#049: The Establishment – Founder & CEO Anita Bitton

Thursday March 03, 2022

instrumental in the rise of Alexander Wang.

Anita was born in South London. She was raised by foster parents. She modeled as a kid to find a way out of London and a better option than her job at TGI Friday’s. For this episode Anita invited host Fran Racioppi to her Brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for a chat in her parlor about defining trends, being bold and disruptive, evaluating talent, resiliency in life and business, raising kids in New York City and her dedicated Spotify channel.

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The Establishment – Founder & CEO Anita Bitton

Fashion dictates our style. It represents our culture. It allows us to express ourselves to be bold and outrageous, or reserved and refined. Fashion is a leading indicator of where we’re going in society. It sets the trends for how we dress, look, act, and often feel. In fact, the word ‘fashion’ is defined as a trend or a way of doing something.

The fashion industry is right with world-famous designers whose creativity and vision have defined both our present and our future. Models are called upon to show us what it should look and feel like. In order for a designer and a model to change the world, they must first pass to Anita Bitton, one of the fashion industry’s most iconic leaders and driver of talent.

Anita is the go-to casting director for brands like DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger, Bottega, Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade and Balenciaga. She was instrumental in the rise of Alexander Wang through their eleven-year partnership. She’s responsible for seeing the designer’s vision and translate it into the look and feel of the models in display.

Anita was born in South London. She was raised by foster parents. She modeled as a kid to find a way out of London in a better option than her job at TGI Friday’s. For this episode, she invited me to her brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for a chat in a parlor about defining trends, evaluating talent, resilience in life and business, and raising kids in New York City. They say leaders don’t follow trends, they set them. Anita Bitton shows us just how true that statement really is.

Anita Bitton, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thank you for having me.

Thank you for having us in your home here on the Upper West Side. It is stunningly beautiful here.

It has been a while since we have had guests because we were coming out of a pandemic. It is interesting when you have guests because you do not know how to behave anymore. I have spent 2 years with 3 people, 3 dogs, and a cat. Thank you for coming.

We had tea and coffee. I would say you did a pretty good job.

I’m learning. I’m breaking myself gently.

You also stuck with me as I had to set all this equipment up. I appreciate that.

[bctt tweet=”Fashion leans into politics. It leans into identity and rebellion, even. It all starts with where we are in the world. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

It is my pleasure. Thanks for coming.

It is so fitting to come to New York to talk to you, one of the fashion industry icons. Regardless of what people may say that Paris or Milan are certainly capitals of fashion, New York is up there right at the top of the list. To be able to come to New York, sit down with you, talk about fashion and leadership in fashion, and gain your perspective is truly an honor. When I woke up at 4:00 AM to finalize this discussion, it was hard for me to think about it because there were so many places to start.

Your career has been so dynamic, whether it was growing up in South London, coming to New York, finding the way out, and then coming here and building a business, which was not something that you intended to do, and then seizing the front end of this industry. When you think about casting in fashion, you have to decide who the next face of these brands is. As we talk about the visionaries, drivers of change, and those who have to be transformative leaders, you rise right to the top of that list.

I have had goosebumps. Thank you. When you are living in it and are part of it, it does not sound quite so dynamic. Being that you put it like that, I’m super excited. I can’t believe you got up so early.

Every day, that is what we have to do. I want to start with fashion because how we define fashion is important. You cast the biggest names in the industry, Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, and Bottega. You were instrumental in the launch of Alexander Wang. The fashion industry, in so many ways, dictates our style, direction of culture and trends, and the tone for where we are going as a society. How do you define the fashion industry and its place in society because the rest of us just look?

I grew up in South London. As an English person, we were very tribal. There are a lot of subcultures. If you think about punk and Teddy Boys, there are all these subcultures that existed growing up. For me, fashion was a natural inclination to be part of something. I never grew up feeling fashionable. Admiring fashion, I was not looking at Paris or New York. I was very inspired by movies. When I think about fashion, it dictates the era that we have been through and predicts the future that we are going into.

If you think about fashion nowadays, it is no longer a reflection of the times, be it what you can afford and what you can’t afford. Now we are in an environmental crisis with fashion. Along with the world, it has evolved its own problems, relevance, and role in shaping culture. Right now, we have had enough of fashion.

There is a lot of money being spent. We were looking at ways to make it a nicer place to be. Whereas in the ’80s, we all had side ponytails and big rah-rah skirts. As you go through and grow up, fashion means something different. Nowadays’s fashion leans into politics, identity, and rebellion even. It all starts with where we are in the world.

Did designers think like that? When designers sit down and say, “I’m going to develop next year’s ideas,” do they tie those themes in? Is that a conscious thing that is going through their minds?

When you talk about Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, or designers for designer’s sake, not H&M or fast fashion, you are referring to an artist that has an idea and develops that idea, be it the ’90s was grunge, which is all a reaction to what is going on politically from what I know. Nowadays fashion landscape is drowning in clothes. There are a lot of people making a lot of clothes that we do not need. The ones that are good with a skillset that understands their customer, what they are developing, be it materials or image, is a skill.

There is a pause, thought, and action. Everyone else keeps going, “We got to keep up. More pants and hemlines.” Fashion essentially is a reaction to what is going on in the world politically, financially, and fashion nowadays. We were coming out of our pajamas after two years. People are redefining who they are, what they are, and what they mean to people.

You have called it subjective. You said, “I see myself as a facilitator. I’m not a star casting person. I think casting is very subjective. My job is, as the gatekeeper, were there to be a facilitator or an organizer.” Our show focuses a lot on leadership, talent management, and human performance. Those are three of our major themes. All of those are subjective in their own right. Several episodes back, we spoke with a psychologist named Dr. Jack Stark. He is a 22-time national champion coach at the collegiate level and an 8-time NASCAR champion with Hendrick Motorsports.

He defines roles within leadership. There are four of them, a thinker, promoter, coordinator, and action-oriented staff. This thinker has the vision and ideas, the promoter champions it, the coordinators are the one who needs to put it together, and then that staff has to go out and do it. I think about that quote from you and how you describe it as that coordinator role that has to go out and make all of this happen. When you think about the subjective nature of this industry and describe the level of competition, there is stuff everywhere. What is it about casting that drives you?

