How She Got There: Caroline Vazzana, Founder and Author of ‘Making it in Manhattan’

Name: Caroline Vazzana
Job Title and Description: Fashion writer, editor and stylist, social media influencer, and author
College Name/Major: Albright College with a dual major of Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising
Website: Making it in Manhattan
Twitter Handle: @CVazzana  
Instagram Handle: @cvazzana

With the 20th anniversary of Sex and the City (SATC), we’re all looking for the next Carrie Bradshaw to give us the fashion and career inspo that we’ve been missing in our lives. As an expert fashion industry professional, Caroline Vazzana has worked for publications like Marie Claire, Teen Vogue and InStyle. Since working, writing and editing for a myriad of magazines, Vazzana has founded a fashion and lifestyle website, Making it in Manhattan. Most recently, Vazzana has channeled her industry expertise into her first book Making it in Manhattan: The Beginner’s Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the World of Fashion, which helps guide other aspiring professionals through the fashion industry. Published by Skyhorse Publishing on Aug. 21, Vazzana’s book has already received praise from Betsey Johnson, Christian Siriano and Nicole Miller—and we’re confident that her book would be Carrie Bradshaw-approved as well.

To help us celebrate the 20th anniversary of SATC, Vazzana shared some of her advice about making it in the fashion industry.

Her Campus: So what does your current job entail and I know you have to look outside of ourselves this can be a long one?

Caroline Vazzana:  I mean I definitely do a lot, which is so fun because no two days are the same and it’s never boring. I’m a fashion designer and I write for my site, Making it in Manhattan, and I started that back in 2016 when I was still working full-time at InStyle magazine. So, on a given day I could be writing for that or meeting with my writers and managing editor and planning the editorial calendar. I could be styling something specific for the site and editing content. I’m also a social influencer on Instagram. I’m also working with a lot of different brands on campaigns and brand collaborations. On any given day, I could be out and about shooting. I shoot pretty much every day, which is pretty fun. And I write so much, especially with my book. I’m always running around the city meeting with different brands and different designers. And I do styling as well for some small clients. I’ve been styling more so before I started my whole career as an influencer. I was styling young celebrities. But it’s funny. As I see my career change and the transition I’m in right now, I find more so that I’m styling myself. So, brands will approach me to be in a campaign, and I’ll ask them, ‘What do you want me to wear?’ And they tell me ‘we want you to style yourself, because you have a very unique sense of style, so we want you to dress yourself.’ So, editing, writing, styling, appearing in images, so I do a wide range of things.

HC: That’s amazing that it just goes full circle because you’ve styled so many celebrities and other influencers, and, now, you’re working to style yourself. You’re basically your own stylist.

CV: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I never thought that it would come to this, like ‘oh no, Caroline, now you’re using what you learned as a stylist to style yourself.’ It’s really fun actually. Sometimes, when I have red carpet events and stuff like that...I had one this past fall where I was really, really dressed up in black tie, and I was actually featured on Vogue.com for best dressed. And I had people asking me, ‘Oh, who styled you? Do you have a stylist?’ And I was like, ‘No, I just dressed myself.' So it’s really fun.

HC: What is the best part of your job?

CV: I think the best thing is just the freedom—being that I’m my own boss and I get to do so many different things, no matter what it might be. I didn’t really have total freedom-freedom, I just really pushed myself. I think sometimes when you’re working for a bigger brand, sometimes you might have a really creative idea but sometimes you have to pull yourself back a little bit, or hold back a little bit because it might not be on-brand for what the company is doing. With what I get to do, I get to fully push myself and be so creative all the time, which I really love.

