A Moment with Aviva Yael

A Moment with Aviva Yael

Aviva Yael wants you to be “dumpable.”

The fashion, entertainment and branding veteran—who is committed to empowering herself and others—is all about becoming confident and self-assured enough to withstand disappointments.

She comes by this philosophy honestly: After a varied career working for everyone from designer Diane Von Furstenberg to musician Pharrell Williams (and his creative collective celebrating difference: i am OTHER), she has found cohesion in variation—beauty in diversity.

Here, she talks about how happiness begins with releasing fear of rejection and helping others:

Live The Process: You’ve had a diverse trajectory, encompassing fashion, editing, marketing and even writing a tattoo anthology. What inherent traits—perhaps even apparent in your childhood—do you think propelled you down these paths?

Aviva Yael: My father recently said he was “proud to have a daughter who has always been curious and courageous, even as a little kid.” I was raised by Jewish New Yorkers, so a large part of my cultural upbringing was about working hard or, at least, competing creatively or intellectually (thanks, dad) and being civically engaged (thanks, mom). 

On paper, my career looks disjointed, but that inconsistency is the thread that has given me so much experience and adaptability. I’ve always had varied interests and finally learned to lean into it. My experience with 9-to-5 jobs has only proved that I don’t thrive in the tedium of day-to-day office operations. My goal is to never have a job again. Also, “all hands” meetings chip away at my soul.

What marries my interests is what I’m doing now: I started my own branding agency last year, shaping the voice and image of brands (and people!). I’m doing what I did for Pharrell for other celebrities, brands, startups and new spaces I haven’t explored before. I have one main goal: to make sure shit isn’t corny. Whatever I create has to be clever or funny—a wink. I love the idea of anti-marketing marketing too. 

LTP: What led you to work with Pharrell Williams? What was special about that job?

AY: I started my career in fashion working for Diane Von Furstenberg, who is the embodiment of glamour and femininity. I moved into writing after Vice Magazine hired me to become their first fashion director. I produced a fashion show at the Ukranian National Hall in the East Village and embedded with a group of Vogue dancers from Harlem who I wanted to hire as models for our show. I worked with legendary Willi Ninja of House of Ninja. After Vice, I tour managed a band called The Virgins, published a book and took various senior editorial positions before landing a dream gig with Pharrell.

At i am OTHER, I worked with a small team of highly creative women for a man who truly believed in us. I was across everything from music to fashion to educational initiatives. We worked with Oprah, Al Gore, Tim Cook, Karl Lagerfeld, Takashi Murakami, Adidas, Goyard, the United Nations, The Voice and every important artist you can think of. I met people I worship. Working with an all-female team was the best professional experience of my life, and I’m still grateful I got to be part of a group of powerful women holding actual power.

What I found most compelling about i am OTHER was being able to use our platform for good, especially through our philanthropic endeavors. I particularly enjoyed the work we did around racial equality. This is something I’ve cared about since college, specifically prison reform. I hate how the socio-economic long tail of slavery has led to mass incarceration and police brutality and I want to see things get better. 

LTP: Why is it so rewarding for you to empower others, especially women in the entertainment industry?

AY: The simplest answer is that it feels good for all of us to help each other. I want women to come up, in particular women of color. I find they speak truth to power more than any other group of peers and I want to be helpful in widening that voice if I can. I’ve recently started mentoring women on how to ask for what we’re worth. Men do it with ease, but we struggle with guilt and fear around asking for more money. 

The entertainment industry is so massive that it’s difficult to assess, but it's clear we need to create a new ecosystem that allows women to thrive professionally without relying so heavily on men. Movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo are already changing the culture and hopefully laws in women’s favor, albeit incrementally, and I am glad we are working together toward equality and safety standards. It feels like the robots have become sentient and it’s all so exciting, but of course, this affects men too— especially the good guys who often don’t know how to talk to problematic bosses, peers and friends. Change is going to be a joint effort by all genders, and we have to get women into more leadership roles.

LTP: In this chaotic time, what are some of your current beauty and/or wellness obsessions? What rituals and/practices keep you feeling balanced and healthy?

AY: I don’t wear makeup except for YSL Golden Gloss #2 lip gloss, so having bright, smooth skin is a huge priority. I’ve been obsessive lately about getting monthly facials; I tried a chemical peel (loved it!) and I swear by laser resurfacing. It’s really embarrassingly expensive, but it’s my face!

I drink tons of water and, at night, I cut up fresh ginger and turmeric with a scallion root and make it into a tea. Sleep is essential for having clear eyes and skin, so I started weekly acupuncture and take a Chinese herb called Evergreen Calm ZZZ before bed. For the first time in my entire neurotic life, I sleep over seven hours a night. It’s a miracle. I also think daily exercise has improved my sleep and skin.

LTP: What does happiness look like to you?

AY: It’s changed over the years, but now that I’m feeling somewhat proud of my professional accomplishments, I think it’s about choosing to live a life of honesty and really being present for your closest family and friends. Those are the people who get you through personal droughts or loss. Giving yourself time for your hobbies is also the key to brain balance. My hobbies are pretty basic: I love to travel, cook, read, do home improvements and clean, so I prioritize those things. 

Love is also important, so finding someone you trust who isn’t using you as a life raft to avoid their own issues is worth some energy. I tend to be quite happy when I’m single, but I have a credo about love that I call, “Make Yourself Dumpable.” It means you feel so resilient, confident and proud of who you are that, if someone dumps you, you’re just fine. After the initial pain wears off, you’re still lovable and sexy. I believe every breakup is ultimately good, so why not turn it into an opportunity?

LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?

AY: The process is the reward. When you lean into a problem and face it, you can solve it. Your process improves each time. Getting to an honest place means learning to be unafraid of rejection or failure, Obama-style. And doing things that make you happy and bring happiness to other people, even if it’s the smallest act for a minute a day.

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