Going the Extra Mile in Design:
Lara Modjeski VP of Creative, Tom Ford Beauty
Interview by Laura Schwamb
Lara is the Vice-President, Creative, at Tom Ford Beauty. She held previous design positions at Ralph Lauren Fragrances, where she was also senior art director, and at L'Oreal USA, where she was a junior and senior designer for their European Designer Fragrances.
While at Ralph Lauren, Lara was responsible for concept, design, and project management of RL Fragrances worldwide. Individual brands under her leadership included Pure Turquoise, Polo Black, Purple Label, Lauren Style, Polo Blue, Ralph Lauren Blue, Romance, Romance men, Romance Silver, Ralph, Ralph Cool, Polo Sport, Polo, Safari, and Lauren.
Sessions: Lara, tell me a bit about yourself and your current position.
Lara: After leaving Providence College after my freshman year, to "explore my interests" (a.k.a: Find a major!), I moved to Memphis with my parents. By luck, I linked up with a wonderful professor who let me attend a couple of junior/senior level graphic design classes at Memphis State University before taking basic 101 classes. I just needed to see if I was really meant to take this path. Luckily, it clicked immediately and before I knew it, I had graduated, moved back to New York, and landed my first "career job" as a junior designer in the Designer Fragrance Division of L'Oreal. I spent 15+ years there until I was offered my current position as creative head for Tom Ford Beauty.
Sessions: What is the most important aspect of the creative process? Planning, design, or implementation?
Lara: Being free of perimeters and guides. Allowing yourself to just be open. To just throw out those ideas without judgment. To make a space for the creativity in your mind -- keeping it a safe, free space for idea-generating. Then the planning, the implementation, comes in to play, as you fine-tune and work with any must-haves, company guides, cost constraints, and so on.
Sessions: Can you tell us about your favorite project?
Lara: I think my most memorable project was the launch of RALPH by Ralph Lauren. It started and created a new category in the prestige fragrance marketplace -- as a fragrance for "tweens" and young girls. It was a huge coup in the industry.
More importantly, on a personal level, it was my baby. It was my first total launch of a brand. I took it from beginning to end -- with the wonderful support of a dynamic and superior marketing team. I was a lucky, lucky young woman to have been given such an opportunity. It culminated into the biggest product launch ever at that time. It also created a new paradigm for that category.
Sessions: What inspires you?
Lara: I find inspiration everywhere. There is an idea in everything. I keep my eyes open at all times. There are ideas on the streets, on the subway, in stores, in magazines. Also, what we THINK we see, when viewing something, can make for the best ideas.
I always have projects roaming around in the back of my mind. In a way, I am always working -- albeit subconsciously. I often wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning with solutions or very free ideas. I just let things "sit," I don't fight the creative process, as I know it will come. I just can't always predict when. So it flows... and when it comes, it comes... and I always write it down -- right then and there! Get it out to save room for the next idea!
Sessions: You handle many projects on a daily basis. Can you give us an idea of how many, what kind, and how you keep track of so many projects?
Lara: Over the years I have learned that a huge key to success in today's business environment is time management. Each day must be very structured and organized -- using every moment with purpose. It is a tough line to walk because you also want to keep creativity at a high. There needs to be a balance. I have figured out when my most creative times are, and learned to trust those moments and not take them for granted.
I also respect the times when I am not especially creative -- and those moments are for the more structured parts of me. It is a balance. And I always write everything down. Otherwise, I am bound to forget it. Too many things going on -- I cannot rely on a sound memory to keep it all in. It sets me free to write everything down. I always refer back to those notes, scribbles, thoughts -- and check them off, when completed or carried through to the next step. It is a very clean way of working that brings a sense of accomplishment in the end. And every moment can be productive.
Sessions: Do you often have to go the extra mile in this field? If so, how often?
Lara: All of the time. It is as much out of need as anything else, as businesses are understaffed and overworked. But it's also [my] personality trait and being a Virgo! Mediocrity is unacceptable. Going the extra mile requires doing that extra bit of research, that extra bit of questioning, that extra bit of drawing. Knowledge is critical -- there is always a chance to learn. And businesses are under tremendous pressure to succeed. There is only room for those who will get their hands dirty, who will take that extra step to learn, and to be part of a team.
