Meet the MUSE: Chiara Mazzucco | New York | Milan
Meet our MUSE from MILAN, Chiara Mazzucco. This italian beauty proves that she isn’t just a pretty face. In this exclusive interview she opens up about her first american memory, the struggles of starting her own business while being a single mother and the moment she decided to live the life of an “INDIE CHICK”. #CHECKIT #theMUSEdiaries
HAUTE STREET: Tell us about yourself. Where you grew up, siblings, family, friends, dreams, traditions, etc.
CHIARA MAZZUCCO: I grew up in a wonderfully open-minded household of do-it-yourselfers. I woke up every morning being pushed to educate myself, question authority, and to never take life so seriously, most of which I’ve adopted as general life mantras. The majority of my life was spent in a magical little home in West Hollywood; a place filled with cats, dogs, and family friends coming for dinner, card games, and viewings of my dad’s movies. My brother and I moved here with my parents, while my older sister stayed in Italy to finish school. Now that my entire family moved back to Italy and I moved to New York, I treasure those memories and am so grateful they built such a foundation for my definition of happiness. I will accept nothing less than my household becoming a circus of laughter, creativity, and inspiration for every guest.
HS: When did you move to the states? Tell us about that experience.
CM: I moved here February 20th, 1994. The first thing I remember was opening my eyes as we were leaving LAX and seeing a gigantic donut (courtesy of the iconic Randy’s Donuts). “This is America?” I asked my dad. “Yup, this is America.”
I had a bowl cut and a unibrow, wore leotards, and didn’t speak a word of English. Mean girls tried to get me to go into the boys bathroom, while assuring me that in America the color blue meant for girls, and I would go home frustrated with the English language. “Pretend you have a hamburger in your mouth. It’ll help the words not come out so crisp,” my dad would say.
HS: What is the hardest part about starting your life here in the states?
CM: Being a kid is hard in general. Remove verbal communication and you’re left with hand signals and facial expressions, neither of which is well developed at the tender age of 7. Not only that, but the culture shock was unbelievable. Growing up in Milan I had made friends with the Nigerian man who sold bracelets on my corner, but aside from that I wasn’t used to seeing people that were much different than I was. I was also so young, I wasn’t really looking for it.
HS: And what was the best part?
CM: The adventure. My dad was the only one who spoke English, so we would have lessons and he’d tell me stories and secrets on how to remember things like ‘Wed-nes-day’. It was a big bonding thing for my family. It also prepared me for the discomfort of starting new jobs or going to a new school, because let’s face it, feeling like an outsider happens to everyone, many times, in many situations.
HS: What is a piece of advice that has kept you going and growing?
CM: “No matter what you go through in life, you’re the only one guaranteed to be in it.”
It’s helped me redirect the focus to me when I have most needed it. A broken heart can easily make you feel like your entire world is shattered for good, so what do you do? You remind yourself that even soul mates are just visitors on your path and that you alone walk it. Nurture yourself and direct the energy where it’s needed most.
HS: Can you tell us about a life changing moment that you’ve experienced?
CM: I have had many life changing moments, but none have played as big of a role into my ‘today’ as the moment I was raped by my boyfriend when I was 15. Yes, it changed my life and my definition of sex and had, and continues to have, an impact on my relationships. However, it’s the reason I started blogging. It’s the reason I wrote a book. It’s the reason I went through the transformation I went through that led me to start The Indie Chicks and lead a movement of self-empowerment. So really, its impact was much greater, and better, than anything I could have ever imagined.
HS: How did that Change you?
CM: For the better. After him, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and the two combined made me hide into an empty shell for the better part of my high school years. The day came I could no longer handle the darkness and I decided to change. I created an ideal version of myself - a badass, don’t you dare think you’re worthy of breaking me - and I devoted an entire year to becoming her. One day, I was her, and from that day on, she’s been the foundation of strength for every single struggle I have faced in my life.
