Parsons ADHT’s Casey Haymes sits down with MA Fashion Studies alumna, Joelle Firzli, to chat about what she’s gotten up to after graduating earlier this year.
Casey: Thank you for taking time to meet with me to talk about your life before, during, and after Parsons ADHT.
Joelle: The pleasure is mine; I was in the neighborhood, you know.
How does one collect 8 years of experience in the fashion industry at a young age? I’m very impressed, either/both with your ability to downplay the appearance of age and/or process education and experience so quickly. Is this a matter of a vegan diet and skin exfoliation or a strong sense of determination?
I’m not so young anymore: 33 years old! I’m not a vegan either, but I practice yoga, which helps me keep a focused and clear mind. I also have a mother who sends me the best creams.
Even with 8 years of experience in the industry I still feel like I’m at the beginning of learning! It helps that I’ve been surrounded by the right people at the right time in my life. It helps that I am not afraid to make changes (even if the changes end up being wrong turns), and I tend to put myself in challenging situations.
Compare/contrast your teenage imagination with the reality of your life?
I was an idealist teenager who wanted to save the world. I grew up in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, in a community of expats and diplomats. In my class in school, there were approximately 30 students of 8 different nationalities! From a young age, I wanted to discover the world and its humanity; I loved geography, culture, and history. Today, I merge my love for history and culture with my love for fashion and design. Along the way, I met and collaborated with smart, proactive, and inspiring people. There is no where else I’d rather be than where I’m at right now.
Let’s build a rough timeline of your fashion industry experience. Did you enter via retail?
I was recruited by the fashion editor of Marie Claire Arabia as a fashion journalist and stylist. I shifted to retail when I moved to Hanoi, Vietnam and worked with Metiseko. I also freelanced as a stylist for local designers and magazines, and co-hosted a (make-over) TV show.
Did the education you received by being in that nook of the industry lead to styling or graduate school?
Despite the fact that I’d gained so much experience working in the industry, it was precisely my lack of formal fashion education that motivated me to go back to graduate school. Something was missing. I wanted to explore the academic v. the industry.
For our current and prospective MA Fashion Studies students, share with us how, how, how: How did you choose Parsons ADHT over other schools? How did you choose ADHT over other Parsons studies? What support did you find critical at Parsons?
I only applied to Parsons; I had heard about the reputation of The New School as forward thinking and liberal. I was questioning the fashion system and my practice within the system. The ADHT program offered the opportunity to finally bridge the gap between academia and the industry.
Being a graduate of Parsons ADHT provided me with an interdisciplinary platform for the study of fashion, and with the tools to further explore it. I am forever grateful for all the great teachers and peers whom I have met, particularly for the teaching of Dr. Francesca Granata and her bold and edgy approach to fashion and its relation with the body and its borders. And grateful to Professor Elizabeth Morano for her extensive knowledge in the history and literature of fashion.
Were you always thought of as a writer? Or was that a response to the requirements of the ADHT program?
I would never refer to myself as a writer. A researcher and curator, and maybe a critic some day.
I feel comfortable assuming you feel comfortable networking and are in possession of a talent for building professional relationships. Could you elaborate on the experiences that would either confirm or correct my assumption?
My travels and international background prompt me to be who I am: open-minded, non-judgemental, and accepting. I’m also a good listener, and you know how people like to talk.
Any advice for developing networking skills in the fashion industry?
While swimming with the sharks wearing diamonds, one must play the game and get out there! Know your audience. Read. Do your research. Follow up. Ask for advice. Care about the people you meet. You must find your voice and your style to stand out.
Which fashion magazine do you freelance for?
I style and write for a Lebanese women’s magazine called NOUN, which highlights the Lebanese community in New York City. The magazine is in French and keeps me practicing my French writing and affords my foothold in the country. Being Lebanese, I wish I had more time to dedicate to this activity. It is my small contribution to Beirut, until something bigger happens.
How do you nurture resilience?
By challenging myself, setting up my goals, and building relationships.
What about setting up some time to sleep?
On a regular night I sleep 5 to 6 hours. Sometimes I indulge myself and sleep for 7 hours, but rarely more than 8 hours. Not the best scenario, as you can imagine.
What has your fashion research taught you about your fashion practice?
The research opened my perspective, which my previous fashion in