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Street Smarts

Meet Stylist Rachael Wang

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Growing up, California native Rachael Wang papered her bedroom walls with pages ripped out of W magazine and spent all her babysitting money on vintage threads at the flea market. While she loved fashion, "as a form of expression, a form of armor," says Wang. "I never once considered it a real career path."

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Well, fate has a funny way of working. Today Wang is an in-demand stylist at the top of her game in New York. After an internship at W set her on the career climb, eventually making her way to fashion director at Allure, Wang decided to pull the plug, quit her day job and start her own creative agency. "I had gotten to the point where I was willing to take that risk so that I could keep moving forward, keep growing, keep challenging myself to be better," she explains. "And I’m so lucky that the universe caught me when I was so terrified that I would fall."

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To those looking to do the same, Wang advises, "Let go of your ego. It is humbling to leave your financial security, your title, your affiliation and what you might perceive as your identity. This is the time to redefine who you are…. I promise, it will be worth it." And once you do? She offers more entrepreneurial words of wisdom here, equal parts grit and wit. Like this gem she received from her uncle: "Don’t ask, don’t get." And our favorite: "Know the rules to break the rules."

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Wang has plenty of intel on look-great-feel-great styling matters, too—even for the perennial #WFH crew. "If you’re really in a casual kind of mood, try adding jewelry and/or lipstick to feel a bit more like yourself," she says. "Otherwise, blazers are the magic piece to throw on for a last-minute Zoom meeting." Read on for the full interview, as Wang takes our new collection to the streets of Brooklyn—plus, more style recs, of course.

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Q&A

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How did you get into styling? Was this something you grew up wanting to do or did you fall into it?
I always loved fashion—as a form of expression, a form of armor. As an adolescent, I babysat so I could buy special pieces from the Sixties and Seventies at the flea market while my mom was looking at antique furniture. I didn’t know what a stylist was, but I loved magazines. My high-school bedroom was wallpapered with the extra large pages of W editorials. When I went to college, I never once considered fashion a real career path, so I studied literature. Ironically, I ended up bumping into an internship at the very magazine I had always fantasized about, W, and I never looked back.

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What do you love about what you do?
There are so many things I love. I feel so lucky that I am able to be creative for a living. That my job is to dream, visualize and create. I love the collaborative aspect of working with other talented creatives from photographers, to models, to hair and makeup artists. I love traveling around the world to bring images to life. But, most of all, I love making people feel included and empowered with the images I work on.

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As a stylist, what's your POV?
It really depends on the project. Sometimes my role is to support someone else’s vision, so my perspective is more supportive and my personal point of view recedes to the background. I think there is tremendous power in subverting one’s ego for the greater good of the project. Alternately, when I’m asked to create through my own perspective, I focus on a few important things: Who is the audience, who is the image geared toward? How do we make them feel seen, inspired, beautiful? And from there I try to create imagery with emotion, empowerment, individuality, and humanity at the heart of it.

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What inspired you to pivot in your career and go off on your own? Had you been deliberating for a while?
My career has been full and rewarding with abundant opportunities, all of which I am endlessly grateful for and have brought me to where I am today. At a certain point I started to feel like I had something more to say than what I was being allowed to. I wanted to take up more space. I wanted to have more control over what I was working on and with whom, so I decided to start a creative consultancy where I could do just that.

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Shop the Looks

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What was your biggest fear in taking the jump?
Of course I was terrified no one would hire me and that I wouldn’t be able to pay my team or my rent. But I had gotten to the point where I was willing to take that risk so that I could keep moving forward, keep growing, and keep challenging myself to be better. And I’m so lucky that the universe caught me when I was so terrified that I would fall.

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Words of advice for those looking to do the same but may be hesitating?
If you’re thinking about it constantly, it’s probably time. But coming up with a realistic plan of action is important. It’s important to save in advance of quitting a full-time job so that you have the financial stability to take that kind of a leap. It will take time to build up contacts and confidence among your potential clients and you need to have financial padding that will allow you to just focus on pounding the pavement and being your own best cheerleader, rather than worrying about how to keep the lights on. Make sure that you have worked hard to build an authentic network, that will be your lifeline when you go out on your own. Never underestimate the value of the people you are in community with, make sure you put in the time and effort to show these people your true colors. And, finally, let go of your ego. It is humbling to leave your financial security, your title, your affiliation and what you might perceive as your identity. This is the time to redefine who you are and who you want to be–be willing to do the hard work that comes with starting from scratch. I promise, it will be worth it.

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Most exciting part about owning your own business?
Having control over my own life and having the power to define the ways that I run my business. Choosing how and to whom I allocate resources and what types of companies I will lend my team’s talents to. Having the ability to create and maintain boundaries, learning to say no to things that I don’t feel comfortable with, things that exploit others, things that exploit me. It is a great privilege to be able to say no.

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And most challenging?
Balancing my own personal values with those of an industry that has been built on the exploitation of people and resources.

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Best career advice and from whom?
“Don’t ask, don’t get”—from my uncle.

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Is there another entrepreneur you look to for inspiration?
My dear friend Aurora James, the founder and creative director of Brother Vellies and 15 Percent Pledge, is a source of endless inspiration.

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“I think the 80s era of power suits is endlessly inspiring... Sometimes I prefer to let the clean lines of a blazer stand out without a visible underpinning. Here, I’m wearing the blazer buttoned up with a low-cut camisole just out of sight.”

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Shop the Look

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“New Yorkers love black and I am no exception, especially for work! To punch up the monochrome look, mix sumptuous textures and finish with strong personal jewelry that plays back to the jacket's gold hardware.”

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Shop the Look

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What's your most memorable rejection or failure—and what did you learned from it?
To be honest, I can’t think of just one. I am rejected constantly, daily even. If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching womxn in the public eye—take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was called a "fucking bitch" by a Congressman on the steps of Capital Hill, for example—it’s that womxn who tell the truth, womxn who stand up for themselves, womxn who set boundaries and expect respect, will be rejected by a system that was not built to support them. But that doesn’t mean that we should give up. Because every time a womxn persists despite rejection, she opens the door of opportunity for the womxn behind her and that is worth fighting for.

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What’s your secret hack to getting it all done?
For me there is no secret hack. I have not found a way to get “it all” done. At least not well. The reality of achieving “success” for me is prioritization and sacrifice. I have prioritized my career above all else and thus sacrificed relationships with family and friends, having children, tending my home, being a good neighbor, taking care of my health, among many many other things that are part of a “normal” balanced life. Anything is possible, I suppose, but we have to decide for ourselves, at what cost?

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Insider tips to the would-be stylist?
Cultivate a unique point of view. Educate yourself on fashion history or, in other words, know the rules to break the rules. Work hard. Be kind. And know when it’s not about you.

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What's your wardrobe MVP?
Vintage Levi’s. They bring me an enormous amount of comfort. I’ve been collecting them for decades. They are everything I love in a piece of clothing—hard-working, durable, sexy, down-to-earth, accessible, they get better with age and are endlessly versatile.

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And the real-person MVP in your life?
My mom. Watching her move through the world is how I learned to be everything that I am and she gives me room to continue growing into the person I want to be.

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“To give a bit more shape and polish to a casual jeans outfit, tuck the front of an oversized blouse into the jeans and top the look off with a great belt.”

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