“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ANYWHERE NEAR A FASHION CITY TO WRITE ABOUT FASHION.”
How would you become a fashion journalist in 2016?
I would fake it until I make it. No-one’s going to tell you how to do it. You just have to get yourself out there. I called and emailed a whole bunch of people until someone responded to me. Everyone says that it’s great to know people in the industry, you know, make connections, but I think a lot of stuff can come just from sending people nice emails. I’m quite proud of the fact that I’ve gotten a lot of commissions based on not knowing them and just being like. “Oh, hey, how’s it going?” But also, I think making connections is a huge deal. Go to the parties, man. If you can go, you know? [laughs] I think that by sharing a drink with somebody, you can get so much further in five minutes than you can by calling or emailing people.
And what about the fashion component of journalism? What would you recommend for someone who wants to be a fashion journalist, specifically?
Especially in 2016, there’s no difference between being front row or being online. A lot of people do this, look at the pictures as they come up, or live streams. You don’t have to be anywhere near a fashion city to write about fashion. And I don’t think it’s that important to be in the physical space. I think it’s silly too, that people say, “You need to experience the swishy flow of the garments and the smells and the aura,” and it’s like: as if. You don’t want to be elbowing your way through a bunch of queeny fashion people who are grabbing freebie bags in the front row. You’ll be relegated to standing and looking over someone’s hat or giant iPad as they take a picture of the runway. That’s such bullshit. I think you need to write what you want, from where you are. If you have a really good opinion on a fashion show, or something happening in the industry, there’s always a way you can write about something that’s better, fresh and new.
How did you get into writing about film, and then become the Film Editor at Dazed?
The girl who was interning in the editorial department left, and they were looking to replace her. The office was quite small, so I saw them doing interviews and I wondered, “Hmm, who are they going to get to replace this girl?” I was asking around. Everyone was like, “Well, why don’t you just go ask? Why don’t you just go put your name in?”
They had basically hired this other girl, but I went into the interview with this huge sheet of feature ideas that I thought would work. I brought all these magazines that I had written for and done myself. I brought the receipts, let’s just say that. I guess they were impressed, because they hired me. So then I became editorial assistant, and I slowly worked my way up from there.
” I LIKE TO PITCH IDEAS THAT I KNOW WOULD BE IRRESISTIBLE IF I WERE RECEIVING THEM. IF YOU’RE GOING TO GET IN TOUCH WITH SOMEONE FOR THE FIRST TIME, SEND THEM SOMETHING THAT WILL SHOCK AND AWE.“
Do you think that you can draw parallels between film and fashion criticism?
Oh, definitely. I think people can easily recognise when something is just a complete shitshow. I think in the same way that you can draw upon a designer’s history, you can draw upon a director’s back catalogue and see how the latest collection, or the latest film, compares to what they’ve done before.
What’s the best film about fashion then?
I love Funny Face, because I’m a hapless romantic.
Describe your average day at work.
Oh my God.
Ok, let’s talk about the writing process instead. How long does it take you to write a story on average, because obviously the turnaround needed to be pretty quick at Dazed?
Oh yeah. Some pieces in a matter of hours. A lot of things, I would write on the day, but they’re never the best things, obviously. If I can spend three days on something, that’s the ideal amount of time. You don’t get sick of the piece you’re writing, you have enough time to speak to people and get some decent quotes, and you can have someone look it over before you send it to your editor.
When you’re writing, you believe that that stuff needs a little time to breathe.
Yeah, definitely. If you revisit something, you’ll definitely find something wrong with it, I guarantee.
What does your day involve when you’re freelancing?
I think I’m more motivated now living in the smallest town in Canada. Because I’m seven hours behind London, I have to send all my pitches first thing in the morning, so that editors have a chance to look at them before they leave work. It’s all about time zones for me. I’m figuring out who’s where. I usually send out a batch of ideas. I usually double dip too: I send out the same idea to a few different publications, because I know people aren’t necessarily going to be interested. In this way, I’m the one in control.
It’s a big waiting game. You always hate to bother people and follow up on things, but if you don’t … I always think they’re not even thinking about you. I like to pitch ideas that I know would be irresistible if I were receiving them. If you’re going to get in touch with someone for the first time, send them something that will shock and awe. Send them something that makes sure they can’t pass this freelancer by. Even if they say no to that, you’ve at least got your foot in the door and you can respond with something else.
Name your favourite piece of fashion journalism.
I’ve been really thinking about this. I think that piece in the Observer, called Elle on Earth, is my new favourite piece of journalism.
It seems like a masterclass in what you absolutely do not do. Reading through it, you go “Note to self: definitely don’t do this”.
I love how someone took their career out and went down in flames for everyone to see. It’s like when you witness a car crash and everyone’s rubbernecking, seeing who died and who are the witnesses. It was so entertaining. I think that’s, first and foremost, what fashion pieces should be. A lot of people will write out things and they’re bored to death writing it, and they’re bored to death reading it: so why, if I’m reading it, should I be excited about it?
