While I'm wary of defining myself by what I do, being a writer is so inextricable from who I am that it's hard not to. In any case, I mention that because it's particularly strange when words fail writers. It happens all the time. More often than not, actually. But sometimes it's not that banging-your-head-against-the-table, writer's block sort of thing. Sometimes you're just so in awe, so flummoxed that no words feel right. That's a little bit how I feel when I think about how I met Madi. It was a chance encounter, really, that changed so much. She saw something in me and championed it and has not stopped since. Madi is a lot of things as you'll see in this interview. But most of all, Madi is nothing-held-back passion. An advocate. A leader who leads with the heart and gets the job done with grit. Even all that doesn't feel like it can sum her up accurately. Luckily, even her presence through an email thread is a delectable gift, and I'm so delighted to get to share it with you. Enjoy every morsel.
Madi at Chimera Collective's Headshot Happy Hour
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: First of all how are you?
MADISON SCHILL: Full! Full of feelings, to say the least. Some days they’re positive, thinking about the potential awakening that this could cause for our industry, but most days I am doing my best to establish boundaries, to take care of my body, to try to breathe amidst all the things to be afraid of. It’s “fluid,” as so many in my industry say. It’s such a learning, accepting that we do not know what the future looks like fully, but instead need to get low, go inward, go with that gut. And try to extend that hand out to help others, once we’ve strapped our own seatbelt in.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: You are a creative multi-hyphenate to say the least: a retired model, former writer for ELLE, content strategist, and founder of "baby beauty empire," Su La Po. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like to have had your hands in so many different creative pots? How does that influence your work today?
MADISON SCHILL: Hah! Yes - last year, this list was longer, which scares me to admit. I am high-functioning by design, and tend to work best when able to switch in and out of a few different roles. I’ve noticed that, through this, doing one thing inspires the work of another, which is why I love taking on multiple clients, multiple projects, multiple roles. It makes every project better. For instance: I started writing while modelling, and while writing, was approached to produce a film, and from there…have grown rather obsessed with all the different ways we can tell our stories. With that, however, it’s on me to establish clear boundaries - I’m saying this as someone who had the “good fortune” of burning out often, and intensely, in my early twenties. People will take everything you have if you offer it to them (and you don’t need to drain yourself to be your best self!), so for me, I thrive on diverse, quick work, deep and trusting relationships, and not being afraid to outsource if necessary. Also, looking at saying no as a “not yet” has been a powerful shift for me: It’s allowed me to sustainably, slowly grow enthusiastic ecosystems before jumping head-first, like what I’m seeing with Su.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: Tell us more about Su La Po!
MADISON SCHILL: My baby! Su La Po is the French phonetic spelling of “Under The Skin,” in French, which combines my conviction for going deeper with my true love for France - the place in which my original understanding of skincare was born. It’s at its base, a beauty platform that acts as a vessel for the bigger questions: Why do we feel obligated to “cover up,” what is it about parabens that scares us so much, etc. We host events in the same vein, called #SuSchool sessions - where people come together, focus on one topic of skincare or wellness, and understand the basics, with the help of an expert in that field. I’m also finalizing the development of something that’s sort of like a Violet Grey for people our age - it’s the product of two years of research, consumer testing, and love. More on this will be announced soon!
My bigger picture for Su is endless, but I see it growing into an even larger ally for young women, present, past and future. One dream of mine is to develop a Su policy wing, and to work with media production houses to help producers and screenwriters understand the nuances of harmful beauty standards. I just can’t wait.
Madi at HBFace, covering their launch for Su La Po. Photo by Jérémie Dupont
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: How has this crisis impacted your work - both at your day job at Chimera Collective and at Su?
MADISON SCHILL: At CC, we’ve absolutely felt it. Our founder Courtney Khimji wrote an incredibly powerful public letter several weeks ago, and we’ve all been incredibly open with the challenges we (and virtually every other small business) are facing. I’ve said this often, but the culture at our agency is the most positive, familial, and supportive I have ever - and will ever, I’m sure - see in public relations and beyond. Our team is resilient, and built to come out of situations like this even stronger. We’ve even started sharing weekly doses of joy in a new newsletter format, called Vitamin CC - an extension of the pro bono work we’re also doing for those in need locally. So yes, things are hard right now - but we will get through this. It’s just how we are.