HC: What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

CV: My first job right out of college, I worked at Teen Vogue. At first, I was hired as a part-time assistant actually in the marketing department. The way I went about getting it was when I graduated, I just was so determined. I knew that I wanted to work at a magazine, so I was applying everywhere and anywhere. I had figured out what the email format was at the time for Condé Nast. So, I just kept buying magazines and emailing every single person in the masthead. Or I was going on LinkedIn, and I was looking up who worked at Teen Vogue and just emailing all the people there. Selena, one of the people I found on LinkedIn, and I emailed her. She, who later became my first boss, got my resume, and not everyone had answered so far but she was one of the people that did. When I’d emailed her, I had emailed her with all my certificates and everything. The summer before that, I had been an intern at Marie Claire magazine, and she was an intern at Marie Claire as well—but not the same summer. So we never met and never overlapped, but because of my resume, she immediately looked at it and was like, ‘Oh this girl interned at Marie Claire too. I know what a good experience that is, and how much you really learn working there.’ So that’s why she emailed me back. In her email, she just wrote, ‘Thanks for reaching out. We both interned at Marie Claire.’ She told me there was nothing open at the time, but she’d be in touch if something arises. A lot of people say that, so you don’t want to get your hopes up too much. But I was like, ‘Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.’

Then maybe a month later, I refreshed my inbox and, funny enough, had an email from her. There was an opening for a part-time assistant who’s going to be in the marketing department to help out with Teen Vogue’s back-to-school Saturday events. It was these fashion shows that Teen Vogue used to put on at different malls, so they needed someone to pretty much coordinate all of the fashion shows and all of the travel for the editors that were attending the shows and stuff like that. I was so eager. I was like, ‘I will literally do anything.’ I wanted to work at a magazine, especially within Condé Nast, so bad that I’ll mop the floors--I’ll do whatever. So, I emailed back, and I was like, ‘Yes. I’d love to come in. I’ll be there.” And we had the interview, and then the when had the second interview. In the second interview, I met with her boss. In the interview, I said something to her like, ‘I could literally start tomorrow if you need me.’ Just to make sure she knew that I was extremely available and extremely eager. Maybe an hour after I left the interview, I got a phone call, and they said, ‘Okay. Can you start tomorrow?’ The rest is really history. I did that job for maybe two months, and then a position opened to be the assistant to the fashion director. I really wanted to work in the fashion department--that’s where my heart was and everything. So I was eager and I went and interviewed for that job within the company. It was definitely easier now that I had already been in the company. I went and I interviewed for that, and I ended up securing that position and working as her assistant. So, both of those were kind of my first jobs out of school.

HC: That’s incredibly inspiring that basically your hunger for being in the industry drove you to get that opportunity.

CV: Yeah, I literally knew no one. I had absolutely no connections. No one in my family has ever worked in fashion. I don’t have an Aunt or an Uncle or a neighbor. I knew absolutely no one. I just wanted it so badly that I knew, whatever I had to do, I was going to do it to make it happen. Looking back, I’m really thankful that I was so driven and persistent. In the moment, I didn’t really think about things like that. I just thought, ‘This is all I want.’ And it was that passion that really helped me land the job.

HC: Do you have any words of wisdom for college students that they can apply to during their own dream career search?

CV: From my own experience, I’d say stay persistent, don’t give up, don’t get discouraged. I know it can be very hard and stressful and even heartwrenching when you go through the interviews, and you don’t get the job. I think it’s so important not to give up, not to get discouraged and not to give up on your dreams. There’s a saying that the moment you’re about to give up is right when you’re about to get that big break sometimes. So, just stay with it. I always also say that ‘no’ just means not right now. No isn’t a final answer. Say you’re applying for a job at Vogue, and you go through the interview process, then they come back and they’re like, ‘No, we’re going in a different direction.’ But within a year’s time, you’re going to have more experience and you’re going to have better knowledge of the industry. So, if you go back and you apply for another job within the company, they could end up hiring you. So, no just means not right now. I even apply that to what I do now with brand collaborations and partnerships and things like that. I think that’s something to really keep in mind as you grow into your career. It’s important to know that a company might say no to you now, but in a couple of months or even a year that brand could be paying you for a partnership. You just really never know.

