I had the privilege of interviewing one of the
most sought after style experts in the fashion
industry. Her name is Mary Alice, the
contributing fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar
Magazine; she is one of the brilliant
individuals whose ideas are behind some of the
captivating and glamorous covers. Some of
the covers Mary Alice worked on featured Britney
Spears, Supermodel Gisele
Bündchen , Drew
Barrymore, Beyoncé Knowles, Jessica Biel, Halle Berry,
Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and
Mary Alice’s work is not limited to
fashion magazine covers, she is also the
National Fashion Ambassador for
the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In our conversation
she was very frank and genuine about her 17
years of work in the fashion industry. She spoke
about her career in explicit details and
explained that you can do it all, you
don’t have to cram your talents into a box, and
not to listen to naysayers, and never take ‘no’
for an answer.
I am honored to share this interview with
Mary Alice and share her thoughts and insight
with aspiring fashion stylists, editors, and to
the fashion world.
I started out by asking Mary Alice this
question: "Tell me about how you started working
for Vogue and how that flourished in becoming
Harper's Bazaar's fashion editor?"
Alice corrected me immediately:
"Well, I’m not Harper's Bazaar’s fashion
editor. I am the contributing fashion
editor at Harper's Bazaar, as well as a style
consultant and commentator.
My first job was working for Vogue as an
assistant editor for Anna Wintour."
Mary Alice continues to tell me, "I just
worked extremely hard in the industry assisting
world renowned editors doing shoots all over the
After leaving Vogue she continued to work
with iconic fashion magazines, such as, Marie
Claire, Allure, and Harper's Bazaar.
"I really just paid my dues and slowly,
but surely, rose up through the ranks and became
fashion director of Marie Claire and then the
fashion director of Harpers Bazaar."
After years of hard work Mary Alice
discovered what would work for her.
2003 I decided that I wanted to stay on contract
with BAZAAR to be a contributing fashion editor,
which I am today. I decided I wanted to blend
all the things I love about fashion."I have my
own business as a style expert. I do a lot of
consulting with designers and with Fortune 500
companies. Last summer I was the spokesperson
for Sarah Jessica Parker’s perfume and I also
have worked with MAC Cosmetics, and Estee Lauder Brands. I commentated for CNN Anderson Cooper
360, the Wall Street Journal, The New York
Times, and the Boston Globe. I recently did
Good Morning America.
Really for me, it’s the business of
fashion in every element from behind the scenes,
consulting with designers, getting their fashion
shows ready, in front of the cameras talking
about fashion, and conveying that to the world.
Now, more than ever, fashion has to have an
emotional connect to the consumer."
So I have my own business and do most of my
projects outside of Bazaar. But still contribute
to BAZAAR when they call me.
"I do a
lot of covers." [I was dying to know who?]
"I did the cover with Halle Berry with the
bubble theme. I did the cover with Sarah
Jessica Parker for March’09, and the cover with
Scarlett Johansson for February’09."
It was very interesting to listen to Mary Alice
talk about her career in explicit details.
Mary Alice went into explaining the
difference between being a stylist and being
more than just a stylist.
“For almost 17 years, I was running fashion
departments and creative directing photo-shoots. I love clothes and styling, but that is
only one element of what I do. It is a
difference between a fashion stylist and a
fashion editor. A stylist is responsible
for coming to shoot and styling on the red
carpet, they're just responsible for the
clothes. When you’re a fashion editor or
fashion director you run a huge fashion
department, you create, conceptualize, produce
and direct photo shoots all over the world."
I was intrigued in knowing the process,
concepts, and the ideas of Harpers Bazaar’s
cover shoots. I asked Mary Alice:
"How do you come up with the
concepts for fashion spreads and photo shoots;
particularly Halle Berry’s?" [I actually loved
Alice explains: "Actually you have a limited
amount of time and sometimes it’s a combination
of Editor-in-Chief, Glenda Bailey, who is really
involved in the ideas, and sometimes I bring
ideals to her. For example the "bubble
cover" I have a 4 year old son, he and I went to
a Bubble Show on Broadway and it was literally
like bubbles floating everywhere on Broadway.
I thought, 'Oh. My God, this could be an amazing
photo shoot!' BAZAAR, told me that I would
be shooting Halle Berry, so I pitched the bubble
idea and they loved it! And Halle loved
it! We just brought the team from
Gazillion Bubble Show
the studio for Harper’s Bazaar shoot."
Mary Alice continued to explain in detail the
covers of Harpers Bazaar, and how she comes up
with these brilliant ideas for cover shoots:
"There are two covers for Bazaar, the
subscriber’s covers, which are more beautiful,
are less commercial and more beautiful.
The subscriber’s cover for Sarah Jessica Parker
in front of the Brooklyn Bridge was literally…
Ha,-ha- ha, as she was interrupted, she laughed,
and said: "We’re looking at your site right now
as I’m talking." "Do you like it?" I
asked: 'Your opinion means a lot!"
"No, I like it! It’s nice!" (Mary Alice
was talking about EFM’s website).
Mary Alice continued:
"The March Issue of Sarah Jessica Parker:
I was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. I live
in Brooklyn Heights, I took a photo of the
Brooklyn Bridge and I said, 'This will make a
great cover'; I pitched the idea to Glenda
Bailey at Harper’s Bazaar and she loved it!
