CHANGE can be daunting for some, but not for Mariana Valle-Mesen, whose career has spanned three continents as a writer, editor, fashion coordinator and a producer. Having worked for international publishing giant Condé Nast, Costa Rican magazine Traffic, and more recently as a freelancer, she has learnt a lot and has plenty of advice to give. Glass finds out about the importance of change, reaching out and that oh-so-special first article in print.
Mariana Valle-Mesen at work
How did you get started in the industry?
I started by following my intuition basically. I graduated from communications in Toronto at York University and wanted to do a masters degree in fashion and beauty communication at the Condé Nast College in Madrid. My bachelors was really good because it was all very theoretical and I was reading Marx, and Engels, and Freud. It taught me a lot about how people and consumers think and how we as communicators are responsible for all these things, and how to deliver the right content to the right audience. Having that premise in the back of my head was useful when I went into doing this master’s degree, which was more practical and more about the glamour, the glitz and the editorial world. I had considered doing something more business based at the University of Leeds, but I followed my creative gut and I don’t regret it. It was the best year of my life, both personally and professionally – it was great.
After you graduated with your masters, you worked for Glamour in Spain and then Vogue in Mexico. What did you take away from your time working with them?
I started working with Glamour while I was still doing the programme, in the writing department. I had never written anything in my life, least of all in Spanish. I just took it upon myself as a challenge. Worst case scenario? I don’t like it and I ask for a transfer, it’s not a big deal. I was very lucky to encounter somebody that was patient and kind. My editor Sara Trueba was willing to take five minutes to be like, hey, this is wrong because of this and this and this. Sometimes I would write a piece and she would just mark everything, and it would all be red, like it was bleeding! At that moment you feel like the worst thing ever right, but then you learn from the mistakes.
After my time at Glamour, I applied for a position at Vogue Mexico. I knew there would be a lot of work involved but I was willing to sacrifice and to change countries again to keep doing what I love. I started off as fashion coordinator working with the fashion editor and I did everything – styling, writing, editing, planning interviews. So you are wearing several hats, but you figure out what you do best. Another thing that I did take from this was developing my writing skills. I still do some freelancing here and there and I enjoy it but I know that one of the things that shows my true colours is producing – it’s an extension of me, and I think I wouldn’t have discovered this if I hadn’t taken on all these roles and worked under big magazines.
After working at Condé Nast you became editor-in-chief of Traffic in Costa Rica. What was this like having the creative freedom to redesign the magazine?
It was challenging. At this time Traffic magazine was owned by Leonora Jiménez, director of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in San Jose, who I had met when I wrote a profile on her for Vogue. When I quit Condé Nast I went home, talked to Leonora and found there was a new opportunity at Traffic. For me it was a good time to start a new project and I was all for that. It was challenging but I was confident that I could turn it into something beautiful. Thankfully, the magazine had a core mission, fashion, inclusivity and equality, but visually it was kind of a disaster. I had to use my creativeness, setting aside Condé Nast expectations, because I didn’t have the team that Condé Nast had, or the budget. However, I was able to set up a good team – it was the first time I was hiring for myself. I tried to look for people that had similar qualities to me, because it’s good to work with something that feels comfortable and relatable.
I had the chance to talk to consumers, to ask: “What do you want from this product?” I was seeing things from the business side, not just the editing side, which was interesting. It was a good experience, and, in the end, we made Traffic an informative, aspirational product. It was glamorous, it was luxury, but still local. It was an escape for readers.
Mariana with Leonora Jiménez, Director of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week San Jose
and former owner of Traffic magazine
What made you decide to leave and work for yourself instead?
I think life has its cycles, and I think my cycle at Traffic was over – I had done what I set out to do. I offered everything that I could give, from my creativeness to the business angle, to networking, to bringing international people to the magazine. I left on good terms, same as with Condé Nast, but both professionally and personally it was time for a change.
Working for yourself, it’s tough and its inconsistent. I love the freedom – I love to feel creative and work in a park or in my PJ’s if I want to – but sometimes you won’t get the pay check at the end of the month, and I think that’s when the struggle starts.
I moved to Toronto thinking it would be better to work freelance here and I started working as a media relations specialist for a PR solutions company. It’s showed me a whole other world again, but it’s still a people role which I really enjoy. I work as a freelance writer and producer too – anytime that I can seek an opportunity I’ll seek it, and anytime that a job comes to me for whatever reason, if I can take it, I will. I love it.
You’ve said before that you don’t take yourself too seriously. How do you think this has helped with your career and in what ways?
Don’t get me wrong, I do take my career seriously and I want a bright future, but I think I don’t take myself too seriously in the fact that I don’t get it into my head, you know? Sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in too much glamour or money. It can become overwhelming without you even noticing. I think it’s important to stay true to yourself. I think it’s okay to not be who you’re expected to be, I think it’s okay to make mistakes and also to ask for help. Sometimes you’re so scared to ask for help because you’re working for these magazines and titles and you feel like you’re in the Mecca of everything. Sometimes you don’t want to admit you don’t know how to do something because ten other young people are after your job. You need to speak up for your rights, for help. It just makes you human. At the end, you’re not a working robot and I think acknowledging that is one of the things that has helped me in my career.
