Courtney B., Sr. Visual Coordinator for American Eagle Outfitters and Aerie, and her team are responsible for all the props, displays, and styling you see in AE and Aerie stores. Read below to learn more about what it’s like to be in such a creative role at American Eagle, as well as more about Courtney.
What is your background?
I went to school for fashion design and product development at the University of Cincinnati (Go Bearcats!), where I participated in a co-op program, alternating quarters of school and work to gain experience while I studied. By the time I graduated I completed six internships (including two at AE), designing everything from accessories, to uniforms, to kids clothes. It was through these jobs that I learned I wasn’t really a natural born designer or buyer, two of the most common career paths in fashion. I liked a mix of both, and wanted something where I could stretch myself creatively while still giving my “left brain” a workout, too. Before graduating, I interviewed at AE and was offered a design job. I was young, bold and had just enough guts to ask them what other positions they had available… maybe something in visual merchandising? Five years later, I’m still a little in awe of how I fell into this crazy world, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What does your job as AE & Aerie Sr Visual Coordinator entail?
We joke that it should be called “Coordinator of Chaos” because retail can be wild sometimes. My team and I are responsible for all the props, displays, and styling in all AE and Aerie stores. Everyday is different; I may start the morning on the phone with a vendor negotiating the details of a prop purchase, then I could be in meetings to brainstorm a future season, and I might end the day on a ladder hanging garland. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to get to everything done, but with two brands, four major seasons, and about a million details, there’s also never time to be bored!
What is the most fun part of your job?
The people! I love designing, creating, and problem solving, but the best part is working with a great team of people that make every day (or almost every day) fun. The visual lab has such a great vibe: there’s always people running around, music pumping, and if you’re lucky, a potluck buffet. This team embodies the “work hard, play hard” cliché: we put in a lot of hours to bring the collective vision to life, but we’re never too busy for a costume party, a spontaneous dance off, or a well-earned happy hour. I’ve never met a more passionate group of people, and I don’t take it for granted that I have the opportunity to work alongside some of the smartest, kindest and most talented people in the business.
What project at AE has been your favorite?
I’ve gotten some amazing opportunities over the years: working on photo shoots, flagship store openings, pop-up shops, concerts, Spring Break trips. It’s almost impossible to pick one! But I think beyond all that, my favorite part of my work here happens at the beginning of each season. I love gathering with a bunch of other creative minds and sharing ideas. We swap inspiration photos, brainstorm strategies, and start to create the vision for what the season is going to look like from colors, to props, to outfits, to online contests. I’m energized by creative possibility: the picking, the choosing, the building and collaborating on each others’ thoughts. For me, this time of planning and dreaming is like New Year’s and Back to School rolled into one – a chance to start fresh and reinvent something awesome into something even more awesome. I will say it’s not all roses though… this job has definitely taken a toll on my decorating at home. It’s been years since I put up a Christmas tree at my house. By the time the holidays roll around, I’m about fed up with garland and lights!
What tips do you have for someone who wants to be a in a creative role?
Work hard and be nice to people. It doesn’t get much simpler, or truer than that. Working in a creative field can be challenging sometimes. There are a lot of conflicting ideas, personalities and goals. The fashion world isn’t always the cool, glamorous job that people might dream of (Did I mention I spend a good portion of my day sweating on a ladder?). But if you’re willing to put in the effort and smile through the struggles, people will eventually notice.
If you weren’t working at AE, what would you want to be doing?
A Nail Polish Color Namer, Professional Tambourinist, or a Macaroni and Cheese Contest Judge. But just in case those things don’t pan out, I’d probably be an event planner. What’s better than getting paid to celebrate?
Where do you find your inspiration?
What a tough question… anywhere and everywhere! Searching for window display or props design ideas is unique because there isn’t much out there that is a direct inspiration point to what we do, or if there is, it means someone has already been there, done that. We look at all different areas – home interiors, art installations, fashion trends – and try to pull abstract concepts into collections of ideas we can execute for our purposes. I’ve always been a magazine junkie, so that’s still where I get a ton of inspiration. There’s a tower of waiting-to-be-read issues that threatens to wipe out my desk daily. But a huge portion of my seasonal swipe comes from blogs and other websites. I like the balance of the two mediums. There’s something irresistible about the feel of a fresh magazine in your hands, but the online world is a wealth of inspiration, churning out endless streams of images, ideas and info. I’m addicted to the connection that the internet fosters. One concept is linked to another, which references another, that’s inspired by another. I wish I had more time to devote just to inspiration searching. It’s too easy (and fun!) to dive down the “creative rabbit hole”, getting lost in a (literal) web of ideas.
You have a blog, Bowdenisms. What do you blog about?
It’s basically a big online hodgepodge of my life. My husband and I started it on a whim in 2007, so it has evolved over time, but it is a mix of family updates, projects and just general ramblings. We just had our first child last November, so since then Piper Jane has definitely become star of the show. I won’t say the blog doesn’t lean heavily towards the baby pictures nowadays, but we do still mix it up a bit. I love cooking (ok, mostly eating!), crafting, and photography, and we always seem to be making some update to our house, so I share various projects we have in the works. And of course with my fashion background, that’s a frequent topic as well. When we started the site five years ago, I never truly set out to be “a blogger” (that was still barely a thing!) but I’ve loved having a place to share ideas, connect with people, express myself creatively (outside of work!), foster conversation, and create community. Who knows where it will take us, but I love having a written record of this stage of our lives, and it’s been fun to take others along for the ride!
What are your favorite spots in Pittsburgh?
Before interviewing at AE, moving to Pittsburgh was never on my radar, but after five years here I can truly say that I love it. I may not be a Pittsburgher born and bred, but I root for the Steelers, like fries on my salads (ok, I like fries on my anything…), and am learning to embrace the local lingo (I’m a fan of “nebby” and “slippy” but “yinz” might take me a bit longer). There is so much to do in Pittsburgh, and it seems there’s always a new restaurant to try or event to check out. When the weather is nice I love to spend time outside: going to Pirates games, seeing concerts at Stage AE, or just pushing Piper on the swings in the local park. I’m always up for a drink and some greasy (i.e. delicious) bar food – some favorites are Burgatory, Rivertowne, and D’s Six Pack and Dogs.