I have always been attracted to people. I grew up in a very diverse city, and I am casting a huge responsibility. You are always informing what people are going to be looking at. What is an acceptable beauty standard? What is an acceptable face? What is an acceptable talent? It is such a broad strokes area to be working in like, “Who is to say I have it right?” I always tell my staff, “There is no right or wrong answer in what we do. That is just ideas.” Marc Jacobs was one of the first designers to do. He has makeup and a beauty line. It was 50 different shades of skin.

People had 50 different shades of skin since eternity before we were all in existence. Fashion is able to bring this to the forefront and put it in people’s living rooms, onto people’s laps, and hold people accountable and responsible. There is something for everyone, so someone is not sitting there feeling marginalized. That is what is important. Every day, you make a small step towards making a difference.

For me, that human connection is important because as a kid, that is what allowed me to flourish, prosper, and know that there was something else for me to do because from where I come from, people do not have this trajectory of life. The basics of casting, for me, is bringing out the best in the individual. Meeting someone who might offer something different to the world or their story is so important that I want others to hear it.

You said Eileen Ford called it the X factor. I liked how you brought into the conversation here, “Bringing out the best in people.” You and I were joking when we connected that you have to bridge the gap with talent now, which is half your age, if not even younger, at some point. Me, too. We were together in this. Do not worry.

I do this with the athletes that I work with. I look at them so many times. I had a guy telling me the other day. He said, “This is the hardest thing I’m ever going to do in my life.” I lifted him and said, “That is impossible. You have no idea. You play a sport and go to school. That is it.” You have kids, a mortgage, a life, and all these other responsibilities. How do you bridge that gap?

To be honest, this job has never been hard for me. Is that obnoxious? We talked when you came in. When you are doing something that you love so much in a community that is now family, it is not about the idea of bridging the gap, “This is my life.” It all exists between life, work, personal, family, dogs, and friends. It all is one and the same, in the sense that every opportunity I get with an individual, a new person, or a new intro. That also feeds into my experience. I traveled the world and met lots of different people. It is important for me to be able to relate to people.

I do deal with 15, 16, 23-year-old models and 80-year-old actresses. There is a certain dynamic that happens between you and a subject when you allow them to be themselves. My goal was always to help them feel comfortable, “My job here is to help you be the best version of yourself. Let’s do this. This is what is expected of you.” It was about communication. I do not ever think about it like bridging the gaps. I’m very aware that I’m 20 years younger or 50 years older kind of thing, but I always approach everything and meet the talent where they are.

You can tell if it is a fifteen-year-old coming into a large design house. They are going to be nervous. They know that I have done this 100 times, and I could be quite helpful to them. They are expecting this giant, so you have to shrink to fit. One size does not fit all. The bridging the gap part is meeting the talent where they are.

When you are meeting Susan Sarandon on a Marc Jacobs set, and she has broken her foot, she probably wants some help. It is not being overwhelmed when you meet your heroes and lifting those kids that need to feel safe. When we talk about bridging the gap, that is what I do in life because that is what was afforded to me always. The times that it was not are the times I remember much more clearly than the times that it was.

Relationship and building personal connections are always so important in anything that we do, especially as we develop leaders, wherever they sit in the organization. I want to ask you about decision-making. The military is the greatest organization in the world when it comes to decision-making.

[bctt tweet=”We’re just coming out of our pajamas after two years. A lot of people are redefining who they are, what they are, and what they mean to other people.” username=”talentwargroup”]

It is very clear about levels of command, leadership, who gets to make what decision based on certain inputs, and where they sit in that hierarchy. Everyone has input. A lot of people think, “You were in the military. You stand there, wait, be told what to do, and then do it.” That is not the case, especially in special operations.

Many times, the best ideas do not come from the people at the top. They come from the bottom, so there is always this bottom-up feedback. It is an inclusive culture. What happens after everybody provides their input is that someone’s in charge of making that decision. Once that decision is made, everybody has to go out and execute.

Nowadays, we suffer a lot from discord and some disconnect when decisions do get made that people do not agree with. You said, “We can help build the identity of the brand, but we were only part of the decision-making process. It can never be more important than the creative director, stylist, and people that are up there making the final decisions.”

Your role, as you defined it, and as we know, is so critical to the representation of the brand. You operate in an industry full of some of the strongest type A personalities because they have that vision and see that vision in place. Sometimes with the show, they are like, “I know where I’m going. You better get on board.”

As you build these relationships, you build that trust with designers and the talent. You have seen so many things from so many different angles. How do you influence the process and either get buy-in the way you see it or if things do not go, it is your way or the way you have provided input and get everybody to jump onto the decision that has been made?

Now, what I try to do is the idea of personal responsibility. In every job that I’m afforded, I want to be bold and informing, not borrowing from the past, but also be able to connect with your client in the way that you cast people. You have to meet them where they are and understand where they are and what they want.

People are always talking about moving the needle and making a difference. For us, we were very good judges of, “Do they really want to move the needle and make a difference?” It understands the language of your trifecta of designer, photographer, and creative director. On behalf of them, we have a responsibility to be bold, have a vision, be it a singular vision in one area of fashion or beauty, and present ideas they may not have thought about.

They might look at you and go, “That is ridiculous. I did not ask for that.” My answer will always be, “I know, but this is always an option.” It is important for us and my company to always be forward-thinking in ideas of beauty, fashion, talent, and the concept of being bold in how things look. I’m not into the idea of generic.

It is not interesting to me, but that is not to say that my definition of generic is the same as yours. For us, it is about making bold ideas, being decisive, and being bold. Essentially, that will get filtered and watered down. We were never presenting something that we couldn’t get behind. If somebody wants something that I can’t get behind at 6 out of 10 of the times, I will say, “This isn’t something I can do.” I have to tell you. I have never had to say that before.

When you put yourself in an arena with people that you respect and admire the work they do, be a part of that, inform, and make bold ideas and decisions, that is what drives me. If they think it is too bold, that is exciting to me. It is coming up with things that excite me that might excite them and my interest in them. It might be something they did not think of because when they are relying on you for ideas, that is exciting.

