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Role Call | Diana Chu, Art Director

Diana Chu, art director of Lands' End, says that personal projects are integral to your work-life balance, because they keep you focused.
Diana Chu | Source: Courtesy
  • Kati Chitrakorn

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

DODGEVILLE, United States — Diana Chu is the art director at American clothing retailer Lands' End. Hailing from Blacksburg, Virginia, Chu spent her youth growing up in Hong Kong, before studying illustration and costume design at Washington University in St. Louis's Sam Fox School of Art & Design. Chu began her role as an assistant art director for Lands' End in 2012. In 2014, Chu was promoted to art director. Chu also works as a graphic designer, illustrator and prop stylist for the brand.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

Working in tandem with merchants, copywriters, photo directors, planners, apparel designers and IT, I create visual solutions that live as web pages, banners, and emails to help drive our women’s business. That said, my role is particularly unique within the company as I cross divisions and media. Drawing from a background in fine arts, my skills as an illustrator and hand-drawn typographer have proven especially valuable. My artwork spans branding initiatives, set and prop design, catalogue illustrations, social media posts, textile prints and gift packaging. I also helped establish and manage the look-and-feel of both our Canvas sub-brand and our Modern microsite.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

The summer before my senior year at Washington University, I interned with the UX team at Lands' End. This initial experience with the brand was key. I could foresee an in-house creative life, albeit in a corporate structure. Lands' End is not so large-scale that it famishes the individual's creative spirit. I also love clothes. I worked as a costume designer during my studies. I love how idiosyncratic clothes are to a character, fictional or not. Our daily sartorial choices mark our moods, lifestyle and aspirations. Lands' End also had "raconteurism" in its blood and I wanted to be a part of that.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

Last summer, a freelance prop stylist fell through on their gig at our studio. Our director of global photography rang me up and asked, “Want to be a prop-stylist for a week?” I had no experience [so] my preparation was amateur at best. It was definitely head-first into the deep end. Thus began my side-role as prop stylist and set designer for our editorial e-catalogue, Apostrophe. I can now boast experience hand-slicing mylar fringe to cover a 12ft holiday backdrop, building a life-size red paper alligator in three days and free-handing floor-to-ceiling chalk murals time and time again. Seeing the sheer production force behind the creation of a single image still astounds me.

Fashion is a key indicator of the zeitgeist, and is as critical a vehicle for storytelling as the written word.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

Lands’ End is going through an exciting brand evolution. Lands’ End’s business is fortunate to operate predominantly on digital and catalogue platforms. The focus on digital has only sharpened our photography, brand direction and product lines. Without succumbing to the fast-fashion model, how do we capture a new and relevant consumer without alienating our loyalists? How do we roll-out revamped typography across the whole site, react to new device sizes with responsive design, shoot using new video capabilities, streamline the check-out experience for the holidays? I have to adapt my work with every new big idea. It’s always fluid.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

We have a wheelhouse of products that have affirmed our popularity with customers. One such item is our Peppermint Crunch Cookie; a red and white Christmas-heralding treat you can take home by the pound in a tin. Our toffee and caramels take silver and bronze. This trinity of sweets has its own schema of branded packaging,  up for a re-design. I was brought onboard to create original art for the tins; collectible, whimsical, one-of-a-kind art. Long story short, I bombed it. Nothing flew. Iteration after iteration, I could not appease all the cooks in the kitchen for a bevy of reasons; but ultimately, my illustrative voice failed to produce the perfect on-brand piece within the timeframe. From it, I learned not to take the disappointment personally. Consider it practice, and move on. It was a classic case of knowing your artistic voice, understanding how to tackle obstacles within a project, and stepping back from the helm on projects that do not fit your strengths. Identify your weaknesses and push to improve on them in the name of better, well-rounded craft.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

Your creative mind is likely limitless and in need of frequent watering. Extrapolate your practice beyond work and experiment — the results can only catalyse good vibes and confidence. I just published my first book (of illustrated haikus), debuted a solo contemporary art exhibit, and currently collaborating on getting a cheeky little ‘artsletter’ off the ground. Skim the cream off the top of your very best ideas and keep them for yourself. Pour yourself into your job, but don’t give up the ship.

Also, if now is the time for paying your dues, do so humbly and respect the process — but be scrappy about it! Be a creative force of disruption! At times I ponder the origins of my ‘bumpersticker’ old-fashioned work ethic philosophies, but nevertheless I hold them close: be positive, cultivate grit and stomp out ego. Keep moving. Have you ever heard the Wisconsin state motto? It is simply and elegantly this: Forward.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

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