New Fashion Industry Panel Discussion

Moderator: Vivian E. Kelly

[Editor's Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent... and the guilty.]

The Panel:

Gwen -Fashion magazine associate, in the business for 3 years.
Jay - Agent for hair and makeup artists, in the business since 1987.
Andy - Sr. public relations executive, in the business since 1990.
Sharon - Sr. market editor, in the business since 1989.
Eva - Market editor, in the business since 1992.
Jan - Sr. market and sittings editor, in the business since 1991.
Tina - Fashion director, in the business 10+ years

The Discussion:

Q1: WHY ARE SO MANY FASHION EDITORS YOUNG?

Tina: At the publication I worked at, the assistants are hired start fresh out of college. It's often their first job. They are lured in by the status of the publication's name and the idea of working there. In many ways, working at one of the top books is like attending a university for fashion. You start and slave for a year. Generally, you're not held back by a husband and children who make competing demands on your tune. This is a young person's game and you have to have the time to make an unlimited commitment. In fact there is very much a "no babies here" kind of aura that prevails. If you work hard, are totally devoted, and can assimilate to the culture of fashion, you stand a strong chance of being promoted by your second year.

Q2: WHAT IS AN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF LOOKING FOR WHEN THEY'RE HIRING?
Tina: Desirable candidates are girls who can run in high heels, are dedicated and can give 24 hours a day if need be. Kay: A couple of things. Someone who is real and who is not a diva. It is important not to treat people improperly. Someone who has an innate interest in fashion, who" gets it" and has a passion to learn. Age is not so much of an issue, Some of the best editors are those who have been reading, studying and following fashion and the arts all of their lives and have a passion for it Sharon: When an editor in chief is hiring market people, they are looking for someone with a great eye, someone who looks appropriate to the magazine and who has excellent relationships in the market with P.R. people and designers. They should also have great personal style.

Q3: IS IT GOOD OR BAD FOR FASHION TO HAVE THIS CONSTANT INFUSION OF NEW BLOOD?
Eva: Being a fashion editor is a socially demanding job. If you're older and have kids, your priorities change. The job lends itself to someone in their late 20's and early 30's. You can't do it forever. The younger people generally have the time to commit in and out of the office, have the time and energy to attend the endless round of events, parties, dinners that are part of the scene. Jen: Sometimes, it's helpful when I talk to my junior editors. I'm open to listening to their opinions. I'll try something on a model that they suggest and I'll see if it works. It's always good to get their opinions because otherwise I find that I'm working in a vacuum. Also, they're not held back by pitfalls I've fallen into in my past experience and have the courage (and inexperience) to try something I might not otherwise be willing to try again. You never know, it could work the second time around. Gwen: It's both good and bad. What's good is that every now and then, you get some new young people with great ideas who are really creative and who make an impact. What's bad is that the majority becomes socialized and wind up repeating the cycle of working their assistants as hard as they did when they were assistants. It's like freshmen being bossed around by the upperclassmen, kind of. Tina: They are the next generation and they sense the pulse of the trends. They get the feeling from the street and have a real good groove on things: music, restaurants, etc. The downside with the younger set is that sometimes they don't have the expertise just yet or a sense of the history of fashion. For instance, knowing about the way garments are cut.

Q4: DOES A FASHION EDITOR'S CAREER GO IN SYNCH WITH THE CYCLES OF FASHION? HOW LONG IS IT BETWEEN CYCLES?
Eva: Within the fashion cycle, there are smaller cycles. Take platform shoes, they come around every couple of years and then they go away again. Andy: If you were to plot fashion on a graph you would see that there are wide variances, definite highs and lows. Things surface only to become popular again. For the past two season, you keep hearing, "Grey is the new black." We also hoard the same thing six years ago. Forties glamour is another one that keeps popping up, lastly in the spring `94 collections. You know, skinny belts, red lips, etc. Jay: Happily, things are coming back around. The glory days were the eighties. Until a year or two after the stock market crash of 1987, there was still money, fashion was - there were great parties! Ian: Then we had grunge and the artists were doing grunge work and it was gross. Things have recovered a bit but fashion had not gone back to the eighties painted faces and huge hair. Things are more about individuality and people are more accepting of different looks, different, quirkier models, like the guy in the Club Monaco ads. He never would have been hired to do a big campaign like that ten years ago. Sometimes, fashionings do seem repetitious. What keeps it from being boring is that things are done a different way each time. Isaac (Mizrahi) constantly knocks-off old movies and his mother, but updates the collections with new fabrications that keep things interesting. Then on magazine shoots, the clothes are shot on different models and by different photographers which also helps the look from seeming stale and revisited.

