As a part of National Novel Writing Month, author, stylist, and founder of Making it in Manhattan Caroline Vazzana hosted a workshop at Dream Midtown to detail her journey through the fashion industry, help writers find their voice, and share her new book “Making It in Manhattan.” After trying our hand at a writing exercise of our own, we sat down with the author to get her expert advice and learn how to thrive in the Big Apple.
Dream Midtown: What was the hardest part of breaking into the fashion industry? What are your secrets for doing it so successfully?
Caroline Vazzana: It’s definitely not easy. A lot of people either know someone or their friend’s mom or their grandma or whoever might be a connection. I really didn’t know anyone or anything at all when I was starting out. Everything I learned was through research, going online and reading articles, and just taking in as much information as I could to make myself as aware as possible. I think just being aware and knowing as much as you can about the industry and about the different avenues you want to get into is so important.
I started out my career thinking I wanted to be a designer, funny enough. Then in college I quickly learned I did not like sewing and I had to kind of reshift. The way I found where I wanted to be was through interning. For me, internships were the way to get my foot in the door and get my name out there. So in terms of advice, I would say network, do as many internships as you possibly can, and stay hungry. Stay determined, stay curious. I think it’s easy to get comfortable and to settle. Always stay hungry for what’s next.
DM: What’s your biggest advice for someone looking to write a book?
CV: This is my first book, it just came out in August. My biggest advice is to make sure you’re really passionate about it. You really have to want to do this because it’s going to take a lot of time. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not something that you can just throw together. It takes a lot of time. I started working on mine in 2015. The whole book is fully illustrated by a friend of mine, but even that took about a year, just the back and forth and getting my vision onto paper. There are just so many little components that go into it that people don’t realize. You have to really want it.
A question I get asked a lot is, “How did you find the time between running your Instagram, building your brand and website, and doing collaborations?” I just made time. I wanted it so badly and I knew I wanted to write this book. No matter what, I was like, I’m making time to do this. So if you want it, you need to make the time.
DM: You really have to treat it like a second job.
CV: Yeah, like I have to do this. Because you have deadlines, and even before you sign with a publisher or anything, you have this responsibility to yourself that you started this and you want to finish it. You don’t want it to be that manuscript that you keep going back to. I think one of the worst things is not just going for it.
DM: What was the biggest challenge in writing it?
CV: I learned so much about myself through the process, and I also learned what I want to apply to future books I write. Pulling the stories out of yourself and then turning them into lessons to learn from can sometimes be a little difficult, especially because mine is nonfiction, so it’s about my life and about experiences I had.
But it’s funny, I found the process rather painless. I was writing and reliving stories of my life, so I found it fun and interesting. I was getting excited again, just like I was in the beginning of my career, because I was reliving it all. So it was difficult in some ways, but I enjoyed it so much, which is so funny when I tell people that. They’re like, “What? You’re crazy.” But I thought it was so fun.
DM: So you would write another one?
CV: Oh, absolutely. I literally already started drafting it. With my first book, it was a long process because I did it in a different kind of way. I started writing in 2015, I finished the book, and then we got it signed by a publisher. So then there was a whole year where the publisher was like, “Okay, your manuscript isn’t due for a year.” But I had pretty much finished it. It was the process that took a long time. It wasn’t like I did it in two years and I was done. So now I feel like I’m ready for another one.
DM: What do you do to cure writer’s block?
CV: Walking around New York City and drawing in inspiration is so helpful for me. My book is really about following your New York dream. But then again, I do always say it’s called “Making It in Manhattan,” but it could apply to anywhere. I just use Manhattan because I feel like that’s kind of the American dream, moving to New York City. It’s in every song and everything. I love walking around the city and getting that spark and sparkle again. When I first started my career, I always had this magic, this energy that was inside of me, and I still have it, but sometimes you get busy or you’re stressed or you’re this or you’re that, and you forget a little bit. Going back to my roots is really important.
DM: What is one message you hope that your readers take away from both your blog and your book?
