How I Get It Done: Samira Nasr, Fashion Director, Elle Magazine

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Illustration: Rebecca Clarke

Samira Nasr is the head of Elle magazine’s 12-person fashion department, and the single mother of an almost-4-year-old son. On any given day, she’s likely to have roasted a whole chicken before 8:30 a.m., received 100 work emails by bedtime, and worked a countless amount of sartorial magic in between. Here’s how she gets it done.

On her morning routine:

I try and get up at 6:30, but most mornings it’s closer to seven. I get my son, Lex, up and then it’s sort of a race to the finish. He’s going to be 4 in May. He helps me make coffee — he’s really into helping because he knows it’s mama’s morning juice. Then it’s shower time. He’s obsessed with a hot shower, so I tend to get out of the shower and he stays in while I get ready. Then I get him out and dressed — two hurdles down — and figure out his breakfast and pack his lunch. I’m always worried that I’m not doing enough for him so I try to do something nice for his lunch. He has this bento lunch box with little compartments, and I’ll cut up fruit for one, and put raisins in another and Goldfish in another, and then I usually roast a chicken or make pasta with shaved Parmesan and butter or tomato sauce I’ve made. Mornings when things are not flowing he gets an almond-butter sandwich. Then I figure out breakfast — still sipping coffee throughout this whole process.

On getting dressed:

I think I wear different versions of the same thing almost every day. I won’t wear, like a dress one day, a skirt the next day; it’s always a jean, a boot, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt or a sweater, and a coat. I go into my closet and see whatever I’m craving and grab and go. I carry the same bag for like a month — I’m not someone that changes her bag everyday.

A lot of my pants are Céline. My jeans are mostly vintage Levi’s with the exception of one pair from A.P.C., one pair from Acne, and one pair from Khaite. Then my sweatshirts are all over the place. Some are Isabel Marant, some are Supreme from a long time ago … my friend Ruba got me this amazing Loopwheeler sweatshirt from Japan, and I also have a jean shirt in heavy rotation from 45rpm. I wear a lot of Gianvito Rossi, Chanel boots, and Céline boots, and I have a pair of Saint Laurent ones I’ve been wearing a lot lately. I never change my jewelry but I will change my earrings. It goes between a Jen Fisher hoop or a little pair of hoops my friend Tracee Ellis Ross got me for day. If I’m going out at night I switch again to a pair of Lisa Eisner or Maison Mayle earrings.

On her four-minute beauty regimen:

I put makeup on after Lex has his breakfast, before I need him to brush his teeth he usually has a few minutes just to play a record. While we’re negotiating volume levels I’m doing my makeup. My beauty essentials are Glossier Boy Brow, Nars black-kohl eyeliner, and a Chanel bronzer. I love mascara so I have a bunch of different ones — right now I’m into layering a Revlon with a Chanel.

On her commute:

We have a Brooklyn car service come pick us up at 8:30. We’re usually five minutes late. I take Lex to school every single morning, no matter what. We have a little ritual where we just kind of sit on a bench in the classroom and are still together for two minutes before I go. From there, I hightail it out of his school, and walk to one of two coffee places — the Lazy Llama café on 1st Street and 1st Avenue, or Il Buco Alimentari on Great Jones Street — and get cappuccino to go and hop on the train. I try and be present on the subway and have a little “Me” time or daydream or people-watch, see what people are wearing, what they’re doing, what they’re reading … kind of just stare, really.

On starting the work day:

When I come into the office I check in with my assistant, Yashua, do a first email check, think about what I need to accomplish and then walk back to the fashion department and check in with my team. Yesterday I had a breakfast meeting at Il Buco Alimentari, and then I came into the office, but by the time I got here it was like almost eleven and then it was the same start. Because I’m shooting tomorrow, Saturday, I really focused on boards and made sure most important elements were confirmed, then I spoke with my accessories team about shoes and bits that I needed — I had an idea I wanted an A.P.C. quilt, so I spoke to an editor about that. I always check in with my photo director, Barbara Grogan, about future issues, photographers, and any problems that we have to come together and figure out.

On power lunching:

I generally eat at my desk, but sometimes I’ll meet someone for lunch. It’s always the same, lately I’ve been switching it up, but for the most part I make a salad with a protein — we have a great salad bar at the café in our building. Norma Kamali sent me a bottle of olive oil and Max Mara sent balsamic vinegar that is the best, so I have them at my desk to dress my salad with.

On the joy of mixing it up:

Sometimes in the afternoon we have meetings, yesterday we had a long meeting with Robbie [Myers] about future issues; what we’re doing this season. One of the things I love about my job is every day is different, there’s no way for me to know what the next day is gonna be.

