How to make it in New York City

I took the kids to New York City for a week, and while Melissa was trying to figure out what to do with the kids for the day I was working, she came up with this idea that my seven-year-old son should do an internship with a stylist.

He wants to be a stylist. He talks about it all the time. And it’s hard for me because I’m so bad at dressing myself that he has actually reprimanded me: “Mom. That’s okay for the farm, but not for Boca Raton.”

So I thought we would just have this silly little day where a stylist shows my son a bit about her job. But really, I was blown away. The stylist Melissa contacted, LP Fashion Philosophy, is actually a girl/guy team: Erica Lavelanet and David Pena. And they set up a shoot with a photographer and makeup artists and model.

When we got there, I knew it was serious. The studio was in the trendiest part of Williamsburg and it was huge with hipster-grit and lots of natural light.

The spread of clothes and accessories was incredible. My son was in shock, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him shy, but it happened. He could see that this was special.

The shyness ended quickly when David showed him how to sort through the clothes to pick a look. And how to get wrinkles out of the clothes you want to use.

They explained that the shoot would do three different looks. So my son went to work on the first two assignments, thinking in terms of punk and glamour, and he gave his selections to the model, Kate Welsh, to try. And he found he has a penchant for accessories.

At first I thought we were just doing this  in a pretend way. But soon I realized that each person was really top-notch, and they would use this for their portfolio. Watching my son manage the model made me realize that they were treating him seriously and that made him more serious about his own work.

The makeup artist, Rie, did three changes of makeup that took about 30 minutes each. Kate said, from the chair she sat in for a very long time, that this was much faster than normal.

Rie was unfazed when my son gave directions like, “I think gold eyes would be good,”  or “Let’s do blue and green lips to match the blue necklace and green belt.” She made it all look good.

We spent a lot of time waiting, between makeup changes, so while my son watched everyone in action, I asked about their careers. To my son, everything was so fun and easy.

But I wanted to stress to him how hard it is to make it in New York in fashion.

Erica and David launched their business when they were in college together, so they had a jump start when they got to the city, which is pretty much the theme of everyone in the room. Erica said that the amount they have to work to succeed is tremendous. You have to love working in this industry because it’s such incredibly hard work, is what she told me.

Spencer Kohn was the photographer.

He started doing this when he was fifteen, taking photos for his family’s low-budget magazine, then he got an apprenticeship with a fashion photographer in New York City, and since he was only sixteen, his dad had to sign a release so he could see naked women.

I looked at Spencer’s portfolio and I was blown away. He impresses me for his artistic ability, but also, he is so much younger than everyone in the room and still be able to function as the person in charge. And of course, he’s a great example of how you don’t need to go to college to get a great job. You need grit and determination and belief in yourself. In a city this competitive, good education doesn’t differentiate you enough.

At first my son sat back and watched as Spencer directed Kate and checked the results.

But then my son had some ideas of his own. And Spencer said, “Go ahead. Give it a try.”

And Kate listened.

Kate was so impressive because she was willing to take direction from a seven-year-old. He’d say, “Try this” and he’d do something, and then she would do it. The process reminded me of making jazz music, actually. They were working together to create something fun.

So many people would think they are too good for that kind of collaboration with a seven-year-old. But it was a team of people who were all early starters – they all appreciated that someone helped them so they could learn something they had no idea how to do, and so each person was willing to do what my son asked to give him the same experience.

Spencer said that usually he gave the model a lot of direction, but today he was mostly the camera guy, and he let my son play the role of creative director.

Then Spencer taught my son how to check to see how the photos are coming out.

Sometimes I had to cover my eyes. Where did he get the self-confidence to do this?

Sometimes he had to cover his own eyes. He never knew quite how the clothes he chose would look when they’re on, and at one point he said, “Oh no! Your belly button’s showing! Button your shirt! That’s not good for a little boy to see!”

Spencer showed my son how to go through the photos on the computer screen to make sure they got what they needed. And suddenly all those hours of unlimited screen time my kids have at home seemed really useful.

You might notice that by the end, my son had started wearing the clothes he pulled for Kate to wear.

So finally they asked him if he wanted to jump in front of the camera.

Guess what he said?

He was good, after about five minutes of practice. But then, proving that the best way to find out what you want to do is to try a lot and quit fast, he realized how much work the model does, and he took off his jacket and said, “I want to be a stylist. That’s what I really want to be.”

Then he sat back down in the chair behind Spencer and said, “You guys, I just love my job!”

That day, everyone got photos to use in their portfolio. My son chose a photo as well, because maybe when he gets older he’ll want to make it in New York City.


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  1. Dave
    Dave says:

    Penelope – check out based out of Chicago. A company that has stylists picking clothes for men. It’s still a fairly new startup. Your son might have a blast seeing how a business can be built on being a stylist and not necessarily in NYC.

    I’ve visited them – nice folks, BUSY!!!!, bustling, energetic, etc

  2. Anthony
    Anthony says:

    Wow, I just randomly followed your blog and I see this. I wrote A BOOK ON THIS blog post. It’s called “Let’s Let Kids Do Something Big.” I’m so glad there are parents like you living what I preach about. GREAT POST.

  3. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    Great article! By the way, thanks for the great advice on how to start my own blog…JUST DO IT. I loved that and guess what, I JUST DID IT. Thanks!

  4. Jane Dolan
    Jane Dolan says:

    I would hate to ever have to pick a favorite post, but this one made me so happy!

    The sheer joy on your son’s face has stuck with me for a couple of weeks – and the number of possibilities in his life due to your diligence as a parent makes me happy – some part of all the numbskull parenting made right!

    I would listen to an energetic, creativity driven seven year old over and “adult” any day of any week.

    Love it!

  5. Grace Miles
    Grace Miles says:

    This is such an adventure! Do you buy fashion magazines so he can study trends? Or does he not do the trend thing? (“Style is eternal…”)

    Just wondering, who took the photos for the blog post? You’re in one of them so did someone else take them?

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