Representing the creative future

Emma Hope Allwood: “Dazed has been my education”

Dazed Digital’s Head of Fashion on internet culture, self-education, dealing with imposter syndrome and adapting fashion content during a pandemic

Dazed Digital’s Head of Fashion on internet culture, self-education, dealing with imposter syndrome and adapting fashion content during a pandemic

As Head of Fashion at Dazed Digital, Emma Hope Allwood is well-versed in predicting and tracking viral fashion trends. She’s covered everything from our obsession with the Telfar bag to the divisive Fila Disruptor II, but having your finger constantly on the pulse means that chances to log off are few and far between. After temporarily deleting Instagram in 2018, she’s still figuring out how to have a healthy relationship with social media. 

Her specialism may be digital culture but the writer often uses this to segue into topics she cares about, even if it means speaking up when brands do things she’s not ok with. Last year, she called out Calvin Klein for queerbaiting in their Lil Miquela campaign with Bella Hadid. “I’m very lucky and very thankful that on the occasions where I’ve really said, ‘This isn’t cool and I think we should write about it’, I’ve been supported,” she says.

Emma also runs Dazed100, a platform that celebrates and promotes young creatives across all disciplines. However, she readily admits that it can be tricky to support youth without fetishizing it, especially when her own career trajectory is a case study in young success (Emma arrived at Dazed fresh out of university at 21 and worked her way up). Her current approach is to “pay attention and reflect back what youth culture is doing and saying and thinking. It’s a symbiotic relationship.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has shone even more light on the importance of helping young designers. Emma and her team have been focusing on what they can do to help graduating students who have had shows cancelled and Dazed will be collaborating with 1 Granary to showcase their work on Instagram. The Dazed team are also focusing on accessibility and making their readers feel less alone. The Spring/Summer 2020 issue, for which Emma wrote her first Dazed cover feature –  an interview with pop sensation Billie Eilish – will be available as a free download from Thursday 9th April and the recently launched #AloneTogether campaign aims to make people feel less isolated despite social distancing. Emma adds: “We are trying to underpin everything with a message of community and hope rather than despair or fear.”

Having risen through the ranks at Dazed, your career trajectory is more linear than most fashion journalists now. How has it benefited you to stay in the same place all the way through?

Dazed has been my education. I finished university, I handed in my dissertation, I took a week off and then I started interning. I was assisting Isabella Burley who’s the Editor-in-Chief of the print magazine now. I came into this place not really knowing what to expect. It was kind of a baptism of fire. I started right before a menswear fashion season and that was back in the day when we would cover hundreds of shows. I was thrown in at the deep end, but I really thrived on that. The fashion week stuff gave me a chance to prove that I was capable and that I had ideas and that I could write. After a couple of months, I was on a freelance contract to be a fashion features assistant.

When I started at Dazed, I was interested in fashion but fashion’s not my only interest. I’m interested in art and music and photography and film and all that stuff. I had to learn on the job. I remember sitting in meetings in those early days and Tim Noakes ‒ who was Editor-in-Chief at the time ‒ would be throwing out names and ideas and esoteric references and I would have no idea what those things were. I would write them down and then look them up later.

Dazed has been my education. I finished university, I handed in my dissertation, I took a week off and then I started interning.”

Dazed is what you make of it. If you want to learn as much as possible and throw yourself in, then it will give you so much back in return. For me, the benefit of staying there has been that I have been able to grow, and I have been able to do new things and I continue to be excited by what we do. I’ve also watched the fashion industry change quite a lot over that time and been able to discuss it as it was happening, whether that was about diversity or cultural appropriation, or the way we use social media and the internet.

Being such a young editor in the industry, do you ever get imposter syndrome and how do you deal with it?

Not so much now, but there was definitely a time when I felt like people were going to find out I was a fraud. I think that’s something a lot of people deal with, especially women. When I started working, I would often be the youngest person in the room. There were times when people in the industry weren’t necessarily forthcoming or welcoming. I had imposter syndrome, especially when I moved into being an editor and having to make more of my own decisions. I had to learn to listen to my gut.

I was definitely insecure about how young I was but now I think it’s really funny that I was. What is the one thing that everyone in the fashion industry wants? To vampirically suck the blood of the young. But I was so insecure about how young I looked. That’s why I wore only black. Last year, I got really bored of my clothes. I think I wore black because I was trying to be taken more seriously – it has a certain gravitas and fashion status to it. Now I want to wear fun stuff. 

I had imposter syndrome, especially when I moved into being an editor and having to make more of my own decisions. I had to learn to listen to my gut.”

Working at a publication that focuses on youth culture, how do you strike the right balance between celebrating young creativity and fetishising it?