On her desk:

I like to think I have a neat desk. Looking at it right now it’s disgusting, but generally I like it neat. I have a lot of piles but I edit them regularly. I’m very fortunate that people send me flowers, so I usually have some on my desk, then I have Aesop Resurrection Aromatique hand balm, because every time I wash my hands I like to put cream on. My new favorite thing is from Stanley’s Pharmacy. It’s called Air Repair Detox Mist and it says to “Spray often for the room detoxification of negative vibrations;” so we like to spray that a lot. I also have Omega 3 purified fish-oil vitamins I never take, and I have a pencil sharpener and a lot of pencils because I like to write with pencils — I like pencils with erasers and color pencils.

On leaving at a decent hour:

I try and leave by 6:45. I hop on either the A or the B/D and transfer at West 4th to the M and then I get off at Marcy and I walk home. I try and let the day go a little bit, so that when I’m home with my son I can just be with him.

On her evening routine:

I usually get home by 7:20, and have a recap with my nanny. Then I hang out with my son. If I get home early enough I have bath time with him, but if I don’t I let him decide what we do. Sometimes we play trains, sometimes we read a book or draw or have a dance party, and then I put him to bed. After he’s gone to sleep I think: “Do I have laundry to do? What needs to happen in our home?” Then I figure out what to eat and have a glass of wine and then look at emails. Sometimes I will read a magazine; I’ve almost finished Zadie Smith’s book; or sometimes I will go online if I have a shoot coming up and look at references, or talk on the phone with a friend, or I will go out again. On Tuesday night I put Lex to sleep then had another babysitter come and went and met my friend Rachel Comey for dinner.

On how she unwinds:

I try not to drink every night but I do enjoy a glass of red wine and I try not to look at my phone when I’m in my son’s company. I want him to have the example that people are more interesting than a device.

On communication:

I was counting and I usually get about 100 [emails per day]. I’m always telling my team, “Pick up the phone, have a conversation, talk!” Because I think it’s nice to speak to people and sometimes I find a conversation more efficient than email. I text with all my friends, that’s how we check in; generally there’s a text thread with my closest friends that’s always going, and I have two friends I have a phone call with every couple of days. I like pencils, I like phone calls … not long calls, I’m not chatty, but there’s something nice about speaking with people.

On work travel:

I travel a lot for work, between shoots and the collections and now we also travel for these pre-collection shows. I’m fortunate enough I was invited to the Hyères Festival in the South of France, they’re having an accessories competition and Pierre Hardy asked me to join him on his jury. So I’m going to be there with a fun group of people, then I’m heading to Paris for the Chanel resort show.

On her airplane essentials:

I have this Lemlem shawl my friend Liya gave me that I’m in love with, and I have this soft Hermès scarf I love when I travel. I always have my computer, and hand cream — always have hand cream — it’s mostly the same kind [as I have on my desk] or Weleda Sea Buckthorn.

If I’m going for four days or under, I have a little Rimowa carry-on and a Vuitton duffel. Anything over that I have bigger suitcase that I check. If I’m gone for a while, like to the collections, I have two suitcases, one for hanging and one for folding.

On hobbies, or lack thereof:

I don’t have time [for a hobby]. I used to work out and it was wonderful. I keep saying I’m going to get back to it, I just haven’t figured out. I’m a single working mom and I’ve actually figured out how to get Lex out of the door and how to get him dressed and I feel like that was a big accomplishment. Mornings used to be very overwhelming and difficult for me.

On how she stays organized:

I don’t know if I’m organized, maybe we’re all hard on ourselves but I wish I could get more done in a day than I do. I usually write down what I think I need to accomplish the next day so that’s kind of my road map. But ultimately things fall through the cracks, I forget things; the beauty is hopefully you get another chance the next day to do a little bit better. Generally I love lists and I love a Post-it. The level of satisfaction of taking the Post-it off and throwing it away when you’ve accomplished that thing is so good. I’ve worked with a day planner since high school. Every year Prada sends a planner out as a Christmas gift, and it’s one of my favorite things to receive. I am nowhere without it. I always keep my old day planners on a shelf above my desk and then in my library at home. They’re just good for reference.

On what she’d change about her current work life:

I would like to be more productive. And I wish I had more time to be inspired because that informs what we do — I wish I had more time to run out to a museum or exhibition or absorb other ideas and creative conversations. And I wish I could have more time with my son.

On what she loves most about the job:

The people that I work with. We laugh, we genuinely enjoy each other. I’ve always loved teamwork so I’ve found the perfect job, that is teamwork with a great group of men and women and my days are always different which I love. There’s no repetitiveness, it’s always new and surprising.

How Elle Fashion Director Samira Nasr Gets Everything Done