Beyond the Seams is a monthly feature on the MAFS blog that highlights students’ careers, projects and more outside of the program.
Catherine Smith is a fashion stylist and writer who began her career in fashion publishing as the intern to Stefano Tonchi, Editor-in-Chief of W Magazine. She studied Political Science and Writing at Loyola University Maryland, as well as a semester in the International Comparative Politics program at The American University of Paris (AUP). Since then, she has contributed to magazines internationally, and has collaborated with various fashion designers. She is a member of The Costume Institute, The Couture Council of the Museum of FIT, and The Fashion Group International, and is currently completing a Masters in our Fashion Studies program. Based in New York City, she has previously lived and studied in Paris. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Daily, Brides Magazine and Brides.com, InStyle Czech, Refinery29, Fashionista.com, and on Good Morning America. Last week, Catherine launched her e-commerce website, Plan de Ville, which has been making waves on across the Web. Read on as she gives us the inside scoop about her new entrepreneurial venture, her extensive experience in fashion and how she plans to stay afloat while balancing her well-received business with her time in our program.
What is Plan de Ville?
Plan de Ville (PDV), is a website created to celebrate emerging fashion, accessories, and fine jewelry designers, highlighting the transformative path from initial inspiration to the launch of a collection. The site shares exclusive designer and industry interviews and also offers an e-commerce component. PDV, which translates to “city map” from French, hopes to share the path taken by emerging designers when launching their businesses, in order to increase awareness and access to up-and-coming design talent through an edited and meaningful e-commerce experience, where thought provoking and exclusive interviews live alongside shoppable content. PDV launched on November 4 with fine jewelry and accessories, and will expand into other product categories for the Spring/Summer 2015 season.
What made you come up with PDV?
The idea for the name came to me where I have most of my great ideas, at The Odeon in my neighborhood in Tribeca. I doodled it on a paper tablecloth. In my work, I began to realize that I loved talking to young designers about their path from start to launch; and each story always resembled a map in my mind…where they started, to where they are now, with different routes in between.
Why emerging designers?
When I started styling full-time, I continued to encounter more and more incredible up-and-coming brands, and the compelling individuals behind each one. The website is about story telling — and I’m honored to have the chance to share these stories through PDV.
What features will be on the website, other than selling items by these designers?
The site features exclusive interviews with the designers, and other influential members of the industry. I hope to expand to video content in the coming year; in designer’s studios, on-camera interviews with their teams and suppliers, at their shows and presentations.
How big a role did your past experiences at Condé Nast and working for big designers such as, Yigal Azrouel, play in the development of PDV?
My experience with Condé Nast has taught me everything. I turned down jobs after graduating from college to become Stefano Tonchi’s intern at W. He had been Editor in Chief of the magazine for about a year when I received the offer, and it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Stefano informed my aesthetic, and my time at W taught me to look for stories in unexpected places. I think it’s where I found my journalistic curiosity. After W I went to work for New York based designer Yigal Azrouel as his assistant, where I learned so much about production, and the overall experience of the designer. I returned to Condé Nast as an Editorial Assistant in the Features department of Brides magazine, editing the news section and writing one-page front of book features on famous women reflecting on their wedding gowns. Bridal was completely new to me, but it has greatly improved the way I write about fashion; I am now so attuned to every element of fabric, construction, and detail, which is so important in a bridal gown. In September 2012, I became Keija Minor’s assistant when she was promoted to Editor in Chief of the magazine. She is an incredible leader, fantastic editor, and one of my favorite people in the world. When I was accepted to Parsons MAFS, I began to freelance for the magazine, and started styling full-time. After my immediate family and my best friend, Keija was the first person I told about Plan de Ville last month, before the launch.
Who were some of your biggest motivators in getting the company off the ground?
My greatest motivation in building PDV was the response from the designers. I started PDV with several designers who were already my friends, or I had worked with them before and shot their pieces for a story. I made very few cold asks. When the designers responded with such enthusiasm, I knew I could make the concept work.
What’s the 5-year plan for PDV? Your biggest dreams for the company?
My biggest dreams for the company are to continue to identify and support emerging talent in the moment before they truly take off. The goal is for the designers to grow, and I hope to help in any way I can, primarily by providing an online stockist, which can be a serious challenge for emerging designers.
How do you plan to balance such a big accomplishment and company alongside your time in Parsons MAFS?
I’m lucky to have a very supportive group of friends, many of who also work in the industry and understand the hours and dedication that it takes to succeed. I also have an incredibly supportive family, I couldn’t have done this without their positive energy, even when they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about in the beginning. I also rely heavily on my gold Poppin notebook, which I write down absolutely every task and idea. I’m also a bit manic about my Outlook calendar. I’m so lucky to have been accepted to the program, that there is no way I won’t manage to do it all!
What made you choose Parsons MAFS?
I have always respected the great fashion writers and journalists, Hamish Bowles, Suzy Menkes, Andre Leon Talley. They are historians. I came to Parsons MAFS to dive in to fashion history, and through the field of Fashion Studies, elevate the way I currently look at the industry on a macro level, and individual collections and designers on a micro level.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to those trying to take the next leap into fashion entrepreneurship?
Keep it simple, but focused. It is important to have a clear vision, and to work every day to make sure that you continue to believe in your vision. I think it’s also incredibly important to work with people you trust, care for, and respect, who are creating unique work with integrity.