Career Code: What It's Like Behind the Scenes at NYFW's Biggest Shows
In honor of Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s new book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($17), we’re kicking off an interview series featuring 17 questions (in honor of the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of the most inspirational female leaders in the fashion industry. So far, we’ve tapped Rebecca Minkoff, Sally Singer, Rachel Zoe, and more. Up next? Claire Pritchett Hanlon.
Behind every great fashion show are hours and hours of preparation that go into the few short minutes of perfection; Claire Pritchett Hanlon knows this well, her artistic DNA exists in the details of major NYFW shows. As design director for the creative agency Prodject, Claire dreams up the sets you'll later see all over your Instagram feed.
Hanlon began her career as an architect in Los Angeles, but a move to New York sent her down a new path in fashion. From designing buzzworthy runways to pop-up shops and exhibitions, Claire's job is the career you never knew you wanted—until now.
Keep reading for a chance to get to know Hanlon and hear all her best career advice.
"I design sets for runway shows, pop-up shops, exhibitions, and other fashion and beauty events."
"People are usually surprised that my job even exists and that I stay busy all year."
"I wore a black silk dress and heels. I had just moved here from California and thought this seemed like what New York designers would wear. I still cringe a little when I think about it, because I got the job and quickly realized that the dress code was basically T-shirts and cutoffs."
"Miuccia [Prada]! I don’t think there is anyone more inspiring in the industry. I’ve found that American fashion designers may see other designers as peers or competition, but they all know Miuccia Prada is the queen. I think she’s inspiring as a woman and a designer and a business owner."
"Instagram/Snapchat, Dashwood Books, industry friends, Business of Fashion."
"I don't have any one big regret. I could have done a million things differently, though. I wish I'd taken on small low-budget gigs when I was younger and it didn't matter much. I should have written down more of the hilarious and exciting experiences I had working in the photoshoot world, because those years moved very quickly and I met so many amazing people along the way. I could have been more deliberate about sharing my ideas and work through the years; social media changes so quickly that it's impossible to know exactly the right way take advantage of it."
"Personal compatibility, technical skills (graphic design, computer-aided drafting, and 3D drawing skills)—at the end of the day, I'm hiring someone to do a job. Willingness and ability to rise to any occasion; a wide range of interests knowledge of film, art, fashion, architecture, furniture, and interior design; and a sense of humor."
"I can't feel powerful if I don't feel comfortable. For important meetings, I make sure to have my nails and hair done and wear clothes I know fit well. I carry a nice leather handbag and notebook. I love going uptown (downtown, now) to the magazines and seeing women dressed up in heels every day. It takes years of practice to look comfortable in uncomfortable clothes, and I'm afraid I've missed that boat."
"Ha! She'd probably say I don't know when to quit."
"I leave the office and take a walk around the block. I don’t smoke, but I take little breaks outside once or twice a day. If I'm stuck, it's usually because I need to get fresh air (and maybe some chocolate). On a broader scale, I think getting a change of scenery is always inspiring. Even just getting on a plane. You know how some people are more prone to crying on planes? I always have grand ideas on planes. I try to write down my thoughts on the plane because that limbo space is great for getting perspective."
"I think the most important thing is to work every day in a way that people will be sad when you quit and never mad (or worse, happy). And have a very good excuse like a better opportunity. In a small industry like fashion, your career advances could become good connections for your old bosses, and vice versa."
"I order the Mexican caesar salad from Taco Bar on Bowery almost every day. If I don’t have dinner plans, I'll also have a fish taco or two. It's the perfect salad, with dairy-free dressing and half an avocado. Ask for a few corn chips instead of croutons to make it gluten-free."
"I graduated from architecture school at the height of the recession, and that has definitely colored my entire career. I've always been so grateful for the jobs I've had and have been reluctant to take big risks. I think this is quite common for people my age, but it's a mistake to forget that jobs are meant to be beneficial to both the employer and the employee. On the flip side, I've noticed that many entry-level employees in 2016 do not have that same sense of loyalty and are used to seeing people rise to stardom very quickly thanks to the internet, and they expect the same for themselves. I think there's a balance to be found somewhere in there."
"Marc Jacobs (the person and the company and all the associated dogs and PR people). The Marc Jacobs social media team is on FIRE right now. They have done an amazing job keeping their social media personal, funny, and fun, and I love that Marc is unapologetically himself online and in person.
"Lucas Lefler: Lucas was our intern at Stefan Beckman Studios and has always been a master of the internet. I have so much to learn from him. Go, Lucas!"
"IllStudio: It's a Paris-based design studio. The company's posts are always clever and always its own work.
"MPNails: Madeline Poole always has the best nail designs.
"Vashtie and Erika Bearman (formerly @OscarPRgirl) are my two favorite stylish people to follow. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both do a great job sharing their lives in a way that feels like it might just actually be that awesome."
"My mornings are very relaxed these days. I live and work in NoLIta, so I can get up pretty late. I listen to Hot97 (another great Instagram follow!) in the mornings to get pumped up for the day (I’m sure the neighbors love that). I spend about 15 minutes on my hair and makeup, pick out some clothes, and stop by the grocery store downstairs for a big bottle of sparkling water and some oatmeal and berries for breakfast. Then I walk five blocks to my office. I eat breakfast right when I get to the office while I catch up on emails and finish waking up. I always need something in my stomach before I can do much of anything.
"In the evenings, as long as the weather is okay, I walk across the Manhattan Bridge and back for exercise. Sometimes with a friend; sometimes alone. It's not the most famous walking bridge, but it's not busy and I love the views. I stop eating well before bedtime, and I almost always get eight hours of sleep on the nose. I slept so little in architecture school that I feel like I’m still making up for it. It makes a huge difference in my attitude and disposition if I have good sleep, so I definitely make it a priority."
"'Move to New York!' When I met my husband (who is from here), he thought it was so funny that I moved to New York without a job or an apartment. In his mind, that only happened in the movies. I was frustrated by my job prospects where I was, and people told me to do just that. And I am so glad they did, because it’s been a great place for me."
"Right now, we're scouting a lot of locations for spring/summer shows and other upcoming projects. There are fewer and fewer empty, open spaces in New York, so we're having to be very creative."