The fashion industry is a global enterprise, spanning from New York to London to Tokyo—and back again. Equally as international are the careers of those working within the industry. Maria Divaris is one of those jet-setting fashion professionals, having moved from one fashion epicentre to another: New York to London then to L.A, for good measure.
Equally as envious as her geography is Maria's career path. She has been a stylist, writer and television presenter that has worked with numerous high-profile clients like Cartier and Diesel; she also worked at Allure before becoming the Fashion Editor at Marie Claire. Maria's fashion publishing career began very cleverly, by sending her portfolio to Anna Wintour.
Currently Maria is a HYPERLINK stylist for Cloutier Remix, one of L.A.'s premier styling agencies for the last couple decades.
We recently sat down with Maria to pick her stylish brain, and the result was some tangible advice about how to break into the industry and then succeed:
What inspired you to get into the industry?
I’ve always been addicted to fashion. I made my first magazine at the age of 8 on the playground and started my own line with a friend at the age of 10. I have collected every issue of Vogue since the age of 13. As a child most kids have posters of Johnny Depp (or this day and age Robert Pattinson) on their walls but I chose to wallpaper my walls, floor to ceiling, with inspirational tears from magazines. Everything from the latest Prada ads to Grace Coddington’s epic collaborations with Arthur Elgort and Steven Meisel. I did exchange trips to Europe every year from the age of 15—something that inspired me to see style from different perspectives, and to want to be more experimental and unique with my own style. At university I studied psychology and minored in French and photography. Photography taught me to see the world in images; my photographs were always very clearly fashion focused. I began to style my friends and create fashion stories with my photographs. After reaching out to my idols in the fashion industry I was fortunate enough to get a very positive response and started working at Conde Nast straight out of university. It happened very quickly and seamlessly for me, but, I think I had complete tunnel vision for fashion from a very early age.
What type of education did it take to get you where you are today?
As I mentioned previously, I didn’t study fashion in school. I studied photography and psychology. I think you learn facts and history in school but you don’t learn how to be a stylist or a fashion editor in a classroom. Taste is something you are born with, everything else is learned as you go. Being on-set, going on appts, being out there and living it is the best education. I would never hire an assistant straight out of school but I would hire an intern or someone who has interned. Again, I was fortunate; I was able to assist right away without any technical experience. I had great bosses and peers who showed me the ropes. I also believe that general enthusiasm and ease with people is a significant part of the job.
How has your career path progressed over the years and where do you hope it will go?
I am very fortunate for the career I've had. I have been a fashion editor at a major magazine in New York. I have been a freelance stylist in London and now in Los Angeles. I loved the structure and focus of being at a magazine because it allowed me to understand the importance of a brand and staying true to it and your customers, but now I get to enjoy being a part of different brands every day. One day I can be styling a young starlet, the next doing an editorial for a magazine, and the next a campaign or catalogue. Every day is different and I get to flex my creativity by appealing to different aesthetics for each project I take on. I hope I will always have such variation in my work. Nothing ever gets stale or old and I hope to just always take on new challenges and continue to grow as a stylist.
What is your favorite part of working in the business?
Collaborating with other creative people. Photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, designers, creative directors and of course the talent whether they be a model, actor, musician or athlete it’s so inspiring to work with such incredible people. I am constantly learning and evolving. My eyes are forever being opened to new ideas.
What advice would you give to aspiring fashionistas?
Enthusiasm. It will take you everywhere. Love what you do, be passionate about it, and you will be great at what you do. Nothing done with love and soul is ever done poorly. Don’t get to big for your britches. There is always someone more important and better than you. Be grateful for where you are in your career and whatever you are doing at the moment--don’t get too ahead of yourself. People respond to a positive attitude and excitability. Do your research: study style.com during show season and create your own trend reports--try to absorb anything and everything fashion related. Finally, be resourceful. One of the most significant things I look for in an assistant is resourcefulness, the desire to problem solve--to find solutions to problems before they even become problems. Research and find out about new up-and-coming designers, start making your own contacts so that you are always in a position to contribute new information.
