Maggie Austin

“Our max is 8-10 cakes a year,” says 36-year-old Maggie Austin. Yes, you read that right. Cake-baker to the privileged few (the Obamas and Blake Lively are the only publicly known names), she’s in the business of quality, not quantity. With each creation taking weeks of prep work (and an $8,000 minimum), they’re closer to art than to food. “I would never call myself a chef,” she says. “I’d say I’m an artist and this just happens to be my medium.” After an injury left the former ballerina in a career cul-de-sac, she enrolled in Chicago’s famous French Pastry School, redirecting her perfectionism—“I’m a control freak”—into the painstaking but satisfying art of making sugar flowers. Just two weeks after launching, a call from The Today Show catapulted her to fame. “To say we hit the ground running would be a huge understatement.”

How would you describe what you do?
I design cakes and sugar flowers. I also teach students all over the world and my book was just published!

 

How did you get your start?
My sister and I started Maggie Austin Cake in 2010, focusing on sugar flowers. Once the website launched, the blogs picked it up and we went viral! Two weeks later, I got a call from The Today Show and things really took off from there. To say we hit the ground running would be a huge understatement.

 

What was your own wedding cake like?
I couldn't afford my own wedding cake! I chose one from the local grocery store instead and we left it on the Styrofoam plate. I love cheap cake. Luckily, my clients don’t.

 

What did you want to be "when you grew up”?
I was a professional ballet dancer before an injury ended my career, and I have found that background translates well to what I'm doing now. The discipline and attention to detail is the same.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
I hate saying no! We made the choice to limit our volume so that I can give every project my full creative focus. That means turning down many opportunities, which is difficult.

 

What is the best advice you ever received?
There is no such thing as "perfect". For me, that has translated into my philosophy of embracing the imperfections. A torn petal is all the more beautiful for its flaw.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
Minimalist with a dose of whimsy. I like having a simple uniform and a comfortable and classic black dress is my go-to.

 

Name 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
Patience, persistence and more patience.

 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
It was an honor to create decorations for the White House Christmas celebrations in 2013 and 2014. It was a surreal experience and one that I will treasure forever.

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Alix Strauss

"People love to talk about their weddings,” says native New Yorker Alix Strauss. Which is lucky because, as a freelance contributor to The New York Times (among other publications and magazines), it’s part of her “job” to write about them. Coming in at over 1600 words a piece, Strauss’ reportage for the "Vows" section—witty vignettes of Manhattan’s best love stories—is a far cry from the glossy puff piece or dry announcement. "I try to get as close as possible to everyone and everything,” she explains, something that has meant joining the groom at the doctor’s office (he was getting “Brotox”) as well as attending the actual event itself. How does she pick her couples? Certainly not by breeding. "I’m looking for an interesting story. Something unique, or quirky or lovely or unusual or epic.” Crafting what so many of us read over coffee on a Sunday morning is harder work than it may seem (Strauss is currently finalizing her fifth book, launching a new website and working on four stories simultaneously)—though the people she meets and the places her job takes her make it all worth it. Says Strauss, “I get to experience the world a little differently than the rest of the population.”

As a child, what did you want to be "when you grew up"?
For a very long time my focus was on acting and musical theater (my mother jokes that I came out of the womb singing). In the mid-90s I wrote a play, and by the 2nd or 3rd draft it was clear that I was a better writer than an actor.

 

What do you love most about your job?
I get to meet extraordinary people, cover some of the most unusual happenings, witness crazy events, meet celebrities…and I get to experience the world a little differently than the rest of the population.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
There’s the constant hustle. Stories get killed. Your favorite editors leave. Very often what you think is a brilliant idea someone else does not. You have to learn to juggle, to not get overwhelmed and to plan ahead.

 

What was the best advice you ever received?
Just because you're given an opportunity doesn't mean it's a good one. And always consider the source of where your advice or comment is coming from.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
I love a pair of jeans and a white shirt with a little British funk thrown in for good measure. If I could run around Hermès with an empty cart and the opportunity to fill it with free items from the store that would be heaven for me. If Jonathan Adler ever decides to make a line of clothing I would be his first customer.

