Last night the fashion industry gathered to fete this year's Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund winners, as well as the other hugely talented finalists. Up first, however, was British-born designer, Stella McCartney, who gave the keynote speech, focusing on her career in fashion and giving some business-minded advice for the emerging designers in attendance. Here are some of the key points that we walked away with courtesy of Stella …
1. McCartney interned, beginning at age 15. She started in British Vogue's fashion department, "calling in samples, an experience, I have to admit that proved a bit too 'fashion' for me at that time! Sorry, Anna!" And then moved on to Joseph and Margaret Howell to get a sense of the business side of things. Her advice: "Dip your toe into these sides of the industry and see how they’re related to each other."
2. She enrolled at the prestigious Central Saint Martins, but found that the curriculum just wasn't commercially-minded enough. "You were really encouraged to look outside the box and to challenge yourself; it was really about making dresses out of spaghetti, and the more weird and wonderful and unwearable your clothes could be, somehow, the better you were. I was always made to feel less of a designer because I was designing clothes that women could wear."
3. Her first go at fashion was not a huge success: Fresh out of school, McCartney launched her own line and showed it illegally out of her Notting Hill apartment. Buyers were interested, but she had no idea how to produce enough to fulfill orders.
4. Then she landed a job at Chloé, where she was appointed head designer at only 25. Of this job, she said: "I felt then that I had to grow balls of steel to function successfully in a male-dominated environment, but now, years later, I realize that my strength lies in being a woman and understanding what women want in a gentler way."
5. The sense of strength that McCartney derived from being a woman in the fashion world is exactly what inspired her to give her eponymous label another go. She left Chloé to launch her label in 2001, and she said: "An executive looked at me and said, 'You name me one brand with a woman’s name on the door that’s come out of Great Britain and had any global success.' That really stuck with me and I’m still determined, today, to prove it wrong."
6. She spoke of her anti-fur, leather and PVC stance: "I am in fashion. This is unheard of. This is an industry based on selling leather. You go into stores and you are hit by handbags, not by ready-to-wear. I was always told that I’d never have an accessory business because people associate leather with luxury."
7. Why she doesn't call herself a "fashion designer": To be honest, I never felt comfortable saying, 'I’m a fashion designer.' Somehow, it never seemed to sum up exactly what I do. I’m far more interested in why and how we choose the clothes we wear, the psychology behind it. It’s not all or nothing—it’s about making an effort.”
8. Some advice for emerging designers: "The biggest thing is to be true to yourself in life, to be an individual and have a point of view, to try to lead and not to follow."
9. Her takeaway: "A successful fashion company isn't built on creativity alone. It's also built on solid business decisions."
10. And last but not least, what's the best gift McCartney has ever received? "At my 15th birthday party, a PR friend of my parents gave me a slip of paper that said, 'I’ve got you work experience with Saint Laurent, Ungaro and Christian Lacroix.' It was the best present imaginable.'"