Sessions: What has been your highest pressure situation to date?
Lara: It's a toss up between the launch of Pure Turquoise, and the many International events we put on during the RLF days. These were very pressured times -- technically, financially, and time-wise.
Sessions: Mac or PC?
Lara: What's a PC? (hee hee)
Sessions: Considering the importance of keeping up current trends, styles and today's surroundings, how do you keep up? What are today's current trends in packaging, color, and design?
Lara: Magazines, fashion, shopping, politics, advances in technology, TV, people (youth!) watching, and of course, the Internet are all critical in keeping current with trends. The Internet is awesome because it is so accessible. It's about who can get to it first, though; the race for the next great thing. The booming Asian and international markets are a huge influence as well -- they are steering the U.S./the world, as opposed to the reverse of the past. As for trends, I believe the pendulum is swinging the other way with packaging moving from minimal to more detailed, and from cheap/inexpensive to more qualitative. From U.S-based to global-focused. Colors are more "earth-based," more natural, less bright or neon. Design is pure, yet creative. More meaningful -- less contrived.
Sessions: Tell us how you start a typical day from when you first wake to when you finally get home.
Lara: I get up between 4:30 and 5am. It is typically my most creative, most lucid time of the day. I often sketch or research ideas, setting up the day with a list of "to-dos" and focuses. I always fit in a work-out, getting to the office between 7 and 8am. The day is juggled between meetings and designing, speaking with suppliers and vendors, sending files, checking files, anticipating the work down the road, prioritizing, and so forth. Day ends typically between 6 and 7pm.
Sessions: Do you travel? How often? Where to? Tell us all about your favorite work/travel experiences.
Lara: Yes. I do travel, especially now, as a "one-man show." I travel for meetings and prese ntations to London and Los Angeles for glass/package runs (to France and Italy) and press runs throughout the U.S. and Canada. I love all of the travel. I feel so fortunate to see a variety of different countries and lifestyles and cultures. While the press runs and glass runs are unique each time, I have done so many over the years, that they are less exciting now, but no less demanding and important. I enjoy the events that we have created, designed and set up for the markets, and PR. I enjoy presenting and attending meetings. They tap into another part of you.
Sessions: Have you ever met any famous designers? If so, could you tell us a little about them and your experience working with them?
Lara: I had the great fortune to work with Mr. Ralph Lauren and his team for approximately 10 years. It was a privilege and honor to have worked with such a brilliant visionary. I learned a great deal over those years. The highlight was when he spoke about his vision and the movies he had created and made "real" his lifestyle brand. And now, I am SO lucky to work with Mr. Tom Ford. He, too, is incredibly visual and creative. He envisions every detail of a project or idea. He is precise, brilliant, charming, focused, and hard-working beyond belief. He has an energy that is addictive and hypnotic. He requires your best at all times -- and I love that.
Sessions: What is your favorite aspect of your job? Photo shoots, travel, meetings, presentations?
Lara: Primary packaging design is probably the most exciting aspect of the job to me -- however, I am most lured by the diversity of the projects I do. From bottle design to merchandising to print materials -- to photoshoots, travel, presentations and meetings... I love the opportunity to work on a variety of items -- it keeps you on your toes! But my true love is designing!
Sessions: Favorite Boss: Ralph or Tom!?
Lara: Both are brilliant visionaries, precise and detail-oriented.
Sessions: And finally: What were you doing right before you decided to answer these questions?
Lara: Sleeping. Coffee. Just woke up, poured a cup of coffee. News on the television.
Interviewer: Laura Schwamb - Design Faculty Online Instructor for Sessions.edu. She is the co-founder of Steam Design Group and the founder of Sign Off, a press check, quality control company. Before starting STEAM, she worked as Senior Art Director for L'Oreal's European Designer Fragrance Division, running brands such as Giorgio Armani, Guy Laroche, and Lanvin.
READ: The Press Check -- Going to Press, 24/7 by Laura Schwamb:
A press check is the final stage of any print design job. It's that critical stage where a designer works with a printer on-site to make sure that every aspect of a production run goes according to plan. The Press Check -- Going to Press, 24/7
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