Do Tell: The Graphic Designer Who Began Her Career as Anna Wintour’s Assistant

April 21, 2020

Meet Sarah Chow.

Job: Graphic Designer
Passion: Art and design
Home: East Village, New York

There are some people whose career paths are as straight as a ruler. It’s almost as though they’ve had their 5-, 10-, 20-year goals laid out like a crisp outfit the night before the first day of school. Then, there are those who take a more winding route, leap-frogging their way from one job to the next. Their paths may not be as linear, but with the trust of their own gut, they leap anyway.

Sarah Chow falls into the latter category. She’s gone from working in museums, to being Anna Wintour’s assistant, to designing graphics for Louis Vuitton, all before the age of 30. Now a student at Parsons, she’s forging a new career with her playfully, vibrant illustrations on her must-follow Instagram account, @chowdesigns.

We chatted with Sarah to hear about her creative journey, ignoring your inner critic and how perfection isn’t everything.

ON HER CREATIVE JOURNEY


I moved to NYC to work as Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue. I had spent several summers in college interning at Vanity Fair, so I was so excited when Conde Nast reached out to me to come on full-time.

Illustration started out as a hobby of mine, but I’ve always known I wanted to do something creative for work. I studied Art History in college, then worked at an art museum in Washington D.C. before eventually moving to NYC. I finally decided to quit my job last year to study design at Parsons, and started sharing my work on my Instagram account, @chowdesigns.

ON HER CAREER MILESTONES AND DREAMS

When I was working as an assistant at Louis Vuitton, I had the amazing opportunity to design two stamps for the 2020 Cruise show, which took place in May 2019 at JFK. It was incredible to see my designs available at three Louis Vuitton stores in Manhattan.

As far as dreams go, it would be an absolute dream to do a cover for The New Yorker or to collaborate with a big clothing brand.

ON WHAT INSPIRES HER

Natural light, cloud formations, people watching, flowers and plants, fashion, mid-century design, modern art, architecture, television and film, music, books and poetry, current events, even the mundane — basically anything and everything!

ON PUSHING THROUGH CREATIVE BLOCKS

I like to take breaks and then come back to my work. I’ll take a walk, read or watch something to get my brain off it, and then, if I’m lucky, there will be something during that break that will spark inspiration and get my gears turning again. If I’m still unhappy with my work after a break, sometimes I think the best thing to do is start again fresh. Perfectionism can be crippling, so I try to focus on simply executing and try to postpone the self-critique for later.

There’s a great part of the book Art and Fear, about a class of ceramics students, in which half were asked. to turn in only one final project of high quality, while the other half were asked to turn in a project of high quantity. The result was that the group of students who were only asked to submit one piece were paralyzed by the idea of perfection, while the other group of students who were asked to create several pieces ended up churning out high quality products. I try to remind myself of that whenever my work gets stagnant!

ON HER PERSONAL STYLE

My personal style is effortless and easy. It’s a combination of high and low pieces paired with well-loved basics.

ON HER MORNING ROUTINE

I usually try to wake up a little earlier than necessary to get a cup of coffee. Then I’ll climb back in bed and catch up on my phone while I sip. It’s a nice way to ease into the morning before getting dressed and taking on the day.

ON HER EVENING ROUTINE

I’m in evening classes right now, so on days that I don’t have any, I’m usually making dinner followed by some sort of relaxing activity. If the mood strikes, I’ll play around and create something just for fun while watching a show or listening to music. I actually do some of my best work late at night, so if I have any work to do, I’ll do that—fewer distractions!

ON HER NEW NORMAL

My classes moved online following my spring break in March, so I’ve been quarantining with my family in Virginia since then. I’m extremely thankful that all of us are healthy and together, but it’s definitely been an adjustment. My mom has had to tolerate all of my art supplies (among other things) strewn around the house, and my siblings and I are getting used to living with other people again.

I miss NYC and my friends so much, but we’ve been having regular virtual happy hours which have helped! I’ve been trying to spark some joy by wearing my rentals to those and my classes. Luckily, since graphic design is a job that can and has been done remotely, business has otherwise carried on pretty much as usual.

JUST BECAUSE…

Listening to: “Adore You” by Harry Styles

Last thing you Googled: “Fried dumpling Mosco St.”

Favorite artist: Such a hard question! Mickalene Thomas at the moment, but I’m a lifelong Matisse fan.

Go-to comfort food: Chicken nuggets or ramen!

First fashion memory: I was Little Miss Muffet in a play in Kindergarten and can remember being obsessed with my frilly white lace dress. I would totally still wear it today if it came in my size.

Biggest hero: My dad. He’s a paragon of optimism, even in the face of adversity.

Best advice you’ve ever received: Everyone is just winging it!

Best advice you’ve ever given: You are your own worst critic.

Skill you’d most like to pick up: Sewing! My sister and I actually just bought a sewing machine for quarantine activities. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn, but haven’t dedicated the time to learning it. I guess now is the time to start!