3 Women, 3 Cool Careers That Inspire

Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
If you've ever thought about rising through the ranks to a corner office, starting your own business, or turning your artistic passion into a career, you've wondered how other people do it — how they got there, how they stay there, and where they're going next. So, we went to the source and spoke with three strong, stylish women who are absolutely killing it in their respective industries.
Claire Distenfeld of the NYC boutique Fivestory, Jana Fleishman of Roc Nation, and interior designer (and CFDA-nominated Instagrammer) Pari Ehsan have one thing in common aside from their stunning style: They refuse to acknowledge they're at the top. But, from their current perches in fashion, music, and media, we have to say they appear to have it all figured out, including the wardrobe-upgrading powers of Tiffany & Co.'s new collection, Tiffany T.
Ahead, we've got their stories, their advice, and some major career inspiration — you'll have to get your own corner office.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Claire Distenfeld
Owner of Fivestory, 28

With a bachelor's in Fine Art from NYU and a master's in Contemporary Art from Sotheby's, this born-and-bred New Yorker was exposed to art for most of her adult life. But, after getting into the art dealing world and realizing that mixing business with pleasure just wasn't a fit for her, she left. To take her mind off the reality that she was without a job, she wandered into store after store. And, among the uninspired racks of clothes, she found the direction she was looking for: the idea to create Fivestory — a store that puts the experience before the clothes.

The luxury boutique located in the Upper East Side features highly curated items from brands like Olympia Le-Tan, Rosie Assoulin, and Balmain that work with each other to tell vignettes. What's more is that the staff has a laissez-faire approach, giving customers breathing room as they browse around the boutique. Read ahead for more on how Distenfeld turned a void into a major shopping destination for the city's most stylish set.

Rosie Assoulin jumpsuit, Rochas shoes.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Your first love was art — why was that such a passion point for you?
"Growing up, I lived a block away from the Met, two blocks away from the Whitney, and ten blocks away from the Frick. Just having all these things around me as I was walking to school or walking home — you don’t realize it but you're absorbing it all."

Once you left the art world, you went into a very niche market within the retail industry.
"Yeah, I want to create a dialogue between the senses. Stores are so daunting; I didn’t feel like there was a store that felt homey yet decadent. It isn't about stocking Balenciaga, it's about emotion. When I curate the store, I think romantically but practically. I want the customer to feel a certain way, but I also think about how the shopper will approach shopping. I am my own customer, so for example, I'd want this beautiful whatever to be worn 10 different ways."

So, you pitched the store to your dad, who has experience in the luxury skins market. What went into your business plan?
"I didn't really have one — it was much more organic than that. It was a few months of conversation and discussion. We both thought it was gonna be a big project in the beginning, but it just got bigger from there as we were talking about it. And, then came a moment when it was like, 'Do I go all in, or do I not?' I mean, I had no reason to go into his field at all, but he saw that I wasn’t going to let this fail and that I'm going to make this work no matter what."

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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
He financed the store and the rest is well, you know. How did you go about choosing items to stock in the store?
"I was obsessed with learning about the history of art, so when I used to look at pieces of artwork, I would almost get a movie montage of everything I've learned about the artist or other references. Same thing goes with designers. I can see a silhouette and shape and have a five-second montage in my head of all these things I've seen before. And, I’ll be like, 'I get the reference point, I love how you updated it.' It's an innate, 10-second thing for me."

You're always snapping pics of yourself in items that have just come into the store, but what's your personal style?
"I wear pieces that are timeless and have been done before, but I like to add one subtle element of newness and whimsy to it."

Like this book clutch and Tiffany T cuffs?
"Yeah, these new cuffs are a great replacement for my beloved Tiffany bone cuffs, the ones designed by Elsa Peretti. When I was Bat Mitzvahed when I was 13, I received a few of the Return to Tiffany bracelets. But, when I went to Tiffany's on my own, I fell in love with the bone cuffs. My mom bought two of them for me, and I wore them every. single. day. Now, these cuffs are my new favorites, and they're pretty great."

Olympia Le Tan clutch, Gianvito Rossi heels.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
You're in such a luxury, niche market, but what happens when more businesses follow your lead? How do you plan on staying ahead?
"Well, my biggest competitor is the Internet, which is hard to beat. But, Fivestory is about the senses, and the Internet will never have that. One major element of Fivestory is our amazing customer service. We can tailor and deliver items. If a customer calls and says she needs a dress that night, we'll send 45 styles — comped — to give her what she needs, and then bring the rest back."

Yet, you have customers buying items you post on Instagram.
"I think in this day and age, every real shopper uses Instagram. My customer is a very vocal and avid Instagram viewer, so, yes, I'll put an Olympia Le-Tan clutch up, and without a doubt, we'll sell one or two. But, the most interesting thing is when I 'gram something while I'm at an appointment six months ahead of a season, and I still get responses from people. On the flip side, you can also put something on Instagram and there'll be crickets — no one’s into it. Instagram is one of the greatest tools a buyer can have."
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
From the big-time fashion players that frequent your store to your appearance in our 30 Under 30 series, you've accomplished so much in just two years. How does it feel?
"You know, praise — it doesn’t do anything to me. Because in my eyes, I haven’t done anything yet. I see the vision of where I want the store to go, and it’s like a football field away. But, I’m so proud of my Fivestory team, so when people praise me, I think of them. It’s an army of 16 people."