HS: When did you get your first Tattoo?
CM: I was 15, in Italy, and my tattoo artist cousin who is covered head-to-toe did it. My mom held my hand while he placed a pretty little butterfly, representing femininity, on my shoulder, representing strength.
HS: How many do you have?
CM: I have 5 now and am working on a sleeve for my left arm.
HS: What is the most significant meaning?
CM: I have a band around my left arm that says, “The Universe Beside Me.” It means that no matter what I go through in life, I have the biggest support system by my side.
HS: You lived in Los Angeles for some time - what made you want to take the leap and move to New York?
CM: My ex-husband and I had just had our son and my family decided to move back to Italy. We wanted him to have family near, so we moved to New York where Jason’s parents live. Though we’ve since split, moving across the country was a great move for both of our businesses and Luca, our son, has a beautiful and special relationship with his grandparents.
HS: When and why did you decide to start the indie chicks?
CM: The idea came up in February of 2012 and the site launched in May, so we’ve been up and running a little over 2 years. As a dating blogger, a lot of what I was writing on my personal blog was tailored to the individual and the concept of self-improvement and self-analysis came up a lot in my advice. I realized there was a real need to target the self and decided the best way to do so was to put together some of the best women writers on the web and start a movement.
HS: What has been one of your biggest challenges when starting a company like this?
CM: Anyone with an online presence knows how hard it is to get noticed. You may have a great idea for a website, but when you’re competing with big sites overpowering the web for a reader’s attention, it makes it pretty hard to get your site noticed. Gathering writers, doing brand outreach, hyping up the launch, and building something that would actually retain visitors was a lot to juggle with such a small team. Finding balance and learning to prioritize was definitely a start-up challenge.
HS: What has been your biggest motivation?
CM: Once we started getting positive feedback for the website, there was no going back. Every email that begins with, “Your website helped me…” or, “Because of you, I…” motivates me to keep going, be better, and give more. Building something I can tell my son I started building when he was a baby motivates me. My partners and my entire team motivate me. My reflection in the mirror motivates me. I can’t stop now. I have to keep going.
HS: Who is a woman who has inspired you in your lifetime to become the woman you are today?
CM: I have been inspired, one way or another, by most women in my life, with my sister and my mother being the two most consistent players in inspiring me to develop my heart. A lot of my teachers and college professors have pushed me to develop my mind. Random women I have met, at various stages of their careers, have inspired me to develop a career path. I choose to absorb and be inspired by as many people as possible.
HS: What is a piece of advice you could give your 20 year old self?
CM: “Keep going, listen to yourself. You’re on the right path. Every bit of doubt you’re feeling is coming from the right place.”
I was about 20 when I started giving in to the doubt that what I was told was supposed to be my life - college, husband, white picket fence and 2.5 kids- was actually not for me. I truly believe we’re a lot more self-aware at a much younger age than we give ourselves credit for. So my advice would be to give in to that self-awareness.
HS: Where do you see the indie chicks 5 years from now?
CM: Louder. I think we’re really on to something because we’re feeding into a woman’s real need. Our brand is about focusing on the inner sense of self. We’re about empowering the person you are those 5 seconds you first wake up in the morning, before you become someone’s mother, wife, lover, or business partner. We all have a core that needs to be nourished. We’re tapping into as many microphones as possible so we can get our message to more people. So in 5 years, I expect us to be bigger, better, and most of all, louder.
HS: Finish these sentences…
CM: If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…. Working with apes. My second love is evolutionary psychology and I’m obsessed with primate behavior.
If I could have one super power for a day, it would be… Clone myself so I could get more done.
The most spectacular thing that I have ever witnessed is… Holding my son for the first time and him opening his eyes to search for me the second I said hello and introduced myself as his new mommy.
HS: What is something that most people don’t know about you?
CM: That I fall in love a little bit with everyone I meet, men and women, even if I never see them again.
HS: We all have embarrassing moments - can you tell us about your #1 most embarrassing?
