Meet Emily Armstrong. She’s sweet, thoughtful, and insanely talented. At just 23 years old, she is a graphic designer at Barneys New York and is tasked with projects such as creating woodland creature masks for children, designing posters for brand invitations, and collaborating on exclusive cosmetic bags that are incredibly chic.
Passionate about art and illustrating, Emily raves about modern art, her love of design, and how she one day hopes to live in Paris. She is a big-time reader and loves to spend her free time at The Strand. We’re big fans of Emily and her work, and we love the best advice she’s ever received: ‘Make yourself proud every day’ and ‘Focus on your cool.’ It’s pretty obvious that she’s got the cool part down pat.
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Emily Armstrong: I realized that when I was in school, I had such an advantage. People were more likely to reach out to me because I was a student and young. They were willing to share advice because they didn’t see me as competition yet. Seizing my youth meant realizing that I was at such an advantageous place and not letting that hinder me but taking advantage of it.
CJ: You received your BFA in Graphic Design and Drawing from the University of Missouri-Columbia. What sparked your love of design?
EA: My love of art came before my love of design. Art started for me when I was very young. In second grade I was drawing caricatures of my classmates. I realized that I liked to draw clothes and people, but design came later. In college I decided to study art, and my parents were a little hesitant. They introduced graphic design to me as a more marketable skill. I ended up loving it after I took a few classes. Those classes sparked my love for design.
Design is everywhere. The visual language is more personal when you’re so close to design.
CJ: What was your favorite class in college?
EA: I loved multicultural literature. We read a book about a different culture every few weeks and discussed it and gave presentations. I love reading, and I think it’s a romantic skill and related to art from a storytelling aspect.
I liked my beginning physics class a lot.
My favorite class was my portfolio class. Our first assignment was to create 20 images in any medium, and we only had a couple of weeks. The professor just wanted us to start hashing out our ideas that we had built up and to not overthink the images we were making. I ended up with a lot of cool images that I’m still proud of even though it was my junior year in college. I’m inspired to continue adding on to that body of work.
CJ: You are a Graphic Designer at Barneys New York. What does your role entail?
EA: I’m a print graphic designer, so I make our print collateral – things from signage in the stores to books and catalogs in the mail and invitations for events. I can be really creative with these projects. For example, if a designer uses a print in their collection a lot, we might pull that image and make it a liner in the envelope. I love seeing the finished product and having it in your hands.
Right now I’m working on a special project that is in collaboration with Baz Luhrmann, and I get to do some fun drawings. I drew masks of woodland animals for children who come visit the stores. Barneys gives me the freedom to use my skills and have freedom with my work. I’m so excited to be a part of the Baz campaign – he’s a hero of mine.
CJ: You’ve interned at some amazing places such as Donna Karan and Barneys New York. What are your biggest takeaways from these experiences?
EA: A lot of my experience with Donna Karan was really about New York. It was about getting acclimated to New York as well as the internship. No one thought it was lame that I was from Missouri – I thought I was going to stick out like a sore thumb.
I felt really empowered by the city and having this internship. I had never learned about fabric before, and my internship was in the fabric department. They would give me a swatch of fabric and I had to source it in the city. I had to find a similar weight and content of that fabric swatch with a specific price point. I was set free to do the project, and while that might seem overwhelming, to be able to complete a task like that and do it well was the most empowering thing. Donna Karan was about me feeling confident with myself and in the city.
My Barneys internship was instrumental in getting my job now. Because I had the New York experience before, I learned a lot of skills and how to be detail-oriented. I was learning from the best, and this internship was helpful with my aesthetic sensibility.
CJ: You were a Student Ambassador for Stylitics, the largest digital closet platform on the web. What were your duties as a Student Ambassador?
EA: That was such a crazy chapter in my life because during my first summer here there was a Parsons program put on that I attended. At the networking brunch, I met the founders of Stylitics and they asked me to be a part of this program. My duties were to spread the word about Stylitics, so I did street style photography on-campus, I talked to student reporters, and generated buzz for this company.
The founders wanted to start a high school program, and my sister was in high school at the time, and I offered to help make a promotional poster. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal saw my poster and she reached out. The conversation was about Stylitics and the ambassador program, but I formed that bond with her and ended up being in that huge newspaper.
CJ: What is the best part about being a designer? The most challenging part?
EA: I love arranging elements, making beautiful compositions, and making textures with text.
The most challenging part is my tendency to always want to illustrate everything. I can’t help it. Restraining myself from illustrating, creating something graphic, and working with type.
CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?
EA: I like to wake up a little early at 8am so I can make my French press coffee and bagel, and then take some time to read. I get ready, take the train to Rockefeller Center. Recently I’ve been working on a brand’s invitation and poster. After work I love going to yoga. I encourage everyone to do yoga – you get strong, healthy, and energized. Then I go home and eat leftovers.
CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?
EA: I try not to let it show in the office ever. After work it’s nice to do some cardio so your brain can be free. Taking that energy from the stress and replacing it in a better way is so important.
CJ: What is your favorite book?
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
EA: If you don’t like volleyball, that’s okay. Focus your attention somewhere else. You don’t have to be the best at everything. You should not feel lame about wanting to do art, embrace the music you like, and don’t be overwhelmed with social situations. There’s a huge reset button when you graduate high school. Do the best you can and not be wrapped up. I’m so happy for all the reset buttons in my life!
Images: Emily Armstrong; Lauren Jessen