NAME: Anouk Colantoni
COMPANY: Anouk Colantoni Studios
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Irrepressible, curious, loving, sometimes humorous, and always driven.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? Never give me license to be long winded, haha!
Born in London and raised between Sydney and Tasmania in Australia to a French father and New Zealander mother. I have always loved the idea that we are the sum of our heritage, surroundings and what we create of ourselves. My stylishly stunning mother is an artist and interior designer, my father the most creative dentist and photographer I have encountered. I was brought up in a creative environment, where I was given scraps of cardboard and scissors and my mother and told “Only boring people are bored.” So I would sit and create a castle, a whole city with a currency, a royal family with intrigue and drama and then go to a ballet class, or play outside on a Tasmanian beach looking for treasure. I mean, I was a total loner a lot of the time, a sensitive dreamer of a kid who didn’t handle the pressures of an all girls school very well, (I was bullied a lot) so it was easier to make up worlds of my own!
As I grew up, I excelled in science and art, so believed I would become a lawyer or doctor, also due to the fact that I was a perfectionist! My father had a quote on a board in our house that became seared into my growing brain “Do it once, do it well, do it now!” It was quite a lot of pressure, but hey, I was really focused until I was about 15… then puberty really set in, boys came along and I was confused. I hit major anxiety, insomnia, had a bad boyfriend and failed most of year 11. I managed to make up for it in year 12 by focusing on subjects I could express myself in like art and writing, and I came back with a pretty killer final high school score.
Leaving Hobart at 18, and with that same bad relationship, it pretty much isolated me from my friends and family. I had people telling I was too smart and good to be treated badly, but I didn't feel I could leave him. I started Arts/Law at Melbourne Uni, but lasted 3 weeks before I ran back to my boyfriend in Hobart. He was as shitty as I remembered, so that ended. I got through a year of Law at the University of Tasmania and really struggled. I didn’t get how to do well at Uni; I went out too much, grappled with anxiety and eating issues. Ultimately, I dropped out feeling like I was stupid, and that I had peaked in high-school, so off I went to work for my father as a dental nurse, while all my friends stayed on at Uni. My dad knew that I would never last as a dental nurse, and that within months I would sort myself out, and he was right! I opened up a Vogue magazine at my desk one day, saw an ad for Whitehouse Institute of Design, applied, flew to Sydney for an interview and was accepted! At the age of 20 I moved by myself to Sydney to study farrrrsshhiooonnnn.
Boom, I was in Sydney at a fancy new design school, but I had serious doubts about my ability after failing so hard at uni and almost high school. But people around me pushed me, telling me I was smart, so I went for it! After 2 tumultuous years I graduated from Whitehouse Institute of design with some really amazing friends, an awkward portfolio and a bit of a “what now” situation ahead of me! I think my most pivotal moments during those 2 years were getting a job at Scanalan and Theodore, and the subsequent job with Emma van Haandel in her budding PR agency that looked after S&T.
It was here that I met amazingly inspiring women. We had so much fun; they were gorgeous and all did varying things, and we all just turned up for our shifts every week and had a blast. Some of these women have gone on to be even more amazing and they are still my friends today, Kym Ellery, Kinga Burza, Jesse Arifien, Tamsin Glasson to name a few. From there, I took an internship for the first (at the time) employee with the fabulous Emma Van Haandel at EVHPR, which was a real eye and door opener! I met all the press, stylists and media in Sydney when I was in that office, and I got to fill creative briefs and learn about a female-led start up business. One day, the equally fabulous Chrisitne Centenera came into the office and asked if I would be interested in assisting the fashion editor, Mark Vassallo, at Harper’s BAZAAR. It was like bloody Christmas in May (I think it was May?!) and that’s how I came to work in magazines.
It was a colorful, full on ride at Harper’s BAZAAR, and within 9 months I was moving to the newly launching GRAZIA magazine. I was 23 and had hit the jackpot! For 146 issues I was at GRAZIA, where I learnt so much and made friendships for life. I was mentored by Alison Veness McGourty and flown to Rome and Beijing for fabulous fashion fanfare. But after a while, I knew it was time, I was burnt out and felt like the life plan I had made didn't go past this point. I was 26 years old. That was a bloody terrifying moment, and even though some seniors I worked with told me I was too old to just jump ship, I decided to move to NYC with my boyfriend to see what would happen next.
