Tuesday, March 6, 2012

#2134 I like to be in America! (aka how and why I moved to New York City)

Photo: Noah Emrich

I booked a one way flight from Auckland to Singapore for the ridiculously low price of $149 late one night in February last year. The Jetstar offer popped up in my Gmail and I thought to myself, if I'm going to get out of here, this is probably the time to do it. About a week later, I learned that writers like myself were not allowed to travel to America to cover stories for an international audience unless they had the foreign journalist visa. With no plans whatsoever to actually use it for any extended amount of time besides maybe New York Fashion Week twice a year, I made an appointment with the US Consulate in Auckland and applied for the I-Visa for visiting media. At the offices, I watched as young snowboarders were given passport stamps, Americans were issued emergency travel documents and non-New Zealand passport holders were denied visiting visas. When I was called up, I pulled out a huge envelope filled with clippings of my stories, information about my blog traffic and as much press as I could carry with me. The guy laughed, asked to see a letter from my employer (aka myself), took my passport and told me I'd been approved. The interchange took all of 90 seconds, 45 of which were spent discussing the fact that I write about men's fashion, and what I thought of his outfit (I said I'd be coming to him for shopping advice next time I needed a good pair of slacks).

I left New Zealand a couple of days after my 27th birthday and flew to Singapore to stay with my best good friend Sheida and his wife Allison. For seven days we hung poolside, had McDonald's delivered to our apartment and drank more bubble tea than you'd think possible. On the eighth day, I flew to Milan for the menswear shows, writing for the New Zealand Herald, my blog, Hint Magazine and the biggest break of my career at that point, interviewing top menswear editors, stylists and industry folk for Gilt MANual. It was the dream job – I was being paid to talk with (read: interrogate) all the guys that I've looked up to as long as I've been working in fashion – Tim Blanks, Robert Rabersteiner, Josh Peskowitz, Eugene Tong, Jim Moore and Bruce Pask, among others.

The second day I was in Milan, I ran into a girl I'd known for a few years but not seen for a while and fell in love at second sight. We hung out for a couple of days then she had to go to Florence, but before she left, I told her to come visit me in Paris. She said okay.

When I arrived in Paris, I had Fashion Week for the first four days, then the girl from Milan came to visit. I started hanging out with this awesome crew of Australians, Dutchies, Americans and Parisians, it was summer, it was Paris, I was with an amazing girl and I was having the time of my life. Up until that point I'd been thinking I'd had a good run but it was probably time to go home, but then I picked up this enormous writing contract for Park & Bond that would require me to work for 10 hours every day for something like 48 days straight. If I was going to fly back to New Zealand I'd lose about three days, so the decision was made to stay in Paris for the duration of the contract.

So for two and a half months, I stayed in Paris and wrote harder than I've ever written before. It was exhausting, it was a little reminiscent of factory work, but it was a means to an end and the rewards were greater than anything I'd seen before.

At the end of July, all my friends (including the girl) left Paris. The city I'd had so much fun in suddenly died a very quick death and I was left alone, bored out of my mind and wondering what on earth I was doing there. On August the first, everything shut down – even the three boulangeries on my street. I decided it was time to try New York, so I booked a flight and left two days later.

One of the advantages of holding the foreign journalist visa is that you can fly into the States with no outward ticket booked. So when I landed, the customs guy stamped my passport, told me to enjoy my stay and sent me on my way. Outside, New York was at its absolute worst – stinking hot and pouring with rain. I caught a taxi to my Australian friend's model apartment and sat down in damp, muggy, filth: The bathroom light didn't work, weeks-old dishes were strewn around and my mattress had no sheets and looked as if it'd been the site of a thousand one night stands.

Due to jetlag, the first few days weren't much fun. But on the fifth day, I got out of bed to find a bearded gentleman sitting on the couch. His name was Tom Bull and he asked if I wanted to go for a walk with him to get some food. We barely talked to each other. The next day was the same – us wandering around the city, hardly saying a word. On the third night, we were walking to the supermarket and Tom decided it would be funny to push me into a giant pyramid of black garbage bags. It broke the ice and from that moment on, we became great mates. Never underestimate the importance of a strong ally – especially one from a similar background (in our case, we're both Australasian). If it hadn't been for him, I quite possibly wouldn't have made it this long.

I started partying, and New York nightlife was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. It was fast, addictive, wild and an all-consuming pursuit. I embraced it with open arms – I'd suddenly discovered a place where I could dance to Drake, Kanye West and Sean Paul, jump on tables, bear-hug bouncers, scam my way past doormen and run amok all over the show. New York was like a playground and I never wanted to leave.

