Since taking the post of Creative Director at Elle in January we decided that it would be good to catch up with stylist Joe Zee for a little in-depth chat. Styling department agents Akiko and Humberto went over to his new offices at Elle to ask some questions and snap some pictures.
1. As the new creative director of Elle what direction are you looking to take?
Really, basically, to take it back to what it represents. So I like the history of the brand, the name, Elle, and what is used to mean when it first launched in America and also when it first started in France, which is where it originally came from. It was so much about a strong sexy woman, being trend driven, being very directional and showing great fashion and great ideas, and all that. So everything really just jumps off the page at you.
2. You are working again with your design director from Vitals, Paul Ritter. Can you describe how you guys work together?
Yes! Well Paul Ritter was my art director at Vitals when we did that at Fairchild and at Conde Nast. We have a great working relationship as we both think alike and have the same sort of mind and we understand what the magazine is about and of doing it in a new way or interesting way or innovative way and having a really specific strong sensibility that will come across so in a way we work really well because sometimes we argue but sometimes we see something exactly the way that it is and we try to move it all in the right direction.
And it's nice having that history with him there too, working together at Vitals..
Yeah, we have a good working history together and we don't have to hold back, we can say exactly what we really think and sometimes we're so busy we need someone who can think alike and have a like mind to be able to move on.
3. How are you planning on decorating your new office at Elle?
(Laughter) We're going to have hardwood floors, dark wood floors, and have plenty of bookshelves over there to hold all my magazines and reference books. And we're going to have fabric walls so I can put up the pages. It'll just be functional.
Well this office has an amazing view of Times Square but when those
blinds come up it gets really hot in here so they stay down most of the
day to keep it cool.
4. How did you get started in the styling business and what would you recommend to a young stylist looking to get started in this field?
How did I get started? Well, I just feel like I've always been working, I've always done this, so I don't really remember how I got started. The best advice I always say is really try to be yourself and not somebody else, and not try to be too influenced by other things that you see that aren't really who you are. That doesn't really make sense. You just really have to do what you believe in and once you can really do that then it'll start to show through in the work that you do.
Right, so be focused.
Be focused, but also have your signature and know what you can do and know what your forte is and doing it in the absolute best way.
5. What inspires you?
What inspires me? Everything, anything, almost. I love pop culture,
so that is the number one thing that inspires me. Television always
inspires me, music, movies, art, books, film, fashion...the internet,
multimedia. And it's also a meld of all those things, television on
the internet and fashion and movies, everything becomes one thing for
me in a way. Everything that is current.
So what is your favorite TV show then, right now?
My favorite TV show, right now. American Idol.
Really? Who are you rooting for?
Chris Richardson..I vote for him all the time! He's a good singer!
And is there any book that you are reading right now?
Eat, Pray, Love..Elizabeth Gilbert
6. You worked with Annie Liebovitz on the Gap Red Campaign, can you talk a little about how it was working with her?
Oh well I love working with Annie Liebovitz and I worked with her on a number of things for Vanity Fair and on the Gap Red Campaign. She's really good in terms of images and knowing exactly what she wants and seeing the picture. She's also really good at working with celebrities and to put all those things together in combination...she's really good at sussing out the particular trait in a celebrity's personality and being able to enhance it and bring it out of them in a picture, so whether it's the zany, kooky, comedic talent of a Chris Rock, or the like the sexy, manly seriousness of a Jennifer Garner, she's really good at pulling all those things out of a celebrity.
And that campaign was really interesting, because it featured different talents like Steven Spielberg and Penelope Cruz
And using the red clothes to find the personality and having it be really about the picture at the end of the day, so Annie was really good at drawing out the casual sexiness of a Penelope or the seriousness of a Spielberg.
7. Lets get a little more personal now. We are also curious to find out how you organize your personal closet at home.
Oh god. Everything is a mess. It's only a mess because I never really care. It's organized because I mostly only have basics. It's all white shirts, and brown shirts, and black shirts, all black sweaters. I mean, everything is folded but I don't have a lot of crazy items. Just my basics, all my suits, my jeans...totally basic, all basics. Totally uniform.
A lot of the same things too? Do you have the same types of jean, or do you get different styles?
No, it's all the same blue jean. It's all the same white shirt. I have a million white shirts..I love white shirts.
8. And is there something about you other people wouldn't guess or know? Something that is not commonly known, maybe something someone really close to you would know, like you talk to yourself, something quirky.
Um, I don't know..
9. The question came out when I was watching Akeelah and the Bee if you've seen that movie, and she has to do the letters in her mind and she pats on her side.
Yeah, yeah. I have to do a lot of things to focus. I love to have a lot of stimuli around me constantly. So when I'm at home the TV is on, the computer is on...everything is on for me to work. I might not even be paying attention to any of it. I need a lot of stimuli for me to focus.
Like when I was in college people would be at the library reading their textbooks and I would be reading the same page over and over again and when I'd get home I'd turn the TV on and the book would be finished.
10. To date, what would you consider your grandest achievement? What would you be most proud of?
Oh god. I always wanted to do stuff that would make a difference, so when people would come up to me and say I saw your work in this, or in that. Or that is inspires them in some way. It gives a bit more validity to it.
Is there anything specific?
Not one specific thing, just over time. I want to leave a body of work behind that made a difference, made an impact.
11. Who is someone you would really love to work with again...anyone from a photographer to an editor?
I don't know there are so many people I would want to work with again, for so many different reasons. I love Dennis Freedman, my old boss, because he was so great and so smart and so artistically adventurous. You know but then I'd love to work with Madonna again because she's so great and so interesting..she too is like, risk taking. Just people who are excited and interesting and love to take chances.
12. Do you see anything in men's or women's wear coming out that you think would be big this season?
For women, this return to elegance. For both men and women it's really about having an individual style statement, rather than following a trend. And just doing their own thing...that's the thing that really inspires me..people doing their own thing whether they're aware of it or not.
13. What are your pet peeves? Personal, professional..?
Oh god..pet peeves. Negative naysayers. I get so many obstacles that I have to hurdle all the time so for me it's "Ok. Next." So my biggest pet peeve are people saying "that's not possible". Solutions versus problems.
14. Ok, one last question. What is your horoscope sign?
Do you think you follow suit for a Sagittarius?
Totally. Because they are happy-go-lucky, care-free, optimistic types who go with the flow and that is totally me. I just go with the flow, do stuff and get stuff done.
(Akiko & Joe Zee)