Our series “How I became a…” digs into the stories of accomplished and influential people and 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 hundr of thousands of closets. The designer, who started out wanting to be a painter, is also an author of five books on everything that’s swell.
Fashion Designer Cynthia Rowley attends Domino Holiday Pop-up Shop in partnership with Home Depot and Smartwater to benefit Habitat For Humanity at 44 Mercer Street on November 30, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images for Domino)
Q. What’s your coffee order?
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?
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?
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.
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Q. What does a typical day look like for you?
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?
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?
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.
Designer Cynthia Rowley plays with feathers and models at Cynthia Rowley – Presentation during New York Fashion Week: The Shows on September 8, 2016 in New York City. (Photo: Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images)
Q. What does your career path look like, from college to now?
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?
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!