When they bring you the ideas, you are like, “Maybe I’m not doing my job.” It is about being bold and being part of the process. It is a bit like the military in the sense that once you are in the field with this bunch of people, you are on board, so let’s do the best job we can do. You can sense if your fearless leader is going in a direction you are not so excited about, then you can push them and introduce ideas that might excite them, but essentially, you get on board with what everybody decides.

You said the fashion industry needs disruption. How do you disrupt the fashion industry?

You have to be
bold and oppositional. You have to be defiant to some norms and things that are accepted. It is breaking down barriers and stereotypes. We have a client who does many outdoor advertising on buildings and swimming pools in Australia. They have disrupted the idea of what advertising is. Advertising is anywhere that you can see something. The idea of being disruptive is so that we do not fall into the mundane. My biggest fear in life is working in an irrelevant and mundane arena. I’m not interested in either thing.

To disrupt it is to be bold. Bring new propositions and ideas that no one has thought about. Do something everyone hates. At least they are thinking about it. They are not breezing by it like nothing has happened. You want someone to do a double-take at work you are involved in. That is important when you are moving the narrative forward and coming up with cultural ideas that could inform new subcultures and how people dress. It is time to wear pink eye, eye shadow with peroxide, and blonde hair. It is just an ideas thing.

I want to ask you about where it came from for you. You alluded to growing up. You talked about growing up in South London. You had foster parents who were immigrants to the UK. They worked blue-collar jobs. They were a different color than you.

They were school teachers. I have to confess here, and hopefully, they do not read this. I was always thinking that is so selfless. Why would anyone want to do that? Years before, when I was going in and out of foster care, I thought I was going to be a social worker because that, to me, is a very admirable profession to this day. What steered me away from that is that they do not get paid very well. I was thinking, “That is a helpful job, but how the heck am I going to get out of here?” I did not want to stay in South London. I wanted to get out.

My foster father was an immigrant, but my foster mother was not. My biological mother was Irish. My biological father was Moroccan. I know it was a big influence on how I grew up, but I grew up in South London in the ’80s during the race riots. I went to school, and my school reflected where we lived. It was very diverse. England is based on a class structure, so we were delinquents.

We had a great education. Back then, the British education system was pretty epic. Our teachers were amazing. I have one music teacher who has so many awards from the Queen for his service to children. That was our foundation because our parents were working. We went to latchkey after school. We raised each other. In doing so, we were complete delinquents.

We were not even graffiti artists. It did not even look good. We carve our names into trees and sign the back of the bus. We were not over-parented. We were given the opportunity, ran around the city, and jump on buses and trains. Culturally, it was a big deal. We liked and followed bands like Aswad and Soul II Soul. We went to clubs on a Sunday afternoon and nightclubs under the arches. It was culturally a very rich experience. Was it safe? It was. I would die if I thought my son was doing that. The fact is he will have his version of that. For us, it was how we lived.

We were disruptive. To be honest, we had to raise our voices to be heard because we did not feel very heard. Our parents were like, “Shut up and sit over there.” That is how you were parented in the ’70s. We said, “Okay.” They are like, “Girls do not wear that. Boys do not wear that.” I was like, “We can do whatever we want.” That was what I believed. It was not until I moved to New York that I was like, “Maybe I can’t do what I want.” It took me into my mid to late-twenties to get to grips with the idea that I was completely able to do and get whatever I wanted. For better or for worse, I’m still here.

You entered into modeling first. As a kid, you were spotted.

I was scouted by this woman called Barbara Hulanicki, who back then was a designer. She had this very famous company called Biba. They shot me with Lara Bobroff. We had a lot of makeup on, and we were in all the newspapers. One day at school, one of my classmates was changing the hamster’s cage and smudged hemp of poop in my face in the newspaper. I was like, “I’m never doing that again.” I was very young. For me, it is not a place for 10, 11, or 12-year-olds because you are very impressionable.

It took a big toll on my self-esteem, which I got over very quickly. This isn’t about, “Poor me.” It did expose me to this world. I was like, “This is it. I’m getting the hell out of dodge. These people are very poor.” I will never forget Barbara Hulanicki’s husband. His name was Fritz. He used to drive around in this flash car.

[bctt tweet=”You don’t go to work, behave one way, and come home and behave another way. You integrate it. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

We did not even get taxis because we got the bus or walked. It was one of these a-ha moments because you dream about getting out. I believe that to be true of people who grow up not in adverse circumstances like me, and I only know it is adverse now. Back then, it was how we lived. It was life. There was nothing wrong with it. I have no complaints whatsoever.

The takeaway is you were driven. I had this opportunity to model. I had this huge, big, lots of hair. I was like, “Me? Let’s do this.” It was an amazing moment. I have to make money, and then I would do these wig catalogs. I got chucked off a lot of jobs because I was a defiant child. This goes back to being a disruptor. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. I have no idea where that came from because my parents were hardworking. They were not educated. I do not know where this sense of entitlement came from.

I never lived with the idea that I was stuck there. I was like, “I’m getting the heck out. This is what I’m going to do.” From a very young age, I was introduced to photography and grew to love it. I’m still a very visual person and got a photographic memory. It changed my life because it gave me something to look forward to.

I would pour over the pictures of models. I was also then toying with the idea of being a ballerina. I was a dancing elephant. The only thing I was good at was tap. That is not to say tap is worse than ballet, but I was good at it. I went to a drama school for a hot second and toyed with all these things I was not good at.

The problem for me was I was not good at not being good. I wanted to be the best tap dancer. I was no Bonnie Langford or Bob Fosse. I did all of this. I always lived as a teenager, kid, and young model coming into themselves as awkward. I was pale and had lots of big curly hair. I was like, “I’m not good enough.” That was a weird idea now. I have a kid, and I relate to, “I hope he never feels like that,” and then I’m like, “Maybe he should feel like that.”

