July 1, 2009
Joe Zee, born in Hong Kong in 1968, is most known for his work as creative director at Elle Magazine. This not-so-camera-shy fashion powerhouse has been spotted in reality shows such as Project Runway Canada, The City, and Stylista as well as an episode in the series we all love, Ugly Betty. He even showed his humorous side by appearing in Zoolander.
Not only is his editorial career impressive, but he is also one of the industry’s top stylists. However, we would never know the magnitude of his success by talking to him due to his gracious and humble attitude. Who would have known he was the creative eye behind TV and print ad campaigns for DKNY, Perry Ellis, Kenneth Cole, Sean John, Banana Republic, H&M, Estée Lauder, M.A.C. Cosmetics, Chanel, and Coty, and many others. He also did the Gap (PRODUCT) RED charity advertisements with huge stars like Madonna and Missy Elliot.
Joe Zee is also the mastermind behind Justin Timberlake’s transition from awkward boy band member to the sexy man he is today. He has worked closely with Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Mariah and other huge names in the entertainment industry. How does he do that, you ask? Well he believes that he identifies with big personality women, he loves there style and he loves their careers.
Like most of the other people that have made it as far as he has in his career, he began his interest in fashion at an early age. After moving to Toronto at age one and living there through his teenage years, Joe Zee’s love for fashion and magazines engulfed him as a child. He worked at the only Club Monaco in Toronto when he was 16 and fell in love with the cutting edge fashion scene of his older co-workers. This passion led him to move to New York in 1990 at the age of 22. He registered at FIT to get a visa but he really wanted to get a magazine job in NY. He told Page Six magazine he jammed all his classes in 2 twelve hour days and spent the rest of his time begging to work for free for any magazine editor because that is how bad he wanted to succeed.
His hard work finally paid off in 1991 when he landed his first real job at Allure Mag, assisting creative director Polly Mellen ( who I will write about at a later date). He won the heart of an influential make up artist, the late Kevyn Aucoin, who had some pull at the magazine. Kevyn told the then editor-in-chief Linda Wells to let Joe do a photo shoot. Quicker than he can remember he was on a shoot with Roseanna Barr. He spent the next four years growing at Allure until he left to do freelance styling and as the fashion director of W and contributing editor at Details and Vanity Fair (in March 2006 he collaborated with Tom Ford on the Hollywood issue). And Finally, before his current position at Elle he worked as editor-in-chief of Vitals.
At Elle he is created with helping to recreate the style and look of the magazine that has surely caught our attention ( mainly evident because it hasn’t shut down yet). Though it is unimaginable that Joe would make mistakes, there have been some poor decisions made on his part and the part of his edit oral staff members. One of those poor decisions was loosing Project Runway and dropping Nina Garcia. Their stylist reality show didn’t do as hot as they thought so they need to find other ways to revive their brand which is sinking due to the economy.
Despite mistakes, Joe continues to bed a social butterfly hanging out with friends such as Michael Kors and Zac Posen, throwing parties with Gucci for Rihanna, and hanging out at high end specialty stores socializing with adoring fans. He is quiet popular among his colleagues and celebrities alike. He also has relationships with sports stars. I bet you didn’t know that Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley works at Elle under Joe Zee. After I read that he worked on photo shoots his second day and having lunch with Diane von Furstenberg, I couldn’t help but think he was getting special treatment.
Though Joe has submerged himself in the fashion world, he doesn’t act like normal fashion-ites. He eats normal food like french fries and burritos. Given his career choice, this seems like a sort of odd choice of diet, but I love it; diets are out, portion control is in. He enjoys cheap deli coffee with a half a package of splenda, quesadillas, and his secret weapon; WATER. He claims he could drink 3-5 liters a day and he wasn’t kidding. A detailed account of everything he ate in a 5 day period proved his claims, water with every meal, activity, and outing does the trick. He also adds a healthy spin to his highly caloric diet by doing hip hop classes at Equinox.
Back to his fashion influence 🙂
Joe Zee’s early interest in fashion and pop culture has given him an innate sense of style. He is able to transform the image of celebrities and give a face lit to a struggling magazine at the same time. His success is partially due to the leg work he put in when he first started out, calling editors and actively seeking to work for free to learn. His strong work ethic and ” I don’t take no for an answer” motto has gotten him to where he is today, in addition to no sleep, dedication, passion and loving what he does. He wants people to know that the job is not all glamour, as seen on television, its much more behind the scenes dirty work. For some, that is a turn off, but others are hungry for the opportunity.
BONUS: Here is a special treat, some trend forecasts from the man himself, Mr. Joe Zee! Just remember everything isn’t for everyone, try what works for you.
1) Influence of menswear: Tailored blazers, strong shoulders, feminine while androgynous.
2) Boho Chic: Pile it on, patterns, textures, colors, knits, fringe.
3) Berry Colored Trend: Berry tones in all textures.
4) Holiday Dressing: Embellished dresses, feathers, sequins, colored tights.