One day in class, you’re doodling flowers in your notebook. Another day, you’re working with celebrities and designing clothes that millions of teens wear. Anything is possible if you wait for that one day, like Judy Swartz.
Judy is the designer for celebrity twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. For almost a decade now, Judy has helped the twins with all things style, whether she’s creating the outfits the girls wear in music videos or designing the clothes and accessories that are sold under the highly successful mary-kateandashley brand at WalMart.
“The girls play a very important part in the fashion line; it is their name of course,” says Judy. “They absolutely trust me because I’ve been with them for nine years.” With the twins in school, Judy has become their eyes. She travels throughout Europe to see the upcoming fashion lines in London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Amsterdam, and she also visits Japan, New York and Los Angeles, searching for the latest trends. When she returns, she meets with the twins to discuss the newest inspirations. “Sometimes they’re together on a decision, on a design, and sometimes they’re apart,” she says.
But styles change, and so do people, especially teenagers growing up. “I went to the house and was going through their closets looking for something, and I saw some shirts in there that I would never think, in a million years of shopping for them, would be something they would wear. They were beautiful shirts, but just a different look.”
To keep up, she looks everywhere for potential fashion ideas. “A lot of the inspiration comes from the runway or the people on the street, or a building on the street that makes me think, ‘Oh my God, that’d be a really cool shirt,’” she says. Her ability to look at the world differently helped her see that tweens were being ignored by the fashion world, so she launched the mary-kateandashley clothing line for tweens, a mega-brand that now sells over US$500 million worth of clothes a year.
Judy has come a long way from the days her school friends would drag her to the mall to critique new outfits. “I couldn’t explain why something looked good on them, but I knew it looked good on them,” she says. After finishing a two-year Fashion Design program at the University of Nevada-Reno, Judy took a sales job at Suzy Creamcheese, a fashion shop that catered to stars back in the ‘70s, “I really had a great education just working and designing in the shop and working with the celebrities.”“The owner wasn’t really happy with the way I looked,” she recalled. “It was very avant-garde and high fashion, and I looked like a young Suzanne Somers, very conservative.” But she changed the owner’s opinion by working her way from sales to design within a year. “If you persist and you work really hard and instead of asking, show the person what you can do, you naturally progress,” she says.
Luckily, she had persistence because she’d need it. “I worked for free for many years because I was willing to do anything to get there,” she says. “One of my biggest disappointments was going on interviews, knowing that the artist liked me, the managers liked me, they liked my ideas, but I didn’t get the job, and I couldn’t figure out why. Sometimes you just never get to know why. But the next day, I’d lift my head and make some more phone calls and get out there.”
There were lots of disappointments, and at one point she questioned whether she was wasting her time. Frustrated, she made up her mind that she was done, she was going to quit, move back to Vegas and marry her old sweetheart.
Then the phone rang.
“I got a phone call to design a cover of a German magazine for Linda Gray when Dallas was the hottest show on,” she says. “I have no idea today where they got my name and my number, but not only did they want me to direct her, they wanted me to do the set, too.”
From there, she started to get more phone calls. She found herself working on music videos with musicians like Janet Jackson and Phil Collins. She also got calls from TV producers and ended up working with Richard Dreyfus, Whoopi Goldberg and other celebs.
A music video director put her in touch with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. “I designed their first music video, and fell madly in love with them, and now it’s been nine and a half years,” she says. “They were so cute and so much fun, there was no other place to be.”
Over nine years later, Judy still works with the Olsens and for Dualstar Entertainment Group. The company, which was created to market the Olsen twins, sells over $1 billion worth of Mary-Kate and Ashley stuff in a year. Although Judy was named Senior Vice President, she still loves the designing part of her days. “It fulfills my need to be creative every day,” she says. “It’s who I am, what brings me the most joy.”
Not surprisingly, she hasn’t forgotten her past, and refers to it when asked for advice. “If you have the passion to design, and you have a goal and you have an eye on the ball and don’t deviate from that, and keep moving forward, and you don’t let the outside world detour you from what you want to do, you can make it,” she says. “If you feel it in your heart, then you need to do it—whether it’s fashion or another field.”
Mary-Kate and Ashley are still very involved with their clothing line, often surprising Judy with their style choices.
Judy B. Swartz shows Faze editor Lorraine Zander her latest collection for Mary Kate & Ashley.