CV: Follow your dreams, literally no matter what. No matter what obstacles, no matter who’s telling you you can’t do it, no matter if there’s some mean girl questioning your outfit choices… don’t give up. This is your dream, this is your life, and you are you and you are special. Being different is what makes you special, so stay true to who you are. As cliché as that might sound, whenever I sign books for people, I’ll write “Never stop following your dreams.” But when I’m writing it, I truly mean it.
I think one of my biggest things in life is I never want to look back and regret not having done something. That’s why I take every chance. I say yes to every opportunity because you don’t want to have that regret. My book is for those kinds of people: the dreamers, the doers, the fearless people. The website is very much the same. It does have a bit more of a fashion, lifestyle, and beauty focus. With that, I want to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves and have fun with life. Be curious and don’t be afraid to mix colors and show up to an interview and fearlessly be yourself.
DM: We love that attitude. Since you’re very fashion-focused, which fashion icon, dead or alive, would you most want to have dinner with?
CV: Iris Apfel. I’ve met her before, but I’d love to have a one-on-one dinner with her and chat about not just career advice, but life advice as well. She’s so wise. I’ve watched her documentary numerous times and I’ve gone to speeches she’s given. In terms of life advice, not having any regrets, following your dreams, and living your best life… she is the queen of that.
For career advice, I would love to get dinner with Anna Wintour and pick her brain. I’d ask her what she thinks about the industry and what I’m doing. Those are two people who I admire and who are completely different. I love the eclecticism of Iris, but then I love the career savvy of Anna.
DM: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
CV: There are some chapters in the book I really love, like”My First Fashion Week” and “The Sneak Attack.” For my website, I get real about some topics, like how to deal with the pressures of social media. For that article, I got really raw and I got so many messages from people that were just like, thank you. It looks so glamorous and everything, so I just let it all out.
There was also an article I wrote after my one year of being on my own. It was a reflection piece about what I had learned in that one year and one of the things that I listed was that it’s okay to cry. I think about that a lot because I think we’re told not to. And I think, yes, if you’re in a corporate setting and you need to cry, go in the bathroom. I’ve done it, whatever. But when you’re working for yourself, it’s all on you. So if you need to have a day where you’re just in a funk, need to cry, and need some Ben and Jerry’s, do it. The next day, obviously, pick yourself up and move on. But if you need a little time for you, do it.
DM: Carrie Bradshaw seems to be a big inspiration for you. What is your favorite Carrie Bradshaw look, and what is one thing that you learned from her?
CV: Probably in season 6 when she’s in Paris, her looks are really spot-on. It’s so hard to pick, I love literally every one. I’ve learned, especially with fashion, to take risks. If you rewatch the seasons, she is wearing some, you know, stuff, that takes some confidence to wear. She’s also not afraid to speak her mind and is an entrepreneur. She has her own brand. She is kind of like the OG influencer before Instagram was a thing. She also has a really solid support system. People love to hate on her sometimes, but I think if you look at the good things and the lessons she’s teaching, there are really special, important things we can take away from her. She’s the queen of being yourself.
DM: Where is your favorite place to write?
CV: Honestly, I do a lot of writing here (*points to phone*). I write everything in my notes. I pretty much wrote my whole first book in my notes. Then I would email it to myself, so I mostly wrote quick drafts during commuting. If I’m in a taxi and I’m in a ton of traffic and it’s going to be a 20-minute taxi ride, or if I’m on the subway and don’t have service but can get into my notes app, I’ll write. A lot of my other writing, when I’m actually editing and developing, just takes place in my house. I sit at my desk, but I also sit a lot at my dining room table because the lighting is good and I’ll write for hours. I don’t really have one specific spot. I feel like when inspiration hits, it hits. I could be lying in bed about to fall asleep and if I get a good idea, I’ll sit up and write it in my phone. There have been so many times when I tell myself, “Oh, you’ll remember it in the morning…” I never do. So I take out my phone and quickly jot down ideas.