CM: I broke a guy’s sink by sitting on it once. Seemed like a good idea at the time until I was drenched in water, standing in a flooded bathroom, and the guy never wanted to see me again.
HS: How do you choose a cover girl?
CM: One thing that sets us apart from other women magazines is the fact we keep our readers involved in everything we do. We hold nominations open for about a week per issue and then we choose from that selection. Our cover girls have to be active in their community and be an inspiration, one way or another. Our cover girls are not models, they are brand ambassadors who represent the brand and have the ability to inspire and motivate our readers to become the best versions of themselves.
HS: Who is the indie chick reader and why is she so “bad-ass”?
CM: An Indie Chick is a self-empowered woman. Whether she’s a stay at home mom, a single 20-something or a devoted career woman, she’s committed to being the best version of herself and not letting anything stop her on her path in life. She’s a woman whose ability to tap into her inner badass makes her unstoppable.
HS: Tell us about your partners. How you guys came to be.
CM: We’ve had a few women come and go with the company, but the three current partners have held on strong for about a year. Julie, our VP and Senior Editor, has been with the company since about 2 months after we launched and Chrystal, our President and COO, has been with us for about a year. I brought both on with the exact same approach: I told them to trust me, that I had something great, and that I needed them to be a part of it. One is in North Carolina and the other near Philly, so we meet virtually every week and get together as often as possible.
HS: What is a piece of advice you can give women who are starting their own companies?
CM: Find mentorship in everyone you know. I think a big mistake we make is think we need to seek out mentorship specific to our field, but one thing I’ve learned is that mentors invest in people, not ‘concepts’ or ‘ideas’. Ask as many questions as you can, even if you’re outside sharing a cigarette at a party. The absorption of information from experienced individuals will get you further than any textbook can. Oh, and network, network, network.
HS: And advice about going into business with partners?
CM: Don’t forget you’re all people, with personal lives. The number one advice you get is to keep friendship and business separate, but I’ve found that advice to create more trouble than anything. Be conscious that running a business is a part of your lives and that there will be times, no matter how hard you try to keep them separate, that your personal life will cross over. Learning to be sensitive to that, especially throughout the start-up phase, is crucial to developing a strong, respectful, long-term relationship with your partners. You just have to know when to draw the line.
HS: Where is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to and why?
CM: As a single mom entrepreneur, I don’t get to travel much, though I am grateful to have spent so much time in Italy. The culture changes so much depending on where you are in the country, that it’s easy to feel you’re visiting different worlds. It’s pretty magical.
HS: Where is your next travel destination?
CM: Right before I met my now ex-husband, I had bought a one way ticket to Italy. From there, I was planning on going to Spain, Buenos Aires, and Australia. I didn’t know how I’d bounce from one place to another, but I knew I wanted to visit them all. I still plan to, in whatever order it happens.
HS: Tell us about growing up in Milan?
CM: I had some pretty spectacular friends growing up in Milan, many of whom are still in my life today. We went to tennis summer camp together, even after I moved to the States, and kept in touch throughout the year. There was a lot of ice cream, bike riding, and late night dancing with cute italian boys in town. My dad was a director, my mom a model, and my uncle in theatre, so most of my memories are a mixture of lifestyles.
HS: One thing that all of our Muses have in common is their need/want to give back to the communities and to their passion projects. Can you tell us about your passion project?
There are so many causes that are near and dear to my heart. Right now I’m looking to get involved in campaigning for self-esteem amongst our youth, and against bullying. I was bullied pretty badly growing up, and seeing what it’s doing to teenagers now, with the aid of social media, is absolutely terrifying. Children are committing suicide because of it. I want to be able to offer more than, “It gets better.” Growing up is hard enough without being a target for someone else’s abuse, but unfortunately bullying is common and no amount of campaigning is going to put a stop to it. What we can do is invest in strengthening them from within, so that they are strong enough to fight against it.