Is there anything about fashion that is comparable to the reality of life? Fashion is an alternate world where nothing bad happens and there are no scars to prove it; where the superficial determines the value, and time is marked by colors and shapes, not by age or size. A life in fashion must surely be a life lived in vain. But this is not always so, and Lisa Mosko is proof. Based in Brooklyn with her husband; creative director and photographer Alex Freund, and two children; Gabriel (7) and Sophie (5), Lisa has worked as a stylist, fashion director and more recently, creative director for over 15 years. She has styled celebrities such as Brad Pitt & Scarlett Johanssen, with clients including Vogue and Vanity Fair. Confronted with the truth of the industry for over a decade, Lisa’s recent direction towards ethics and sustainability challenge it to improve. Perhaps the only commonality between life and fashion is constant evolution and the mystery of purpose.

“When I graduated, styling was all I wanted to do. I pursued it doggedly, working like a maniac and never taking a break. It’s been my life for the past 15+ years, although recently I’ve been more involved in creative direction and video work. Around the time when we started having kids, my husband and I launched Gravure—a semi-annual magazine. It was a wonderful creative platform for us and we collaborated with several inspiring artists. At the same time, it meant 2 kids, 2 careers and a magazine. 

The work / life balance hits hard once you have children, especially considering that parent’s roles aren’t as clear as they used to be. Both parents working is a recent thing, and it’s necessary if you want to sustain a certain level of income for your family. It’s hard on men as well as women—even men with the best intentions are often just winging it in terms of what they’re accountable for. There aren’t that many good examples out there for equal parenting, so there’s often a shaky balance of shared responsibility. Men typically make more money which complicates things.

Tipping the balance further is the fact that a woman’s emotional contribution is not really valued or celebrated in our culture.

It’s too bad, because I think everyone would benefit if that was recognized. American society hasn’t caught up with many other places in terms of family support. In places like Denmark or Sweden for example, that supportive infrastructure exists as a given. You have longer maternity leave, you have paternity leave, you have daycare at your company. Here, we’re scrambling around and it’s very difficult. If we were better supported, having a family wouldn’t necessarily mean sacrificing your career. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece on how we can’t have it all resonates so much: it’s basically a call to action to create that societal infrastructure for women and men to be good parents and good employees, because until then, it’s not logistically possible. Even the small things, like how school performances are usually scheduled in the middle of the day. Who can leave work at 11AM to go to their child’s recital? I think the culture is very close to changing because we’re all so frustrated with how our quality of life has just plummeted. A lack of support means everyone loses: you have burnt-out parents who just want to get home to their kids, and are less productive at work because of that. 

I want to have the option to work, not only for financial security but because I want my kids to see me doing things.

The reality is that my daughter is going to have to work, so I want to her to see me excelling at my job and set that example. It’s a responsibility to our sons too, because we need to raise sensitive, respectful young men who are gong to be able to shoulder their 50%. When I was a little girl my mom was a professional ballet and flamenco dancer. We would go see her perform and I was so inspired by that, that she did something outside of being be my mom. 

That’s not to say the transition from being solely career focused to motherhood was easy. It was really hard and has taken years for me to be at peace and comfortable with it. I used to identify so exclusively with being stylist and a player in fashion. It was the world to me. My work still matters to me a lot and I take great pride in what I do, but now there’s something else pulling me in another direction, something telling me to slow down and look more critically at the fashion industry. I’m slowly seeing a lot that could be done better in every part of the process: from manufacturing, to marketing, to the age of models—I mean everything. This has been a catalyst for a big project I’m working on which explores sustainability and ethics in fashion— something I’ve embarked on since wrapping up Gravure.

My husband and I produced the magazine for 7 years and it got to the point where we either killed it or took it to the next level. It was the hardest decision to make—it was our baby. When we were finishing Gravure, I told myself I was going to tackle a huge sustainability project—it was going to be my next major thing. Then I stopped and was like, wow, when I’m not booked on a job and my daughter is sick, I can stay at home with her.

I can finally spend time with my kids.

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So I’ve been approaching things a little slower—it can’t be at this frenetic pace that I used to have in my 20s and 30s. That’s also one of the reasons why we cut Gravure—because choosing to continue would not only have meant commercializing it, but living the life that comes along with that: going out all the time, partying, jet setting. With kids, I just couldn’t do it. That’s the axe I have to grind with fashion in general. There are so many things I adore about fashion and I’m so grateful to have a career in it, but being a mom in fashion is not cool.

In turn, while there are many things I love about the business, there are now some things about fashion I don’t find cool anymore. When I started working in the industry I was 21-years-old. I was working with 15-year-old models but it didn’t occur to me how young they were. They towered above me in their heels and looked like glamazons with all their makeup on. My perspective has changed so radically since then—now I want to mother these girls, take them home and feed them. Especially now that I have a daughter. I don’t show Sophie fashion magazines. I don’t want her to look at those pictures and think she has to be 6 feet tall at 15-years-old and 105 pounds. Even though I don’t expose her to it, she must have picked something up from some teeny-bopper cartoon (where the girls have these insane barbie doll figures), because she said to me a few months ago: My legs are big here. I don’t like it. She grabbed her thighs, but didn’t say thighs because she doesn’t know that word.

I told her: your legs are amazing for jumping and running and leaping.

They are strong and beautiful and don’t you ever say that again! That was very upsetting for me. We have such an unhealthy relationship with body image in America. My mom is from Spain, where the perspective is totally different. Over there, if one of your friends puts on weight, it’s like—you’re looking a little chubby. You OK? You should probably go on a diet. And the response would be—yeah, I should probably lose 10 pounds. I’ll work on that, no big deal. Here, people have so much body shame, and saying something like that to someone is a mortal offense. 

I think it’s important to question what society deems ideal or normal or acceptable. For instance, why are models a size zero? They weren’t 30 years ago. It’s a perspective I want for my kids—the ability to see things critically and independently of everyone else. I want them to be conscious of their impact. If I go to the next fast fashion retailer, buy a bunch of stuff then throw it away a couple of months later, what kind of impact does that have? You might find something really cheap and save money, but on whose back was that made? At what cost are your actions to others?”

Lisa’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • Your emotional contribution as a women counts. It is of value, whether culturally recognized or not.
  • Being a working parent is not only about putting food on the table: it sets an example for your kids.
  • Think critically and independently of everyone else: question the status quo.
ok

lisamosko.com 

i. @alexandlisa


As told to Amy Woodside, July 2014
Photographed by Amy Woodside