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Ivy Ross

A designer, artist, marketer and cultural catalyst finds inspiration in sound and pattern

by Meghan Killeen in Design on 02 June 2011

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In a corporate world of sales and strategies, marketing maverick Ivy Ross opts instead to chart success with an approach that has pioneered paradigm shifts in advertising. From spearheading covert creative operations for Mattel to stirring up merchandising mojo for Gap's iconic 'Black Magic, Black Pants' ad campaign, Ross fuels concepts through 'mental grazing'; a term coined by Ross to describe a creative diet of inspiration and rumination. "I believe that, just like a computer doesn't give us output without input, we as creative people need to take new information in before we can generate something unique."

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To innovate change in marketing methodology, Ross turned to her own experience as a jeweler. Influenced by her father—an industrial designer who worked for the famed Raymond Loewy—Ross began to notice geometric patterns in lighting fixtures; an acute awareness, which later translated into many of her custom, crafted pieces. "[My father] taught me to how look at things and see them for beyond what they appear to be."

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Initially attracted to fashion, Ross attended the Fashion Institute of Technology where she majored in Art and minored in Psychology. "I loved studying where society and fashion was going and figuring out the materials and the details that would be right for the times," reflects Ross. Drawn to the versatility of accessories, Ross created eclectic jewelry designs that explored new ideas in jewelry-making, such as using interwoven threads of iridescent Tantalum to create a fabric-like effect. Ross' designs quickly garnished attention, including that of a Bergdorf Goodman jewelry buyer who presented Ross with a $60,000 purchase order on the spot for one of her designs, financing her burgeoning jewelry business and leading to the eventual placement of her work as a part of the permanent collections of 12 international museums, including London's Victoria and Albert Museum and the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City.

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Ross' early entrepreneurial spirit and design savvy laid the foundation for her transition into the mass-market retail world as a brand development innovator spurning a fast-track career that included such formidable titles as Vice President of Design for Bausch & Lomb and President of Calvin Klein's Men's Accessories division. Channeling such diversified interests as sound vibration and quantum physics along with her own artistic leanings, Ross began to infuse her corporate roles with a creative sensibility and vision indicating that "often in companies we spend all of our time 'anniversary-ing' the realities versus thinking about the possibilities."

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In 2001, Ross began to create a new toy as Senior VP of Product Design and Development for the Girls Division of Mattel. For the toy to be compelling, the creative team behind it had to be equally dynamic. Inspired by the clandestine Skunkworks project of Lockheed Martin fame, Ross created a new species of guerrilla ideation called 'Project Platypus'; a befitting moniker based on a creature that is described as "an uncommon mix of different species." Ross assembled a 12 member team with varying skill sets from different departments and brought in outside speakers such as an improv comedian and a Jungian analyst. The team met during off hours in a separate studio space. Ross also experimented with sound vibrations, by playing music that vibrated at a custom frequency to induce heightened states of creativity during the meetings. "I find that if we can all be on the same wavelength, you can spiral to new ideas together a lot quicker," states Ross.

Ross continues to turn corporate culture on its head as the current Creative Catalyst at Gap, Inc. following her position as the EVP of Marketing for Gap.

Ross will be speaking at Brand ManageCamp Conference in Las Vegas October 4-5 2011.

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