It’s difficult. As branded content has become so dominant, it can be easy to think that magazines just need a hot, young creative of the week to put in X brand and profit off their youth and coolness. But Dazed has always been about giving a platform to those people and telling stories that maybe won’t get told in other places, really celebrating young talent and creativity. It’s not a bunch of 40-year-olds in a room. Our team is really young. Dazed 100 is focused on the next generation of young talent. We’re doing that because we’re trying to raise people up. We’re trying to spot them and help them get further in their careers in any way that we can. 

How do you balance brands’ expectations with critical analysis of fashion?

We’re an independent magazine so we have more space to push back against things than a lot of places. Ultimately, we’re a fashion magazine and we have adverts. You can’t bite the hand that feeds you too much because then you’ll starve. It’s about working out how to have those conversations in a way that is still productive. I’m very lucky and very thankful that when I’ve really said, ‘This isn’t cool, and I think we should write about it’, I’ve been supported. When something comes up, we discuss it and we work out whether to move forward on it. Being critical of brands, especially when they deserve criticism, is important.

What is the one thing that everyone in the fashion industry wants? To vampirically suck the blood of the young.”

Do you have any advice for managing freelance work alongside a full-time job?

Be realistic about deadlines and be communicative with people. If something’s come up and your work is going to be late, just tell them it’s going to be late. Don’t disappear for five days. Say if you’re not going to be available for edits until tomorrow morning and I’ll be around until midday or whatever. We’re all human. I’m not going to expect that someone is available all the time. 

Also, don’t overdo it. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to rest and recover and be inspired by things. The only way I get inspired and get those creative flashes of lightning is when I’ve given myself the time to go to an exhibition or read a book or write a journal entry and actually be creative because otherwise you get stuck on this constant hamster wheel.

As branded content has become so dominant, it can be easy to think that magazines just need a hot, young creative of the week to put in X brand and profit off their youth and coolness.

You recently started your newsletter, Off Brand. What motivated that?

After several years of writing journalistically, where there are certain rules you have to follow, I realised that I’d moved away from the writing that I used to do when I was young. When I was 15, I just wrote for fun. That kind of writing is more creative and it’s less about ticking boxes in terms of quotes or factual accuracy or having an article that has to start one place and take you somewhere else, resolve an argument and conclude. I hadn’t given myself the space to write as a creative outlet. I think writing the newsletter is benefitting me as a journalist because it’s helping me to think about my voice and to think about what kind of journalist I actually want to be.

How important do you think it is for writers to have a personal brand?

My immediate reaction to personal branding is just to be like wow, late capitalism has really got us with this one. It’s so interesting, culturally, the idea that every single person has to become a brand and monetise themselves or the idea that becoming a brand is key to monetising yourself. You just have to be aware of the fact that having a personal brand can actually be limiting. If you want to become an influencer or you really want how you look and how you dress to be central to your creative output, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

Ultimately, we’re a fashion magazine and we have adverts. You can’t bite the hand that feeds you too much because then you’ll starve.”

As a writer, you have areas of expertise, which is a sort of personal brand, but the cultivation and the effort should go as much towards the work as it does towards the image. If all you have is the image, what happens if Instagram gets deleted or everyone moves on? I had a dream not that long ago that Instagram got deleted and I was actually fine about it. Hopefully, I have done enough work, and I have built up enough skills that I don’t feel like I do have to rely on the image. Not to say that people who you think might rely on the image like influencers don’t also have those skills and have that work and can’t then translate that into something else, but you should put as much time into what’s inside your head as you do into what you look like on Instagram.

How do you think that writers and commentators can have a healthy relationship with social media whilst also keeping up to date with social media trends and events?

It’s hard because my job is to be forever online. Sometimes I want to log off. I believe in unfollowing anyone who you’re not really happy to look at. There are people who come up on your feed and they immediately make you feel bad or insecure. Get rid of those people. It’s just negative. Utilise the close friends Instagram story function so it feels like you’re actually connecting with your friends. It’s not a balance I’ve necessarily worked out but logging off is important if you can.

Make sure that you give yourself enough time to rest and recover and be inspired by things.”

Do you consider people’s social media accounts when you’re hiring?

No. If I’m hiring someone to be a social media editor then I would want to see what they’ve done on Instagram to prove that they have the skills that they’re saying they have, but it doesn’t have to be their personal account. It can be an account of fashion archive images or anything. When you work at a magazine, you have to be part of a team and it’s not about you necessarily. If anything, if someone had a social media presence that was completely about them, I wouldn’t be sure if they’re going to want to sacrifice that for the greater good of the magazine. Writers and editors can do great work individually and write a great profile or commission a great thing but it’s about the whole. What’s really important when hiring is that someone’s going to be committed to the mission of the group, which sounds a bit cultish.

What advice do you have for young journalists hoping to pursue careers in fashion media?

