Just about every fashionista dreams about working as a fashion designer, and for Guess' Chief Design Officer, Sharleen Ernster Lazear, that fantasy became a reality.
Ernster Lazear, who left a post as the executive vice president of design at Victoria's Secret to join Guess in May 2013, recently opened up to us about wanting a career in fashion ever since she was a little girl growing up in a small town in Texas—and the steps she took to make her childhood goal come true!
Plus, the former New Yorker opens the door to her fabulous new Los Angeles office, which is freshly decorated after her big move from the Big Apple.
How did you get started in your career?
I grew up in a tiny town in Texas called Cuero and for as long as I can remember—back to ages as early as 6 or 7 years old—I looked at fashion magazines. I tried to teach myself to draw and relentlessly searched out magazines from the mail and from my mother and grandmother's stash. I wanted to get to New York City from day one. Eventually, I sold my car—a 1976 Gold Eldorado Cadillac Convertible (and cried)—and moved to NYC my junior year of college to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. The connections I made there while working in sales jobs and internships launched me into fashion roles. I networked high and low and those connections have kept me going for many years in the field.
What's the best part of your job?
Where do I start? I love what I do—it's all great from there. The people and the heart of the brand are the integral parts. What the brand gives me to work with is rich and the people are optimistic and full of hope.
Describe your office style and what you typically wear to work?
I am chameleon. I love working in fashion and especially for a denim brand. Sometimes I am dressed up and polished in a dress and jacket and sometimes it's all denim or an easy dress. I wear what is inspiring me and what I want the team to be inspired by, so I mix and match all the time based on where I just traveled, a movie I just saw or an editorial spread that made me wear something differently. I like to push myself , which I want my team to do as well—experiment, be confident, be unique. That's cool.
Describe a typical day.
Nothing is typical yet in Los Angeles, as I am still getting settled in to my home and life here. I am an early person and am up by 5 a.m., feeding my cat and getting coffee, hanging out with the dogs and reading my emails. I try to be out of the house by 6:45 a.m. to commute downtown to work, and I like to wake my girls up for school before I go.
I use the commute to catch up with people on the phone, both personally and professionally, in NYC, Texas or Europe. My work day is completely packed and sometimes double-booked, starting at 8 a.m.
As you can see, my office is glass, which I love, but it does mean that I am always accessible and many days I have lines of people waiting for my approval. I stay focused, stay busy and try to keep things simple and solvable. I always try to have some creative time or meetings that are actually on product or on the collection, inspirational.
Sometime after 5:30 p.m., it varies. I put the top down on my car and blast music and tune-out on the drive home; music is really important to me and it takes me away and clears my mind and my heart. Ideally, I see the kids before bed and then eat a home cooked dinner with my partner, Charlie (he's the chef!). We try to go out at least once a week to explore L.A. and to establish a social network for ourselves as well since we are new here.
Describe your work environment.
Open, gorgeous, great light and amazing attitudes! I love our workspace—the big desks, the skylights, windows and the clean white walls with all of the amazing artwork and photography of Guess. We are a lively and open team and there is lots of competing music playing all day.
Tell us about your office décor and inspiration.
I love to be surrounded by inspirational quotes and photos. It's always changing with new photos going up around the office and I love photos of good times with my friends and family and, of course, my kids. I am very neat and organized, though. No clutter!
I never leave home without...
Kissing my kids and Charlie goodbye.
Where do you like to shop?
I shop everywhere all the time. I have to say my best shopping is when I travel, which is at least one week a month, and I tend to shop everywhere I go. I am extremely eclectic and not targeted to a single brand. Certain cities and countries influence me differently. I don't really shop for "work clothes"— it's all the same to me. Shopping is holistic for me; I use things for multiple end uses. I have a three outfit rule: If I want something, can I think of three ways to wear it with what I already own? If so, that seals the purchase. Otherwise, it's an investment that needs more purchasing to complete the look. I also don't buy much I can't wear within the same week, if not immediately.
What are your beauty must-haves?
Deep conditioners for my hair. I have dozens that I rotate through but I love Bumble & Bumble masks.
What are your travel must-haves?
Downloaded movies and music—new or old but something that's fresh to me. REN Omega 3 Oil & Crème and La Mer lip balm.
What's your go-to lunch?
Kale! Anything kale, I love for lunch at the office…or fresh tacos. We have great ones here at our café.
If I wasn't doing this job, I'd be...
I really have the perfect job for me. If I were to come back for a second life, I would want to be a musician, a rock star and nothing less!
Do you have any advice for aspiring career girls?
Do what you love. Dream big, but realize this is hard work— mean really hard. And HAVE FUN. It goes by fast.