"I have a really simple core belief that's remained true throughout my work - that everybody is creative, that everyone finds joy in beautiful experiences (even if they're very simple) and that anyone can make those experiences happen in their own lives, given the right inspiration and tools."
Formerly the SVP, Creative Director of US retailer west elm, Editor-In-Chief of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings, and Creative Director of Real Simple and Donna Hay Magazine, Vanessa has focussed on the art of visual storytelling throughout her diverse career in publishing and design. She is known for her optimistic, inclusive visual signature and editorial voice. A graduate of the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts in Sydney, Vanessa lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.
My parents provided a strong through-thread of influence and fearlessness - they nurtured every creative impulse I ever had, before and above anything else, and gave me a great deal of confidence in pursuing “creativity” in whatever form it took. My mother taught me to make almost anything and to think of myself as a maker, and my father always encouraged my independent streak - when I was hesitating, he’d say “If not you, then who?” Sometimes what pulls us forward is being pushed from behind, right?
I’m a listener and a learner and an observer - I pick up gems and crumbs from everywhere, all the time, and am grateful to have a really eclectic group of influencers and informers, and a network of awesomely insightful and open collaborators, bosses and co-workers.
Anywhere the earth meets the sky - for me, big sky places are big soul places. Whether it’s the deepest blue distance of a far far off ocean horizon or the haze on a desert plain: the sheltering sky above and the promise of adventure beyond is absolutely magnetic to me. The simpler the place between the better - I am always dreaming of Studio KO’s farmhouse - a spare, elemental mud brick home nestled in a sunburned valley a drive on a long dusty road out of Marrakech, which I visited with Richard on Summer Soul Safari ’15. Proof that if less is more, then nothing is everything.
First - to connect people to their possibility and their power - the world can feel like a volatile, unstable place right now, and we need to reconnect with our individual ability to shape our relationships, our communities and our world. Then, to create infinite opportunities to bring creative thinkers and makers together to make really great, NEW, GOOD things happen. That’s at the heart of Soul Safari - connecting the best creative minds with game-changing projects with big, positive impact.
I have a really simple core belief that's remained true throughout my work - that everybody is creative, that everyone finds joy in beautiful experiences (even if they're very simple) and that anyone can make those experiences happen in their own lives, given the right inspiration and tools. My work is to provide that inspiration and those tools, and unlock that creativity.
Get up and show up. When I’m having a tough time - getting motivated or getting through an issue - I think of a pre-dawn train ride I took between Jaipur and Jodphur. The train ran local and stopped at dusty station platforms where people slept, right on the concrete, packed together like tightly wound, brightly dyed spools of thread. As the morning unraveled, so did those people, standing up, shaking off the night, and started to work - chai wallahs suddenly hawking hot drinks, a man selling a hand of bananas, others headed to their rickshaws - suddenly a bustling, productive, energetic, vibrant world come to life out of literally nothing but can-will-must-do spirit. It’s too easy to feel overwhelmed and weighed down by things that don’t matter much at all - instead, get up, show up, bring your best to the day.
My work most recently at west elm exposed me to the tremendous impact we can have when we couple that creative impulse with the goal to do social good. That really hit me on a trip to Guatemala - I had been working on our Steven Alan collaboration for months, and we visited the artisans who were making the product in country. We had driven hours out of Antigua, walked deep into a ravine down a winding mud path to a ramshackle group of buildings that housed a large extended family and their eight looms - everything from spinning to dying and weaving the final pieces was done on site. To see the work that we’d being doing was so directly connected to a family, and their community was overwhelming and incredibly humbling. And totally inspiring. So, that’s where I am now - on a path to make that connection - the power of harnessing our creativity, collectively, to do good work in the world - happen for many more people.
All images used with permission from Vanessa Holden.