Joe Zee Launches Line, Wants You To Throw Away Your Life Plan

joe-zeePhoto: Courtesy of Joe Zee.
If the fashion industry had official gurus, Joe Zee would certainly be one of them. As a staple of the business for years — as the creative director of Elle, of course — Zee is a constant presence in the front row of every major Fashion Week show. Plus, over the past few years, he's been the one filling your DVR with episodes of All On The Line. But, while mentoring young designers may be part of what makes Joe so special, this time around it's the fashion vet who's the newbie — today marks the launch of the Styled By Joe Zee collection.
Teaming exclusively with QVC, the editor-turned-designer didn't just choose this partner because he's a pro on television. In fact, it's more about reaching the audience, democratizing great style, and making good clothing accessible to all. And, for the man behind all those gorgeous Elle covers, that translated to sequined maxi-skirts that transition for daytime to dancing, clean pencil skirts that can be worn to work but also with a hoodie, and a cashmere tee you can practically live in. Even better, they're all priced from $43 to $89.
Thankfully, somewhere between Milan Fashion Week and long plane rides, Zee chatted with us about what it's like launching his own line and crossing over to a different side of the biz. And, he provided us with the absolute best piece of advice as one of the industry's most respected mentors.
Tell us a little bit about creating your own line! This is a new side of the business for you to be on, so why make the switch now?
"Number one — I have to say — I love QVC. I had done an episode of All On The Line with Nicole Richie when she was prepping her own launch for QVC. It gave me such an insight to the company, and it made me respect them even more because they care about the customer, they care about the viewer. It made me stand up and take more notice. So, then, of course, when that episode wrapped and they had talked to me about it, I was like, 'Absolutely.'
"I’ve worked in the sort of rarefied world of fashion for so long. I go to all the shows on the runway, but what I really love is to bring what I view to women across the country. That’s why I’m so active on social media. That’s why I’m so active on television, because it lets me address fashion in a broader way that people can get a piece of. So, this collection, Styled by Joe Zee, was really the idea of what I’ve done for the last two decades of my career: to bring out the best in women. It doesn’t matter if you’re Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Lopez, or my boyfriend’s mom, I want to make you the best possible version."
You've worked alongside so many amazing designers in styling shoots for Elle and mentored young ones on All On The Line — how has this prepared you? What's one major "do" you've applied to your collection launch?
"I think working with different designers, I always respected that everyone stayed true to themselves. They never wanted to be something that they weren’t, and I always loved that. That’s the one thing I took away and tried to impart on young designers. I did it all through mentoring on All On The Line. You have to have a point of view, but you have to have a point of view that’s unique and true to who you are. I think anybody — and especially the customers today, and certainly these women watching QVC — can smell authenticity. They’re not going to believe it. I’m doing the things I absolutely love, and you’re going to hear me talk about it with so much excitement, enthusiasm, and passion because I love it. If I didn’t, I think they would know."
What's a major "don't" for you?
"I don’t want to be following a fad or a trend. I think it’s so easy to be influenced — especially someone like me because I go to every single fashion show. It’s easy to be like, 'I’m going to copy that person. I’m going to be swept away like that.' I think it’s more about great things. The point of it should be 'That’s a great thing I love. I want to pull out that skirt because I love it. Because, every time I put it on, it makes me feel smart and sexy and strong and confident and all of those things.'”
Click to page two for more of our interview with Joe Zee.
joe-zee-2Photo: Courtesy of QVC.
Do you think people in the industry get a bit of flak for being a slashie? (For example, an editor-slash-designer, a model-slash-stylist, etc.) How do you plan to address any potential haters?
"I think there are always going to be people who are going to question things when you step out of the box, when you do something that’s out of the norm. I can’t do things within convention because our world is moving so fast. Five years ago, no one would’ve known that [reality] television would be so big. Ten years ago, no one even had iPhones, so the idea is that everything is moving at rapid pace. You either keep up or get left behind.
"There definitely will be haters and people who question things who think editors shouldn’t be designers and designers shouldn’t be this. Those boundaries are coming down. Net-A-Porter is now a magazine publisher, and GQ is considering opening stores. Everything is changing in the world of what fashion is today, and someone has to rewrite the rules. I think, when I started doing reality television and everybody was like, 'I don’t know, reality TV…' and now everybody wants a piece of that pie, too. I think the reality is, things have to move, and you have to sort of be first. I’m not even saying I'm first, but I’m okay with what people think because this is what’s exciting to me. Because I get to share my love of fashion with everybody out there. I’m not worried about what everyone sees in me; I’m thinking about what I can bring to everyone else."
You've been such an influential one to so many people working in the industry. Does being a mentor change the way that you do your job?
"I think being a mentor puts a little bit more pressure on you. You don’t want to dispense advice to up-and-comers and not be able to follow it yourself. You have to be as good as the advice you dole out. That was important to me, that I didn’t give false advice, but I really tried to follow my own advice...I think with a lot of these young designers, they’re certainly naïve, but there’s ambition, enthusiasm, and this excitedness about the industry that you don’t always see. When you become really big, you sort of see things through a different filter. I love that beginning stage. It’s like when you first start dating someone, you see them in a totally different way. That part is literally still butterflies in your stomach, it’s still exciting. There are still stars in your eyes. I love that moment, and you don’t want that moment to pass."
I think you've become known as one of the sources of sage advice in the industry — be it on the designer side or editorial. Do you ever doubt your own advice? 
"I don’t think I really doubt my own advice. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I really react by instinct. I think fast, I talk fast, I move fast, so I make quick decisions. I never harbor or hem and haw over decisions. I do it really quick because I don’t have the patience to labor over anything. I just go by instinct. I’m literally saying that this is what it is, and then I do it. It’s not so much giving bad advice, it’s really just trusting yourself."
Finally, what's the best solid nugget of wisdom that never steers you wrong?
"I always tell everybody, 'Have a plan, and then throw it out.' Then you have a sense of what you want to do, but you’re okay if you completely veer off track. I set out with such a specific plan of everything I wanted my career to be, then everything detoured into all sorts of crazy ways along the way. I was like, 'Oh, no, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.' But, then I look back and I think, 'It is better than I wanted it to be.' You know what you want to do, but you’re okay to take a detour."

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