New York is a place that literally opens its arms to new creatives and says “If you don’t give up when shit hits the fan, you will be rewarded beyond your dreams!”. Well! What ensued were some serious highs and lows, the biggest bouts of depression and anxiety of my life, and years of just saying “yes” and seeing what happened. My first job was working for Orla Keily on an event at the Ace. From there I did freelance writing for RUSSH Magazine, and then I landed myself a pretty wild gig as Camilla Nickerson’s assistant at US VOGUE. I got to work with the likes of Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier, I pinned collections with Fransisco Costa at Calvin Klein and researched the upcoming seasons “girl” and garments for Celine and Alexander McQueen, what a wild ride. It was in this role however I realized that I didn’t want to remain in styling for magazines, and so I went to work as a brand director for a fashion tech start up, FEYT. Alongside the two co-founders, we built a new platform and I hired a team and worked across editorial, tech and branding until the site was unable to make funding and it closed.
From there I went on to work as a luxury lifestyle consultant and personal stylist at Visual Therapy where I was thrown into the wonderful world of chic and wealthy women on Park Avenue. I would whip their wardrobes into shape, direct their looks and help extend their lifestyle goals. It was amazing to learn about the US market from the lives of these interesting women, as well as work with all the luxury brands and department stores. It was during these years that I began to yearn for a way to express all the experiences, the changes, the turmoil, terror and amazingly terrific moments I was going through, without a commercial or work related boundary. This is where my drawings and social commentary (and the Instagram #anouksdoodleaday) came from.
I was watching people in my day-to-day life, and on my journeys and experiences, and I would draw them, watercolour them and make up phrases or stories about who they were and what they were thinking. I created little nuances, steeped in realism and often with dark or sexual humour, and decided to post them on Instagram. People were laughing at my art, then shocked, and then they were really interested, and began commissioning me to create art for them. I was asked back in 2014 by Stuart Wietzman to illustrate their SS15 campaign shoes for social media. Not long after, The Beekman Hotel (the flagship Thompson/Commune hotel group) commissioned me to illustrate the history of their historic building and render the rooms. Then, in early 2016 I was approached to have my first solo show, Safety In Numbers; a collection of 53 small and medium scale works in a powerful examination of contemporary notions of beauty, values, gender, and sexuality. It was a wild success, and since then, I have created two street art murals, a mural/wallpaper for a New York restaurant (opening soon), The Flower Shop and I have many more exciting projects in the works!
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? It is simple - I’m a storyteller.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) I don’t think I have ever really known what I will be doing 1 year ahead of time after the age of 17! I always thought I would be a doctor or a lawyer before then, because I was top of my class in science and math. But after my time at uni when everything came crumbling down, and I started to “feel” not just ”think” about my life choices, I decided shorter term goals were best for me, so I became more open to opportunity and less rigid on my vision for my life. I would never have guessed that I would find my way back to my fine art roots today, and be finding new ways of storytelling by adding in the element of technology!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? My idea of success and value has changed a lot in the past 5 years I have been in New York. I used to consider success as being very rigid, as socially acceptable goals being reached; money made, job title, how many friends you have or celebrity status. But I realized more and more that I felt no real satisfaction when I reached these goals, and that the most successful people in my life were those who has strong values, were vulnerable, and happy with the small things in their daily lives. I am still defining success, and I think it is important to me to be financially supported, but overall success is knowing that I am a connected human making a difference. If I can make you laugh or cry with a bit of honesty and humour, then I have succeeded.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally) So much! I don’t think I can begin to list specifics, or maybe I know myself too well that the things I am working toward will morph and change into a very different outcome, but all my goals are based around having a voice and connecting people.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? I studied Styling and Design Coordination at The Whitehouse Institute of Design in Sydney
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Being a founding member of GRAZIA Magazine Australia and getting to create from scratch the pages in the magazine that would be published in countries across the world. That was pretty great for 23 years old! Also, working for Camilla Nickerson at Vogue, and having my first solo show in New York this year.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I am a moveable feast, a caravan of dreams. I work from friend’s studios in New York, from client’s spaces, my home, libraries, inspiring spaces and local cafes. I looked at studio options recently, so I am working out where to set up my own shop! Exciting!
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? Today, haha! I do cry a bit, though I don’t cry from sadness or weakness very often, in fact I wish I did! I release frustration in tears; it’s scary for me representing myself, working out what I need to survive and what I deserve for my work. Having to have uncomfortable conversations about money for my art is a trigger because people are so odd when asking the cost of art. People don’t expect to not be paid for other jobs, but they really can be funny about paying you for art-work. I wish I were in a position where I could be doing art like a romantic bohemian, where it costs me nothing and I create out of passion alone… but bugger that, a girl has to pay rent too! I am working on the balance of doing super stimulating, creative commercial jobs that pay well, so I can then make art that I’m passionate. THEN I can cry less about money, and more for the joys of having my art spark a conversation about its content and impact! I hope that wasn’t a terrible rant, but I have worked in roles in marketing, editorial, as a writer, a nanny, as an image researcher; I mean you name it, I have done it! I’ve had tears of shame, tears of fear over jumping with no safety net. There are always tears welling up somewhere, but being on the brink of tears is where I also find bliss, creation and connection, so I keep going in order to transform them into tears of excitement and joy.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? I am constantly told by those around me to be nicer to myself… my mother more than anyone!
