Coffee, Art and Sky-High Heels with Dena Blevins, Starbucks Creative Director | Professional Opinion
“Dress for the job you want,” they say. Instead, we’re dressing those who already have jobs we covet for our fashion series, Professional Opinion. And while we’re at it, we asked these talented women for some career and style advice. (We know how to show initiative!)
Nothing is as inspiring as an inspired person. Speaking with someone who has clearly been bitten by an idea is infectious.
In some ways, this is how a good creative director works, with enthusiasm and experience, guiding hands and minds. Chatting with Starbucks creative director of global promotions, Dena Blevins, over decaf grande americanos at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle, we learned how teamwork and feedback—from coworkers and customers—inform the worldly vision of this coffee empire. Apparently it doesn’t hurt to dress cool too.
Tell us about the type of projects you work on at Starbucks?
My team ideates and implements all the signage and paper goods you see in our stores seasonally. We work very closely with our marketing team to develop creative that not only aligns to business strategies and objectives, but also inspires a sense of the season when you walk into our stores.
For example, if you walked into a Starbucks today you’d see our winter promotion up in our stores—[we’re] focusing on espresso artistry with the Latte Macchiato, Flat White and Smoked Butterscotch Latte. We told that story through beautifully illustrated beverages on slate backgrounds with hand-rendered typography. It feels handcrafted and authentic—like our beverages.
You told me that working at Starbucks means that you’re always getting feedback wherever you go.
Yes, people are so passionate and emotionally connected with our brand—I love it! When people find out where I work, they always have something to say. Such as … “You better not ever change the blueberry scone” … “Did you design the fall cup?” … “When will you have more gluten-free options?” … “When is a Starbucks Evenings store opening in my neighborhood?”
What is an average workday like for you?
First of all, I have to say I feel so fortunate to work in such a creative and inspiring environment. There are so many talented people at Starbucks that encourage and push each other every day.
My day is very meeting heavy—from creative concept presentations to reviews of creative work in progress to approvals of final ink drawdowns. My projects are always in various stages. Right now I am working on every seasonal promotion except for winter and spring—globally. We are in the middle of holiday, summer and fall for FY17 … from concept development in some promotions to prepress and final production in others. When working with our global markets, that translates into early morning meetings or late meetings due to the time differences.
Halogen® button detail jumpsuit | Vince Camuto belted soft trench | MALONE SOULIERS Maureen pointy toe pump | five and two Dante chain Y-necklace | Topshop brushed earrings | BaubleBar Bam crystal cuff
What do you usually wear to work?
My style is eclectic. So much of what I wear is reflective of my mood or interests at the time. I love to shop and I love to travel. I am a purveyor of culture and want my clothing to reflect that a bit.
I grew up in the late ’70s and have a great appreciation for hippie chic, e.g., wide-leg pants, hoop earrings, bright prints and platform sandals. That said, I like to combine trendy pieces with more classic silhouettes, like wide-leg trousers and pencil skirts from the ’40s paired with a funky jacket and oversized accessories.
I am lucky because I work in an environment that encourages self-expression and creativity. I have quite a bit of latitude when it comes to my work wardrobe. One day I may wear a maxi skirt with a leather jacket, and the next day I will wear a denim jumpsuit with open-toe sandals. It’s all fair game. Variety keeps it interesting and allows me to express my creativity.
Is there anything that is a wardrobe staple for you?
Wardrobe staples for me are a great pair of black pants—whether they are flared or culottes or fitted, coupled with a fitted, structured top. And then I love layering on a great jacket or a cropped leather piece. I accessorize that with a chunky heel (I am mad for a good wedge!) and then some jewelry that adds texture and style.
Lastly, leather—I love leather in a top, skirt, jacket or vest—if it has some fur accents, all the better.
Has your style evolved over time?
Somewhat—I am definitely inspired by current trends and travel, but I’ve always had an eclectic style, and I’ve always mixed vintage pieces in—or retro-inspired pieces. I’ve always felt that jewelry can add so much to finish a look.
