Assistant to Glossier Founder and CEO Emily Weiss, Morgan Von Steen on coming to New York as a teen, rapping for Andre Leon Tally, and how dogged determination helped her land her dream job.
TA: How did you end up in New York?
MVS: I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s pretty desolate of any activity down there, and I’ve always idolized New York. Growing up, I was hell-bent on coming here someday. When I turned 16, I decided that this was it—it’s time for me to go now.
TA: Wow. That’s quite young. Picking up and moving to the big city is just a seed for most people at that age.
MVS: I told my parents that I wanted to intern in New York that summer. Their response was pretty much: “Fine, but you have to pay for it.” I think they meant it as a deterrent, but I took that as a yes, as a challenge.
Some people get a phone for their sixteenth birthday, or a car—I went out and got a job. I was hired at a Cold Stone Creamery for $7.25 per hour. So I spent five nights a week working there and saved literally everything. I think I only spent maybe $30 or $40 per month, which was nothing considering how much I was working.
That spring I began searching for summer internships. I was emailing anyone in New York who I thought might potentially answer me back.
TA: Did you know anyone in NYC at this time?
MVS: Not a single person. I was particularly obsessed with Fashionista.com and ended up emailing the editor multiple times about taking me on as a summer intern. Being only 16 at the time, I was quite naive. My mindset was Why wouldn’t someone hire me? I read a hundred fashion blogs a day, and I can name any designer on style.com! It never occurred to me that it would be hard to find a position.
I ended up connecting with Leah Chernikoff, the editor at the time, who agreed to take me on. Even now I have to admit that I would be hesitant to hire a sixteen-year-old.
TA: Sixteen and all alone in NYC—where did you live that summer?
MVS: I spent that summer, which was between my junior and senior year of high school, living in the NYU dorms, so I was with other people. Soon after I began my internship, I learned that Into The Gloss (ITG) had offices in the same building. I knew who Emily Weiss was and I saw ITG up there with Fashionista as the future of digital publications. I had such admiration for her, so I started going out of my way to use the bathroom on the 8th floor, where their office was. I figured I need to use the bathroom anyways, so why not put myself in the way of meeting someone who I really admired? Maybe that’s creepy. She’ll certainly say it was.
TA: It’s not creepy—it’s smart.
MVS: Well, I never did end up running into her in the building! So on my second-to-last day, I emailed Leah, as I knew they were friends, and told her I was dying to meet Emily. I even disclosed to her my bathroom excursions. I guess the weirdness was endearing because she took me to ITG and introduced us. I remember there were only three people down there with her at the time; they were that small. Emily talked with me for a little while, and I was riding high! The next day was my last, and I went home to start my senior year. That was my introduction to both New York, the media industry, and Emily Weiss.
TA: Tell me about how you ended up in your current role?
MVS: The summer after graduation I came back up to intern. I was at fashionista.com two days per week and the other three I was at Nylon magazine. I was desperate to meet people and work in fashion. I began to introduce myself to people that I recognized on the street. I also used to tweet at people, and sometimes I’d get a response. I wrote raps about fashion editors, would put them on YouTube and then tweet the videos to them. This would sometimes get me informational interviews at magazines, which I would then get to tour. If no one would respond to my email, I’d just move on from that avenue; I just figured out another way to get their attention.
TA: Who did you rap for?
MVS: Andre Leon Tally—he was so nice and gregarious. Joe Zee, who was the Creative Director at ELLE at the time. All the editors of Teen Vogue. Taylor Tomasi Hill, Mickey Boardman.
Back when I was still in high school, I was also using my cold stone money to fly up to New York during fashion week. I would sleep in a sleeping bag on a yoga mat in my friend’s FIT dorm room. I’d wait outside of Lincoln Center for anyone I recognized to come out and then I’d introduce myself.
TA: Well, that’s how you go from being an unknown 16-year-old in North Carolina to the assistant to Emily Weiss of Glossier. Good for you.
MVS: Thank you! I ended up going to my state school for one year but continued to fly up here for Fashion week and working on making contacts. Eventually, I was hired as a freelance fashion assistant at Lucky Magazine. That was in May of 2014.
TA: So you left school?
