For as long as I was old enough to read Vogue Australia, Kirstie Clements has been the editor that shaped what I would see and dream of within its glossy pages. Her vision was always discerning, as one would expect from an editor a Vogue, a trait at often gets confused with being snobby and above it all. I may have been guilty of thinking of Kirstie along those lines, having watched her sweep past in the halls of News Magazines (where I once worked, a long time ago) and during many Australian Fashion Weeks.
But those opinions I had steadfast held on to were quickly diminished when I sat down with her the other week for a chat, which seemingly turned into an hour and a half chat about fashion magazine publishing, the fashion industry in general and of course fashion bloggers. There were so many questions to be asked since I had spent the previous weekend devouring every word she wrote in her book about the glamorous times working in the Australian magazine publishing industry for 25 years. Well, glamorous if you don’t count the moment she was told she was no longer required at Vogue Australia by their publishers, News Magazines (now NewsLifeMedia) and promptly marched out the door last year.
After her unceremonious dismissal, Kirstie promptly signed a publishing deal with Melbourne University Press (MUP) to publish a memoir of sorts in The Vogue Factor, a book that was eagerly snapped up by many eager fashion and magazine fans alike. The glamour of working in the world of magazines was told through tales of fashion shoots on exotic beaches in the Pacific Ocean, press trips the likes of the French Rivera, Toyko, New York and London to mingle with the notable names in fashion, beauty and of course the rich and famous.
Of course it was not just a tale of the wonderful side of fashion magazine publishing, as Kirstie’s path wasn’t as smooth as it seemed in the book. There were also interesting insights into how magazines were published back in the 80s and 90s, before the world was digitized and pulls were taken from international Vogue editions. But how do young women who want to get a job in magazines make it past the first step – getting in the front door?
“When I got the job at Vogue I said to myself what a world that would open up, I never looked at it and said that ‘I want somebody elses job, I want to be the editor’ and I’ve seen that happen of course.” Kirstie tells us. “I’ve always liked to work and through it I got promoted, so really my advice to somebody is to be in something you are absolutely passionate about and be prepared to do everything. If you can, try to find a mentor at work because what I see now is a lot of dog eat dog – ‘I’ll get that free trip first, that free handbag, I want that seat in that show’ – and when I grew up I had a lot of mentors like Nancy Pilcher and Karin Upton Baker who had my back and promoted me. If you can’t find a mentor within the organisation, try and find one outside the industry or ancillary to the industry to give you some guidance.”
Working in the fashion publishing industry is tough work, perhaps why fashion magazines saw a threat in fashion bloggers. It didn’t matter if you blogged about personal style (or product loan/gift style as it is these days for the popular girls), street style, fashion commentary or just sharing magazine editorials like a glorified Tumblr blog, bloggers were all lumped into one uneducated-unaccepted heap back when blogging first came to the fore in Australia less than 4 years ago.
Much like the current blogger backlash we saw recently that was started by Suzy Menkes, who said that bloggers were behaving like peacocks outside of fashion shows. A sentiment Kirstie iterates in her book, writing that:
But since the emergence of the street-style photographer and blogger, the amount of ‘poseurs’ that exist out and inside the shows has become a whole new business … Social media has democratised fashion commentary and created a new order of power players in the industry. Decades of experience at revered mastheads and the ability to articulate intelligently may prove to be of very little value in the new future … I have increasingly thought that there are too many very smart people in the world writing over blown nonsense about fashion.
Kirstie goes on to talk about how fashion bloggers, of the writing variety anyway, should be more critical of shows. SoI posed the question of how could budding writers be critical when the very people they aspire to be like – namely the fashion editors of leading newspapers – struggle to be critical of a show. Breathing a bad word about a show may get you an irate phone call from the designers publicist about how you didn’t understand the designer’s vision (as is what happened to a fashion writer for a leading publisher at last Australian Fashion Week) or struck off the media and guest lists forever.
“That is the great quandary, an independent voice is the reason that bloggers were embraced at the beginning. It remember sitting with the head of Estee Lauder early on and she told me that they putting a lot of money into bloggers because they had an independent voice. That really annoyed me because she had made me write stories that I didn’t really want to write quite frankly, and now they were embracing bloggers with my advertising dollars? But that very quickly faded, because bloggers don’t always have independent means, therefore the voice of independence will go out the door, especially when they accept the bag of $5,000 creams. The intention was completely cancelled out by the commerce.”
But what should a blogger do?
“What someone has to do is be brave – maybe you have to work another job as well – and be someone like a Frankie (magazine) for example. I don’t know how you could do that, but you can tell when a blogger sells out. Like when you see Bryan Boy or Candice Lake, both of whom I love, but when they photograph something that isn’t their brand you think ‘hmmm no, that isn’t working’.”
“Not to sound like an old cynic because bloggers have fantastic intention, but the world is entirely run by money. But as I tell my sons, if you have an idea, back it up but don’t sell out too quickly.”
We have personally read many poorly written reviews, which were basically a personal attack on a fashion designer because they weren’t ‘friends’ anymore, so a blogger 101 on being critical of a fashion show – give context.
“Suzy Menkes is a great example of someone who is critical but gives it context – if something wasn’t working she would back it up with commentary about how it was trying to hit on Etro in the 1940s but missed the mark because of this and this.”
Even then it doesn’t always work out, does that mean designers and their publicists have too much power?
“Well yes,” Kirstie replied. “But that is how the world works.”
It doesn’t matter where you work, sometimes journalists and designers just dontt get along. Look Hedi Slimane and his ‘spat’ with New York Times fashion journalist Cathy Horyn. She was singled out because Slimane didn’t agree with some of her stories, especially one of her review of the Saint Lauren S/S 2013 collection. It was a fascinating fight that even made headlines on The Guardian.
What about the argument that a journalist is both trained at university and on the job, not just someone who learnt on the job?
“I’m of the opinion that only a certain amount of journalist skills can be taught, either you’ve got it or you don’t. But you can certainly get better at it and hone it. I’m not entirely sure that formal study is the key to everything, it’s about passion, guts, a fresh take on things and curiosity.”
“Fashion is just a small part of being a good fashion writer. It’s pop culture, its movies, it’s dance, it’s theatre, art history, it’s set design and politics. If you look at that Dior collection which referenced an Andy Warhol art collection, I knew the stories about when he was in advertising in New York. Whereas if you were sitting at the shows as a Kardashian, you would just look at it and think that it is just a shoe.”
“I would be sitting with Tim Blanks at a show and we are both huge fans of music and we would hear the first couple of notes in the song and we will be able to pick out the song or which movie it was from. If you read Tim’s reviews he always weaves music into his show reviews.”
We chatted for another 30 minutes or so about what she is doing now, the fashion industry and her book – which she is doing a country wide tour to meet the fans. Something Kirstie was excited about because she would get to meet the people who were passionate about fashion but didn’t necessarily work in the industry. When we parted ways my brain was buzzing with her thoughts and ideals, as well as a new opinion about a woman who wrote that:
“I could never really win. I was either expected to be terrifying or snobbish. And I didn’t consider myself to be either.”
She wasn’t either, but true to spending 25 years in Vogue, Kirstie was toting a Marni bag, adorned with Tiffany & Co earrings teamed with a Sportscraft pyjamas shirt and black Scanlan & Theordore trousers – no heels.
The Vogue Factor is available online and in bookstores now. It has many fascinating tales of celebrity encounters and gives you some insight into the ‘glamour days’ of magazine publishing and just some of the perks a fashion editor can experience.
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