What's your vision for Fivestory?
"I definitely see us going into e-commerce in 2015, even though Fivestory is a destination store. If I mimic it on the Internet, which I can't, why would someone buy something in the store? I need to strengthen the store experience now as much as I can so that it doesn’t matter if you buy items online later. Let's say a customer comes into the store and sees this outfit or necklace. She leaves, but the item sits with her so hard that she's like, 'How did I not buy that before?' So, the Internet is there to give her the easiest way to buy something after she's had the store experience."

Do you have a key takeaway from the whole experience of creating Fivestory that women can apply to their own entreprenurial paths?
"Go all in. If you're creating something that doesn’t exist yet and you're not willing to go all in, then you're not actually going to fill in that void."

Azzedine Alaia top, Rosie Assoulin pants, Gianvito Rossi pumps, Giambattista Valli Couture bag.

Tiffany & Co. Tiffany T Wire Hoop Earrings In 18K Gold, available at Tiffany & Co. in October 2014.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Jana Fleishman
Head of Communications at Roc Nation, 40

Growing up, Fleishman dreamt of owning her own fashion magazine, starting a modeling agency, and becoming a heart surgeon. But, after her first semester Hunter College and no clear career path, her mother urged her to take an internship in the music business because she thought she had a fitting personality. The gig never panned out, but a publicity internship did. Two semesters later, she left Hunter.

Fast-forward 23 years, and she is now at Roc Nation working alongside Jay Z to promote artists like Rita Ora, Willow Smith, and Rihanna. Read on for Fleishman's thoughts on her unexpected foray into the music biz, her casual-but-confident personal style, and why people need to stop being surprised that she is indeed a woman who's at the top. Good call, Mom.

Theory top, 3.1 Phillip Lim shorts, Manolo Blahnik heels.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
You oversee a major department — what's your day-to-day look like?
"It's never the same. But, in general, my job encompasses marketing, branding, social media, and a whole lot of strategizing. We find what’s most genuine to our artists and then position them a certain way that is organic for them. It’s my responsibility to make sure I’m expressing an artist's views and ideas and to figure out what vehicles and outlets would express those things."

You always put the artist first then?
"Well, the brand comes first, then the artist. I have to remind the client to do their taxes and then remember to do my own."

Tiffany & Co. Tiffany T Cutout Hinged Cuff In 18K Gold With White Ceramic, available at Tiffany & Co. in November 2014.

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"Charles the First (Set II), 1982–2005" by Jean-Michel Basquiat; Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
It must've paid off, because you're pretty much at the top of your game — how does that feel?
"I never see myself as being 'on top.' I think of myself as that little girl from the Bronx, like, 'I’m Jana, How ‘ya doing?' I just try to have a better event, get the next amazing partnership, hopefully learn something from the mistakes I’ve made — just be better than I was yesterday. I have a vision of what I want to bring to the company, and I haven't brought it yet."

What's that vision?
"Well, I just want to continue to grow with Roc Nation. It’s not about a bigger role. I want to be able to learn about every aspect of the business and not just the music business. Like, we just started representing athletes last year. I would be limiting myself if I put words to how I would like to grow."

The music industry is dominated by males, do you feel like you have to work even harder to be recognized?
"Fourteen-thousand percent more, yes. There’s a stereotype that women are still fighting against, and people are sometimes still surprised when they meet me or when I call bull on somebody. Clearly, people don’t know that I’m about my business. That comes first."

Club Monaco dress, Yves Saint Laurent heels.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
You're so confident in yourself and your work. How does that translate into your personal style, too?
"When you're young, you just don’t know your body and style, but you think you look really cute. I remember wearing these tube tops called Multiples — basically a tube top that came in a million different colors and that you could wear a million different ways. And, then there were wetsuit-inspired gear called Body Glove, Hammer pants, oversized pantsuits, and Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' phase with the rubber bracelets and pins. I was terrible."

"Now, I’m into much more comfortable clothes. I think I know my body, so I find a silhouette and stick with it. Usually, I’m very basic in jeans, a T-shirt, and heels. A good heel and bag can elevate any outfit. I wear sweats and Jordans to work if I’m heading to the airport that day. And, if it’s a special day, I'll put on a dress.”

Club Monaco dress, Yves Saint Laurent heels.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Rubber bracelets — thank goodness you've upgraded...
"Seriously. Yeah, I love the boldness of these Tiffany T bracelets. There’s a strength and a timelessness in the designs. They’re simple but still make a statement. I remember my first Tiffany item — the Peretti bean necklace. One of my first mentors in the music business, Lauren Murphy, gave it to me when I was leaving Mercury Records. I remember my hands shaking because it meant so much — someone had to help me put it on."