Then the work opportunities started presenting themselves: the New York Times, group hang-out sessions with all my favourite menswear bloggers, GQ, Details, Hugo Boss and all sorts of other random styling, writing and travel jobs. I was hooked.

A few days later the model apartment started filling up with girls in town for Fashion Week, so Tom and I had to go. Luckily, an old friend with the best apartment in New York City said that I could crash with her for a few days. Life changed the minute I arrived. Her apartment was enormous, airy, light and jaw-droppingly impressive to anybody who entered. A couple of novelties included the elevator door opening into her living room; the view of Will Smith's apartment opposite and my very own bedroom with an ensuite, plus shelves and racks where I could hang my clothes. (NB: Now that I am living in a shared loft in Brooklyn, I understand that I was in Candyland. Still, it was the best introduction to New York I could've hoped for.)

At this point, I met fellow New Zealander Gala Darling. She told me about her wonderful experience with immigration lawyer Alejandro Filippa and sent him an email introducing me. I went in for a consultation the next day. After explaining my situation to his lovely associate Kiran, she told me that she thought I had a very strong case for an O-1 Visa. The next couple of weeks were spent finding a sponsor, putting together a portfolio of every article I'd ever had published in newspapers and magazines (450 pages worth), every piece of press, I'd ever received and letters of recommendation from 10 people high up in my field. The payment plan was simple, clear and as honest as you'll ever find from a lawyer: $1250 up front, $325 for the governmental filing fee, and $1250 if and when the visa actually came through. Thankfully it did, and here we are today.

Now that I've been here for six months, I can definitely see the pros and cons. On the plus side, you're surrounded by people who are ambitious, supportive of young talent, aspirational, inspirational, highly successful and positively worldly. Everything moves incredibly quickly here and if you get in with a good group of people you'll become instant friends. On the flip side, if you leave for a few weeks, it can feel like you have to start all over again – that was definitely the case for me when I came back after my Christmas trip to New Zealand, both professionally and socially. The same goes for career opportunities – they come and go in an instant, so you have to know when to jump. The toughest thing for New Zealanders is that we're not taught to sell ourselves, and it's a skill you have to learn the moment you arrive – if you can't tell an absolute stranger precisely why they need to hire you in three sentences or less, you'll struggle to move forward.

New York is the most exciting place I've ever been to and I can't imagine living anywhere else. It's exhausting and scary and you're a tiny fish in the ocean, but it's the stuff dreams are made of. Anything and everything is possible. If you can imagine it, you can probably do it. I think all my friends should move over immediately. And despite everything we're told by everyone we know, it's not actually that difficult. There are countless visas available to good workers – you just have to find the right one for you.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section and I'll endeavour to answer them as best as I can.

I LIKE YOU!

73 comments:

Fashion Westie said...

That is the most endearing, entertaining and earnest pieces of writing I have read in a long time.

Bonnie Friday said...

It's so great to hear real stories about making the move from Australia or New Zealand all the way to NYC - a dream I've often been told is impossible.
Thank you for sharing!

xx

scab said...

are those the only shoes you own?

LoulouBlue said...

Brilliant post Isaac. That is so true: "The toughest thing for New Zealanders is that we're not taught to sell
ourselves,"  kiwis - don't stop believin!

isaaclikes said...

No I own 7 pairs of shoes, they're just the ones I wear most regularly.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Cameron Lee Putt said...

Awesome article.

Reweti Kohere said...

Warm fuzzies reading this. Keep it up Isaac! We're all rooting for you.

Reweti Kohere said...

Warm fuzzies reading this. Keep it up Isaac! We're all rooting for you :)

Sarah said...

opportunities for me? i'm a good worker, a really good worker?! 

Saf34 said...

Your last paragraph really inspired me. 

What do you think of London as a city to start off in for some work experience? 

isaaclikes said...

Even you Sarah!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

isaaclikes said...

London is amazing. I love it. But for some reason New York always seemed an easier place to make it. I could be wrong though, I haven't spent enough time there to know.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

A. said...

Hey Isaac, is it tough to get visa sponsorship from an American company? I'm in media/publishing in New Zealand & reaching the end of my tether here (so few opportunities for career advancement) but lack contacts in NYC (my ultimate dream city to live/work). Is it worth turning up on the ground & just trying to get in as many people's faces as possible?

Thanks heaps for writing this, by the way -- it's pretty cool to see that people like you & Gala have done it. Gives me hope!

isaaclikes said...

