“There’s a great quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “A wise man will make many more opportunities than he finds”
“The reality is that everyone is around amazing people in life… it’s what you decide to do with that information.”
Justin Cooke’s career trajectory is phenomenal. Having worked as a Manager within Gucci and PR Manager Worldwide for Stella McCartney, he assumed the role of Vice President PR, VIP, Events, Copy and Translation Worldwide at Burberry… aged just 27. Now he’s Topshop’s Chief Managing Officer, having been part of a goal to internationalize the Topshop brand in the USA, China and Europe. Charismatic, witty and possessing a profound wisdom, Justin was recently interviewed at Harrods in front of an audience of college course leaders and students about his remarkable rise through the ranks of fashion. 1 Granary was fortunate enough to hear him in conversation and we think that his accomplishments at such a young age are truly inspirational. As such, we wanted to share the many life lessons and work relationships which have helped to shape his career with all the CSM students who couldn’t attend.
“Every single human being deserves great service.”
Encouraged by a friend and his mum who ordered him to just “get out the house” and “stop playing football”, Cooke worked on the Gucci shop floor at an exciting time when Tom Ford had started to glamourise the Gucci brand. PR people, he explains, understand the perspective of both customer and seller. His insistence on excellent service is paramount, having sold £20,000 worth of clothes to unassuming customers in tracksuits; “never judge a book by it’s cover”. It was these qualities whilst serving James McArthur, the then recently appointed SVP of Mergers and Acquisitions at the Gucci Group, that earned him a job in the Gucci office. “Every single human being deserves great service” is a golden motto to live by.
“What I saw was probably far greater than what I was told.”
Aside from guaranteeing the constant presence of six apples in Tom Ford’s fruit bowl during his time as a runner in the Gucci office, Cooke talks about the one important question a day that Ford would ask him. He emphasises the importance of these questions and the vitality to think for yourself, questioning why your tasks are important; where could these questions lead to in the future and for the company? The environment, filled with different people, gave Cooke a foot in the door. He explains how now he sets his interns obscure research tasks in order to inspire a similar sense of curiosity. “So many interns want to do everything tomorrow”, he remarks, arguing that menial talks such as newspaper tagging become an invaluable way to learn about someone’s strategy and mindset. Why am I doing these tasks? Why are they important for the business?
“Make shit happen.”
Cooke next moved to work for Stella McCartney. He loves start up companies and is passionate about the mentality to “get shit done”, pushed to the limits in terms of resources. This attitude he also connects to the big company environment, where you need the same mindset, collaboration, sense of risk taking and ability to make mistakes. Both Cooke’s and McCartney’s mothers tragically died of cancer but this gave the pair a unique understanding and bond. The impact of loss similarly informed his relationship with Christopher Bailey, creative director at Burberry, who had suffered a great loss with his partner. Cooke describes this as giving them “the same vision… the same language…When you lose someone that close, something happens to you as a person… you’re forced to, you know, take control of your life… it gives you a killer instinct… you have to do everything yourself”.
“I subscribe to the whole sliding doors thing. There are people that come into your life at certain moments and whether or not you realise the connection or reason why they’re there, it all comes back to mean something.”
Having become the PR Manager Worldwide for Stella McCartney, Cooke was headhunted “out of the blue” by the best of British, Burberry. He met with Christopher Bailey for an interview at 6:10 AM; a time at which, Cooke exclaims, Bailey came in every day. Ironically, he had been served by Cooke on the Gucci shop floor; something which Bailey very much remembered. Cooke assumed control of PR at Burberry. The company wanted to turn its’ UK image away from “the chav time”, something Cooke found slightly derogatory as he believes, “everyone should be entitled to wear what they want”. Work was like a drug for the pair and there was an incredible balance on the design team between the commercial and creative. However, Cooke warns that the biggest potential challenge in a large company is the lack of innovators; “you have to step back and bring people in who can dream a little bit”.
“It’s like the computer says no thing, eh eh ehhh.”
“You can’t let your job be boring and if it is, you’re doing the wrong thing… just get out of there immediately and go do something you love because it’s a waste!” Cooke is a big advocate for doing the things you love and is passionate about taking great experiences from technology and incorporating them into his work. On holiday, he would draw out the website and customer experience for Topman, having picked up on techniques from Ford and Bailey similar to that of a film director’s storyboard. Inspired by his trips to the USA where you can send people episodes digitally over the TV, Cooke developed a new piece of technology for Facebook where, during Topman catwalk shows, you can share a favourite look or song via social networking during the show. The instantaneous dialogue speeds up conversations about the brand and establishes a unique digital experience.
“Style is emotional.”
Music is a huge influence on Cooke’s understanding of conveying messages. It is a conjuror of personal experience, unique to every individual and able to evoke a specific and desired mood. He goes on to say that, as well as style being emotional, it is also about confidence. “Every brand in the world wants a 16 – 25 year old customer” but for Cooke there is no single Topshop girl. It is about feeling confident in what you wear, not your age. He also talks about print as the new luxury. Catalogues and hand signed books accompanying a product become treasured pieces that a customer wants to have in their life, rather than a loose bit of paper. The company instills an emotion in a customer which is what attracts them, rather than the product itself. Not to mention Cooke loves print and associates it with downtime; the Daily Mail crossword is a must.
“Clarity… that is what sets [designers] apart”
Cooke has a hunger to “see everything”; nine out of ten people write to him with new ideas and he likes to see them all. A couple of people who he was in contact with recently received seven figure grants. He likes to help. On being asked about young designers, he remarks that it’s not realistic that everyone can make it. “There is so much product” and “great product is minimal expectation”. What sets companies and individuals apart is the mix of three key ingredients: excellent product, service and experience. “It’s the emotion [a brand] builds into you”, he explains. What about the many British designers he knows? Cooke concludes that what sets them apart is an “incredible point of view” that they are able to articulate with absolute clarity; whether through products, messaging, interviews, the way they speak or the choice of their models. “That is probably what sets the good ones and the great ones apart… It’s a really difficult thing to do”.That’s how we felt after the talk: mesmerised and inspired