Industry Profile: Dzagbe EX

Name: Dzagbe EX

Occupation: Nordstrom Corporate Creative Stylist 

Your job is so unique; it is behind the scenes yet makes such an impact on the consumer’s experience.  What inspired you to get started in the industry & how did you get started?

I have a background in fashion and had been working on the sales floor for a number of years, both selling and managing. I decided I wanted to start my own stylist business and realized that I couldn't be both a department manager and run my own business, there just aren't enough hours in the day. There was an opening in visual merchandising and it seemed like a good fit. As it turned out, it was the perfect place for me. It allows me to style the latest trends, creatively problem solve, research runway shows, and spend my day being hands on with fashion, and I get paid to do all of this.

How long have you been in your industry & what companies have you worked for?

I have been working at Nordstrom for over 15 years, prior to that I was in school studying fashion design. I also did some modeling work and interned with a prominent fashion stylist who ran her own business styling individuals, photo shoots, runway shows, and celebrities. I also ran my own stylist business, working one on one with clients, helping them with their wardrobe for day to day functions as well as big events.

Did you go to school & if yes, what did you study & what impact has education had on your career?

I studied art and fashion design in college. I attended both Parsons in New York and Central Saint Martins in London. My areas of focus at school were fashion and three dimensional design. Both areas of study helped to advance me in my current career. It has become the foundation for my knowledge in window design. Understanding three dimensional spaces, how to use light, and negative space is essential to the work I do today. Knowing and being able to translate a designer's vision through fashion, pairing together unusual garments to create an eye catching and theatrical display is the foundation of a window stylists job. I began to learn and understand all of these elements in college, which is where I also developed a personal love of fashion design that drives me to pursue knowledge and further my craft.

Describe your style aesthetic:

My style aesthetic, where it pertains to my job, is ever changing. It has to be in order to stay current and competitive. I work in a retail environment, I am always striving to stay on-trend and attract a new customer. I have to know, understand, and translate where the company is going with regard to fashion.

My own personal style aesthetic is very split. I tend to gravitate to extremes which I pull together to create my own unique mix. I love clean, stark, minimalism (think early 90's Helmut Lang or Rick Owens) for the environment I inhabit, but I tend to dress myself in an eclectic glam rock, high fashion hybrid style. I also have to think of what will work for my lifestyle, which means layers (I live in Seattle and our weather calls for hoods and waterproof wear), and pants, I often have to hike up a ladder or crawl on a floor while I'm at work. Skirts and dresses just don't work for that.

When I met you, you were already so established & had the best style ever!  Since then you have achieved so much more success along the way, what has been the biggest challenge in establishing yourself in your career field?

I wouldn't say that there has been one big challenge, just a lot of little ones along the way. What can be difficult is to keeping my drive and energy up through long hours, on little to no sleep, traveling for weeks on end, and working through holidays. I think my job is often perceived as glamorous and it certainly has its high fashion moments, but it is also a lot of hard work. I feel very fortunate to have a job in a field that interests and inspires me and I never forget that or take it for granted. I use my love of what I do to keep me going through the early mornings and late nights and I think my willingness to be there, anytime, any day, and give my all, has given me a huge leg up in establishing myself in my career.

Describe a typical day in the life of being on the Nordstrom Creative Team:

My day starts at 6:00 AM, I travel between many different stores but no matter which store I am at, I start at 6. 5:30, if there are more than 5 windows to change. My team and I begin by striping the window of all of the previously featured displays. Once stripped, the window needs to be prepped and painted. While the paint dries I have time to pull fashion and style the mannequins for the display. The fashion is dictated by the trend, brand, or item we are featuring, but I am able to select and style the fashion however I choose within the set criteria. I also get to choose how many looks I feature in order to tell the best possible fashion story and the poses/configuration of the mannequins. Styling and accessorizing can take several hours, it is the most important part of the display and should be done with the upmost care and attention to detail. Once I have finished styling my team and I set and strike the mannequins. 
"Striking" is the process by which we keep the mannequins standing upright. We then light the window and detail the entire space before exiting the window. On a typical day I work on three windows. After all of the windows are complete, I check my work email and voice mail. I do have an office and a desk but I am rarely there because I travel to so many different stores. Although what I have just described is the most standard work day for me, there is always something new and different going on. Just in the last week I styled a music video, set up a display at an outdoor music festival, and worked an overnight shift to set up for a sale event. That is what I love the most about my job, everyday is different!