What schools would your company be most likely recruit new hires from?
Any of the fashion/art schools. FIDM, FIT, Parson’s. But you don’t necessarily have to have studied fashion; you just have to have a passion for it and be willing to do things like be an intern to learn the ropes.
Internships are honestly the best way to get into the fashion world, to get noticed, learn the ropes and meet the right people who will be in a position to hire you.
Do you think there is an overall increasing or decreasing need for people in the fashion and style industry?
Regardless of the tough economy I do believe there is an increasing need for people in the fashion industry. Everyone has to get dressed in the morning so clothing will always be an essential, and personal style will always be desirable. Furthermore, with so much focus on image and press these days’ celebrities are leaning on stylists and image consultants to help create original looks and brands for themselves. Everything needs a polished finish--whether it’s a car commercial, a fashion campaign or a red carpet appearance. Gone are the days of dressing from one’s own closet, as the powers that be are now leaning on people in the fashion industry to ensure their product/client gets the right imaging--to stand out and get them noticed. Also, with the blogosphere growing more and more influential there is so much opportunity to share one’s style and perspective by creating your own blog – it’s a great and inexpensive way to get noticed in the industry!
What designer(s) or brand(s) influenced you the most?
There are so many amazing inspirational designers out there. I love Nicolas Ghesquiere from Balenciaga for always pushing the envelope, for setting trends and being at the forefront of fashion every season. He always starts fresh and although he references the archives from the house of Balenciaga he always does it with a very modern and futuristic twist by playing with innovative silhouettes and fabrics. Every collection is a surprise and a moment of genius. Another legend we lost far far too soon is Alexander McQueen. He too is an envelope-pusher and a true artist--from the inside out. His runways shows were theatrical and masterful. He understood that fashion comes from fantasy and his collections were inspirational, mind blowing even! He didn’t just create clothes, he ignited something in his audience by taking everything to another level. By not just suggesting and inspiring but by so clearly illustrating it. Finally, I have to mention those GREAT American brands: Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Donna Karan. All of these brands are so brilliant at knowing their customer and understanding brand loyalty, and while every season of giving us something fresh they still stick to their core. Their customers will always be loyalists because they are the designer’s inspiration. It’s always so important to understand branding and who is their consumer. These iconic American design labels, along with amazing European brands such as Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana never abandon their loyalists and yet always remain fresh and modern.
Which skills do you consider to be most critical for a career in fashion?
Enthusiasm, resourcefulness, passion, a thick skin, a strong work ethic and a great eye.
What is the hardest part for you about working in the industry?
You will always have doors closed in your face. For every person that says yes there will be 10 that say no. This industry is built on opinions and ideas and yours aren’t always going to be the ones that get the recognition. Being in a creative industry means that your job isn’t what you do, it’s a large part of who you are. That said, you need to understand its still an industry and you have to play the game of being a people pleaser as much as being a stylist; so that means making sure everyone around it happy… the photographer, the creative director, the talent, the publicist, the manager, the assistant publicist, the mom of the talent--it’s a balancing act and the key is making sure everyone is happy while trying to lead everyone in a direction that fits most succinctly with your vision.
What perks do you receive working in the fashion industry? Free clothes? Travel? Parties?
Sample sales are great and the gifts and parties are fantastic… But I think the greatest perk is the traveling I have gotten to do. Going to Russia and having access to some of the oldest museums and backstage at the Bolshoi ballet while scouting locations, shooting a Belle de Jour story in stunning hotels in Paris, St. Barts and the pink sands in Harbour Island in January when everyone else is stuck in the snow! The traveling has been an amazing perk (particularly when budgets weren’t as tight) and working with so many amazing and talented artists…
Check out more interviews at The Fashion-Schools.org Interview Series.