HC: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice from past bosses or mentors that you find most valuable?

CV: I guess I have two pieces. One is from one of my old bosses at Teen Vogue. She didn’t actually say this to me, she said it to one of my coworkers. It was when one of my coworkers, who was an assistant and had just gotten promoted to an editor, and she was very overwhelmed at first because she was still trying to do her old assistant duties and take on her editor duties. My boss went up to her and was like, ‘You’re an amazing person. You’re a great worker, but to be a good boss, you need to learn how to delegate work.’ That’s something that, even now in my career, I’ve always held onto because I think it’s really so true.  As a boss, you need to know what’s most important for you to be focusing on. Even if you’re an assistant and you have an intern, that’s a good way to look at it as well. You need to think what’s most important for you and what can you trust someone else to do that you can just oversee. I think that’s really important in terms of time management and things like that.

Another great piece of advice that I’ve held onto with me forever is actually something that my sister once said to me. It was when I was, I think, a sophomore in high school, and I used to be very introverted and shy. I was never really super outgoing in high school, but I used to be far shy. One time I was talking to my older sister, and she was so outgoing and had so many friends, and I asked her, ‘How can I be more outgoing like you?’ She just said to me, ‘Well, think about it. What do you really get out of being shy? You don’t make new friends. You don’t have new experiences. What do you get out of it?’ And it really stuck with me to push myself to be more extroverted and to push myself to get out of my shell. I even apply it now to networking because I think a huge part of my job is networking. Sometimes I’ll walk into an event where I literally know nobody, but I make it a point to try to meet new people and to talk to others and network. I think that’s something that really stuck with me. I think that anyone can really hold onto this even as they’re going into college as a freshman or starting a new job or even if you’re about to go into high school. Just think and try to break out of your shell. Try to meet new people. You never know what interaction with one person could lead to. It could lead to a job down the road. That’s just something that I tell people. I love that piece of advice.

HC: Definitely. I think that’s very applicable to different stages in life and as well as different vocations, like you said.

CV: I think that really goes across any career. I think that really can apply to anything.

HC: What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

CV: I’m very like, my mistakes are what led me to where I am now--I always think like that. Even if I made a mistake or mess something up, I try to say that’s what led me to where I am now. If I had done one thing differently in my past, I might not be here. So, I try not to think of anything as a mistake. If I could maybe go back and refocus something, it would maybe go back it would be maybe to start learning and focusing on social media and digital sooner. I really did not know the impact it would have on our industry. I remember, I downloaded Instagram. I was an intern and I was 19-years old, and I just thought it was some fun tool to just share images of friends. So, I didn’t really view it as this business marketing tool. I kind of wish that I had sooner. Who knows? It could’ve helped propel my career further. Then again at the same time, everything happens for a reason. You’re where you are because you’re supposed to be there. I try not to focus on it too much.

HC: That’s a good motto to live by, I think, with a lot of things. What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

CV: I definitely think there have been many different moments. One recently, that has been like a really pinch me this cannot be real moment, is when I was working with my publisher to gather all of the endorsements for the back of my book. You’re supposed to reach out to people you’ve worked within the industry, people who know you and people who like you to just write an endorsement on why you should read this book. The endorsements we ended up getting from people I’ve worked with and people I’ve maybe just rubbed shoulders with, we got endorsements from people like Betsey Johnson, Nicole Miller, Cynthia Rally, Iris Amsel, Christian Siriano, just to name some of them. It was really so surreal to me. I just feel so humbled that these icons in the industry support me, and they want to see me succeed, and they support Making it in Manhattan. It really means so much to me. I’m so thankful for all of them. That’s been a really surreal moment because when I was gathering the endorsements and now that I look back at them, if my sixteen-year-old self could see this, she would just drop to the floor and pass out. I really am so humbled and so shocked by it all.

HC: It’s like a form of nostalgic success.