I’m so torn because a lot of the successes I had as a teenager were blatant, like a hustle. It is funny because people do say to me, “You were a model.” I say, “Yes, I was.” Now I’m like, “Brilliant.” That day when the kid was smudging poop in my face, I said, “I’m going to show you.” We have all got our demons in where we come from but where I came from was so rich in love, but I did not know what that meant. We looked out and took care of each other.

My friends were excited that I was a model. They are like, “Holy crap.” It was shocking to them as it was to me. I loved it. It took care of me. When I looked at the trajectory of a model, I got excited about the business. That has been my way through. I have constantly been excited. I have to say hand on heart that this business has always been good to me, even when it was not good.

I have always had angels pick me up and lift me over the hurdle or the threshold of the next thing. That is invaluable. I always, in everything I do, try and give that back in some way. This goes back to where we started off, meeting people where they are, be it the talent, client, or my own staff and family. It is a way of life. You do not go to work, behave one way, and come home and behave another. You integrate it.

There is a genuineness that comes from that. If you put these different facades on, that gets exhausting for people who do that. To some extent, I have talked about it in other conversations where I did that at a period of time in my life. We all do. You wake up one day, and you are like, “Who am I supposed to be in this moment when I walk into this room?” You realize, “I’m exhausted. I should just be me.”

In your story, you use the term bold to talk about disruption, but also this bold factor of you growing up, going in, and having a sense of confidence that, “I can do this.” It reminds me of our mutual friend, Emily Sandberg Gold. Her story, in some way, is similar to growing up in Minnesota and then saying, “I’m going to go to New York. I do not know anyone in New York, but I’m going to show up.”

We walked into the modeling agency, and her picture was on the wall, and they were like, “We have been looking for you.” She’s like, “I had no idea. I just knew I had to come to New York.” It is so cool when you think about that path that you set on and had this vision, and then you ended up here in New York. You go to Ford and jump from a model into the management of models. What was that change like?

I modeled, finished high school, and then went to university. I worked at the i-D Magazine first in London. I did my thesis at university on Terry Jones, who owned the magazine. While I have never been a music fan and do not follow a band, I have always been obsessed with the idea of Time Out, i-D, and these cultural Bibles that come up. I would wait for them to come into the store, “When is the next magazine coming out?”

Working in i-D Magazine was a real fast track to where I wanted to be and who I was. It is just that complete acceptance. It was not a Vogue. It was a cultural Bible of people I knew that existed in the world we were all living. That is always important. While my life and circumstances have changed, I have only changed for the better, in the sense that all the knowledge and insight these experiences have given me.

I went from school to university. When I was at university, I worked at a magazine. When I was done with university, I took a job at TGI Fridays in Covent Garden. My teammates at TGI Fridays wear jazzy outfits, but you also have a responsibility to your team. If you are not there, they get three extra tables. I was still working at the magazine. They were on Earlham Street in Covent Garden. You can Google Maps it.

I would run across the piazza every night to TGI Fridays. We would finish work and go to a bar up the street. In England, you would drink and drink. This was pre-getting to New York. I then also took a job one summer at a summer camp upstate in Pennsylvania whereas a tap dance teacher. We go right back to me being not a great ballerina but a good tap dancer. I was like, “I’m going to get to America.”

I went to America to be a tap dance teacher. It was horrible. I had horrible people skills. I do not know how I did not get chucked out. It might have something to do with why I will never send my kids to sleepaway camp. I was the tap dance teacher. Every other weekend, we got the weekend off. We would come into the city and meet fashion people or friends. I made a friend who was a model agent. Fast forward, I graduated from university, I’m working at TGI Fridays, and it is a lot of work.

I’m working every day at the magazine. I call, and I’m like, “I want to move to New York.” “How did you know?” I was like, “Call me back on this day at this time.” I called her back. She’s like, “I’m leaving the agency I work at. I’m going to another agency, which is Next. We need an assistant on the women’s board.” I was like, “Assistant? No way.” She’s like, “I gave you the job.” I was like, “Where is it?” “It is in Soho, New York.” I’m like, “I’m there.” I still do not have a resume, and I’m like, “Maybe I do not need one. I’ll just call them.” I call up one of the owners.

This is how I remember it. They say, “When can you come?” I said, “Two weeks.” They call me back with a flight, and I fly there to New York. It is like, “This is it.” I met them, and they gave me the job. Three weeks later, I packed a bag and moved to New York City. That was the start of it. It was quite organic. I was an assistant at this modeling agency. I had been a model, but I was eleven. I had also worked at a magazine with no budget. I get that and I’m like, “What is going on?” It was pandemonium. We go back to being in high school.

One of the people I worked with then, I still work with now. It was Calvin Wilson. He and I work together to this day. It was a real fast track into the fashion world as the world knew it. For me, I was very closeted in my English idea of subcultures. We dress up. We do this. I work at i-D magazine. We work with these photographers, and all of a sudden, these photographers with the photographers. I was like, “I know them.”

Culturally, the Brit thing became a big thing. I was perfect timing and had a great accent, which in New York now, everyone has an accent like me. There are a lot of them, but back then, there were not so many. It worked to my advantage. Going into the idea of management, people took it seriously. It was big business. A lot of my mentors came from that agency. I can say 2 of them are 2 of my ride-or-die best friends to this day. We were talking decades. While it was a huge departure from what I was used to, I knew I was meant to be there. I was never like, “What the heck am I doing here?”

It was part of that, “I got this.” They are like, “Would you know this?” I’m like, “Not really, but let’s give it a go.” It is the idea of being in the right place at the right time and being supported by the right people and being given the platform to be the best version of yourself. There I was. They provided me with all of that. I then decided it was time to move on.

I had another job to go to, which also helped me in the next step. I had great access from the beginning. Having an English accent in New York City was a huge help. It also helped that I was hugely social and clearly had an agenda that I was unaware of. I was like, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.” I kept moving. I’m sure I could have been a bit nicer to myself, but New York keeps going, so you keep up with it. I was up for the challenge.

[bctt tweet=”The benefit of social media is it can be a rich tapestry of access.” username=”talentwargroup”]

You had no intention necessarily to start your own business.

Absolutely not. That sounds like too much responsibility.

You also said that you were not a very good employee.