And I’ve always loved leather. If it’s leather, it never leaves my closet when it’s time to clean it out. There are some things I just won’t wear anymore because … well, I’m not 25 anymore. So goodbye miniskirts, short shorts and midriff-baring tops.
How do folks at Starbucks headquarters dress?
Every which way, but I must say in my department, the Global Creative Studio, we are a very chic bunch. We have so many people with amazing style—creative minds that really love fashion and expressing their creativity through their wardrobe. It’s another part of my job that makes me appreciate where I work. My VP has the most amazing shoe and eyewear collection—I’m talking Gucci studded loafers and Prada frames. Honestly, some of the women and men in our studio look like they’ve just walked off the pages of The Sartorialist.
How would you describe your work environment?
Creative, innovative, casual and always on. When you arrive at work in the morning at Starbucks headquarters, you hit the ground running, and you typically don’t stop until you leave at the end of the day. It is fast moving, it is inspired and artistic, and we play nice. We have a lot of respect and love for each other.
As you walk down the aisles in the studio there are people painting, drawing, carving out a linocut—art is being created. Artistry and authenticity have always been such a big part of our brand. It’s what made me fall in love with the brand in the first place and want to work for Starbucks. Also, in our studio, we have music playing almost all the time—we have a central dock and everyone puts in their iPod or iPhone and we listen to everything from ’80s rock to Q-Tip to Dusty Springfield. Oh, and there’s coffee—lots and lots of coffee. We have pour-over stations tucked mid-aisle, grinders, scales; we are surrounded by coffee passion. It smells amazing.
Do you have any career advice you’d freely dispense?
Ask for feedback, from your peers, from your boss–it’s an invaluable learning tool!
Believe in yourself the way your best friend believes in you; through that lens you can realize how much you have achieved, how much you have to offer. When my best friends talk about me, or what they see as my strengths and achievements, I grow about four feet taller!
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Women earn less than men, still. It’s 2016. Ask for what you’re worth. Know the best time to negotiate salary is when you’re hired. Don’t forget to ask about other benefits: do you get stock options? What about the 401k contribution? What is the growth path in your position? Are there women on their leadership team? That is one of the things that drew me to Starbucks, seeing so many smart, successful women in leadership.
Also, recognize when things aren’t working and think about how you can improve it, or use that to inform what you want in your next job. You can be the most amazing person but be on the wrong team. I always think about this with professional sports: An athlete may flail on one team and then switch teams and be on top.
You studied art. Do you have a favorite artist? A favorite style of art?
I love modern art. Picasso. Matisse. Basquiat. Modigliani. This last summer I was fortunate enough to see some incredible exhibits at several museums: The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Foundation Louis Vuitton (designed by Frank Gehry) in Paris, and Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. All had such inspiring collections and in architecturally significant buildings.
Two contemporary artists that I find so inspiring are George Condo and Kehinde Wiley. George Condo had an exhibit at the New Museum in New York a few years ago—it was spectacular. You can clearly see where all his influences come from and then how he twists and turns them to make them his own. Kehinde Wiley’s work is stunning, strong portraits against wildly patterned, colorful backdrops. He has a show right now at the Seattle Art Museum; I can’t wait to check it out.
Do you still make art in your free time?
Free time is split between my son, great friends, painting, house projects, traveling and working out. I love to paint. I typically have a canvas going at all times. [Pictured is a portrait Dena did of her beloved dog Daisy.] I love all things mid-century modern, so am inspired in decorating, styling, adding pieces to my mid-century modern home. Yoga is a big part of my fitness routine, and I try to take a Vinyasa flow yoga class two to three days per week. We have a full gym at Starbucks with the best barre class. If I can make two yoga classes and two barre classes a week, I am golden.
Art direction: Steve Kennevan
Photography: Kristian Marson
Styling: Margaret Jones
Hair and makeup: Shannon Rasheed
Copy: Britt Olson