CV: It feels very, very surreal because I’ve wanted to work in this industry since I was ten, and I’ve loved fashion since forever. Even with certain designers, I can remember going on YouTube and watching their fashion shows. Betsey Johnson was really an idol of mine and why I wanted to go into this industry. And I have a close relationship with Betsey now. It’s things like that that are really so surreal. Also being involved in the influencer space, it gives me that opportunity to meet these people. If I was in a more corporate setting, I wouldn’t get the opportunity as much to rub shoulders with and meet all these incredible people.

HC: What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

CV: I look for someone who is okay working in a city that’s more fast-paced, in a little bit of a hectic and non-traditional environment. The assistant I have now, we just hired some summer interns and one thing I tell her to make sure that they’re aware of is that there’s really no set schedule. There’s no 9 to 5. There’s no black and white outline. We have a general outline of what we need to be doing, but as an influencer, a writer and a fashion person in New York City you never know what every single day can bring. So, I look for people who are hard workers who are proactive and take things upon themselves because I can only be in so many different places. If I have people on my team, who are thinking of things before I even think of them, it’s so helpful. I’m looking for people who are go-getters, people who are outgoing and ready to network and people who want to learn I think are so important too. I think that there’s a lot to be learned in this industry. I feel like, personally, I’m learning every single day. Just to have an intern who’s sincere and excited to learn is important. Just the ability to wear many hats is really important because you’re going to be doing many different things.

HC: I know the industry that you’re in, in general, changes with that drop of a hat. It’s better to be used to having a chaotic schedule so to speak.

CV: Literally just be ready for anything. Be flexible. It’s the night before I text you and I’m like, ‘Hey, I need you to cover an interview the next day or something like that.’ I think having someone who’s flexible and able to do so is really the greatest.

HC: What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

CV: I think every single day the industry is changing so much for influencers and editors alike. There’s really no rule book anymore. There’s no outline. I feel like in the old days, if you wanted to be a professional fashion editor, you did an internship, you did maybe several internships, then hopefully you were hired as an assistant and then you could move up. I think that old, traditional way is kind of gone. Nowadays, you just need to be ready to work really hard and come up with a unique idea. I think in terms of creating a blog or creating a website or building your Instagram, before you can start you should find your message and find your voice. Who are you and what do you stand for? I think that’s so important to think about before you start because there are so many amazing women out there who are beautiful and are well dress and who are already killing it in the field. If you’re going to start and get your foot in there, you need to ask yourself, ‘What am I going to bring to the plate?’ And then just being persistent, being creative, and not giving up will help because it’s very fast-paced what we do, but it’s so fun.  I have to pinch myself every day because this is my job and this is my career. So, be ready to work really hard, but also try to enjoy it as much as you can. I posted something yesterday on my Instagram—a reflective post about how so often in like we get caught up in the ‘what’s next’ rather than just enjoying the moment. You have to be ready to work hard and everything, but enjoy the journey, enjoy the ride and enjoy the adventure.

HC: What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most on a resume?

CV: On a resume, I first of all look for someone who has relevant experience, who’s maybe done a similar internship or even someone’s who’s held a job at a retail store or has even written for an online magazine or an online website, even a smaller one. I’m not saying they have to have written for Vogue or something. I look for someone with relevant experience. I also love a clean resume. Having worked in the editorial work, we love clean resumes...ones that you can just pull up, and there’s some nice white space. The information is easy to read. There’s good type font in front of you. For me, I’m not really going to judge anyone just from a resume. I like to, if I can, have an in-person meetup or a phone call. I love to hear someone’s voice and to hear their mannerisms. You only have maybe ten minutes in an interview, but I think someone who comes across as positive and passionate those two things that are really big to me.  Positivity and someone’s who’s passionate about this industry and who’s passionate about what I’m doing and my brand is really huge to me and will help determine if I’ll maybe hire you or not.