 

Name 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
Resourceful, clever, and creative.

 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
They say your first novel is like your first child, especially if you don't have any children, so The Joy of Funerals was a mammoth achievement for me. As was my first piece for The New York Times which coincided with my first feature in Marie Claire, both of which came out in December of 1999.

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Cynthia Cook Clements

“I’ve been styling my friends and colleagues for what feels like forever,” says Clements, who founded her bridal consulting company just last year after a dream job at Vogue surrounded her with society weddings—not to mention the gorgeous dresses (and women!) that they starred. One such bride was Laura Vassar (of Brock Collection), who had a surprise wedding in Newport Beach. “It was perfectly authentic and romantic,” Clements writes from Paris, where she’s attending a final fitting with French couturier Delphine Manivet. This time the dress is for her own upcoming nuptials, a “laid-back” affair in Nantucket. Surely she’s taken a break from her brides to focus on herself? Not Clements, who’s juggled up to twelve weddings at one time before. As she says, “organization is key.”

How did you get your start?
I spent so much time helping friends decide what to wear to weddings (their own or others') that it seemed a no-brainer to turn this into a career.

 

Do people “get” your job?
I think anyone who has had to deal with bridesmaid dresses, or mother-of-the-bride dresses, or the stress of finding their own outfits for the big day certainly understands what I’m doing!

 

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to work in fashion and I knew I wanted to work at Vogue from an early age. It was quite surreal to have my dream come true so early on in my life.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
Bad wedding dresses!

 

What was the best advice you ever received?
Anna (Wintour… is there any other?) was the one who encouraged me to start my own company. I learned so much working for her, particularly the importance of being extremely decisive. She has an impeccable eye and killer instinct and she trusts both of these implicitly; I’d like to think that I emulate these same skills.

 

How do you define success?
By pictures of the groom when he sees his bride walk down the aisle: his expression says it all.

 

Name 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
You have to be organized, patient and creative.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
I’m a California girl so I gravitate towards bright colors and florals and mixing prints and patterns. I have multiple sweaters from Brock Collection which I layer over everything from jeans to dresses. They look polished and professional while still keeping me warm.

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Mindy Weiss

“Most people describe me as a wedding or event planner, which is technically true,” says 54-year-old Mindy Weiss. “But I like to say I bring ideas to life.” Planning (and successfully pulling off) America’s greatest weddings requires her to operate at the highest level. First, there’s the glitzy clientele (Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi are but two of the Hollywood names on the long list of A-listers). Then, there’s the hefty price tag. Services reportedly start at $50,000 (and that’s just the consultancy fee) and have been known to soar well into the six figures. Unsurprisingly, most productions require colossal teams (the current record stands at 221 staff members). When Weiss isn’t busy orchestrating fabulous parties, she’s sharing tips pulled from her twenty-five-plus years of experience, writing best-selling books (three so far) and running her successful stationary company—something that harkens back to her very first job. “I worked at a stationary store and designed all sorts of invitations. From there, I got into party planning—and the rest is history!”

How would you describe what you do?
I’m an event planner extraordinaire.

 

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mom that decorated houses on the side.

 

How did you get your start?
I actually got my start in stationary. I worked at a stationary store and then started a stationary company with my best friend. We designed all sorts of invitations. From there, I got into party planning.

 

What do you love most about your job?
Every event is different, so I get to be creative in a new way.

 

What do you dislike about your job?
It can be exhausting.

 

What was the best advice you ever received?
Be patient, work hard and good things will come.

 

What would you advise someone today?
Always keep your sense of humor.

 

How would you describe your personal style?
Timeless, with a touch of whimsy. An easy to wear but sophisticated black dress is my go-to. Something I can change into in a bathroom stall after doing event set-up all day!

 

Name 3 characteristics required to do your job well.
Patience, listening skills, and a sense of humor.

 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
Despite all the high profile events I’ve done, my greatest achievement was planning my son’s wedding...and seeing how happy he was at the end. “Earthy elegance” was what we called it. The whole event was very true to them as a couple. It wasn’t overly formal, it took place in a book bindery (they love books), and we even set up a beer garden!

 

How do you define success?
Feeling good about your work at the end of each day.

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