What are some moments in your career you are most proud of?

I am proud whenever someone tells me I have taught them something new or inspired them to take more interest in fashion. It is such a surprise to me that I can have that effect on anyone. I still think of myself as some punk kid, I am always amazed that I can change the way someone thinks or feels for the better.

What is your most embarrassing moment on the job haha?

At this stage I am pretty much un-embarrass-able. Although there was one occasion where I spent the entire day working at one store opening and then had to fly directly to the next store opening without even a moment in between and I ended up changing my outfit in a parking lot. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but almost three years later my whole team still reminds me of the 'incident'.

How do you stay inspired and ahead of the trend game?

I just love it. I am always interested in what's next, what people are wearing or are talking about. It seems like Christmas sometimes, watching the new collections unfold, checking out new product coming in, discovering a new style that is about to take hold. I also love to look back and see how fashion continually references the past. I get really inspired by films like Klute with Jane Fonda from the seventies, Working Girl with Melanie Griffith from the eighties, or anything Alfred Hitchcock made, particularly The Birds. There are so many styles that have evolved throughout the years, looking back can really get me inspired and excited to see what's next.

What are your favorite fashion inspiration resources?

As I said, films are inspiring. I also look at many fashion blogs, tumblrs, and Pinterest pages. I have given up on fashion magazines, I'd rather see the runway shows as they debut. What is most inspiring is to simply look around and see what people are wearing day in day out in the city I live in and the many places I travel to.

What are ways you have seen growth as a style leader over the years?

Personally I have seen growth in my own style, mostly related to my confidence. Growing older, becoming more sure of who I am, and how I want to express that has allowed me to become more comfortable in my style. I know what I like and what I don't, and I don't really give a damn about what anyone else thinks. I have also worked very hard to hone my craft and I can easily style a window, no matter the trend, season, or brand. It has taken years to establish that skill and it is challenging to teach. It just seems to me that after many years of studying fashion you instantly know what will work and what will not and it makes the selection process easier. However, fashion is ever changing and there are days where I am just at a loss and that's when I need to take a minute, listen to some rock n'roll and start all over again.

What advice you would give to someone interested in visual/presentation that you wish someone gave to you?

There is a lot of heavy lifting in visual merchandising. Work on your biceps!
Honestly, it is very hard work, with very long hours, but it is the most rewarding and exciting job. The best advice I can give, or would have given myself is, stick with it. Nothing good comes easy but if you persevere you will be amazed by how much you can learn and achieve.

What are your never leave the house without essentials?

I am going to disappoint you here because I am afraid to say that I rarely carry a purse. I have a solid, hour long getting ready process, but once I leave the house I don't need much. I usually wear a leather jacket with multiple pockets, one for my keys and one for my phone. I don't do any on the go make up touch ups because I don't have the time to spare, so everything I put on is on a lock. Waterproof black liquid eyeliner, mascara, matte red lipstick. It all stays put all day, even in the rain. If there is a bit of sun, I have a pair of Alexander Wang cat eye sunglasses that I might bring along. But that's it!

Who are your fashion icons?

I have a few, the person I reference the most style-wise is Slash (from Guns N' Roses), he wears a lot of leather, as do I. In recent years I always ask myself 'would Slash wear this?' Before I make a fashion purchase, it keeps me from buying things I simply won't wear. My eyebrow idol is Joan Crawford, who believed that the brows, not the eyes were the windows to the soul. I also love Marc Bolan, Gregg Allman, and Nikki Sixx, all boys, but boys who rock some pretty bad ass fashion.