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Loneliness is something I have thought about a lot. I have felt lonely many times in my life, and never due to physical location. My fear is usually based on not being able to communicate, or be who I am. The fear that someone won’t like me the way I am, or that people won’t be there for me when I make mistakes. The funny thing is that these fears have been disproven time and time again, and I know now to push these fearful thoughts aside – they’re nonsense.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? I am prone to anxiety in the worst way possible, sleepless nights are something I know too well! Finances have stressed me out; NYC isn’t cheap, and freelance income is unreliable Also, just bouts of insecurity, and far too many social occasions keeping me out of bed, ha! I think also that I get too concerned with being “smart” with the ways I get my work out in the world. Worrying about the impact of social media, and what people think, plus getting caught up in instant gratification, that is enough to drive anyone mad! So, I have to re-assess and re-group and remember my values and goals and not be overrun by a bombardment of outside influence! Easier said than done, I know!
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? No time for regrets. I mean, I think about things sometimes that could have been, and then I just move on because unless there is a lesson to learn from it, that I can turn into forward action, it is just me hiding in my past. So bugger it - let’s move on!
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Chill out and laugh more, you are perfect as you are without trying to be anything else! Be brave, be foolish, be a person you would be proud to call your friend, and if people leave you because you are yourself; don’t be sad, move on. You will be loved by those who matter most and understand you.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Resilience, honesty, compassion, a big dose of not giving a fuck and authenticity above all.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? I am the WRONG person to look to for balance. I haven’t found it, so if you do, please call me right away!
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? Yes. I think about it maybe once a day! I have not only chosen to be in an unstable career (basically backing myself), but I grapple with very real bouts of depression and anxiety that are hard to move through in trying times. Plus, over my career there are things that I have given up because they were not right, and it was my ego trying to make me stay in something that looked right, but felt rubbish!
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That because of the erotic nature of SOME of my art, I’m a sex crazed woman who is out and about devouring lovers 24/7! Haha. Also, that I am always confident, which is just rubbish! All I can say is, to be as open as I am (which feels like a necessity to me), I am opening myself up to seriously amazing connections, but also to conversations, and perhaps input that can be harmful or unwanted. That is the beauty of starting a conversation though; at least people are confronted and thinking. I know it’s making an impact even if I don’t like it!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? There is no right and wrong, no one really knows what they are doing so listen hard, work hard, and then do what you feel is best.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? Well, honestly some days I feel like I have done nothing at all. Then, when I allow myself to sit back and look at where I have come from and where I started out, I am like, “Hell, you are mental to have taken these leaps of faith and sharp turns on the heel of what seemed like a good idea.” I often wonder whether I am just someone who tries things and gives up too easily, but now I am beginning to see that I am trying things on for size. If it’s not the right fit, I’m not wallowing in what could have been. I am using my intuition, experience, and relationships to guide me to the next thing. Then I’ll throw myself into that, see if I can conquer it, and if it flows in my life and brings me, and those around me joy. If it feels good, I’ll keep doing it. If not, I just don’t have the patience to stay in it and struggle.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? This is very apt for how I am transforming my life right now. I had to adjust from a full time job where, even if I didn’t like that I was working for someone else and their ideas, at least I knew where I was going, how much money I was making, and what to do with my energy. To then suddenly have to shift to knowing what I need to do for myself, but not knowing what my exact purpose was. I floundered for what felt like an eternity, and I think I now know the power of transforming vulnerable moments into my most powerful ones. I have learned to make connections in seemingly disconnected moments, and in beings and things, in order to tell stories that aren’t always the prettiest or easiest to tell, to bring people together. THAT is my legacy, honesty as fuel to create a means to connect.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? Because I think that even if you come up with the world’s best idea, unless you can put successful strategies in action, and feel unafraid to ask silly questions with an open minded community, most of us will just hide behind shame and fear and never see them come to light. A community like this, of women supporting women’s ideas, fears, successes and opportunities, makes more room for light to cast out all our shadows of doubt and birth more girl bosses!!!
What are some of your favourite quotes?
"Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead." - Charles Bukowski
"You have to die a few times before you can really live." - Charles Bukowski (I love this man - he is all at once crass, filthy and fucked up balanced by frothing out pure poetic truths!)
“Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.” - Brené Brown
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou