In our long-running collection “How I’m Making It,” we discuss to individuals making a residing within the vogue and sweetness industries about how they broke in and located success.
When Gia Kuan was a regulation scholar in Melbourne, Australia, she wasn’t organizing samples at a vogue home or crafting pitches at a PR company. She’d go on to do these issues, after all, however not but. Instead, an 18-year-old Kuan was working at a nightclub, first as a promoter, then as a “bottle girl,” serving champagne set ablaze with sparklers.
“In Australia, the drinking age is much younger, so it was very common for college students to work in nightlife,” says Kuan, who grew up between Taipei, Santo Domingo and Auckland. “And honestly, it was an easy job and you got paid in cash. Little did I realize any of that would apply to my career in the future. But now, thinking about what I do in terms of events management and PR, a lot of what I had done early on set a foundation for how I could operate the way I do today.”
At the time, Kuan wasn’t precisely angling to interrupt into the style trade. It took her working one other part-time job — this one at a luxurious vogue retailer — for all of the items to click on into place. Because although she was at all times inquisitive about vogue, she explains, she by no means envisioned really working within the area itself.
Kuan made a reputation for herself within the PR area at Comme des Garçons, Dover Street Market and Nadine Johnson (the place she took a hiatus from vogue altogether to concentrate on artwork), earlier than launching Gia Kuan Consulting (GKC), her eponymous consultancy that immediately reps the likes of Telfar, Kim Shui and Luar. Today, vogue contains simply half GKC’s roster, with the remaining being a cocktail of arts and tradition purchasers. Where GKC is completely different from a standard vogue company mannequin, she argues, lies in that combination in and of itself: No two purchasers are alike, so neither are the methods by which GKC helps them.
“Discovery is a very big thing for us,” she says. “We do a ton of research on people and the press so we’re not regurgitating the same context over and over again. That’s a big no-no for us. We’re always thinking about what moves the needle, and what the new communities are that we can build upon.”
Below, we caught up with Kuan about her childhood rising up throughout three continents, producing blockbuster vogue exhibits and amplifying rising designers to uncharted heights.
Tell me in regards to the origins of your curiosity in vogue, earlier than you pursued it as a profession.
It’s been an attention-grabbing experience. Intrinsically, I used to be at all times inquisitive about vogue, however it was simply a type of aspirational jobs. I did not come from a household who labored in inventive industries, nor did I actually acquire publicity to vogue. I had zero model consciousness. Until the tip of highschool, I simply did not perceive what luxurious manufacturers signified. Only after I went to school in Australia — after I was hanging out with children who went to non-public faculty and had the technique of having the ability to eat higher-end vogue — did I begin to uncover what vogue meant on a model degree.
In school, I labored at a luxurious vogue retailer in Melbourne known as Assin, and that was my first step into luxurious vogue. They stocked a whole lot of Belgian designers, from Ann Demeulemeester to Rick Owens, and Japanese designers, like Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garçons; that impressed me to pursue it extra. When I lastly made the transfer to New York in 2010, I got here to pursue a correct profession in vogue, so I enrolled in a brief vogue advertising and marketing course at Parsons.
You had been born in Taipei and raised between Santo Domingo and Auckland. Did your international upbringing affect the way in which you consider creativity and self-expression?
Growing up in Asia, popular culture was very closely impressed by Japan. My grandma knew tips on how to converse Japanese as a result of there was Japanese occupancy in Taiwan throughout her period. I used to be influenced by that, and it nonetheless resonates immediately. Like, this concept of Kawaii, the tradition of cute issues. My type may be very a lot that.
Then I moved to the Dominican Republic — my father was working for the Taiwanese embassy on the time as a diplomat — and lived there for 3 years, after I was between 5 to eight. I simply bear in mind carrying these super-vibrant ensembles, and that was additionally my first foray into late-Eighties, early-Nineteen Nineties Americana. That’s how I realized my English. That’s why I’ve an American accent. [Laughs]
Later on, I moved to New Zealand. I do not know if I embraced vogue as a lot throughout that point as a result of I would not say it was like, a modern place. It was very suburban. My type was extra knowledgeable by practicality and uniform tradition. At faculty in New Zealand, it’s important to put on a uniform more often than not. It wasn’t just like the American faculty system the place you’ll be able to put on no matter you need, so solely on the finish of highschool did I begin to discover type.
Walk me by means of your profession path from the time you graduated from University of Melbourne to your time at Comme des Garçons, Dover Street Market and Nadine Johnson. What classes did you study in these early days that you just nonetheless carry with you immediately?
Parsons was very a lot catered to the truth that they’re anticipating you to do internships. So I did a whole lot of completely different internships, my first one at PR Consulting. It was a whole lot of pattern trafficking and operating errands. That was my intro to studying the map of Manhattan as a result of we needed to lug garment baggage in all places. I acquired my first style of what a PR company meant as a result of while you’re learning PR, you haven’t any concept what PR really is till you are working in it. I additionally interned at Tom Ford when he debuted womenswear, and thru that, I began to study the large names within the trade. That’s after I realized that relationships are all the things.
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Toward the tip, I began working at Comme des Garçons, and it turned my first-ever job. I used to be there for six years. When I first joined, it was a really small workforce of solely 4 or 5 individuals within the U.S., together with gross sales and PR. The first youth of working at CDG encompassed a extra conventional PR function — pattern trafficking and once more, studying who’s who. I realized to be hyper organized, working with a Japanese headquarters, which is simply the way in which the corporate works. There was a very, actually robust work ethic throughout, and that trickled right down to their retailer employees.