MVS: I didn’t go back after freshman year. I continued to go to school online, though. Lucky was sold about six months later, but I stayed in New York and ended up finding freelance work for the next year at Teen Vogue, J.Crew and The Cut. Around this time I was starting to think about ITG again. I really saw something special in it and Glossier. I decided that was where I wanted to be, and if I had to, I’d intern again just to get my foot in the door. I actually made my 2015 resolution to make Emily Weiss my mentor— I wrote it in a notebook at home! A week later I applied for an internship, interviewed in March, and started that May. Soon after, I noticed that Emily’s then-assistant was doing more work in product development, and I thought perhaps that position would be opening up soon.
TA: Was there a lot of competition for that role?
MVS: Well, I certainly didn’t meet the requirements. They were looking for someone with three years’ experience as an executive assistant who also had a college degree, but I asked to be considered. That was October 2015, and I’ve been her assistant ever since.
TA: How well did you know her while you were interning?
MVS: Not well at all, really. I’d see her around the office but was still very intimidated. After I had applied, she sort of surprise interviewed me, which was scary.
TA: So how did that go down?
MVS: I didn’t even know that she knew I’d applied yet. I had just submitted my resume that week. So Emily walks over to my desk—it was 6:30 pm on a Friday and I was packing up to leave for the day. I was working four jobs at that point and actually had another job to go to.
She said, “Hey can we talk for 20 minutes?” And I was like, “Oh shit—this is happening now. ” It was a 20-minute interview. She basically said, “It’s going to be crazy and you have to be able to handle it.” And I said okay! I’ve been with the company a little over two years, and I’m coming up on my two-year anniversary as her assistant this October.
TA: You said in your interview on Into The Gloss that your time working for Emily & Henry Davis, the President & COO, was like your version of business school.
MVS: I came into this job with an editorial background. I wasn’t necessarily looking for an administrative role as much as I was looking to work directly with Emily, but I found that I had a deep passion for business and entrepreneurship. One of my favorite experiences here was going through the Series-B process. I read all the email correspondence on it, the terms sheets, pitch decks, met most of the venture capitalists, and learned how you actually get investor funding. I always think about how fortunate I am to be involved in something so high level. I can’t afford business school and certainly don’t have the grades to get in, so I want to get everything I can out of this experience.
TA: What’s a typical day at work?
MVS: There is the day-to-day communication, and I also have long-running projects that I’m working on. Every day I come in and check Emily’s email, check mine, write back to whoever needs to be. I try to stay on top of that, but at this point, more emails are coming in than I’m able to respond to—at least on the same day. I plan our company off-site events, I’m decorating her apartment, I plan all her trips.
There are also a lot of fires to be put out—urgent things that happen all at once and need immediate attention. Those make for very intense 20-minute sprints. Then you stop afterward and think, I just knocked five things out at once! You go home proud; you’ve worked hard and accomplished things. It is certainly not a normal job—it’s a wild fucking ride.
TA: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from Emily?
MVS: She is very persistent. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer. She’s taught me how to communicate with people. I tend to get “paralysis by analysis” about things; I think too hard and end up talking myself out of them. Emily just does them. She thought up Into The Gloss and a week later contacted a web developer. Three weeks later she had a website. She works fast and makes things happen.
TA: Is this starting to rub off on you? Are you making that switch within yourself and starting to handle things in your life the same way?
MVS: I do, but I wish it were even more so.
TA: You will be—if you stay.
MVS: I think so. She doesn’t think about what might go wrong; she just follows her intuition. I worry I’ll never be able to captivate that—she has this incredible intuition.
TA: What is something that you’ve experienced in your job that most people don’t get to?
MVS: I’ve had many moments where I stop and think, I am so lucky to be here. I’ve never been to Europe, but she is taking me to London next week. But the best thing is probably all the people I meet. Emily’s contacts have become my contacts, people I would never have found myself in the same room with if it weren’t for this job. This position also allows me to help others achieve their goals, which I love. I thrive on helping people realize their dreams by helping them or connecting with people I’ve met.
TA: Morgan, I’ve never met anyone who is as good at manifesting their dreams as you are.
MVS: You haven’t met Emily yet.
Morgan was photographed by Tom Newton