I was a very good employee to the fact that I turned up every day. When I was there, I was like ride or die. If I’m on the job, even to this day, we were in it. We were in the trenches, get this done and be the best at it. There are some things that are growing up anti-establishment. I was not used to rules. I did not grow up in a nuclear family. We never had dinner around the table. My foster parents did, but at this point, I’m a teenager. I’m like, “This is so lame.” In my early twenties, there was no convention.

There was a lot of very obnoxious twenty-something who was being given a lot of attention because they had an accent and a real passion for all of this. I loved models, fashion, and the idea of going to the shows. It was all very exciting to me. When I said that I was not the best employee, it was because I was not so teachable. What I understand now is I was listening. Even though I was not, “We were going to do it this way.” I might, “Maybe I want to do it this way.” I was being contrary. I look back, and I’m so grateful to all my teachers. I heard them, and I carry a lot of it with me. I’m so grateful for that and for the mistakes.

When people hold you accountable for your actions, and you have not done the right thing, you are like, “I would never have even thought that.” Part of that growth period was making mistakes and being corrected on them. That was the good part about being an employee. The other part was I was desperate to do everything, but I also did not have such bad ADD, sitting down and making a resume that the letters kept falling off the page.

I did not have much self-esteem when it came to it. I could hustle and sell ice to Eskimos, but when it came to it, it was not as comfortable with myself. There was a lot of personal work to be done. I was a very loyal employee, but I was better in business alone because I could make my own schedule, break the rules, and had only myself to answer to when I screwed up.

In 2015, you met Alexander Wang, which then provided you with an opportunity.

I had always been given the opportunity. It came in the form of me having mentors. One of my mentors I would consider is a gentleman called John Pfeiffer, who was like, “I do this great job. I’m very busy. Would you like to do it?” I was like, “I would love to.” There was a producer called Pietro Greppi who worked at an ad agency who would hire me. I worked with the Gap for ten years before I did any high fashion. The people that did the job that I do now, I looked up to and respected. I did not consider that as an option. I was thinking, “I love what they do, but this is what I’m going to do.”

My friend was going to be a Marine biologist. He decided he would take pictures. I decided I would find his models for him. It was an amazing build. We worked it out as we went along. When I met Alex, I had enough experience. I had the opportunity to work in Paris. I worked with Viktor & Rolf, and Hussein Chalayan. They are designers that are admirable and genius. You are like, “Wow.” You learn what goes into it.

When I met Alex, he was straight out of school, and we were both equally as excited. I had a bit more experience, but we were driven by the same things, which was the imaging, the idea of growth to be a part of this fashion landscape that we aspire to be a part of. If I think about it what that was, I’m not sure. We just wanted to push and move the needle. I believe in the eleven years we did. We had some great success.

It is funny because some of the things that you said were that you were allowed to make mistakes and apologize for them. You were not put into this box. You were allowed to turn up hungover and fall asleep in meetings. You could go to Berlin and jump naked into the swimming pool. All the stupid things that you get to do as a kid are how you framed it. As you describe it here, you shared the vision.

When you have a partner, build something, and share that vision, you also understand your role. Seth Goldman, who is the Chairman of the Board at Beyond Meat founded Honest Tea, talked to us about this. You can have people who are equally brilliant in their worlds come together and build something that changes an industry in the world when you understand your role. I think about that when you tell that story.

There is so much joy in the journey and mistakes because you learn. There isn’t one mistake. I’m not like, “My life’s over.” You are like, “How do we do it next time?”

When we spoke, you said something that I wrote down, and I like it. You said, “There is no fast track to success, even on social media.” You referenced some folks, like Kendall Jenner, Nicole Kidman, and Paris Hilton’s mother. I would also argue Paris Hilton on folks who have done a tremendous job leveraging social media and building their personal brands. It is easy to think that they just woke up and started posting on Instagram. All of a sudden, they made $1 billion because they posted a couple of things. They forget that there is a lot of work that goes into that. It is admirable work.

Paris Hilton has come up in a lot of conversations we have had because I’m trying to get her on the show. Mitzi Perdue was someone we had. Her husband was Frank Perdue. Her dad was the Founder of Sheraton Hotels. She wants to meet her, so I told her one day, I’m going to make that happen for Mitzi. She is an incredible person.

My question to you about this is that social media has changed the world in so many ways, specifically the fashion industry. It has changed the way that you have access to talent, much different than you did in the past. Can you talk about social media on how you have leveraged it and how it has changed the industry?

There is a lot of pushback to social media. They are like, “She is an It Girl, a social media star.” When you pause and look at something, you have to look at what it is doing good and what it is doing badly. You look at the pros and cons of everything. I was lucky enough to work pre-social media. Hence, all those stories that you brought up are hysterical because now I’m so proud of them, like jumping naked. We are able to live our life on life’s terms. There is a certain degree of how we manage ourselves, how our kids will have to manage themselves, and what they have to be comfortable doing, which isn’t running through the streets naked. They won’t get into college.

Everything goes on. It develops a life of its own. The benefit of social media is it can be a rich tapestry of access. I regularly have, on my Instagram, contact with agents in North Africa and parts of the world in Asia that you did not even know existed. We have this huge conversation with so many different people. We get an insight into people’s lives. The opposite side is bullying, false expectations, and unrealistic beauty standards. It is about the finite line of where the entertainment value is. I always think that there is a part of society that wants to put people down.

It has always been there, but now they have a platform. There is also that part that this is completely valuable, then we have to look at our emotional intelligence and how we deal with this. I can’t answer everybody that comes to me and wants to be a model. If you are responding to one person, you have to meet them where they are.

I’m going to speak to this woman, she has responded to my friend, and she’s going to respond to me. You are constantly setting yourself up to be criticized. We did a campaign with Marc Jacobs, which was Cast Me Marc, where the individuals took their own pictures and posted them. It was a great exercise. I know Hari Nef was one of the people shortlisted for that particular campaign.

People get access to you. You are able to share your wealth with a much bigger worldwide community. In that sense, it is a huge benefit to the fashion world that they can sell on Instagram. There are smaller companies that exploded during the pandemic who are able to communicate with their customer on Instagram.

