Art Directing 101 @thegracemattei

In the first rush of fashion week, we found a few minutes to sit down with Grace Mattei (@thethegracemattei), an Arizona-based designer whose feed is a glorious bastion of pinkish-gold sunshine. Here, she discusses the hurdles of starting your own projects online, curating your own visual brand, and the creative work she’s done since pushing through the tough stuff.


How did your Instagram life come about?

Well, it first came about around 2012, when I was very into grainy-blurry-overly-textured selfies with, like, my dad. I started my fashion blog in 2013, after we’d moved to Phoenix, after much hesitation. I didn’t really have the means at the time to do it right— my husband was just starting out with film, so my photos weren’t great, I didn’t really have the budget for clothes. It was a huge learning process, and the blog fizzled out eventually, it was quite frustrating and time-consuming.

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Guys. You know what’s crazy? The FOMO and jealousy that we all get on instagram (let’s just admit it 😉). I feel like so often we look at these teeny little glimpses of other people’s lives and think “Their life is so much cooler / easier / better than mine / etc!” Well, I’m here to tell you the reality of it all. 👉🏼 More often than not, behind every cool picture is a shit ton of work, planning, and a ton of not fun and uncool stuff that you don’t see. So let’s just talk a little bit about the ‘reality’ behind blogging for a hot sec! – For example – this picture. Daniel and I had this idea to use some smoke bombs while we were out in the Cali desert. Unfortunately, our tiny house Airbnb took WAY longer to get to than the listing mentioned (a whole nother story for a whole nother time…let’s just say we thought we were going to die 😂🙄), and it was long dark by the time we got there. So to stay on schedule, we ended up having to get up at sunrise for these photos when we had barely slept at all the night before. I couldn’t even see bc my contacts were watering so badly, it was FREEZING, and I burnt myself (AND a hole in my @girlfriendcollective leggings! 😠) several times over from the all sparks flying off of the smoke bombs. And all for one damn shot! – Now FYI, I’m not complaining! I wouldn’t do all of this if overall I didn’t enjoy it, and feel like the pros outweighed the cons. I guess just what I’m saying is – that things aren’t always what they seem. And the next time you wanna judge someone or feel like their life is better than yours, just remember that they’re probably working just as hard as you are – and we should all just give ourselves (and eachother) a little more grace. – What do y’all think – should I write a whole post on the reality behind blogging? Do you have any crazy ‘behind the scenes’ experiences from trying to get the perfect shot? TELL MEEE. Now I’m off to go mend my sad girlfriend leggings that were harmed in the making of this shot. 😂👌🏼🌈

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How would you describe the aesthetic of your feed to someone whose never seen it?

Ooh, boy. I’m on the spot! Well, there’s a lot of pink, and I love peachy tones. I live in Phoenix, so I stopped trying to play around with the cooler tones and stay true to the warmth and brightness of Arizona. I adjust my camera calibration so it automatically bumps the reds up, but then I’ll bring the saturation of the overall image down, and adjust the colors individually— adjust orange luminance for a tan and stuff. 

If you had to list three people whose Instagram feeds vibe with yours, who might they be?

People you probably already know— Jaci Marie Smith (@jacimariesmith)— I love her, she’s from Arizona, too, and I actually met her recently. She’s really really sweet. Alexis McMullin (@alexismaymcmullin). Love her. Also Quiggley (@officiallyquigley). I feel like right now it’s really trendy to go super vintage with photo edits— with  a lot of overlays and grainy textures— but I don’t want to go off the trend too, too far, because then a brand might be hesitant to work with me if I’m be too “different.” Plus, it can feel limiting sometimes.

Totally. Oftentimes brands know exactly what they want— you either find yourself having to make a list of the brands that you would want to work with and cater to their aesthetic, or just do your own thing and hope that the brands that find you are ones you enjoy working with.

Exactly! It’s funny because I worked with Neutrogena as a partner with Ulta a while ago, and I remember they specifically said that I wouldn’t be able to work with any competing brands for thirty days— they singled out Sephora specifically, and when I worked with Sephora later on, I heard the same thing again, this time about Ulta. I didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s funny how the competition works out. 

Would you show us some of the photos you’ve archived?

Yes, of course! [Squeals of glee ensue over photos of Grace’s Pomeranian puppy.] He also has sunglasses. Look, I just put on my wedding dress and took pictures with my dog. I’d still post this… Maybe.

You mentioned your husband takes your pictures…

Yeah, we met in college, I went to Palm Beach Atlantic University, in Florida. It was a small school, literally right on the beach, Really lovely. I wanted to go to fashion school, maybe move to New York, but my mother wasn’t too supportive of that plan, she told me to stick closer to home and I ended up meeting my husband there, so it all worked out I’d say. I had great college experience.

Any good career advice for your followers (and ours)?

I met this girl recently, while I was working on a project for Goodwill with a bunch of other influencers. This girl, just out of high school, told me she wouldn’t be going to college, and that she was nervous about it because nobody has been supportive of her decision. I just told her, straight up, that she doesn’t need to worry, because some pursuits just require passion and drive over a formal education. I love college, I’m not saying anything against— you want to be a doctor, a lawyer? You need that college education. But college as a whole— I don’t believe it’s for everyone. The internet is at everyone’s finger tips. There’s so much teachable information on it. I’m actually a self-taught designer, I never went to school for fashion.