being genuinely nice to people
-Being open and honest (with myself and others)
-Being open to collaborations, but also open to ending them when need be
-Verbal Communication skills (I think my early days doing theater really helped with this).
People often ask me if it’s better to just get a job or internship or to get more schooling. I guess my answer is that it really depends on what type of person you are–but if you have a basic degree already, I guess I would just go for the real-world experience. Theory is great but in this world (and economy) having basic skills that others don’t have (like being able to design a website) will always be in-demand. When all else fails one can always lean on computer skills to make extra money on the side.
Some mottos I like to live by:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Also remember that for every success that I’ve had that you see here on the blog, I’ve had twenty failures. For every press mention I get, there were ten outlets that passed on the story. For every book I’ve done, there were five really great proposals that were shot down by the publishers. When I got rejected from Yale, I was working on my UCLA application that afternoon. Persistence is HUGE and always listening and being open to learn from your failures is EVERYTHING. Also, when people ask me what I do for a living, my answer is always directly tied to the type of work I want to be doing MORE of–so some days I’m a stylist, some days I’m an interior designer, some days I’m a blogger, some days I’m all three. This is officially my longest blog post ever. Yeesh. Thanks Ida for sleeping in! And thank you all for listening. I hope this answers some (or all) of your questions. If you have more questions, feel free to chime in below!
Have a great weekend, friends!