“IN FASHION JOURNALISM, IT’S GREAT TO KNOW HOW TO DESCRIBE A SKIRT, BUT I THINK ONLY A VERY SMALL PORTION OF IT IS ACTUALLY KNOWING THE TERMINOLOGY.”
What is the biggest misconception about fashion journalism?
Well, for fashion journalism, I would say that you’re actually writing about clothes. I can’t even recall a single time when I had to describe a garment. In fashion journalism, it’s great to know how to describe a skirt, but I think only a very small portion of it is actually knowing the terminology.
How do you prepare for interviewing an esteemed figure in fashion?
I try and find interviews where they’ve said something, but not the entire thing. You always have to warm somebody up by asking them questions they’ve answered before, but that also have good stories. I’m all about anecdotes, too. I hate a high philosophy interview or ones where they talk about inspiration, or something arbitrary that you can probably guess at. What I really find interesting is when people have insane stories about hanging out with somebody, or how they created this one garment because they fell backwards and hit their head on some stone and had a Eureka idea. I ask a lot of loaded questions, or ones that I think will trigger anecdotal responses. That’s the most interesting and fun thing for people to read anyway. Do you know Nardwuar the Human Serviette?
He’s my absolute idol. I once assisted him in interviewing Florence Welsh. I kicked myself every day, because I didn’t really write down or record anything. He’s famous for knowing stuff about you that you didn’t even know about yourself.
He showed me how he interviewed people. He showed me little index cards, where he marks red next to questions that are the most important. So if someone calls and says you only have five minutes, then he can skip ahead to the next important question. I always try and tackle an interview – I mean, I try, it never really comes off, does it? — by reading anything that I can find on Google Books or from a university library website, where they have all these archived interviews that are no longer online. It’s always hilarious to throw in an old question at a designer. “In 1992, you said…” and they’re like, “How? What? Oh my God!” I also have a really fun thing from the School of Life. It’s called 100 Questions. Conversation starters.
What are your key resources for research?
I always try and search on Google Books or Amazon. I often — and I think that this is something that nobody does anymore — look for books on Amazon about something that pertains to it, and then you can usually expense those books when you buy them. Tell your editor that the book will really help, and ask if you can expense that. And then you download it on your Kindle, and do a search on it for whatever, and it combs the book and finds whatever you’re looking for. That’s super helpful.
Learning to search with quotes is always useful. If you put quotes around things, it will only find things with that exact phrase. Asking friends works very well when you’re on a deadline. Asking people who they know as well. That’s another thing that lazy journalists don’t really do anymore. If you know that they’ve worked with somebody before, just reach out by email and ask if they can provide any insight or any questions that you want to ask this person.
“THAT’S A HUGE EPIDEMIC IN FASHION, PEOPLE WHO GO, “HE’S THE MOST SINGULAR DESIGNER, WHO HAS REVOLUTIONISED THE INDUSTRY, ONE GARMENT AT A TIME” AND IT’S LIKE – NO. FUCKING NO. NOBODY EVEN KNOWS WHO THIS IS.”
How do you train your interns? Have you ever had an intern?
I have. I train my interns by saying, “You can do whatever the fuck you want here, as long as you get the work done. If you want to sit there for two weeks — which is the length of an internship at Dazed– and transcribe my interviews and upload articles, then you do you. If you want to pitch ideas or say what you’re into, so we can make something happen, then you can also do that as well.” A lot of people come to the door who are just mousy quiet and don’t do anything, and some people really surprise you.
You just need to throw yourself into it and take a chance.
It’s all what you make of it. Bug your editors! Bug the shit out of them. You’re there for two weeks. Either you’re remembered or you’re another intern relegated to “that intern we had once, you know, whatshisname?” It’s like emails. You see as many people as you get emails, so make sure to get your space in front of the person and say hello. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself, because we all have.
What’s in an article that you want to read?
If I can get past the first sentence, then it’s probably going to be a pretty good article. There’s so much rehashing of press releases in fashion. I think it’s the worst for that, especially because they’re bone fucking dry. If your article can elicit a laugh in fashion, that is a dead cert. There’s no funny fashion place. That’s why Elle on Earth was so good. It’s everything that fashion isn’t, but it’s so embedded in fashion. And the hyperbole was hilarious too. I think that’s a huge epidemic in fashion, people who go, “He’s the most singular designer, who has revolutionised the industry, one garment at a time” and it’s like – No. Fucking no. Nobody even knows who this is.
Where would you like to be? What’s the end game here?
I would love to be working at Vanity Fair. I’d love to be at a place that is really revolutionary and groundbreaking, and sets the agenda for the rest of the publishing world. I don’t think that there are many places like that anymore. Something like how Vice and Buzzfeed have really flooded the market, so to speak. Everybody knows what Vice is, everybody knows what Buzzfeed is.
I really, truly think that video is not being done to its full potential. Everyone’s trying to do it, but there’s no money in it and it’s very tricky. But if I could somehow marry my passion for film with journalism – I mean, none of these things are new ideas — but I think that would be really up my street.