Sometimes the ideas can come from the editor,
BAZAAR, or the actress, but for me I’m quite
known for ideas and wanting to do photo-shoots
that are outside of the studio, and that’s how
we come up with those ideas."
asked Mary Alice: "What was the time limit in
choosing a theme and an actress for the Harpers
Bazaar following issues?"
answered: "Well, Bazaar that’s not
my domain. They say we’re going to shoot this
actress and I say great. As a contributor for Bazaar and
I am able to work with other magazines and other
entities, for example, in the last Oprah issue, I did a
huge fashion spread for Oprah. We met with 4 young
women and their moms for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I like to balance all the things I do with high fashion,
the actresses that I style, and the consulting I do,
along my charitable contributions. There are so many
people in the world who are inspired by fashion, so as a
fashion editor, it was really fun for me to do the
project with Oprah."
I must say that I was quite moved by the video.
The mothers and daughters either had cancer,
heart disease, or cystic fibrosis. It shows you
that it doesn’t matter what field you work in,
there are ways of giving back to those who are
in need or have a wish. The ladies wished
to be supermodels for a day. Many celebrities
and supermodels have participated with Mary
Alice and the Make- A -Wish foundation.
Alice went on to explain: "Yesterday I did a
wish with Roberto Cavalli. He designed a
young lady’s prom dress for me. This
project, more than any other editorial shoot,
was better than any high fashion magazine that
You know, for me, I have been able to
turn my dream into a big business on many levels
and now as spokesperson for many people, and
many brands. I do a lot of media, and
people ask me, ‘why don’t you just do that,’ for
me I love to do it "all." I love to style
actresses for the red carpet, but I love to
commentate at the Oscars. I love to style
Harpers Bazaar shoots, I love to consult with
designers, and style for fashion week."
With up-and-coming stylists and editors in mind,
I asked Mary Alice: "There are so many young ladies who want to be
the next Mary Alice or Rachael Zoe; what business advice
can you give to aspiring fashion stylists and editors?"
Being candid, Mary Alice said:
"Never take 'NO' for an answer. Be an original; don't
conform to other people's expectations of what they
think you should be. BE YOURSELF! I've had a lot of
people tell me and try to figure out, ‘why is she doing
all that’ or ‘she should focus on that'. The only
person that's going to tell me what I should do is
‘ME.’" I believe that when you're starting out it's
really important to have a focused point of view because
I spent basically a good 15 years focusing on being
a fashion editor of a magazine. I paid my dues and
learned so much during that time, I became successful at
that, and then it was easier for me to now branch out
and do many things. So basically, you can have all
these ideas, but I would focus on first getting one
done, if you're just starting out in the business. And
then as you start to become really known for that strong
point of view, you can take that point of view and
branch it out into other arenas.
The truth of the matter is, you have to
follow also what you're good at;
for me it was natural having cameras
following me, and explaining and talking about fashion
in front of the camera, because I felt comfortable doing
it. Set your standards
[I was very surprised with what Mary Alice told me
next.] "I didn't know anyone in fashion; I
grew up in Michigan… Birmingham, Michigan.
I did not have friends or family connected to
fashion. I was not a socialite. I
was 'obsessed' with Harpers Bazaar and Vogue.
I would go every weekend and try to get in front
of the people that I most admired in the
business, and finally I was lucky enough to get
people to see my drive and my passion. I would
not take 'no' for an answer. I just kept
moving. ‘What do you mean I can't do
this?’ ‘Let’s see how we “can” do this!’
My assistant is very much like that. She's
been with me now for… (She stops and asks
her assistant how long? Assistant says,
almost three years).
People that I employ and that I surround myself
with believe in the same thing and their love
for fashion and everything about it. You
really have to be good. You really have to
be inspired by what you do, because you have to
dedicate your life to it. You're not going
to be successful if you do it half-assed.
Sometimes you suffer, but it's finding the
balance. It’s important to find a fashion
outlet in your area, and once you've conquered
that, then you move on. Don't be scared by
people telling you,’ you can't’. You can't
always focus on you can't, because ‘you
can’. I’m living proof of that! I've never
had any help in any way with my career, I've
done it all "myself" and I was not like the
person that looked the part or knew people or
had famous friends. It was sheer
dedication, belief in hard work and myself.
Also, learning by, and surrounding myself with the
best! I think that, as an editor I got
better and better by watching and working with
and assisting great editors."
At this point recovering from the surprise I
asked Mary Alice: "Any predictions for spring
and summer 2010?"
Mary Alice went on to explain:
"Well, I think that we're just seeing resort
shows right now and I think that no one wants to
be dressed in basics right now. If you're
going to spend money on clothes, which we're
trying to get people to do (laughs), clothes
really have to have personality and sparkle and
be special. So I think moving forward,
it's not going to be about; if you're going to
spend your money on luxury and if you're going
to spend your money to buy new clothes, those
clothes better be special and feel unique.
I think each designer is going to limit
what they put forth this spring and set forth
tighter collections that feel more unique, and
more special. You're going to have a lot
less great one-hit wonders. You're going
to have clothes that are special with
embellishments and metallic's. It's going
to be things that you can wear throughout the
season because designers are realizing that
people are not spending money every single
season like they did before. When they do buy
something, they want it to be and feel special
and season-less. So it's not like a whole
bunch of crazy over the top trendy clothes.
It's classics that feel special, and better made
with luxurious fabrics and fantastic colors that