Train yourself in digital things like Google Analytics and SEO. The most important thing is to be an interesting person. Be a person who understands references and goes to see amazing old films at the ICA or The Barbican or reads books or goes to exhibitions or has a point of view and has something to say. Be the person who walks in the JW Anderson show and immediately recognises that there’s a David Wojnarowicz theme and listens to the soundtrack and knows that that’s his tape journals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a show context and I’ve recognised the music and I’ve thought ok, this music is from this film and that’s interesting because it’s going to make me think about the collection like this and there’s so many ways that that’s happened or visuals that I’ve recognised or things that have been referenced. Having that encyclopaedia in your brain is really useful and that will help you in so many ways. 

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? 

I can’t think of any advice, but I was watching an interview the other day with Billie Eillish and she said that she’s trying to start living her life as if she’s just woken up as her 12-year-old self. Sometimes in fashion, as in any job, you can get bored. How many more fashion shows do I have to sit through? Why am I not excited by this anymore? Sometimes it’s because it’s just boring, but the idea of trying to look at the life you have now and what you’ve achieved through the eyes of your younger self is quite nice. If I think about that, it gives me such a different perspective on my life. 

“You should put as much time into what’s inside your head as you do into what you look like on Instagram.”

What’s been a highlight of your career so far and why?

The thing that jumps immediately to mind, especially if I’m thinking from the perspective of my 12-year-old self, was being at Karl Lagerfeld’s last Chanel show after he passed away. I cried my eyes out because that was one of those moments that really meant so much to me. It made me think about where I’ve come from. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I remember being 13 and my mum taking me to a Chanel make-up counter in Debenhams in a shit town and spending this money on getting me a blush compact and a foundation and that was such a crazy, rare and meaningful thing. I literally remember every single tiny sample of moisturiser that came with them and I kept that Chanel paper bag afterwards. I think I probably still have it at my dad’s house. Those things felt so special, like a connection to this huge, big fashion world that I was so far away from and didn’t really have an opportunity to reach out to and touch. When I was at that Chanel show, that’s what I was thinking about. In a little over 10 years, I’d gone from being that person to being this person. That made me recognise that I have done the work to be here. I am the same person and I did strive for it and so that was nice because it gave me a sense of perspective. It made it feel special again when I’d lost sight of that a bit. 

“Trying to look at the life you have now and what you’ve achieved through the eyes of your younger self is quite nice.”

How has the pandemic affected Dazed Fashion?

The first day I arrived in Paris for Fashion Week, all the travelling editors were sent an email saying that we did not a) have to travel to Paris, or b) if we were already there, feel like we had to stay. To be honest, I thought it was an overreaction – now I think it’s a miracle that the entire industry didn’t become sick unknowingly and bring the virus back to our respective home countries. As for Dazed Fashion, it’s affected us because we have had to rethink what’s important right now. Of course we’re also all working separately, but I have the most brilliant, capable team so that’s been an okay adjustment.

How are the magazine and staff responding?

We decided immediately that we needed to focus on our audience more than ever, and be there in the ways people needed from us as a publisher. We made the next issue available for a free download, and launched Alone Together, a social media-led campaign focused on togetherness despite isolation. Both have had an amazing reaction – we’re really trying to underpin everything we do right now with community and hope rather than despair or fear.

How are you adapting your content?

I think that one of the things people want – one of the things I want – is escapism, to balance out the more serious stuff. So we’re going to give you a listicle of messy fashion reality TV moments to get lost in, or spotlight the iconic outfits of Joe Exotic. But we’ll also talk about what luxury labels are doing to fight the crisis, or spotlight fashion students in Prague making face masks. I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to talk about a new big budget campaign or product right now – priorities have shifted. But I want our work to balance out the fear and the anxiety with stories that can feel uplifting and inspiring, stories that focus on fashion as it’s lived and worn rather than sold.

We’re also wanting to involve our community as much as possible; we’ve reached out to so many people in the Dazed family for Alone Together. This week, we partnered with Christopher Kane for a little Instagram activation, asking followers to share what brings them #MoreJoyIndoors. I loved to see the responses from the audience come in – I want followers to feel that they have as much of a stake Dazed Fashion as the people working on it do.

I want our work to balance out the fear and the anxiety with stories that can feel uplifting and inspiring, stories that focus on fashion as it’s lived and worn rather than sold.”

How do you think this will affect the industry long term?

We’ve just seen the news about fashion week being cancelled, but I am cautious about saying that this crisis will lead to long-term change. While fashion does for sure need to reconsider what it deems necessary, there’s a reason culture happens IRL. Culture is made when people come together and fashion is a social industry. That’s something you just can’t replicate on Instagram live.

What is Dazed doing to support graduating students and young designers during this time?

This was one of the first conversations we had – how can we be there for the people who have had their shows cancelled or who are struggling? We’re going to be working together with 1 Granary on an Instagram spotlight, aimed at celebrating the people who have missed out. Supporting young designers is, and will remain, a focus for us. And to the CSM MA Journalism students – I’ll be coming to you live next term via Zoom!

We’re going to be working together with 1 Granary on an Instagram spotlight, aimed at celebrating the people who have missed out. Supporting young designers is, and will remain, a focus for us.”

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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