B&W Fasionista Josie Swindler reports on the latest from the Lecture Hopping front:
At Parsons, the audience of wannabe fashion editors was a whole lot more stylish than the five editors on a recent panel called “Fashion Magazines: Behind the Seams.” Lesson one: it takes more than nice hair to get a corner office at Condé Nast.
The problem of the panel may have been the relative ignorance of its members. Though highly successful, the editors aren’t in the most coveted fashion positions at the most coveted fashion magazines, probably disappointing most of the audience members. What they could teach, involuntarily, is that talented people can be talented anywhere and that the people who make the magazine are rarely like the people the magazine is made for.
A big room was mostly full with more than 100 hopefuls. They heard from the art director at Glamour, the creative director at Marie Claire, the style editor at GQ, and the managing editor of Lucky, all moderated by the executive editor of Redbook. No Vogue. No Women’s Wear Daily. No Harper’s Bazaar. No W. One wonders whether The Center for Communication, or Cencom, the independent media organization that sponsored this panel, named the event before receiving rejections from top fashion directors and stylists.
A handout included the panelists’ sometimes surprising resumes. Though they had little to say about breaking into the fashion journalism industry, the biographies of these 30-and-40-somethings were instructive. Regan Solmo of Lucky knew early what she wanted to do and started small—she was the managing editor of Civilization: The Magazine of the Library of Congress and POZ before moving on to SPIN and Harper’s Bazaar. GQ’s Adam Rapoport worked at the culinary James Beard Foundation, a foodie’s dream. Paul Martinez of Marie Claire worked at magazines as varied as Keyboard, Bon Appetit, and USWeekly. Cynthia Korman honed her skills for a decade before reaching powerhouse title Glamour. And in an age in which devils wear Prada, where a successful magazine career seems like a series of steps up the ladders of top titles, it’s reassuring to see that Alison Brower, a Princeton graduate and Executive Editor of Redbook who has worked at Cosmopolitan and Glamour, began her career as a real live reporter for the trade magazines Adweek, Brandweek, and MediaWeek.
The intelligent but decidedly uncharismatic editors covered at breakneck speed the elitist culture at Condé Nast (where poor young women wear Chloe heels and carry Balenciaga bags), how to get hired (make friends; it’s all about relationships), and the Internet (it’s good, it’s bad, it’s underutilized, and it won’t make print obsolete). When the editors talked about what occupies their minds at work, they all mentioned readership, none mentioned designers or clothing.
They talked about the synergy of words and design. Korman, also a Princeton alum, said that design students tend toward layouts that wow, rather than superior layouts that actually communicate. Every panelist emphasized that their job is to be a sort of middleman between high fashion and low fashion. Their readers cannot afford, much less wear, clothes straight off fashion week runways. As editors, they take those looks and transform them into styles that their demographic readership can wear to the office. They’re more concerned with making the readers look good than dressing like models themselves. The words “reality check” were used more than once.
They covered what magazines like the shopping-centered Lucky have done to the industry, making everything from rows of shoes to a profile of Honduras an opportunity for service journalism that is not to be missed. Rapoport said that GQ’s short fiction became endangered because it didn’t do enough tangibly for the reader. Korman said that in Glamour a gorgeous dress on a gorgeous model can’t stand alone as it once did; now, the dress would be flanked by endless sidebars on various price points and the right look for different body types.
Ten and 15 years ago, the editors said, magazines weren’t only thinking of the consumer power of their readers. Martinez said making things shopable and wearable has taken some of the beautiful fantasy out of magazines that made them such an enjoyable form of escapism. And while sharing horror stories about cover-models (he showed up 20 pounds heavier, or she forbid everyone at the shoot from looking at her) the editors lamented the days when models graced covers—crisp and simple covers without so many numbers: 502 Spring Style Tips, 99 Ways to Please Your Man, etc.
The question-and-answer session was vapid, like the dreams of most of the questioners. An illustrator and a designer basically asked the panelists for a job. They were politely rebuffed. Welcome, ladies, to the magazine industry.