I was lucky enough to have built up a lot of contacts through doing the menswear shows for the past 6 or 7 seasons, so it made things a lot easier for me to hit the ground running. I would suggest to start contacting people now, and keep in touch with them as much as possible. You're lucky that you can get the I visa like I did so if you can support yourself here for a few months, come try it out.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Shelley Abrams said...

Awesome wee story Isaac - sounds like you're living the dream and that you more than deserve it!!!

isaaclikes said...

I never stopped loving you Shelley!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Olivia McCaskill said...

I've wanted to live in NYC ever since I was 12 and my love of Musical Theatre blossomed. Now that I'm older and wiser, I know how much it is going to cost to live there, and am planning appropriately on doing my OE in London and Europe before venturing to NYC and trying to find a job there for a while... But first I think I'll need to save some hard earned cash here in Wellington... haha. 

A. said...

That's super great! Thanks for your suggestions. I'd totally written off the I-visa because the consulate says you must be sponsored by a media organisation in your home country, and it must be news media. Mine's not a news agency or anything. But you're saying you can convince the visa officers based on the strength of your own freelance work? (Gah! Sometimes navigating the US visa system makes the Queen of Hearts look logical.)

isaaclikes said...

I reckon you'd preferably wanna come here with 7 - 10 k NZD.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

isaaclikes said...

No you need a media organisation behind you, but I know people who get magazines to write the letter for them. You need a media company to write a letter saying you'll be covering American events for them.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

A. said...

Ah, I see. Does that mean you can't legally work for any American company -- you support yourself with freelance work based out of NZ? 

isaaclikes said...

I have the O-1 visa which allows me to work legally in the States. But the I visa is a great one to get started on here.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Hotdarling said...

You should totes make cat shoes out of Tom's beard.

Kaylene said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading that! 

I just found out recently that I won a competition which will fly me over to NY and support me financially while I intern for 6 months at a fashion design house. I'm incredibly excited, but quite overwhelmed at the same time. My main concern is finding cheap accommodation - can you impart any advice about finding a nice share house to be part of? I will be flying out the week after i show my debut range at Australian Fashion Week, so I won't have a whole lot of time in the lead up to trawl the internet for advertised rentals. 

Any pointers in the right direction would be amazing.

Ds said...

Has your own fashion sense changed? 

Red said...

But what happened to the girl? Or do we have t wait for the sequel?

Kelly Reid said...

Congratulations Isaac! Glad to see you'll be sticking around, bring on another hot summer!!

isaaclikes said...

Wow congrats on winning the competition! Rent here is expensive, no doubt. But if you go on Craigslist and search for bedrooms you can put the price you wanna pay in. When I was first looking I found some kinda low budget but clean spots for around $800 - $900 USD per month, so it's definitely doable. Areas like Alphabet City, Chinatown, Brooklyn and Harlem are usually cheaper. Best of luck!
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

isaaclikes said...

She left the country, I went to America and we stayed friends.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

isaaclikes said...

Heck yeah! Thanks Kelly!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

uli said...

For a guy who has just started to be interested into the whole field of menswear and has only eight days in New York and whose budget usually confines him to stay with Uniqlo, H&M and so on, is there any place you can recommend shopping at?

isaaclikes said...

Gant Rugger, J Crew, UNIS and CHCM are all good places to start.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Louise said...

I really, really enjoyed reading this. I'm glad it worked out for you and I take my hat off to you for going after what you want.  

Sarah said...

do you have to pay health insurance, does that get expensive on a weekly basis?

isaaclikes said...

I don't have health insurance... Knock on wood.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Yerahcaz said...

Long time reader, first time comment. Best article you have written, inspiring and real.

Genaea said...

Probably my fav post to date. Makes me want to book a flight right now to NYC, you have room on the floor right?! 

Patrick said...

What an inspirational read! You're really on the NYC rollercoaster and just reading that reminds me of what I love the city so much. I've been to NYC 20 or so times over the last 20 years (I live in London) and love it more every time but fnding a way to get there is hard as companies don't seem to be sponsoring outside of the US at the moment. I work in Marketing & PR (with 10 years of fashion oriented experience) so any snippets of advice are v welcome. Love your blog - stands out from all of them to be honest.  

Cheers, Patrick

isaaclikes said...

Do it!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

isaaclikes said...

Thanks Patrick!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Kaylene said...

That's encouraging. Thanks Isaac!

Route83 said...

Liking the personal posts! Very cool! But how about people who don't have 450 pages of articles and/or experience? 

isaaclikes said...

Then you gotta find a job - same as everyone else!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Miss Flow said...

I second that. Awesome.

