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How I Got Here: Mecca’s Art Director on not being afraid to start from scratch

Photography by Danielle Azzopardi

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“It can be hard to start again, but if you surround yourself with inspiring people and mentors who can support you, it can be well worth it.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While the internet and social media might have us believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the individuals who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasising over someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the awe-inspiring titles and the fancy work events lies a heck of a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?


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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week we speak to Kat Wilkinson, the Art Director at Australia’s premier beauty destination, Mecca. It’s a job title (and company) that people are endlessly curious about – what does an art director actually do and what’s it like working for one of the most beloved Australian brands?

Knowing Kat personally – and being equally as into products – I can attest to her love of all things beauty. She has a genuine admiration for exceptional branding and expertly designed formulas, and an innate understanding of how tied to our identities and sense of self beauty can be.

It’s this passion, and her insatiable fascination with all creative fields – fashion, art, music, architecture and film – that makes her so good at creating incredible campaigns. (She’s also an excellent person to talk to for career advice, hence her inclusion in this series.)

Her path to such a covetable job wasn’t entirely straightforward, though. There was her brief flirtation with owning her own hair salon, an initial attempt at a photography degree and, after graduating as a graphic designer, she made the risky decision to start over and train as an art director while working in New York.

But it’s not being afraid to start from scratch that’s got her to where she is today. Here’s what she’s learnt along the way.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

As an Art Director at Mecca, I am responsible for setting the visual tone across the business from social shoots through to major campaigns and brand launches. Working from start to finish on these projects, my role starts with research and strategy, then coming up with concepts, producing shoots, ensuring the perfect team for the job (hair, makeup, photographer etc) directing on set, managing budgets through to post-production and eventually bringing the campaign to life.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

Interestingly, I can trace my start back to when I was a sweet sixteen-er and I wanted to be a hairdresser with my own salon. I would sit there and draw floor plans of my future hair salon, design the uniforms and name all my staff…. a week of year 10 work experience was all it took to quickly move on from that idea. It just wasn’t for me.

Having always been interested in visual arts, photography and fashion, I began a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art Photography at RMIT in 2007. After one year of writing wafty essays on ‘conceptual art’ I realised that it also wasn’t for me and decided to ‘pivot’ once again.

Next up, I completed a Bachelor of Communication Design at Swinburne University, graduating as a graphic designer. My first full-time job was at 3Deep where I was introduced to the world of art direction through my first client, The Australian Ballet. I knew then that this was the perfect role for me – something that combines hair, photography, fashion and design altogether!

Looking for a challenge and to expand my creative world (and let’s face it, some FUN) I turned everything on its head and moved to New York City where I got an internship at Opening Ceremony in 2013. I worked there for three months, living off a stipend of $10USD a day (that was considered a ‘well-paid’ internship back then), I loved it but this wasn’t a forever gig.

I then landed my dream job as a junior art director at Lloyd&Co where I stayed for three years working on campaigns for Adidas Y-3, Adidas Porsche, Adidas Pharrell and Estee Lauder to name a few. This was an incredible time in my life where I grew into my own as an art director, learnt from some amazing people, and worked with incredible talent.

Fast-forward, I moved back to Australia in 2016, did the freelancing thing for a while, then took a full-time job as an art director at Portas Agency, which saw me work between here and London on large-scale fashion campaigns. When the opportunity to work for Mecca came up, I decided to make the switch from fashion to beauty and have never looked back. Beauty is SO fun, creative, positive and expressive!

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

When I got the job in NYC at Lloyd&Co I was asked if I wanted to pursue design or art direction. At that point, I had to decide which path I really wanted to go down. It was challenging to ‘start again’ and go back to being a complete junior. It can be hard to start again, but if you surround yourself with inspiring people and mentors who can support you, it can be well worth it.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

It’s extremely detail-oriented for a creative role. As the art director, it is your role to ensure every person from pre-production to post-production is working towards the same outcome/goal. From nails to hair, to editors and retouching – every person that works on the project needs to understand the vision, bringing their unique skill to achieve the overall direction.

What’s the best part about your role?

I love collaborating and working with the creative teams on set. The passion they bring to their work and how they interpret the briefs is what can make or break a campaign. Working with and witnessing specialists of their fields help bring the project to life is the best part of my role.

What would surprise people about your role?

You aren’t always producing your personal creative vision. Ninety-five per cent of the job is about understanding the brand, the client – and problem-solving their brief.

What skills have served you well in your industry?

A degree in communication design and an insatiable fascination and interest for the arts. Whether that be music, fashion, architecture, painting – having a broad understanding of many creative fields will help you to formulate comprehensive concepts, and also be better placed to brief your crew.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

In my opinion, there isn’t a clear path into art direction. People often find themselves in this role through round-about ways. More often than not, through a communication design degree and then through work experience.

The importance of the relationships you make at university, jobs and [through] mentors is imperative. Look to all forms of art for inspiration, not just other editorial photoshoots. Look at paintings, sculptures, music, architecture, film – these are where truly original ideas are formed.

What about a practical tip?

Experience. Experience. Experience. Try everything and anything. Meet lots of people. Go overseas; working in a bigger city with a bigger industry will give you the best training and experience and exposure to incredible talent. There is no better tool to learn from than experience and being immersed with creative people on set.

@kattinki

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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