What happens is when you talk about a legacy or luxury brand, you have to walk that fine line between what is luxury and what is small boutique fashion. When people buy local like, “What is local?” We do not know because when you look at something, they have got three million hits on Instagram. The world is confused. I’m confused by metrics, numbers, those pants, and these pants.

[bctt tweet=”You cannot be so singular about one thing because that is what’s going to disappoint you. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

There is so much margin for error in all of it. You look at people like Kendall Jenner. That is a young woman now who was born into the world of entertainment, who decided that she wanted to be a model and did a good job at it, through all the criticism and everybody’s gaze. Everyone had an opinion, even if it was positive or negative.

They have all opened themselves up to criticism. There is not one of those women you have mentioned that does not work their butts off to work, be creative, make images, supply the world with what we were looking for, and protect themselves because they are opening themselves up to criticism daily. I do not know how they do it.

People find the littlest thing too. It does not have to be a big deal.

When you think of someone like Kendall, she was already in people’s gaze. She comes into a world that used to have no access. Now, it is opening up, and she’s good at it. That is opening you up to criticism. The idea of social media has opened up our worlds. As novices and been in this business for a long time, we have to be flexible, look at why it is a good tool and a bad tool, and help people decide how it can be good for or bad for them. It is not about dictating, “I do not do that. You should never do that. This has changed the way we look at it.”

It is life. We have evolved. It is a fact of each day where we do not all get wisdom teeth anymore. It is like evolution. It is a fact. It goes back to, “I do not want to live in the past.” That is done. I did that. That was fun. I want to look to who is inspiring me from these young and old people. What is your message about the environment? I do not know about that. Should we recycle or not?

I have some very basic needs and wants from people like, “Tell me more.” Social media has expanded our landscapes and improved our relationships with other people in the sense that we have access. What you do with that is how you mold and treat people. It goes right back to you wanting people to be the best version of themselves.

This industry, too, has a lot of ups and downs. Trends run out, styles change, and people do not look at the part you need any more for the direction that a brand is going. We have also seen the highest highs and the lowest lows in this industry. There are massive riches. I think about L Brands and Les Wexner, and the yacht that they have that sits in Newport in the summers is ridiculous. You alluded a little bit about it on social media that the scandal, smear campaigns, and this nasty side of things that exist in politics and a lot of different places.

You said that you can’t have an expectation in this business, that you have to feel lucky to be present, that sometimes it is not always about performance, and you can’t take it too seriously. How do you define and think about resilience in this industry? What is your advice to those who want to be a designer, talent management, casting, or model? When you look at the industry as a whole, and somebody comes and says, “I want to make it here,” what is your advice to them?

The fashion industry is like entertainment. If this is something you are passionate about, my advice would be to work out which areas you can excel in, like an Olympic athlete or Nicole Kidman. You have to work on your craft, be present, and turn up, knowing that you are part of a big team, where your input is valuable, maybe not even at that moment. When I say be present, the expectation is you are not turning up to be the star. That is where I should have taken that statement. You turn up and learn. Find people who are like-minded or have interests that you have or admire.

There is a lot to be said about mentorship. It goes back to the idea of fast-tracking. There is no fast track. If you have a lot of knowledge about your area of expertise, then use that. A heart surgeon only works on the heart, but they know about everything else. I love casting. I can tell you how a couturier in a big design house works. I can tell you a lot about photography and lighting, but my area of expertise is casting and organizing to get the people there, work out what will be the most efficient way, and how to introduce ideas that will be well-received.

The idea of resilience isn’t about taking a job for no money. It is about knowing your next five moves. It is like a chess game, “I can do that to get that, and do this to do that.” I’m still waiting on tables at TGI Friday’s and going home smelling like burgers on the night bus. It is about strategic moves. In my opinion, it is not about you never going to turn up and be the CEO. Not on day one. You are never going to turn up and know how to do an Excel chart. I still struggle with it. As a kid, you learn, “I have got to wear socks, then I put on my shoes, do up my laces, put on my underwear, and then my pants.” If you forget the underwear, you are screwed.

If you can relate to the simple tasks in life when you get to an organization, which was so out of my realm of understanding when I got to New York City, and I was in these big offices with everyone who had a big title, you can work out to get from A to Z. That is got to be a lot of high highs and low lows. The high highs are the moments when you celebrate success in your job. You get to where you want it to be. That is not because you expected that. It is because it was on your timeline of how you were getting over here. There always has to be a big picture rather than a short-term solution.

When you think about fashion, everyone is like, “Glamour, this and that.” There is not one person you could say to me that stepped in and was an overnight success. I would put money into it. That is because you have to have the resilience, rigor, and ability to turn up. There are challenges and hurdles in every job. You work on Wall Street, at a bank, or in catering in the service industry. It is not as different. You just do not need qualifications. It is not like being a heart surgeon or being in the Army. You need to turn up, hope for the best, and have a goal.

There was a period of time or a perspective where people thought that models have a shelf life, and after a couple of years, that is it. We have seen so many models go on to build tremendous careers with a tremendous amount of longevity. Who is doing it right?

When you think about career span, you are talking about individuals. My career has lasted this long in this many different forms. You have had many, and you are an overachiever. It comes down to the individual. The biggest problem with entertainment, be it acting or whatever it is, is the rejection. When you can turn the idea of being rejected from, “Those photographers do not like me. They do not like a lot of people.” It is okay. There is a certain amount of age growth intellectually. We were aging and evolving.

If you think about the career trajectory of Naomi Campbell, Karen Elson, Gwen of Evanescence, and all models that have consistently worked but have potentially taken time off to do art, philanthropy, or whatever they have decided with anything. You cannot be so singular about one thing because that is what is going to disappoint you.

There always has to be the idea that you have something else. If you are a woman, it does not have to be kids or a family. It is whatever you want it to be. For me, it was always the idea of a family. I had one kid, and I was like, “That is a lot more than I can handle.” My idea of having twenty kids was not on the cards, but there are points where you ebb and flow. The idea of a shelf life takes away from the absolute talent, rigor, and inspiration that these models bring to their set. People are like, “They are just pretty faces.” That is not true.

