In two short years, Gabrielle Santiago went from FIDM graduation to interning for celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus to opening her eponymous design firm where she has licensing deals in the works, along with a wallpaper line in pre-development. Read on to learn more about this inspiring recent grad.
Tell us a little about yourself: Where to start. Ok—I am a poster child for walking into corners, designer of all things style, writer, and valid number one fan of Ella Fitzgerald Pandora. I have spent a decade devoting myself to the world of design. As a Merchandise Product Development graduate, I spent my college years designing footwear in Los Angeles. In 2014, I moved to Chicago to work alongside celebrity designer Nate Berkus, as a studio design intern. It was at that moment when I realized my love for interior design. I moved back to LA and began working for HGTV's Lonni Paul as an art director. At age 23, I launched Gabrielle Santiago Design and have since been working toward my dream of becoming a well known designer under my own name!
What are you working on? I am the principal designer at Gabrielle Santiago Design. I have multiple projects going on at the moment. A few celebrity interior design projects, licensing deals, and of course my wallpaper line that is currently in pre-development.
How do you feel FIDM prepared you for what you are doing now? FIDM has continued to help me in all aspects of my career. I still find myself picking up some of my old college books to find answers or inspiration. I think the main thing FIDM taught me is that every day is a challenge, but it's how you prepare for it that sets you apart from the crowd.
How did you find out about FIDM? I originally had it set in my mind that I was going to FIT. I did pre-college courses there and considering I was from the east coast, it just made sense. I thought I would just give another place a chance, so I flew out to LA with my parents to see FIDM because my guidance counselor in high school suggested it. As soon as I arrived, it was a done deal. I knew it was the school for me.
How did you decide on your major? This is such a funny story. I actually originally applied for Fashion Design and my admissions advisor strongly encouraged me to look into Product Development. I wasn't very keen on hand sketching or sewing, so I looked into his advice. I am so glad I decided to listen considering now I am producing things for the home decor and interior design industry rather than apparel.
Looking back, which classes at FIDM were most valuable to you? There are so many classes that have aided me on my career path. I remember when I took the fabric identification class I dreaded going every week, but I'm so glad I did. This class continues to get me discounts at the local fabric mart. I always negotiate the price down due to quality recognition. I know what they're selling me and that terrifies them!
Any advice for current FIDM Students? I have endless amounts of advice! When interviewing for a position, don't make the interview all about you. Employers love when you ask questions! If you break down those walls and get personal with your interviewer (even for a split second) they will find it easier to relate to you. People want to work with people they genuinely like. I'm sure you have a great personality. Don't be afraid to flaunt it.
Also, when starting out in the industry it's okay to accept a job that isn't your overall dream job. Everyone starts somewhere. We all run for coffee and fax paperwork at some point in our lives. It's your attitude when you do it that sets you apart from everyone else. If you finish an internship and somehow a job opens up, you want your employer to remember your happy face and think, "Hey, what about that girl who was always smiling while running for coffee. Let's give her a shot."
What is your biggest goal right now? Find time for a vacation! Ha! A girl can dream right? In all seriousness, the main goal right now is to maintain balance. I currently have multiple projects in full action and it's hard to remember to attempt a personal life sometimes. It's important to take a breather and remember to be successful in all things life. Not just the career. I try to say that to myself everyday.
Anything else you’d like to share? I want everyone to know that it is possible to reach your dreams, but only if you put the work in to make it possible.