When Julia Piotrowski ’19 arrived at Furman in 2016 aspiring to be a doctor, it’s safe to say she didn’t see herself spending the summer of 2018 in the heart of New York City working as creative direction and styling intern at Harper’s Bazaar–one of the largest and most influential fashion magazines in the world.
But Piotrowski is “very much a person who needs to try things out for myself to know whether I like them or dislike them,” and she tried a pre-med track.
“I had never considered anything outside of it,” Piotrowski said. “But I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t like science classes, and I didn’t want to wait 10 years to get through med school and then be happy with my career.”
Left with little choice but to start considering something else, Piotrowski remembered medicine actually wasn’t all she’d ever wanted to do. But it wasn’t until a conversation with a friend at the University of Southern California that Piotrowski became aware that her passion for fashion could be more than a hobby.
“I was always the little girl wearing my mom’s heels around the house and wearing her lipstick all over my face, but it was never really something I considered for a career,” Piotrowski said. “(My friend) was telling me all of the different things she wanted to do in fashion on the marketing side, and that’s when my eyes kind of opened to opportunities that extended outside of the traditional design side of fashion.”
Piotrowski worked for Harper’s Bazaar Greece, and her first week on the job she was a part of three photo shoots. Included was one with Emily DiDonato for the magazine cover.
DiDonato began modeling for Victoria’s Secret in 2009, the same year she was signed as the face of Maybelline New York, and is among the most famous models in the world.
“It was really exciting to just immediately get my hands dirty and start understanding the process, because when looking at magazines they’re so craftily put together that people don’t necessarily realize all the work that goes into it,” Piotrowski said. “That was interesting for me to see.”
Piotrowski worked for Sandy Armeni, the Harper’s Bazaar Greece fashion director, and while tasks like delivering safety pins were decidedly not glamorous, dependability eventually earned her a voice. “Building her trust gave me the opportunity to give a little more input on set, which is really great to have my hand in giving suggestions on jewelry or switch out a top because it wasn’t working,” Piotrowski said. “It was very exciting and very hands on and quite exhausting.”
Editorial internships in the fashion industry are “very rare,” Piotrowski said, and landing this one was the culmination a lot of determination once she made the decision after her freshman year to change her ship’s course. The first turn of the wheel steered her to a new major, communication studies.
Communication studies combined with a concentration of digital art courses have allowed Piotrowski to build an education foundation to help reach her goal of becoming a creative director and lead stylist for a fashion magazine.
“I feel very supported by a lot of my professors,” Piotrowski said. “They’re very open to me tweaking whatever projects and papers we’re working on, kind of tailoring those to the fashion industry where it may be a bit of a stretch in any other setting.”
Piotrowski was also able to make Furman connections in the fashion industry when she participated in the New York Arts, Media & Entertainment Paladin Career Trek Oct. 7-9. There, she met Blair Burke ’15, who works in customer marketing support for L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetic company, and MacKenzie Fanaro ‘14, a visual merchandiser and assistant stylist at Rent the Runway.
“I definitely have been surprised by some of the connections I have been able to make through Furman,” Piotrowski said.
Furman also opened other doors. Piotrowski’s sparkling LinkedIn page and current industry mentor are the result of work done by The Brand Girls, a company dedicated to helping women be the most competitive job applicants possible.
She began working with The Brand Girls after seeing CEO and founder Rachel Bozsik speak on campus.
“Brand Girls helped me take all these jumbled bits I knew about me and bring them together as words,” Piotrowski said. “Because Furman isn’t fashion focused it got to the point where I was asking questions our resources on campus couldn’t really specifically answer for me. Brand Girls has a lot of experience in the fashion industry, and they were able to answer those questions.”
Still, fashion as a future wasn’t a done deal for Piotrowski until she tried it out for herself. Dozens of blind attempts to land her first internship finally succeed with a position at the Krupp Group in New York in the summer of 2017.
“After that I was sold. I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do,” Piotrowski said. An added bonus was meeting someone there who also worked at Harper’s Bazaar and put her in touch with Armeni.
Piotrowski came to Furman from Salt Lake City as a James B. Duke Scholar. She applied after hearing about the university from her grandmother, who used to live in nearby Tryon, North Carolina, and though her medicine-free future is a lot less defined Piotrowski feels ready to follow the new path she chose wherever it may lead.
“Right now I feel like I’m still exploring. The one thing I learned from all the people I talked to this past summer is no one made it in the industry on this clear-cut path,” she said. “They all jumped around and had so many diverse and different positions until they fell into the place where they were best suited. So right now, I want to be flexible and open to my opportunities.”