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EXCLUSIVE STORY

EXCLUSIVE
STORY
BY ROCHELL "E"
FASHION STYLIST, EDITOR, and DIRECTOR
MARY ALICE STEPHENSON




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 Renee Zellweger.  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?"

Mary 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 world."  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. 

-" About 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 the Fendi dress.]

Mary 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 The Gazillion Bubble Show into 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."

I asked Mary Alice: "What was the time limit in choosing a theme and an actress for the Harpers Bazaar following issues?"

Mary Alice 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.

Mary 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 I’ve done.  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 high!"

[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 feel one-of-a-kind!"

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