Our latest Marfa Muse is Stylist, Art Director & Consultant Des Lewis. With an impressive career predominantly at commercial magazine’s including Glamour, Marie Claire and InStyle for over 15 years, Des is now proud to be her own boss and in control of her work opportunities.
Des wears the Reversible Trench Coat in Olive in size Medium, near her home in London.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
I am a born and bred Londoner, a stylist, art director and consultant. I began my fashion career as an intern at iD magazine and soon became the assistant to the fashion director at that time, Edward Enninful (now editor-in-chief of British Vogue). I then went on to assist several freelance stylists before landing a job as the assistant to the fashion director, Vanessa Gillingham at Glamour magazine, (which at that time, was the biggest selling women’s magazine in the UK). My career trajectory has included roles at InStyle as shopping editor, returning to Glamour as fashion editor (mat cover) and then Marie Claire as senior style editor, before embarking on a freelance career almost 4 yrs ago. My day-to-day can be quite varied as I pivot between styling editorial shoots and campaigns, brand consultancy and art direction.
WHAT LED YOU TO WORKING IN FASHION?
My mother is and will always be the chicest woman I know. Growing up she was (and still is) always impeccably turned out. She grew up in the glamourous era when women would match their shoes with their bag and she still does it to this day. My mother seriously loves fashion, but being a single parent of two and not having much disposable income to splash out on clothes, she did the next best thing and would make her own (a skill and talent I so wish I had learned, along with cooking Caribbean food). Being around such creativity, I think subconsciously, it had quite an effect on me. I always felt like fashion was in my blood, but didn’t know how to get in or feel like working in the industry was an option. When I was growing up, styling wasn’t a job that was ever talked about at school, so although I was obsessed with and would pore over glossy fashion magazines, I didn’t know how to navigate a way in, and having not studied fashion either, consequently, my early path was pretty unconventional. Previous to my career in fashion I was a radio plugger at Parlopone Records (a subsidiary of EMI records) and randomly, I occasionally would have the opportunity to style a few of the artists, this is where I really caught the styling bug. I decided that I wanted to make that career change and pursue working in fashion, so I did.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR
For the most part, my styling career trajectory predominantly took place at commercial magazines. The step from assistant at Glamour to shopping editor at InStyle was when I was able to really hone my skills of editing both high street and luxury brands and develop my managerial skills. I was then given the incredible opportunity to return to Glamour to be acting fashion editor (maternity cover), this was such an exciting time for me as the role meant I was able to fulfil my dream of shooting main fashion stories. I then went on to land the position of Senior Style Editor at Marie Claire. I have now gone full circle and am freelance again, but this time around (unlike when I was a freelance assistant), I am the one in control of the work opportunities that I take on.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Career wise there is so much I am proud of. Firstly, as a Black woman to have forged a career within commercial magazines and taken up (a little) space in an industry where women of colour are few and far between. Secondly, to have made the the transition from being an employee to a freelancer and essentially being my own boss. Having worked at magazines for over 15 years it was pretty nerve wracking to make the leap, but it's a decision I don't regret. There are stressful moments during quiet periods when I wonder where the next job is coming from, but not knowing what opportunities are around the corner is also what makes it exciting.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS THINKING OF GETTING INTO SIMILAR ROLES AND GOING IT ALONE?
The fashion industry can be quite tough to navigate, so you have to develop somewhat of a thick skin to take the knocks and rejection (particularly as a freelancer) by not taking things too personally. There is a myriad of reasons for not getting a particular job or commission and I find the best way to deal with it is to focus on the next job and not put too much energy into something that is out of my control.
When you are your own boss, it is important to make sure your day has some sort of structure. Do have a plan of how you would like your career to progress (which clients you would like to work for etc) but also be flexible about how and when things are achievable. As a freelancer, every job is like an interview so you have to present your best self to clients if you want to be booked again. The industry is very small so building good relationships is key, your reputation is everything and I pride myself on being professional, diligent, kind with a good sense of humour.
It is ok to say no to jobs/projects if you don't feel they are of any benefit to you and do not align with brand ‘you’ or your values. Know your worth – this is a tricky one as rates of pay can vary greatly, but at least have a bottom line which you won't go below. Being freelance can be lonely so seek out colleagues and contemporaries within the industry and form a support network.
HOW DO YOU STYLE YOUR MARFA STANCE PIECE?
I’m a casual girl at heart and want my trench to be an everyday option, especially during that weather transition period of not cold enough for a coat but not warm enough to go without, so will be wearing my trench with my other wardrobe staples of jeans, cashmere sweaters (in autumn) or simple white tee (for spring) and trainers, boots or sandals. For a smart switch up I will pop it over tailored pieces.