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SXSW 2018: Guess who got a big career break here in Austin? Stylist-turned-fashion-entrepreneur, Rachel Zoe

Tolly Moseley

The name “Rachel Zoe” is well-known to fashion acolytes (and/or Bravo TV fans), but what Zoe’s fans might not know? The Live Music Capital of the World helped launch her career. 

“I was 25 years old and had just quit my job,” Zoe told friend and Who What Wear Target collection co-founder, Hillary Kerr, in their March 9 SXSW talk, “Adaptability in Fashion’s Changing Landscape.” “And when I did, Tommy Hilfiger gave me my big break. He put me on a huge ad campaign right here in Austin, and I discovered that I absolutely loved the collaboration process. I loved creating those fairytale moments.”

Zoe was 25 when she quit her job styling editorial for YM Magazine (remember that, ‘90s kids?), and entered the industry as something of an anomaly: a stylist who openly marketed herself to celebrities. In the late 90s/early aughts, having a red carpet stylist was something of a dirty secret (“like not admitting that you use plastic surgery now,” said Kerr), the assumption being: “Oh, she’s just effortlessly stylish.” Celebrities didn’t enjoy the cozy clothing brand/ambassador relationship they do now, so Zoe took up her trade discreetly, as a behind-the-scenes operator. That changed, however, with some high-profile celebrity pairings (Nicole Richie comes to mind), and especially the launch of her 2008 reality show, “The Rachel Zoe Project.” 

“I wanted to give people an inside look at the fashion world, and show people how these things happen,” says Zoe. “I wanted to show people that there’s a whole team creating that so-called effortless look: from sketch to sourcing to fitting.”

It’s at this point that you might be thinking: celebrity styling career in her own 20s? Her own show in her 30s? What lucky magic stick did Zoe get a hold of? 

Not so fast, says Zoe. There have been a ton of failures.

“I feel like everything I do is an extended beta test,” says Zoe. “And honestly, not everything has worked out,” she admits, from styling a pop star in leather pants that ripped down the middle during a Madison Square Garden performance, to putting together a personal fashion collection that just didn’t work. But one small, charming example of something currently in beta? An “Instagram show” Zoe hosts every Sunday morning, dubbed “Real Life with Rachel Zoe,” where she talks style tips, industry trends, and what Rachel Zoe Inc. is up to at the moment (a lot: her own ready to wear line, a several million-strong newsletter, a seasonal box – of course a box! – and various brand collaborations). 

“It’s nice to do things somethings where not everyone is watching, and just see how they go,” says Zoe, for whom “not everyone” equals roughly 2.7 million followers. Still: “Doing everything as an extended beta test” might not be popular advice for SXSWers – but it’s sage wisdom for life.  


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