"Milk every contact, take risks, work for nix" - New York power PR Malcolm Carfrae on getting a foot in the door of the fashion biz




Last week Frockwriter mentioned the new Australians in New York Fashion Foundation, whose mission statement is to facilitate connections for young Australians in the New York fashion and beauty businesses. A gumleaf mafia corroboree will convene tonight in the Big Apple to launch the foundation, with a number of highprofilers tipped to attend. Just how will the program work? In 2010, a foundation prize will be awarded to one Australian citizen aged 18-28 to cover travel and accommodation expenses for up to six months, with a work experience program organised. Applications open August 1, deadline is September 15, 10 finalists to be announced November 1, with a finalists dinner - apparently in Sydney - slated for late December. The winner will be announced mid January 2010. Click here for more details. In the interim, frockwriter thought we would pick the brains of a few foundation members who have made it to the top of the competitive New York fashion media market and ask their advice for industry newcomers. Here is the first of a series of Q&As: Calvin Klein's Malcolm Carfrae.

Describe your current position and what the job involves.
Malcolm Carfrae: I am the Executive Vice President of Global Communications at Calvin Klein Inc. I oversee public relations, corporate communications, celebrity services, special events and charitable initiatives for the company world-wide.

How difficult was it to break into the New York media environment? Briefly describe the career trajectory which led you to your current position.
The tough part was getting into the fashion industry in London. I worked in retail (on the shop floor) for two years until I could find a job in fashion PR there. I worked for almost nothing and earnt my keep by working seven days a week. I was lucky enough to work for a small fashion PR agency that gave me the opportunity to grow quickly. For me, getting a job in New York was the easy part, because I was head-hunted and relocated. Once in New York, it was all about hard work and initiative. I was promoted twice at Calvin Klein, and have had my current title for about a year.

What do you know now that you dearly wish someone had told you when you first arrived in New York?
Knowledge is power in New York. I hated not knowing the best place to eat, where to cut my hair, where to buy a lamp shade. I asked a lot of questions and never asked the same question twice.

Best part about working and living in New York.
It's the most professional city in the world. People are driven and very positive, very up. Fashion is taken very seriously and people are generally well paid. It's easy to get around - Manhattan is a small island and taxis are plentiful. And the beaches that are an easy drive away.... For an Australian, it's like being at home. London can't offer that.

Worst part about working and living in New York.
The distance from Europe and Australia. I can't think of another negative.

Where are you from in Australia and what do you most miss about it?
I'm from Sydney. I miss the easy sense of humor, the light and my family but after 20 years away, the sense of longing subsides.

Considering how many Australians already work in the New York media - without any specific assistance - what prompted you to launch the foundation and how will it operate?
It's true - a lot of us made it with no specific assistance but we liked the idea of combining a social networking group with a foundation that gave something back to young Australians. Maybe it will be a little easier for Australians to find work experience or jobs in New york with our support. We'd like to see the people we help taking the knowledge back to Australia. It will function as a work experience programme, not a scholarship. We'll provide the funding and the work placements for the recipients.

What advice would you give young Australians hoping to break into the New York media/fashion/beauty business?
Milk every contact you have without stalking the person. Having the right contacts gets you everywhere in New York. Take risks and do your research. Find out everything about the company you want to work for and email everyone there you can. Offer to work for free and work nights if you have to. My current executive assistant researched me so well before her job interview, she knew I wrote short stories when I was younger. And she knew the annual turn-over of our company - impressive.

Describe your typical day at Calvin Klein.
A typical day for me is answering the many emails I get overnight from Europe, Asia and Australia (before breakfast), get to the office before the deluge of emails from the US begin. Back to back meetings, usually a lunch with editors or stylists, meetings with my team to plan the next initiatives and strategize, sitting in on interviews with our designers and accompanying them to an event after work, normally two events per night or a work dinner. Home at 11 if I'm lucky.