Susannah Hutcheson, Special for USA TODAY
Published 8:40 a.m. ET March 13, 2018 | Updated 11:23 a.m. ET March 13, 2018
Our series “How I became a …” digs into the stories of accomplished and influential people, finding out how they got to where they are in their careers.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Fashion powerhouse Cynthia Rowley is well known across the nation, and her brand, Cynthia Rowley, is a staple in hundreds of thousands of closets. The designer, who started out wanting to be a painter, also is an author of five books on everything that’s swell.
USA TODAY caught up with Rowley, who spoke from her open-concept office in NYC’s West Village to talk all things Warhol, working hard and really strong coffee.
Question: What’s your coffee order?
Answer: It’s pretty basic: extra strong coffee with a little bit of whole milk — usually only one cup a day.
Q: Who’s been your biggest mentor?
A: We’re mentored by the cultural zeitgeist — we create in the moment what we feel is authentic to our brand but also what resonates with our audience.
Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of fantastic people, from royalty to rock stars. I’ve also been known to be a bit of a daredevil, so I’ve tried to explore extreme travel and adventure — scuba-diving in an arctic glacier and camping in the Himalayas.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: There’s no such thing. There’s structure in the day in that I come to work every day, but what happens in between those hours is anything but typical. I hit the ground running kind of shot-out-of-a-cannon style in the morning and try to get a 15- to 20-minute workout in. I drop my daughter off at school, walk with my dog so that he gets a little exercise, go back home, quickly get ready and walk to work.
It’s really like a bombardment of stimulation — it’s really hectic, but exciting. It’s loud and creative, and there is that balance between art and commerce every day that I try to strike. There’s nothing more rewarding than having a great idea and being able to make it into a reality. But does that idea make sense from a business standpoint? The creative process is happening every day, because it’s so fast-paced that every element of the creative process is happening simultaneously every day.
I’m exhausted, and it’s only 9 a.m.! I sort of eat lunch on the fly, and I work late every day — between 7 and 8 p.m. I’ve never felt like I was stuck at work. Never felt like that. I’m excited to get things done.
Q: What are your go-to songs/podcasts for a busy day?
A: I like to start the day with a get-pumped song, and then happy, feel-good throughout the day with a little pick-me-up jam in the early evening.
I love Chance the Rapper for my party playlist, Madison Beer and Charlotte Lawrence for my happy playlist, and Led Zeppelin and Eminem for my get pumped playlist. I also love the Heavyweight podcast and Homecoming podcast with Catherine Keener.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
A: Andy Warhol said, “say yes to everything.” If you say no, that’s the end of the story. If you say yes, you never know what could happen.
Q: What does your career path look like, from college to now?
A: All I ever wanted to do was make things. My whole life has been a constant evolution on that theme. When I was in art school, I worried that being a painter seemed like it could be an elusive dream and fashion seemed so much more secure. I have to say that most of what’s carried me through is having a solid grip on the balance of art and commerce — it’s a constant, measured, risk/reward/repeat.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
A: Expect to work really, really hard. Be thankful for all successes, lose your ego, take risks, fail fast, and if you don’t absolutely love what you do, run!
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