Margaret Zhang on living creatively, being confident, and owning your style
MANILA, PHILIPPINES – “How does she do it?” is probably a burning question that has passed many of Margaret Zhang’s fans’ minds. And why wouldn't you wonder? Margaret Zhang of Instagram and all-around creative fame isn’t just a jack of all trades – she's somehow managed to become a master of all.
Zhang excels in the many facets of her creative life – not just as a model, but as a stylist, director, ballerina, musician, producer, photographer, and writer as well. Zhang is also a recent law school and business graduate.
Her dedication to her multiple artistic crafts, paired with her distinct spunk and style, has helped her become a sartorial icon in the online world, with a whopping 987K Instagram followers to boot.
With around 10 years in the creative industry, it's no doubt that Zhang has acquired many self-learned tricks and tools of the trade. It's a wonder how she sets herself apart as a creative in an oversaturated "IG influencer" world, or what goes behind the scenes of the "cool girl" who seems to have it all, or how a global icon stays self-assured in the age of social media.
What are Zhang's secrets?
On Friday, September 22, local style icon Pam Quiones sat with Margaret Zhang who visited Manila for The SM Store's new FashioniSM campaign as their stylist, photographer, director, and campaign muse.
As expected, Zhang dominated the room sporting a well-fit black suit and her signature bright pink mane, adorned by 90’s-inspired glittery butterfly clips.
Get to know Zhang a bit more:
Some of us are very familiar with your work, but for those who aren’t, can you give us a quick rundown of how we got here?
MZ: I grew up training to be a ballet dancer and a classical pianist actually, so my background is very stage arts-focused. That became my side step into fashion, through costume design, even music and motions. These are what influence my creative process until today. My videos and photos are all very dynamic and sounds-focused. Movement and story-telling is really important to me.
So when I got into fashion, it was more on the couture-costume design space and then I also started my website at 16. It was just a personal blog and creative outlet back then, but I came in during an interesting time when traditional publishing was being challenged by individual voices.
I think that’s what people are looking for - independent, youthful voices with individual opinions - and my blog was really just me talking to the void. I guess people also really resonated with the fact that I was studying and working at the same time.
So you’re now a law school and business graduate. What made you pursue those disciplines, given that you’re a creative at heart?
MZ: If you’re inherently creative and you’re already self-researching, it’s valid to go for an education that challenges that. Law and business is for the other side of the brain, and it’s been very useful for me. I know how to protect myself as a creative – my rights and my value.
But to me, I also believe that you don’t always need to be all things to all people. That’s my biggest learning as a creative. One of my struggles is learning how to delegate; yes, you can do everything, but what are you the strongest at? What are others the strongest at? Knowing that is important, and also being able to collaborate.
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Reflecting on a tumultuous year of greatest highs and harrowing wtf’s. Wishing myself back to my ultimate calm and equilibrium of smashing keys on cliffs in desert Arizona for my film. Thank you all for your boundless support of my strange endeavors. Over and out, 2017. Prosperity, love, hustle, et cetera. 我今年最值得自豪的成就是完成并公映了我的第一部短片：《There's No Space Left in C# Minor》。为了这部片子，我辛勤工作了一年多。 我为最后的结果感到非常自豪，因为这部短片的三部曲详尽地揭示了我与乐曲、乐音和韵律的心灵感应。在纽约、洛杉矶、悉尼和马尔代夫的放映中, 我得到了如此多的支持和惊人的回应。 我很高兴能在2018年把它带到中国。这里所附的是影片的一些片段。
Tell us, how are you able to do everything?
MZ: Personally, I’m a very aggressive learner.I need to be constantly challenging myself to move forward. It helps me evolve. That’s how pursuing different things works for me. It’s all about learning different skills, putting yourself in different shoes – it helps grow your worldview and your perspectives in life.
You are an inspiration to young people, and also a style icon. Do you have a mantra or specific elements you adhere to in terms of your own style?
MZ: Style is not definitional. When people ask me, ‘How do I get better style?' it’s really not about shopping, clothes, nor consumerism – it’s really about building your own character as an individual. Clothes don’t have to be expensive or made by a designer. If you yourself aren’t comfortable with your clothes, or comfortable in your skin, then why? It’s really just self-expression. Clothes are an extension of you. That’s my perspective. That’s why it’s okay for your style to evolve. As you grow as a woman, physically even, it’s important to embrace yourself and just be open to changing.
What is your approach to self-confidence and self-worth on a daily basis?
MZ: If I’m confident in what I’m doing and in my work, and if my own opinions are backed by substance and skills that I know I’ve worked really hard for, then I don’t think there’s an issue. It’s very easy to say ‘Oh, you should just be more confident!’ But I’m a natural introvert, but a very trained extrovert. I put myself on stage to overcome my social anxiety, I did debate and public speaking in high school to give myself training. Nobody really comes out of the womb and is really confident about themselves. It’s learned.
In a world where we don’t know what is real and what is not, I think people shouldn’t be intimidated of what they see on social media. That’s only a very small faction of what people’s lives are like. People tell me, ‘Your life is so glamorous, you get to travel so much!’ Well, 0.05% of what I’m actually doing is what I only share. I’m not going to post a photo of me jetlagged!
But I do still find it difficult to separate myself. Sometimes when I’m retouching models’ photos as a photographer, I get self-conscious and think, "Wow, she looks so great." But you have to make sure you’re constantly checking your self-worth and looking after yourself. It can become a slippery slope, but the great thing about this young generation is they know this already, and that gives me hope.
Are you your own worst critic? Or do you go to other people for constructive criticism?
MZ: I’m really a lone wolf in many ways. I operate on my own, because I feel like having too many outside influences can be a bad thing sometimes. I always ask my dad and my brother for very non-fashion, non-creative advice, though. You do have people you go to for opinions, but in my experience, I go with my instinct. When I don’t go for my gut, I regret it.
The internet has helped your career. But do you believe there are also moments to switch off from social media?
MZ: Yes. I actually don’t spend time online that much, contrary to what people may think. I post my stuff, I leave, and I have other things to do in my day. The older I get, the more I realise that having face-to-face interactions makes such a difference. You get things done so much more quickly. Also, you don’t need to take photos of everything. The sun will set tomorrow, so I can just appreciate this moment.