INTERVIEW: CAT WRIGHT
Cat Wright, Wardrobe Stylist at E! News and Writer. Interviewed by Michele Carroll. Photography: Roneil Chavez
For our readers who don’t know, give us a little rundown of what you do. I dress celebs, musicians, TV personalities – basically anyone with a public image – for red carpets, television performances, music videos, photo shoots, etc. So, the CliffNotes version (I hope my dad reads this) is I go out and shop for clients at stores and showrooms then organize everything to look like a mini-department store… there are clothes, shoes, jewelry, (if the shoot calls for it) handbags, really anything to complete the look. After all the product is pulled, I put together outfits and we will have a fitting. After the shoot/appearance, my assistant and I return everything to its home and wrap the job out.
I understand that your first career choice wasn’t in the fashion industry, but actually law! When did you decide to switch paths?
Well if I’m being honest, I was in law school for the wrong reasons. I was dating someone and didn’t think moving across the country would be good for our relationship (turns out I was right) but I wasn’t fulfilled at all in law school. I spent so much time with my head buried in a case book or sleeping to escape constant boredom and talk of precedent that all the passion I lived off of had simmered down to a flicker. On paper my life projection looked great, it just wasn’t right for me. I remember my stepsister came to visit me one night and she told me I didn’t look like myself. I was hollow. It sounds dramatic but it’s the truth. That was the moment I realized I could change something; three months later my apartment was packed and I was gone.
This was after completing your undergrad at the University of Louisville- you packed up your life and headed west in a U-haul! What was that experience (completely leaving the old and starting anew in a big city) like for you?
The actual decision to move and the process of making that happen was so scary and exciting. It was a rush. Once I made that decision – and I actually didn’t put a lot of thought into it – I never once doubted it or wondered “what if I’m making a mistake?” For me, it was such a moment of clarity but I did feel a little bad because everyone else was a bit blindsided. Luckily, I had lived in L.A. for short time in college so I knew what to expect as far as expenses (in Kentucky, rent is about ⅓ of what we pay here and parking is free) and where I wanted to live. What I was not prepared for was the difficulty I would have finding a job.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
I started working in retail the second I was old enough to get a job so that was always the industry I was most comfortable. Even studying business at Louisville, I assumed I would do some sort of marketing for a brand or department store. In fact, the majority of the time I studied at FIDM I was planning on becoming a buyer or merchandiser. Until I was really in the mix, I had no idea how many amazing opportunities to be creative there were in the fashion industry. Then I took an internship in merchandising and found myself bored out of my mind again. I can only sit still for hours on end if the Housewives are on.
Did you have any fears or insecurities when making the transition from fashion student (FIDM) to professional?
I think I was too stressed to understand just how scared I should be. Two days before I was supposed to graduate, I still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. A friend hooked me up with an internship with Cher Coulter and that was really where I learned the stylist grind. I was so thankful to be learning under such a reputable stylist but at the end of the day I’m like, “Hey mom, so… I know I have two degrees and you just put me through fashion school but I got this great opportunity and I’m not going to be making any money.” I am extremely blessed to have parents that have been supportive of my dreams and during that transition were willing to help me pay rent when they saw me trying so hard.
It’s my understanding that the fashion industry can be pretty cutthroat. What advice do you have for standing out and rising the ranks in a competitive field?
I’ve spent a lot of time on both ends of an internship and what I’ve noticed is, while it’s hard to find a good intern or assistant, it’s not that hard to be a good intern or assistant and that’s where we all start. Show up on time. Stay late. Think ahead. Have a sense of urgency. Never ask to leave if other people are still working. Make lists. Be a “yes” person. Own your mistakes. There is nothing more frustrating than someone who cannot just admit that they messed up. When I was an assistant, I lost a dress. Not just a dress, THE dress. It was horrible, I thought I would never work again but I owned up to my mistake, did everything I could to fix it (I couldn’t) and most importantly, I learned to tie the bottom of drycleaning bags.
Working for E! News seems like such a dream job for a stylist! Can you tell us about your journey securing this position – one that I’m sure thousands have pursued?
I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little lucky. When I was in school, my roommate was working for the company and set me up with one of the stylists who was interviewing interns; this was huge because those positions were only word-of-mouth. The stylist I met with gave me the internship and later hired me to assist during awards season. She showed me the ropes of the department and I still love working beside her today. I slowly worked my way up, filling in when they needed me and doing test shoots on the side to build my book. Eventually, a part-time position opened up.
Can you think back to a particular unexpected setback or mental block you’ve had to overcome as a stylist? What did you learn from it?
A mental block is a great way to describe it. This last awards season was very busy; and while it was probably the most exciting few months of my career so far, by mid-March I was tired, cranky and felt like my inspiration had drained out. I think that happens in any creative job. So I booked a flight to visit my parents at their place in Florida for a few days. Slowing down and disconnecting from everything with my family let me recharge and it also gave me time to sit back and appreciate the job and city I would get to come home to.
Before holding your position now, you worked as a freelance stylist. What advice do you have for other freelancers who might be trying to navigate securing work and building business?
I actually still freelance as much as I can because new projects are always exciting. It is important to say “yes” to every opportunity in the beginning and realize that they aren’t all going to come to fruition the way you had hoped. There are a lot of highs but there are also disappointments. We are working with people who are in a very competitive field and under a lot of pressure so we can’t take things personally and that can be hard. Sometimes there are bad fittings and you may not know what outside elements affected it that are completely out of your control. Stay grounded and know that the next one will be better. Keep a budget because the busiest month of your life could be followed by the slowest. Also, know your worth.
You have such a great energy! Do you ever have days where you’re just not feeling it? What do you do to push through when these moments arise?
Oh my gosh all the time! It’s really a struggle during a busy season because you have to be on. The first thing I remember is what Rumi said: “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.” So I crawl to my phone – which isn’t much work – and call my mom because she delivers realistic optimism. Then I crawl some more. At the end of the day I’ll do some sort of mental cardio like boxing or SoulCycle to release whatever energy is holding me back. During low periods, I find that the best thing is to surround yourself with positive people who want to see you and others succeed. Family, trainers and good friends will always give it to you straight.
What does a typical day look like for you – morning to night?
Step one is always coffee. After that, I’ll go to Pilates and answer some emails or write on my blog before really starting the day. I usually start shopping or pulling from showrooms as soon as everything opens and then head to the studio to get talent fitted and dressed for our show. When the cameras start rolling I’ll do some more emailing, send out clothing requests, return product to stores and organize receipts and invoices before my work day is done. After everything is wrapped, I’ll do a dinner with friends or go to an event before finally coming home, cranking my new AC up and going to bed.
L.A. LADY CULTURE.
Favorite area of L.A.? Why? Venice Beach. I love the character (and characters) there.
Favorite eatery in L.A.? Butcher’s Daughter on Abbot Kinney.
Menu item we must order there? The Spicy Kale Caesar and whatever daily pasta they’re slingin’.
Favorite happy hour? St. Felix on Cahuenga.
Favorite weekend activities in the city? Chez Jay on Friday night, Pilates Platinum followed by brunch at Superba, the Main St. Farmer’s Market, Temescal Canyon hike, Venice Beach, and Mosaic on Sunday.
Audio of choice when sitting in traffic? It’s always changing but ever since I took his class, I’ve been obsessed with Parker’s SoulCycle playlists on SoundCloud.
Place or thing you want to do most in L.A., but haven’t yet? I really want to go on a ghost tour, is there a ghost tour?
Biggest L.A. guilty pleasure? Champagne brunches.