Q5: DOES THE INDUSTRY VALUE EDITORS WHO HAVE STAYED FOR A LONG TIME AT ONE PUBLICATION?
Gwen People are not kept on for sentimental reasons or for loyalty. You have to keep going - every day. If you stop, it's noticed and people talk. Andy: Yes, I think they do value veterans. An editor becomes a veteran when their name becomes synonymous with the magazine they work for. You think of the person when you think of the magazine or newspaper, e.g. Bobbi Queen at WWD. Sharon: There are two sides to this. Market contacts value relationships with one person and if the PR contact is happy with you, they love it when you're at the magazine for a while. On the edit side, if you're stuck with the same title for a long time, that's not well regarded. It's OK to stay at one publication for a long time if you keep getting promoted - no easy thing. Liz Tilberis is a case of a market editor who aspired to go further and became editor in chief. Overall though, it's a young business with the exceptions of those special icons like Polly Mellon.

Q6: WHO IS A GREAT MARKET EDITOR, PAST OR PRESENT? Kay: Susan Caimon at Jane and Dorrit Thomas at Allure. They have an understanding of historical references, an eye, and collaborate well with the stylists at their respective magazines. Gwen: Wendy Hirschberg at Vogue, without a doubt. A market editor's job is to cover what is really an enormous market, remember everything, Provide a stylist what they ask for and to be able to speak with designers and creative people on a certain level. She does all of these things. Eva: The two Sashas at Bazaar. They have everything it takes to be a great market person: knowledge of the history of fashion, experience in the market, excellent market relationships and very importantly, they represent the magazine well with the "right" image. It's hard You have to be easy going and have to be able to work with all types of personalities and to go with the flow.

Q7: WHO IS A GREAT STYLIST, PAST OR PRESENT? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST SITTING SHOT IN THE LAST TEN YEARS THAT HAVE HELPED MOVE AMERICAN FASHION FORWARD?
Jay: Back in the late eighties, GQ had some great sittings. Also when Bruce Weber was shooting a lot editorially and after that, his inspirational ad campaigns. Gwen: Grace Coddington! Her sittings take you somewhere. When you open up her pages, you embark on a fantasy and thing to yourself, "I want to be there. I want to be Trish Goff in that English country garden in that fabulous Chanel couture gown." Sharon: Paul Cavaco. I loved his sittings for Harper's Bazaar. Andy: Lucy Sykes at Town & Country. There's a very real but chic approach to what she does Something I've noticed going forward is that more and more designers are acting as stylist and photographer. On the same note, an all time great sitting was shot by designer/stylist/photographer Karl Lagerfeld. Remember that shot of Claude Montana's then wife, Wallis, in a red Bagdley Mishka gown styled to look like the Duchess of Windsor? That was amazing!

Q8: WHAT IS THE LIFE-SPAN OF A FASHION EDITOR? WHAT MAKES IT WORTHWHILE TO STAY IN THE JOB? Kay: Of course it's individual, but I'd say between 10-15 years. Of course, having said that, there are the Polly's and the Grace's who are still in the business and they're still passionate about it. You should be if you're going to keep at it. What's rewarding are those "moments" and they usually happen in Paris. The military Yohji show (Fall'96) gave me the chills! Also, when I sat at Tom Ford's Fall'96 show for Gucci, the one with those white dresses, I knew that was definitely a moment. You think to yourself, this is why I'm in this business Eva: I agree. For me, it was the Fall'95 Marc Jacobs show at the Plaza. I couldn't get that show out of my mind. It really wowed me - the hair, the makeup - everything.

Q9: HOW DOES A FASHION EDITOR STAY IN SYNCH WITH THE CHANGING CYCLES OF FASHION?
Andy: It's key that they keep their eyes open to all of the changes taking place at the fashion houses. For example, all the changes at Byblos in the past few years from the boys to Richard Tyler, to John Bartlett being at the helm. They also need to be out on the town at night to see what people are wearing from Downtown to the tonier uptown set. And now, there's the whole LA thing with the celebrities that they need to stay on top of too. It's a lot to absorb.

Q10: WHEN IS IT TIME TO CALL IT QUITS? Kay: This is a personal issue and different for everyone. Some of us will stay at a magazine for ten years, some for three. Sometimes you'll move for the money. A lot depends on the philosophy of the magazine you're working for, the dynamics with your co-workers, and the creativity you're allowed. The degree of collaboration that exists is extremely important. It's time to get out of the biz when you're not inspired anymore but this can be a catch-22 if you need to make a living. Gwen: You know you need to leave when you look at the masthead and can't see a job you want, when you don't want to go the extra mile for that special skirt.

Q11: WHERE DOES A FASHION EDITOR GO AFTER THEY'VE STOPPED BEING AN EDITOR? DO THE MAJORITY STAY IN THE INDUSTRY?
Jay: I think if you've been in this Industry for over ten years, you're a lifer. You find another job in the business. Eva: Once people start a family, they want to get away from the travel and the evenings out. Some go to the PR end of the business, some get into merchandising consultation. It's more common to stay in the industry if you've been it it for a few years than to get out. Andy: Editors can be compared to trends. After a while, they must also go and reinvent themselves. Look a Philip Bloch. He's gone from photo styling to TV and individual styling to making some corporate deals. Donald Trump hired him to restyle the Miss Universe pageant and to freshen it up by bringing Hollywood glamour to the event.

Thank you to everyone on the panel for participating and for being so forthcoming.

By Vivian E. Kelly for Lookonline.com © 1998.

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