Written by Walter Grio. Photos provided by Elaine Mensah.
On July 2010, Elaine asked me to go with her to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, as her photographer. It would be my first time to go to New York fashion week so of course I said yes! Like many others, I’ve always wanted to go, but did not have the opportunity. That said, you can imagine what the feeling was like when I found out on the weekend before going to New York that I actually couldn’t go. My real job got in the way, but without digressing as I’m still bitter, it was fortunate for me that Elaine gave me a second chance. I went to NY fashion week six months later on February 2011.
After photographing fashion week, I had literally over a thousand runway photos. Aside from sharing several photos with Elaine and other media outlets, I didn’t know what to do with them. So on July 2011, the site Fashiontographer.com was born. It started out as a simple Tumblr site (which is still up by the way) and right before S/S 2012 was about to begin, it morphed into its current state.
I laugh when I think about my first experience photographing fashion week. I didn’t even know any of the designers. Not a single one. And the image of Elaine having to mark which runway shows I should cover was pure fashion comedy. You can see the photo of the schedule on the right. DVF, Herrera, Lhuillier, Tory Burch? Who were these people? I’m grateful that Elaine straightened me out. At the same time, I’m also quite very upset at her for solidifying my
addiction interest to fashion. I’m still debating whether or not this was a good thing.
INTERVIEW WITH ELAINE MENSAH
Title: Founder & Fashion Consultant, SVELTE LLC
Tell us about what you do?
That is a great question! LOL. As a Consultant it is by far the #1 question I get asked. What I do in a nutshell is provide a wide range of business, marketing, & media strategy solutions to creative, fashion & lifestyle brands. This includes everything from developing growth strategies, to merchandising/buying for local retailers, producing large scale fashion shows, and styling & art directing brand campaigns.
What is your work background?
My background spans a breadth of sectors so I definitely wear a lot of hats. In addition to my client work, I am also an Entrepreneur who likes to identify niche market opportunities and create ventures & initiatives to address it. For example, in 2007 & 2009 respectively, I felt there was a place for DC-centric fashion content in video & podcast formats so I created SVELTE Tv & Fashion BS. In 2010, as part of DC tech festival Digital Capital Week, I put together DC’s first panel on Fashion & Technology. In 2011, I was one of the first independent Washington DC based fashion business to receive accreditation from the British Fashion Council and attend London Fashion Week.
What are you currently working on now?
Currently, I am producing a DC-focused fashion documentary called “From the Ground Up: A Fashion Film Chronicling the DC Fashion Landscape.” It is a film that examines the landscape of the DC fashion industry, its perceived rise and growing influence, and the factors necessary to push it to the forefront of the industry’s consciousness. I am making it because I believe it is a compelling story and my goal is to ignite a real and substantial dialogue that will hopefully lead to action. By that i mean, as a collective, we take the steps necessary to hopefully become an industry with end-to-end capabilities such as manufacturing, sourcing, marketing, and talent.
Washington, DC has many people covering MBFW in New York. What do you think about that?
I think it is wonderful that so many Washingtonians are covering MBFW. It used to be that the only Washingtonians that attended fashion week were journalists from the major publications and members of Fashion Group International DC (it was a member perk). I remember when I first applied for accreditation from IMG, I was concerned that as a local DC firm with no endorsement or backing from a major publication that my request would be denied. It turns out that what I had been able to do to-date with SVELTE Tv & Fashion BS (both social media platforms) had caught their attention. When I got approved, I realized first with awe, that I was one of the first local businesses in DC to be accredited, but that secondly and most importantly, times had changed. The rise of social media had forced a shift in the “members only” elitist nature of the industry. Ultimately, I think there has been an increasing number of Washingtonians attending fashion week because Washington’s interest in fashion is beyond just retail.
Can you take us through the process of what it’s like to cover Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York?
This season will be my fifth covering Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York and I have to say with each season, I lose a certain level of excitement (laugh). Technology has changed the purpose and landscape of attending fashion shows. Today, I can sit in the comfort of my home and watch the runways live. I do have to say there is a feeling of exhilaration when you see a garment move in person. That feeling definitely cannot be replaced. In terms of what it’s like to actually cover fashion week as a member of the media, that is initially exciting, somewhat challenging, and eventually exhausting. There is a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Standing in line backstage to wait for your interview time slot, then getting backstage and making sure you are “aggressive” enough to get your interview / photo, then leaving backstage and returning to the front of the house to either get your seat or join the standing room gallery, and then doing it all over again for the next show.
What are some of the things that you like/dislike about the current location vs Bryant Park?
In terms of likes & dislikes regarding the location, I had the privilege of attending fashion week when it was at Bryant Park and the difference between that and Lincoln Center to me is palpable. Bryant Park, while smaller in space and often times crowded, felt intimate and communal. Lincoln Center while beautiful and expansive, feels more corporate and convention-like. Nonetheless, even if for just a few days throughout the week, I do like going because being in that environment is still very inspiring.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in the fashion industry?
That is definitely a loaded question. I did not follow the traditional paths into fashion. I didn’t go to fashion school. I wasn’t the kid that always dreamed of being a designer. I didn’t necessarily have family ties to the business. What I recognized when I decided to pursue this career path was that I had a natural ability to create, organize, and execute. I had a genuine love for the business. I spent a lot of my free time reading, researching, and learning. I also learned to trust my gut and my inner voice. I had a keen eye and decided that I wouldn’t wait for opportunity to come to me, I will create my own. So my advice to someone who’s just starting out in fashion is to first and foremost trust your own voice. Know how to balance advice and intuition. As cliched as it sounds, never accept no as the final answer. Figure out a way to make the industry work for you. And the final and most important thing is to never stop learning. I feel like I am still a student of the business with so much more to learn, so much more growth and knowledge to acquire, and much much more success to be attained.
What inspires you to do what you do and what inspires you to keep doing it?
My biggest inspiration comes from not having fully reached my goals. I am incredibly honored when folks like yourself want to interview me and know more about my journey because I feel like I am still on it and haven’t reached my destination. That knowledge definitely keeps me grounded, humble, and consistently inspired. Outside of fashion, technology is my inspiration. My husband is a developer and so I am constantly surrounded by tech products and news (one of my biggest regrets still is not listening to my husband in late 2006/early 2007 when he kept trying to get me to get on this thing called “Twitter” LOL). These things push me to think about how to provide new and creative solutions to my clients and to my own ventures.