You didn't get to where you're at by accident, but you had to start from the bottom like the rest of us. What would you tell someone who's just getting her foot in the door?
"First, common sense is not common. And, don't let others take your kindness for naïveté or being an airhead. Tell yourself that there’s a reason why you work for the person you work for."
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"Steel/Mesh 3, 2014" by Jason Gringler; Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Pari Ehsan
Interior designer and CFDA-nominated Instagrammer, 30

With an architecture degree from the University of Southern California and an eponymous interior design firm under her belt, Ehsan decided to take her personal blog and Instagram account in a totally new direction — art and fashion.

The Indiana native's next-level Instagram pics are a beautiful mix of art meets fashion that goes beyond the usual step-and-repeat in front of a piece of canvas. Ehsan scouts out pieces of modern art and then pairs them with coordinating high-fashion pieces that have the same look or feel for a very meta image. The images are so striking that they even caught the Council of Fashion Designers of America's eyes, earning Ehsan a nomination for the first-ever Instagrammer of the Year award.

She might not have nabbed the top prize in the category, but she scored even more cred for her IG feed. Ahead, Ehsan takes us through her creation process and how she plans to expand beyond Instagram.

Ellery top, Kenzo pants, Alice & Olivia heels.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
You could've easily created a blog and Instagram account around interior design and architecture, why did you decide to work with art?
"I started them as an offset of doing the architecture and interior design work, which is more rigid and less creative. Pari Dust, the blog and Instagram, is a more free spirited, fun thing. I’ve always had this love for art and fashion, so it’s an avenue to explore the relationships between them."

Where did that love come from?
“I've always liked the balance of doing something that’s very technical with something creative. Architecture seemed like a natural thing for me, but I've also always had this fascination for art museums. This is kind of my way of learning about all of these different artists."
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
You've said you look at the artwork first and then find the fashion pairing. How do you hunt down the perfect piece?
“Every Saturday, I’ll start in the Lower East Side, head to Chelsea, and end uptown. This summer has been a little different because it’s usually a dry period for galleries, but that’s my general routine, so I always know what’s going on and what’s new. When I see a piece, sometimes it’s very intuitive and an amazing pairing comes to mind right away. Other times, though, I have to think about the outfit more."

When you've figured out the art and outfit, how does the actual photo shoot take place?
"I usually do it during the day during the week with my photographer Tyler or my boyfriend Jason, so it’s usually pretty quiet. At first, I wouldn’t ask permission to shoot, I would just go in and do it. Now, obviously I have to ask permission, but usually galleries are so welcoming, it's fine — well, as long as it’s done in a really thoughtful way, I mean!"

Were there any challenges you faced?
"Taking pictures when there are a ton of people. I don’t want to stand in the middle of an artwork someone is looking at! But, a couple of times, museums have let me go in after hours or before it opens, so that's really amazing."

A.L.C. top, Rachel Zoe skirt, Clare V. clutch, Delpozo heels.
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Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Your outfits always play off the artwork, but what's your personal, everyday style?
"Since I wear more colorful things for the shoots, I sometimes tend to go for a minimal look on the everyday level — even though I have a bright outfit here! I love interesting details, cuts, and materials. When it comes to jewelry, I love cool nods to architecture like the bold Ts in these pieces. It's like a beautifully done design element."

Even though you didn't win the Instagram category, how does it feel to be nominated for your snaps?
"That changed a lot for me; it was such amazing exposure. It helped with my credibility, so a lot of the clothes I wear for the shoots are pulled from designers. People who read my blog [or have seen my feed] have also started to reach out about interior design projects. I just worked on a woman’s house in Beverly Hills. It's a minimalist farmhouse with nothing on the white walls. It's funny because that is actually my home decor aesthetic. I have very few belongings and furniture in my own home. I feel like a minimal space gives me a clear head.”
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"Studio collage, 2012" by Jason Gringler; Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
You recently went to India for a series of photographs, is there another place you've got on your radar?
"A Brazilian museum called Inhotim — I’m dying to go there. I think it’d be really cool to think about the process of discovery there and pair the art with emerging fashion designers from that area. But, I would love to travel all over the world photographing art and fashion — there are so many amazing undiscovered places for me to see."

You mentioned that your blog and Instagram exposure have gotten pretty big since the CFDA nom. What's next for you then?
"I’m going to be designing a store window around the holidays. I feel like it’s so fun to explore these kinds of things. It’s all very tied back to the architecture, too. The compositions and photographs that I set up — I always have architecture in mind. And, I'll be finishing up my website redesign in a couple of weeks. It'll have more content, and I’ll start pairing artists and designers with similar sensibilities for round-table discussions and interviews, so there will be more depth to the fashion and art pairings.”

Any advice for someone who's exploring her creative side?
"Start collecting work! There are a lot of affordable emerging artists out there, and when you start buying pieces, it’s like this amazing little collection of things you love."