My mother told me when I was a child that the best thing I could be when I grew up was either a doctor or lawyer, because both occupations would provide substantial financial security. Failing to heed her advice, I opted for the road less traveled and now find myself carrying the title of an occupation that I never anticipated: celebrity stylist.
In these unprecedented times, with COVID-19 leaving a global pandemic footprint and drastically changing how we function and live, I find myself once again questioning my future and wondering if perhaps my mother was right. After a four-year stint working at British Vogue, content with job security, news of an impending new editor in chief and team propelled me to forge a new career path and hesitantly join a legion of creative freelancers all vying for the same opportunities.
My 2020 was off to a great start. I signed with a new agent at One Represents and had several clients nominated and attending all the major red carpets and events for awards season. The year was fully booked with photo shoots, a global music tour, fragrance campaign, continued partnership with a luxury jewelry house and two major film press tours, one scheduled for release in September and the other in December.
It was chockablock, with no inkling of a break until August, when most of the fashion industry takes a pause to catch their breath with a brief, but very necessary holiday.
However, Mother Nature had something drastically different in mind, and in a matter of a few months, we watched communities across the globe begin to crumble as an extremely contagious virus rapidly spread creating chaos, havoc and a complete standstill to the business world.
The impact of COVID-19 did not really register for me until American Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour revealed that this year’s Met Gala would be canceled. As one of the most important fashion moments of the year, I knew this cancellation signaled the start of many more to follow.
Almost instantly, a flurry of e-mails and phone calls began to pour in from publicists, clients, p.r.’s and designers alike letting me know that plans had to be put on hold until further notice. Concerts, music videos, performances, press tours, launch events, campaign initiatives, film festivals, runway shows and pretty much anything that required human interaction were cancelled.
The year that was set to be one of my busiest to date is now the year where I am left with no jobs or prospect of guaranteed new income for the foreseeable future.
I operate an international styling business between Los Angeles, New York City and London, and trying to put together the pieces of this complex puzzle has been incredibly daunting. Governments in both the U.S. and the U.K. have made promises of providing support for those who now find themselves out of work and with no source of income, but no one has yet to receive actual financial support.
The American support scheme seems more straightforward than the one being offered by the U.K. As I understand it, in America, economic assistance payments of $1,200 are being provided for freelancers and self-employed individuals. Further assistance is also being provided by the CARES Act, which provides unemployment insurance coverage to self-employed individuals, independent contractors and those with limited work history.
Although I’m American, as a U.K. resident, I don’t qualify for either of these support schemes, but am hopeful that my staff in the States will be able to take advantage of this much-needed support.
Back in London, I’ve been left to sift through the rhetoric of the U.K. government to see what support I am eligible for, and thus far it hasn’t looked very promising. I am applying for the job retention scheme grant, but the scheme is by no means as straightforward as U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak would lead us to believe and has many gaps in the support it gives.
Most governments are also encouraging low-interest or interest-free loans as a quick fix, but this will only put both individuals and small businesses in greater debt. Alas, even loan schemes are not working as planned, with banks making the qualification very difficult to achieve. The results in the U.K. are that only 1 percent of applications have been approved so far.
So the biggest question I am left with now is where does this leave my business and, more importantly, my employees? As politicians scramble for viable solutions and scientists rapidly work toward a vaccine, what this virus has done is leveled the playing field, stripping humanity of its power and taking back control. This loss of power has left us uncertain and concerned for what happens next and the trouble is, no one is exactly sure. We can only continue to hypothesize and hope for a positive outcome to all of this.
I’ve taken this time to do things I haven’t done in ages: hour-long conversations with friends and family, cooking Southern-inspired meals, baking cakes and delivering them to friends, endless steam baths — the little things in life we often take for granted. As nice as all of these activities are, after a while they lose their novelty and my professional self screams out, desperate for the bell to ring with a Worldnet delivery of Chanel and Louis Vuitton frocks for my clients to try on.
Until the tides of this pandemic finally turn, I can only do what everyone else is doing, surrender to the circumstances and make the most of the time, researching, connecting with new contacts for future business, reading and, of course, binge watching as much Netflix as I possibly can.
It is my hope that when we are sucked back into the vacuum of our normal lives, we retain this feeling we have now of being on the cliff-edge of losing everything, for this dire notion shall make us value and cherish the moments we create as if they were our last.
Zadrian Smith is a celebrity stylist and editor in chief of PETRIe, an annual, independent and global print and digital media platform.