I know that because in order to turn up, liaise with twenty people, hair, makeup, producers, onlookers, photography, and the creative director. It is like being on a movie set. It has been said. Models do not have the same protection. They are not revered as much for their skill as they are for how they look. The life of a model is almost as big as they want it to be. If they can keep reinventing themselves in the idea of themselves, they have to stick with it.

There has to be some rigor in their story, and they have to take time for themselves in order to rebuild. Some people’s expiration day is self-inflicted, and for others, it is not the world they want to be in. It is like a competitive sport and being an actress or an actor. You are not a teacher. There are no rules. You are not a lecturer or social worker. You are turning up and have to perform daily.

There is an expectation that you will perform at a high level.

If you do not, they will say, “What happened to her or him?” The idea of a shelf life with everybody and everything is you have to take control of your own. If you are not telling me, “I’m going to be around for the next ten years,” then I’ll be like, “She probably does not want to do it anymore. Who the heck would?”

It is a lot of work. All those self-imposed restrictions and shelf lives come from the individual. I do believe that there is a journey. You have only got to look at Lauren Hutton, who apparently is 81, who I happened to be at dinner with the other night. I was blown away because she’s still the Lauren Hutton people talk about. She’s amazing, a force, and a superstar.

[bctt tweet=”You can use your position to do good in the world and recognize the part that you play in it.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Whether the 22-year-olds at the table knew who she was or not, she let them know. It is the idea of personal growth, personal responsibility, taking charge of where you want to be next, what you want to do, and who you want to be to the world with your public persona. Luckily, that is not something I have to consider, but that is a big thing for a model.

These kids are plucked out at a very young age and grow up in front of the camera. Their bodies change in front of the camera, and they have to redesign who they are in front of a camera. I do not know if I totally believe the idea of shelf life, but I believe there is a self-imposed theme like, “I am too old to be a model.”

We spoke a bit about kids. You talked about your son. Before we started, you and I were talking about my kids. As you think about the development of the next generation, both in the industry professionally and personally, is there the same sense of resiliency and adaptability? We have talked about grit in almost every episode that we have had this 2022 on the show. I worked with a number of different athletes, and we struggle with this.

COVID did not help because it took so many people out of their zone and put them in this protective bubble. It said, “We got to remove all the adversity in your life.” For a year-plus, people lived in there, and then now it is like, “We will get back out there. Not only are you going to get back out there and live your life, but now you have to perform at a high level, whatever it may be.” Do you think that in the development of the younger generation, we are creating this where adversity does not exist? If so, how do we correct that?

There are people living absurdly and lack the general resources to live. Their adversity is undeniable. That is not my experience with my son. My son is born into a very privileged existence, which I struggle with not because I do not want him to have things I did not have. I’m constantly questioning, and we talked about this like, “Everyone gets a medal.” I’m like, “Yes, but not everyone won. Dude, you did not win. Give the medal back.” From where my son is, the idea of adversity is his experience with it is very limited.

I do not come up with, “When I was a kid.” I think of the law. The idea of personal accountability with a child is something that is always on the tip of my tongue like, “What do you mean?” You got more Pokémon cards. For me, as a general question, this might be a little bit controversial, but I feel like our children nowadays are over-parented. I am also guilty of it. I have become harshly aware that bringing a kid up in New York City, there are codes they need to be aware of. You have to hold them accountable. Honestly, not everyone’s a winner. They are not going to be. It is also understanding why.

There is no room for 500 million winners because how do we get everything done? You are not always at the top of the totem pole in everything you do, but you can finish and see it through to the end if you are committing to it. An example is my son. He is a horrible dancer, but he’s in an arts program. He’s very blessed to be a part of it because it is the Harlem School of the Arts. The teachers are incredible. He did not miss one class. Neither did the teachers during the lockdown. He was a horrible dancer. The teachers stuck by him. He turned up every week and did it.

At the end of it, he said, “I know I was not the best in the class, but I got much better.” That was the message she gave him. I’m very blessed that my son’s experience with it is limited because mine were not. I know I’m not blind. I watched the news. The world is in a terrible state, but we need creative thinkers and people who can think outside the box. That is what I want to bring to my kid. You can use your position to do good in the world. You can recognize the part that you play in it. This is all very important. We have all had some very good lessons that almost came a bit late to a lot of people.

Parenting is a reflection of how poorly you do in the world. They point out all your flaws, and all of a sudden, I’m the most uncool human to my son, who has always thought I was pretty cool. I indoctrinated him into, “I’m cool.” He told me, “A lot of my friends at my school work in fashion. They are always excited when I tell them what you do.” I said, “What do I do?” He said, “Your job is very critical.” I was like, “Like an ER doctor, maybe?” He looked at me sincerely at the time. He went, “You criticize a lot of people.” That summed it up. I was like, “Do you say that?”

We were constantly reminded of our shortcomings through our kids. That is the joy of being a parent. It is not for everybody. For me, one is certainly more than enough. I have a good kid. My foster mother told me, “Darling, you get what you can handle.” Never a truer word was said. I can about handle this force of a child, who is all about his rights, doing the right thing, and all about, “This isn’t fair.” I sit there in awe of him because I’m excited that he is confident enough to bring this into the world. As I sat there, I was like, “I would never have got away with that when I was a kid.”

He does not have the opportunity to run through Central Park, spray-paint walls, and show his butt to the moon. He has to be very careful in all of his actions. We were not at the phone stage or the social media stage yet. We were trying to raise kids that are socially environmentally aware. It is a challenge. It is not one size fits all. It is a daily pivot, being flexible, and putting your hands over your ears, hoping it goes away. I love being a parent, but it is not for everybody, nor do I recommend it for everybody. Think wisely.

I have a girl, and every day is a new experience where I stare and say, “This is happening. This is real.” I’m so nervous about the next couple of years. Can I ask you about your Spotify playlist?

Which one?

