What I Learnt At The David Jones Masterclass

Last week, I took a chance and entered a competition to win a spot to attend "The Fashion Project" - a Masterclass hosted by David Jones - and lo and behold, I actually won! With a panel of different views including blogger Margaret Zhang, PR phenomenon Montarna McDonald, designers Carmen Duigan and Leigh Hawkes, and stylist Kelvin Harries, it was a very inspiring Masterclass learning about how to make it in the fashion/creative industry. Above image by David Jones DJ STYLE.

The Fashion Project Masterclass

It’s crazy how much of a turn The 5 to 9 Life has been associated with fashion this year (and it’s only April!), but I have to admit, I’m loving every minute of it. I’m not fashion-obsessed by any means, but I do like fashion and like to partake in the trends every now and then – as long as I don’t lose my dignity.

Last week, I took a chance and entered a competition to win a spot to attend “The Fashion Project” – a Masterclass hosted by David Jones – and lo and behold, I actually won! So last Friday, myself and other winners (mostly young students and aspiring fashion bloggers) rode the elevator to Level 7 of the David Jones’ Elizabeth Street store.

The Fashion Project presented by David Jones

Hosted by David Jones’ buyer Donna Player, “The Fashion Project” was more or less, learning how to make it in the fashion industry. Our teachers of the day was a panel of distinctive characters in the Australian fashion industry including Margaret Zhang, Montarna McDonald and Kelvin Harries.

First to take the stage was Leigh Hawkes, creative director of House of Quirky which handles fun-loving labels Minkpink and Staple the label amongst a handful of others.

The Fashion Project - Leigh Hawkes

Hawkes was very confident approaching the podium in sparkly hot print boots to tell us her story. She was authentic and very positive. Starting off working for Sportsgirl, Hawkes soon landed a job on High Street in London, which then lead her to work for Calvin Klein in New York. WOW.

Eventually, she returned to Australia and started up House of Quirky. She was constantly telling us to connect with the customer which is of course, important when you’re designing for others; and to continuously learn the industry and absorb – two very key findings in Leigh’s speech. My favourite words from her however, was

“Explore your creativity. Be brave. Have an adventure and be curious.”

Life motto, anyone?

Up next was Carmen Duigan, Head Designer at Keepsake the Label, whom was a little bit disappointing as a speaker. Whilst she shared some insights into her personal experience, she wasn’t very engaging. She was nervous and pretty much read her entire speech. Reminded me of the days when we first learn about public speaking at school; to be honest, I couldn’t quite connect with her at all. Sad face. Oh well.

The Fashion Project - Carmen Duigan

The only male on the panel was Kelvin Harries (Creative Director and Stylist of David Jones) but he had an interesting and intriguing story to share. Harries started off as a (very fashionable) banker for ten years, but one day decided that he just could not see himself doing it every single day for the rest of his life (something I’ve heard and thought about one too many times), so he went for a job interview to be a stylist, told a lie here and there and got the job, kicking off his career.

Over the years, Harries has often been asked the same question by those who don’t work in the fashion industry – ‘What is a stylist?’

The Fashion Project - Kelvin Harries

Whilst he could never pin-point his answer into one sentence, he told us that his work included working on runway shows, editoral and advertising campaigns, collaborating with designers and art directors, working with hair and make-up, and in film and TV; being consultants, helping designers develop their range; blogging, and so much more. Phew!

In essence: “We are story-tellers, interpreters and collaborators. It is never a solo role, but we are only as good as the team we work with.”

To win a seat at the Masterclass, our entry answer was to propose a question that we would like to ask the panel. Whilst I don’t remember exactly what my answer was; it did revolve around what each person’s typical day was like.

Harries told us that a typical day simply did not exist – then proceeded to tell us what his last week was like. And he was so right. Every day was totally different: from designing and warehouse archiving at the beginning of the week to meetings, fittings, media showing and ad campaigns to complete the rest of the week. The point is, no two days are ever the same.

I look forward to that chapter in my life where no two days are the same for me. Inspiring stuff, Kelvin.

The Fashion Project - Kate Benson

Kate Benson (International Buyer at David Jones) spends four months of the year travelling the world attending various Fashion Week events and scouring the latest fashion trends, where her office is usually set up in her hotel room. Benson was also a nervous speaker, evident by so many umm’s in her presentation, but she gave us some great insights into the trends she’s been privy to in other continents. Think modern bohemian, floral, suede, fringing, statement denim, flares, textured white and kimono-inspired designs for this year.

The Fashion Project - Montarna McDonald

Having only created her business 12 months ago, Montarna McDonald (CEO of The Audience Agency) gave us the PR point of view for the Masterclass. Proving to be a clever cookie at an early age, McDonald told us that she started gaining experience at a young age – “When all of my friends were partying, I was interning at as many PR agencies as I can so when I graduated from uni, I already had 5 years of PR experience under my belt.”

The top 3 things she learnt that she shared were:
1. I didn’t make contacts. I made friends.
2. I wasn’t afraid to break the rules.
3. I lived for the industry.

The Fashion Project - Margaret Zhang

Last up to the panel was the person I was most looking forward to learning from – Margaret Zhang (Blogger/Writer/Creative Director for Shine by Three).

As a fellow blogger, I felt that I would be able to learn the most from her – and indeed I did. Having had everyone already say what she wanted to say, she decided to ‘freestyle’ her speech on the spot, which I think was a blessing in disguise because she really broke it down and gave it us straight; keeping it completely real, whilst providing an encouraging and supporting tone.

According to her business card, Margaret Zhang is a photographer, stylist, writer and creative director, but if you’ve ever heard her story, you’ll know she’s so much more than that. Starting her blog of pure art photography at the tender age of 16, Zhang has switched up the content of her blog over the past 5 years whilst also studying a Law degree full-time. Now, in her final year at Law school, Zhang told us that she had to constantly remind herself to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Zhang was a fresh, young and vibrant voice on the panel and because the audience was 95% students, what she said was very relatable. In saying that, not every 21-year-old has experienced what she has, and so for those who wanted to be in the same position that she is currently in, Zhang offered two important pieces of advice (which she proceeded to break down further):

1. Build your [personal] brand.
– Market yourself to your target audience.
– Learn the right skills to create content.
– Exclusivity = Engagement (‘Creating your own exclusive content is so important.’)
– Narrow your range of content per platform (‘Instagram is about your identity, Twitter is your personality, and Facebook is all about what makes people click.’)
– Focus your content on longevity.

2. Challenge existing structures.
– You know more than you think you do.
– You are never too old, too good, or to important to invest time in your personal brand.

Overall, a very inspiring and insightful event hosted by David Jones. Here’s hoping I can gain a place at next year’s Masterclass.

Words and photography by The 5 to 9 Life.
Front image provided by David Jones DJ STYLE.