At Dover Street, we nearly operated at an company degree as a result of we needed to perceive the ins and outs of a lot of the distributors the shop was carrying. It was identified for championing a whole lot of younger and rising designers, and that is what impressed me to get excited in regards to the new expertise that exists inside the U.S. and past. We arrange a help system for these designers, making connections for them with the press contacts we knew, and on the finish of the day, that is what felt probably the most rewarding. Fast ahead a couple of years after I began freelancing, serving to buddies who’ve vogue traces get began, and it was the identical course of: They did not have any sources, so with my information, how might I bridge that hole between them and the press?
After Dover Street, I exited vogue and began working at Nadine Johnson, which is that this iconic boutique company primarily based in New York City. I labored along with her arts and tradition accounts, which means all of their galleries, artists, museums and nonprofits, which I discovered actually refreshing.
And I believe Nadine took an opportunity on me as a result of I used to be like, ‘Well, I studied artwork historical past in school and I’ve understanding of up to date artwork, however I’ve by no means labored in artwork.’ And she was similar to, ‘If you need it badly sufficient, you’ll be able to catch up.’ I used to be so grateful to her for that. We each believed on this concept of, why invite somebody you discuss to on a regular basis to dinner? That’s so boring. She was at all times into this concept of a spiced-up visitor listing, and so was I.
How did you determine to embark by yourself, with your personal consultancy?
I’ve at all times been a curious particular person. Growing up, I did not eat vogue the way in which a whole lot of different individuals did, and if I did, I wished to know the ‘why’ behind it. The product itself is not sufficient. So I used to be trying to have the ability to really feel a bit extra linked to the model and the particular person behind it. At the time, a few of my older friends had been beginning their very own initiatives. Eric Schlösberg, who was one in all my outdated colleagues, had his namesake model and requested me to assist him join with a couple of individuals. Those little electronic mail introductions had been how it began. I used to be simply serving to a good friend right here and there.
Honestly, I used to be additionally simply going out loads. That’s how I met Kim Shui and Raffaella Hanley from Lou Dallas and Carly Mark. All of our lives simply got here collectively whereas going out within the New York partying subculture. It was what I imagined New York might be, however I do not assume I discovered it after I moved right here in 2010. Fashion week was a lot about, I do not know, Lincoln Center and Fashion’s Night Out. It was only a completely different aesthetic. There was this uncooked vitality I felt was lacking. But then I began to satisfy all these individuals, like Telfar [Clemens], and it simply began from there.
Your agency has been acknowledged for its illustration of impartial designers and a democratization of vogue exhibits. How do you go about constructing out your portfolio, and what are your priorities to your purchasers as soon as they signal on with you?
When I believe again to the sooner days, I wasn’t so purposely curating it — however I assume it was. I felt devoted to giving designers a platform to speak within the press and even simply to letting individuals remember that these buddies of mine existed. It was a egocentric self-fulfillment factor. I wished that New York, American dream that I moved right here to pursue.
I consider that as a result of vogue may be very a lot an artwork type, you do not essentially must have formal coaching to have the ability to have an viewers, nor do it’s important to have this super-commercial imaginative and prescient. So it is about believing in that and persevering with to combat for it for others and inform their tales. That ethos may be very a lot central to what we do once we take into consideration the manufacturers we work with, which spans past vogue now. The manufacturers I’m interested in are those that do not match the mildew. They create their very own path.
If you had been to undergo the spotlight reel of your profession, what can be the large moments that stand out to you, and why?
I imply, Telfar has undoubtedly been an enormous second for me. We have not carried out a type of huge exhibits shortly, and to be sincere, I do not know if I’m mentally prepared for it simply but. [Laughs] But within the earlier days, we did these huge, huge exhibits, like on the helicopter pad or at Irving Plaza. It was loopy. It was clearly worrying, however it was so rewarding to see everybody come collectively, to see the categories of people that got here by means of.
I bear in mind doing the White Castle occasion a couple of years in the past, and that was one of many bigger events we had carried out as a result of we needed to go so broad with that visitor listing. To at the present time, I bear in mind so many individuals who had been like, ‘This is my first Telfar occasion, and I totally perceive the vitality of Telfar at that occasion.’ They remembered Telfar and have adopted it since. I used to be pleased with having the ability to deliver worth to the model by means of that. And after all, now they’re so profitable and so they have their very own platform that may attain so many individuals immediately. It’s been wonderful to see that evolve.
What’s one thing that is thrilling to you in regards to the vogue trade proper now?
There’s extra of a way of liberation within the trade now versus after I first began. Fashion is not as tied to trade requirements because it was. And in my little utopian mindset, that was what I had at all times wished it to be. When I first moved to New York and entered vogue, there have been far more inflexible requirements we needed to work by means of only for younger designers to be acknowledged. But prior to now few years, I believe individuals have began to understand that in case your model is robust, in case you have a powerful voice, you’ll be able to pave your personal method towards success with out having these restrictions anymore. That’s actually, actually thrilling.
There are extra creative methods for manufacturers to speak on to their audiences. There are methods for them to create their very own content material and use their very own voice. I’m excited to see what’s coming subsequent.
This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.