Lauren Tapper said...

totally agree

Maddielucy said...

beautiful writing. my favourite part is the title - 'everything free in ah-mer-ee-ca!'

Amauri said...

Keep up with the good work, Isaac. 

Leilani said...

Thanks Isaac, this makes me feel so much better about graduating university and starting out as a writer -- it doesn't sound half as terrifying the way you've put it! Hard work, but it is possible to build a life for yourself without the school/work structure holding you in one place. I really needed to hear that at this point.

isaaclikes said...

Life is much easier than university, I always think, as long as you're ambitious, fearless and willing to work hard.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

richard said...

great story isaac, and so glad you're here. you help make NYC the amazing place that is is...

isaaclikes said...

Thanks Richard!!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Bee said...

Thanks for this, I'm 20 and have never left NZ. Yet over the past year and a bit I've realised that somewhere like NYC may be more my scene - any city where I can dance freely to Drake and Kanye nightly seems ideal, but more importantly I just have cravings for a more fast paced life, surrounded by the type of people that you describe above. Hearing a success story like yours helps show me that it is possible to make the switch from little NZ to a city like NY, as long as you have some drive in you. So again, thanks. Keep doing what you do and all the best for the future :) 

isaaclikes said...

Thanks! I'd been to Australia once, but I never went to the States till I was 21 years old. Get over here!
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Dayne said...

just read this and nearly started to cry, beautiful piece of writing and I am very proud of you Isaac, you are super talented and I admire your ambition and hard work!

Samuel David Thorpe said...

Hi Isaac!

Do you think new York is a good move for a very motivated (read radically, lie awake each night plotting my rise to menswear design stardom), inspired menswear designer. 
I would love to move there and work with a company who can teach me the way of the designer jedi!

Samuel David Thorpe said...

ooh. I sent my comment too soon. eager.

Do you have any extra advice for things I may want to work on now as I finish my design degree that will best prepare me to one day grab that potential employers attention, with my 3 sentences and portfolio...

Thanks for the informative inspiration! You do write well.

isaaclikes said...

In a word, yes!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

isaaclikes said...

I think work experience is probably the main thing. If you can go intern at some impressive places it's always gonna make you look good, so get out into the world and get started now!
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

leilanigl said...

As soon as I am not spending 14+ hours a day in the computer lab I may start believing that. Bring on New York!

Alexa said...

Hi Isaac just wondering how you go about applying for a visa to move to New york really wanting to make the move but feeling rather overwhelmed by the visa application process. Thanks for your help.

Anna said...

This was so easy and wonderful to read! I like YOU Isaac!

Samantha Zellers said...

 Brilliant! I am a huge fan of Gala's work, as well, isn't she just a sweetheart? :)

isaaclikes said...

She's the best.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Techin said...

this article is so inspiring man!. I also lived here for 6 month ish a lot of things have been going on, so far...Ny is the most challenging city if you want something just go for it...and now I'm working with 2 fashion companys....and its getting better :) good luck!

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

 Totally awesome adventure.

Alicia LiLi said...

I am moving to NYC in April and my friend just sent me your article - not so scared now! Thanks for sharing

isaaclikes said...

Good luck over here! You'll love it.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Marilooya said...

WOW.wow. It's the first time I read your blog and let me tell you I can't wait to press the "click here to continue"phrase.Pure,honest,easy writing, soooooo inspiring my friend.. Reminds to us all to stay true to ourselves and our dreams. It's the first time I even actually COMMENT someone's post, except something like "nice skirt dude","cool wedges", "you have probably the most stunning eyelids{????} I' ve ever seen". I LIKE YOU. 

Hugo Rossi said...

Hi Isaac. I like your pics and your articles. I´d like to travel as you do. Everything´s great .

isaaclikes said...

Thanks Hugo!


Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Hugo Rossi said...

Hi Isaac. I like your pics and your articles. I´d like to travel as you do. Everything´s great.

jackie.t said...

Do you happen to know whether it is possible for a Management Degree person to move to the states? from all the visa's and companies, it doesn't look to promising for my career path even though I would love to change my career to something in the fashion world. I'm thinking of San Francisco but going to visit a friend in New York. advise?

Taine Laurence Andrews said...

Wow, this is really inspiring. I haven't read your blogs before but I think from now I will start to. I'm 16, at high school, living in Auckland and I've always dreamed of moving to New York and chasing my dreams. I'm not 100% sure what I want to do when I'm older but Graphic Design and photography are what I'm striving for at the moment. I don't know if you'll know but would it be easy to get a job as a graphic designer in New York? I'm hoping to be outta here by 25 :)