Mariana Valle-Mesen with Armelle Souraud, International Scientific Communication Director at Chanel
Are there any big challenges you’ve faced in your career?
I think having to cater to everybody’s needs is a huge challenge. In a production team, how many people are you? Like 10, 12, 15? You need to understand that every person, they’re in a professional job but they’re still people, there’s a whole world in everyone. So you need to learn to think ahead of them, and that’s not an easy task to do, because you have your own world in your head as well.
One of the other big challenges that I faced personally was stress management. You have to master being true to yourself while doing your job. I think if you can master that with confidence and kindness, you have achieved something beyond great, because that will help you in your professional life and your personal life.
Of course, being in a photo production that was in the middle of the jungle, no plugs, no electricity, was a challenge too, but a different type of challenge. My editor was asking me for a change of hair and I’m like, how am I going to change this hair if there’s no plug and we’re an hour deep into the jungle? That was a challenge within itself, because in this industry everything is now – how do I fix this now?
How did you deal with your stress and do you have any advice for anyone?
It was a long process. It took a lot of patience and meditation. I started meditating which at the start I thought was a load of rubbish, but after a while I was like wow, this actually helps. I looked into my diet and started eating correctly and sleeping properly. So basically, keep sleeping, eating correctly and most importantly, surround yourself with good energy – nothing toxic.
Could you share a high point of your career?
Yeah, I have two highlights. One was my first published work in Glamour, which was a horoscope. I put my heart and soul into that horoscope – I still have the copies of the magazine at my parents’ house! I’ve been Editor-In-Chief of a magazine, but I still think that’s my highlight – that’s where it all started, it gave me the confidence to be like, oh wow, I can do this, and I kept on going. After that, my other highlight would be getting promoted. Being in Vogue Mexico I was Senior Editorial Coordinator and I started managing all Latin America. This opened a whole world for me and gave me the tools to expose many regional designers. I was able to learn way more; I oversaw a team and I started editing more. I learnt everything I know from that role.
We’ve already touched on you travelling back and forth a lot for work. How do you manage juggling this, multiple jobs and your personal life?
Now, I’m 100 per cent in Toronto so my family is broken down between Costa Rica and the UK (where my sister lives in Manchester with her family). I do still travel a lot of course, but at the end of the day, I’m a diplomat’s daughter, so travelling is kind of in my blood. When there’s a job I get on the plane and go. Even when I’m producing something, I try to make it in another place. If I’ve been there or not, it doesn’t really matter, I just think about the consumer of that magazine – what do they want to see, what’s trending at the moment, or even what’s not trending, and what should we, as communicators, be putting on the map. As a producer, I try to think of places where people want to escape to or where they should be escaping to. I do get a little bit stressed by flying, but I’m managing!
Mariana Valle-Mesen with Naeem Anthony, designer and founder of British fashion house, Helen Anthony
You’ve been a writer and worked in the fashion world – do you have any advice for people who want to pursue these types of careers?
This is one thing I learned from working in PR in Toronto. I think it’s important to just break free. Some people are just scared to reach out. I mean, you’re not scared of taking a selfie in the middle of a crowded street, you’re not embarrassed, so why should you be put off connecting with someone. Email them on social media, direct message them, tweet them, LinkedIn them, ask them for a coffee. The worst thing is that they’ll say no. Be genuine and say, hey I love your work, I’m starting off in the fashion world, I’m very interested in this, would you mind grabbing a quick coffee? It will take 15 minutes of your time. Don’t be scared of the word no.
I do think if you want to get into the fashion world it’s worth looking into places where events happen. So, if you’re in the middle of nowhere and you want that Vogue experience in New York, then maybe you should get on a plane and go to New York. I know we are very connected now and what not, but I mean sometimes it’s worth the risk, just take a course for a semester or a summer, go, explore – I think that’s worth pursuing.
For writers, I will say this (and this is something that all my editors have told me), if you want to write, read a lot. Something will stick and it will make you a better writer.
Do you have anything planned over the next five years?
I’m very excited for the upcoming years and feel in a good place personally which I think translates to my professional career. I am looking forward to getting more freelance opportunities – hopefully I will make it a full-time job. I do have a guideline for the future which is to keep creating beautiful stories for readers across the world, being more in tune with them, and hopefully in the next three or four years, calling Miami my home. Many designers from Latin America come to Miami – it’s like a hub. Professionally I think it’s a great place to be and it’s going to be very exciting in the upcoming years. There’s a lot of other positives – the weathers beautiful and there’s no minus 40-degree winters over there. For now I think that would be my next career move but we’ll see!
by Alicia Pountney
Keep up with Mariana’s travels on her blog