The one that is entitled Change is Inevitable, Progress is Optional. That one is good. I found it in my research of you. I appreciated it because people asked me, “What kind of music do you like?” I’m like, “It depends on my mood.” It is a compilation of all different types of music. I would encourage anyone reading this to find it on Spotify because it is about your mood and how you feel. There are 41 songs. Now that we have had the chance to have this conversation, it is so fitting for you that I have gotten to know you. I thought it was awesome.

You are like, “She’s a lunatic.” I do not know what is on it. I can’t find it. I can only imagine if I were going to do one now, it would be Soul II Soul. It is my favorite band ever, and Aswad possibly. I know I did it for Marc Jacobs during the lockdown. This is my youth. It is Shalamar, Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, and Santigold. I happened to meet and work with her with Alex Wang. I’m a huge fan.

Others are Soul II Soul, The Human League, and Das Racist. My son introduced me to that song, and I liked it. MIA, she’s a master. Neneh Cherry was my childhood dream girl. I wanted to be Neneh Cherry. I thought everything about her. She was so cool. She was on the scene in London. She was with the fashion people like Ray Petri and that whole Buffalo movement. I was like, “She is very cool.” Blondie needs no introduction.

Fleetwood Mac and their song Dreams is my favorite song ever. The Rolling Stones, I’m not such a big fan, but I like Emotional Rescue. When I told my partner this, he said, “You like that when they got into pop music.” He’s a big music guy. Africa Bamba, we listened to this stuff in high school. It is all stuff you can sing to. I like to sing to stuff. Harry Styles, who does not like that? It is a bit like saying you do not like the new Spiderman.

It is Tom Holland. I will sit there for hours watching videos of Tom Holland and Zendaya because they are the cutest thing. He’s 5’2”, and they love each other. That, to me, is when social media is positive because it is like, “We have a positive role model for our kids.” He’s fab. He went to school at Wimbledon College, and I went to Ursuline Convent.

They are parochial sister church schools. I feel this weird connection, like we were almost friends even though I’m older than his mom. Hence, Harry styles, Sublime, Shirley Bassey, Grandmaster Flash, and Paul Weller. It all makes real sense to me. I’m a little confused when it does not sound like that. They are my favorite things all in one.

Anita, as we close out, the Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things as core foundational tasks every day to be successful. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision, then they could focus their effort and attention on big picture problems. What are the thre

Anita Bitton’s three foundations to success

e things you do every day in your world to be successful?

I wake up early by the nature of having a school-age kid. I am years sober. Having done a Twelve-Step program, I do a gratitude list one before bed and one in the morning because it changes in my sleep. Believe it or not. I also meditate and walk my son to school. I do most of those before I look at my emails.

If I do not, my emails are usually probably curbed or I hope this finds you well, as I mentioned before. Whereas after that, they are real tools for me to center, get some space, and get to grip with my ego that might get in the way of my day, which is the biggest thing that trips me up because it is not my willingness, excitement, interest in something. It is my ego that stops me from doing things.

The idea of gratitude is something I did not grow up with. I did not care, and it is important because I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful for the journey and have been allowed to do this show that you think might be that interesting and help someone. At the end of the day, if we were not in service, what are we doing?

That is an important message for everyone. Not everyone is going to get it, but I get it now. That is important to me. I set myself up for success each day where I learned that setting up for success was at TGI Friday’s. You have to go into it with your eyes open, calm, center, and communication. Those are my tools so far.

[bctt tweet=”At the end of the day, if we’re not in service, what are we doing?” username=”talentwargroup”]

I worked at Friendly’s, which was scaled down, and at California Pizza Kitchen. I worked at a pharmacy. It was my first job at the cash register. You take so much from those things. Gratitude, meditate, and walk your son to school are great three. We did not discuss you being years sober, and congratulations on that. That is a feat in and of itself.

To be honest, it does not define me. It is the idea of asking for help in everything, even if you do not need to get sober. What we miss in our communications with people is, “I’m having a crappy day, and I need help.” “Do not worry about it. I got you,” or, “You have to pull your socks up and get it done. Let’s get through this, and then you can have a heart attack at the end.” There is a solution for every problem. It is just how you decide to get there. Now I choose an easier and softer way. That is a personal choice. I hope that what I’m putting out in the world is as positive as I intend it to be. That would be my goal.

One of the things that I say a lot is it is okay to not be okay, but you have to tell someone. You do not have to beat yourself up. We spend a good amount of time talking about suicide and suicide awareness. When you push yourself to the limit, whether it be mentally, emotionally, physically, where you are waking up, and you are saying that, “I do not know if I can keep doing this,” that is okay to accept that. Come to grips with it, identify a path, talk to someone, and get help. It does not even need to help. Just find someone and talk to him, and find the path and the solution out of it. As you said, it is certainly easier said than done.

There is always a solution.

Especially if you exhibit the drive, we talk a lot about the drive. The nine characteristics of special operations are a grounding factor here in the show. We invoke them in every episode on how we recruit, assess, select talent and then how that is applied to whatever the industry is. Drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, curiosity, team ability, effective intelligence, and emotional strength, you named all of them.

I do invoke them a lot during the conversation, and you did all of them and for me, and I did not have to, which is a pretty cool facet of this episode. High performers exhibit all of these, not necessarily all at once, but certain proportions of some at certain times, depending on what they are experiencing and what they are going through. You certainly exhibited, which I have spoken about all of them.

I take one at the end of these conversations and try to sum up our conversation here. For you, I think about effective intelligence. You defined it so perfectly that the totality of your experiences gives you this lens by which to make decisions and conduct yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and how you approach the world every day. It’s because you have had a set of experiences in the past that has shaped you.

You have done that in so many different realms through the fashion industry, growing up in London, getting into modeling for the short time it was, and then transitioning into management. Now you are defining not only where we are in fashion over the last several decades but where we are going. Being the person who selects and defines what the face of not only the fashion industry is going to look like, but what we are as a society going to look like and what are the trends we are going to follow. That takes an incredible amount of all nine of these.

What you learn from your past and how you apply it to the future is so impactful and important in this conversation. I thank you so much for spending time with us, inviting us to your home, talking about fashion in the heart of fashion, at least here in America, sharing with us your lessons, and making us better versions of ourselves than we walked in the door. Thank you so much.

Thank you for your time.

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