With Su, I’ve ironically found extra time to focus, finesse, consider. This could very well be the little Phoenix from the ashes moment; the positive glimmer of hope in dark times. We launched our new podcast last week, and I’m working with freelancers to finalize the next steps for the platform. Just one foot in front of the other, on both fronts.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: Do you have any WFH ground rules that are helping you stay sane?
MADISON SCHILL: GET DRESSED. EVERY DAY! And of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t stay stick to that skincare routine. At the end and beginning of every day, it is the one definitive thread that opens and closes my workdays. I’ve also made it a habit to get my coffee ready the night before - it ensures I’m out of bed when I need to be, and excited for something.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: In general: how do you cultivate creativity?
MADISON SCHILL: I experience as much as possible. Now, of course, experiences are limited to what we have within our own four walls, but I make a habit of speaking with someone new every day via Zoom, listening to my body when it says it’s in need of movement (this can often feel like self-parenting, but to me, it’s kept me consistently sane), and turning my phone off, sitting in a corner, and reading. Just getting lost in another perspective. That is so key.
Madi and the Chimera Collective Team on set at Neophyte's Collection One Shoot
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: You are a community-driven storyteller. More and more I’m seeing brands engaging more with their communities - say by doing pop ups or events or even using more user-generated content. I’m wondering, as someone who has a foot in the back end of PR and your own company, how you think that approach is shaping the industry? Where do you see it going? Is this just a trend or a movement that’s just getting started?
MADISON SCHILL: I think some brands will 100% burn themselves out if they haven’t resourced properly for these sorts of initiatives. Especially working on digital, you’ll see people that are reactive, posting things that they can’t maintain adequately to keep up with the new normal / shift to social, and brands that freeze, taking too long to respond to the changing landscape. From this, on a spectrum that ranges between the startup with a lot of energy and the big, old dogs that require massive re-orgs to keep up, we will see nimble, financially-savvy companies that actually, consistently, work with their consumer... rise. Community engagement can be daily, personal Instagram stories, it can be a full-tilt global summit, but it should be diversified. And it should be authentic - aka your digital marketing team and/or agency should care about your brand and the story it’s telling, and as a brand founder, it is important to trust and let them into the fold. At the end of the day, brands that work with - and believe in - their communities, and trust that data to drive their growth, will be the brands that win.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: You clearly love engaging with your followers - gifting them not only with your vulnerability but light heartedness as well. I adore your daily dance party reminders and Take What You need stories. Does that fill your cup as much as it does others? Could you talk a little bit about that exchange between you and your community?
MADISON SCHILL: It truly does. I don’t know how, but over the past ten years, about 90% of my best, closest friends have come from Instagram. Specifically DMs via Su, or emails from contributors who naturally became part of my circle. Whatever this teaches us, I’m not sure yet, but what I’ve learned so far is that when in doubt, just lead with honestly. The right people will come and go. And this way, too, being active on Instagram, for me, is not exhausting. It is just an extension of living. And I love that.
Madi at HBFace, covering their launch for Su La Po. Photo by Jérémie Dupont
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: Let me round this off with three rapid fire questions, beginning with: if you could save five beauty products out of your apartment what would they be?
MADISON SCHILL: Biologique Recherche P50, Caudalie Vinopure skin perfecting serum, Biossance Vitamin C + rose serum, Sanoflore crème de nuit magnifica, and Consonant’s Hydrextreme sheet masks. That was hard.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: What are you indulging in lately?
MADISON SCHILL: Reading! I’m reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle (EVERYONE MUST READ IT), along with a few fiction books for spice. Also, I’ve moved home for this social distancing period, and haven’t spent this much time with my parents since before moving out at 17. It’s been a true silver lining in all of this, to have someone to talk to, and it reaffirms yet again how great my parents are.
NEOPHYTE JEWELS: Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
MADISON SCHILL: Right now, I’m keeping things open, fluid and easy. These are crazy times, so I’m not holding onto any expectations too tightly.