This post originally appeared on the blog MakingManhattan.com.
By Caroline Vazzana
Growing up, Julie Mollo always knew she was destined for something bigger than scooping ice cream in her hometown of Massachusetts. Her design career began in high school when she started making purses out of Capri Sun pouches — yes, like the ones you used to bring in your school lunch bag. From there, Julie went on to attend Pratt and eventually interned for designer Betsey Johnson and she hasn’t looked back since. Read on for Julie’s tips on perseverance, sticking to your guns and what it’s like to design clothes for a major pop star.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
It was always in my blood. My grandmother and my great grandmother would always make clothes for themselves and for my mother. Mom taught me how to sew in middle school, and it wasn’t until high school that I started to draw. Once I put the two parts of my brain together and learned how to create what I drew, I knew what I wanted to do. I’m from a super-small town with a very small art department, so I started taking classes at colleges and museums nearby to learn as much as I could about fashion design. I knew I wanted to eventually move to NYC so I only applied to colleges here. Eleven years later, I’m still here.
What internships did you have and how did they impact your career?
I interned at Heatherette while I was a freshman at Pratt. Heathertte was known for their crazy custom dresses for My Super Sweet 16. Then I landed my dream internship with Betsey Johnson during the summer between my junior and senior year. I spent 40-hour weeks there in July and August leading up to her SS10 show that September at the Plaza. Interning made me realize what I did and didn’t want, and I saw the importance of sticking to your guns.
What did you wear to your first interview?
I always had the opinion that if you couldn’t dress up in your style 100 percent for an interview, then you probably don’t want that job. I remember wearing my “lucky” party dress to my interview at Betsey Johnson. It was a beige seersucker sweetheart strapless top with black circle skirt and tulle with little gold music note buttons on the top. I wore that party dress a lot that year, and to an interview I would just pair a cardigan and my black satin boat shoes with it to be a little more “profesh”. That was definitely my uniform when I was in college.
What is the best advice someone has ever given you?
I live by a few mantras: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” and “You have nothing to lose.” When you think about it, my business started because I wasn’t afraid to send an email.
In college you began designing costumes for Katy Perry. How did that happen?
In the summer of 2008, Katy Perry released “I Kissed a Girl.” I was back in Massachusetts for the summer working as a substitute teacher, a nanny and ice cream scooper, while making a 10-piece collection of clothing for myself. I started seeing pictures of Katy and knew that if she saw my clothes, she would totally wear them. I found Katy’s manager’s email address on her MySpace and sent an email. A couple hours later Katy’s stylist emailed me and Katy herself emailed me the next day. I sent a huge box of clothes to LA and she was wearing the collection I made that summer on stage at Warped Tour. She loved what she saw on my website and she gave me a backstage pass to her concert the following week. I brought my mom and my best friend backstage, took Katy’s measurements and discussed doing designs for the Today Show, VMAs, Tonight Show and so much more. She blogged about me after the Today Show performance and just like that my life was changed. Thousands of girls flooded my website and emailed me wanting custom clothing. My business was started right there in my Brooklyn dorm room. If Katy hadn’t responded to my email then nothing would have happened, but because she did, everything changed.
You recently created an online course for aspiring fashion designers, tell us more about that!
I did! Very exciting! When I graduated, I had press hits and A-list clients, but didn’t know how to actually take this small hobby-business out of the dorm room and turn it into something profitable and stable in the real world. I didn’t learn the practical step-by-step way to start a business because design colleges don’t always want you to go down a career path that is uncertain. My E-Course, So You Wanna Be a Fashion Designer, is the 5 floundering post-grad years of my life summed up for you so that you don’t have to make the very expensive, time-wasting mistakes that I made.
What are the three beauty products you never leave home without?
Russian red matte lipstick by Mac has been my go-to color since high school. I won’t leave the house without that, mascara (currently loving Smashbox X-Rated) and my Sidekick Cosmetics highlighter/bronzer. I literally get stopped on the street about my highlighter at least once a week.
Where do you hope to see your line five to ten years down the road?
Completely out of my apartment! I would love to be carried in more stores all around the country and world and have a permanent location somewhere in NYC. I’ve always dreamed of having my own boutique where girls could go, shop, hang out, sip champagne and do crafts with their friends. Experiencing a brand is so important. The internet is amazing, but seeing your customers and making those connections face to face is what it’s all about!
What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers out there?
If you work hard enough, it will happen. I am a big believer in that. I do not believe in luck. I work my ass off. You have to be a little crazy to work as hard as you’ll need to, and I am totally aware of my craziness. I always tell people that I wouldn’t tell anyone to do what I do, but I wouldn’t do anything differently!
Caroline Vazzana is a fashion writer, editor, and stylist living and working in her hometown of New York. She’s worked for Anna Sui, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and InStyle. She has collaborated with designers including Betsey Johnson and Diane Von Furstenberg, and has styled celebrities for various red carpets like the MTV Video Music Awards and Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Caroline is currently the Founder & Creative Director of MakingManhattan.com where she hopes to shed light on the industry to the future fashion generation. Make sure to follow her everywhere @cvazzana for an inside look into her day to day in NYC.