Welcome to Career Week! While we always make career-focused content a priority on Fashionista, we thought spring would be a good time to give you an extra helping of tips and tricks on how to make it in the fashion industry.
There was a time when becoming an editor-in-chief was the ultimate job in editorial. Not only were you virtually assured a sizable expense account that often outweighed your salary, free-flowing gifts, clothing allowances and just about every perk under the sun, you were also pretty much locked into that job — barring any extreme failures — until you decided that you didn’t want it anymore.
But, in case you’ve missed it, times have changed, and the publishing industry as a whole doesn’t carry the same impact it once did. “There was a time when magazines and magazine editors would declare something to be a ‘trend’ or a ‘look,’ and the product would sell out,” says Allure founding editor Linda Wells, who left the publication after more than two decades as editor-in-chief in 2015. “Now, [it favors] the voice of the consumer, the user, the influencer… they’ve got a strong, strong voice and a lot of followers — their followers exceed the number of subscribers that magazines have.”
That’s not to say setting out with the goal of nabbing that coveted title isn’t still admirable. Something to consider, though, is that many former editors-in-chief never set out to lead titles; they were people with a passion for creating something unique and for nurturing ideas. Kim France, founding editor of Lucky, was approached by Condé Nast about an idea they had for a shopping magazine — an idea that was very appealing to her. On top of being excited about the concept, the offer was coming from a publishing giant. “When Condé Nast asks you to run something, you say yes,” she says. “It was just something I couldn’t say no to.”
Wells was in a similar position: She was offered the chance to launch a beauty magazine while writing about beauty and food for The New York Times. She says that every step of her career was “joyful” and that she was always passionate about the work that went into putting together a magazine. “It’s just the stress that goes along with any job where you’ve got to perform, but it was very positive stress. I really liked the deadlines, I liked the tension of having to sort things out and it was really gratifying,” she says. “It was just extraordinarily gratifying to work with a team of people that I really respected and found to be some of the most hilarious people I knew — and still think so — and to bat around ideas to come up with something that was better than what you thought was possible.”
But being editor-in-chief is about so much more than just running a magazine, especially in the digital age. Editors-in-chief must now treat their websites as more than a throwaway place where print castoffs can go to satisfy publicists or advertisers. Publishing companies are demanding increases in views at a neck-breaking pace, which can often lead to a dilution of the brand message. “My problem with content in general is that when it became content, it changed to just a mass output of words [rather than] really thoughtful things,” says Brandon Holley, whose most recent editor-in-chief gig was at Lucky. “Women’s content is tough, because it quickly turns to click bait. The race for clicks became really uninteresting to me.”
Ultimately, the role is also about being a public face of the brand, which means throwing and hosting parties, attending fashion shows and dinners, courting advertisers, making television appearances (and now, having a strong presence on social media) and living the brand 24/7 — all on top of leading a team in the face of shrinking budgets and rising expectations. It’s the kind of pressure for which it isn’t always possible to prepare. “I was never very slick and I think it’s a position you have to be very slick to have; my cuticles are never trimmed, and things like that,” says France. “You have to really ‘live’ the brand, and I’m not sure I was ever up for living the brand the way that you have to.”
In today’s market, the increasing pressure on editors-in-chief to bolster flagging newsstand numbers and to increase digital presence means that leaders are given less time and freedom to experiment. Titles are shuttering every year, and not even veteran editors (who, it should also be said, are likely more expensive than their less-experienced peers) are safe from layoffs. After being fired from Lucky, France took a year and a half off before deciding what her next move would be. Toward the end of her time at Condé Nast, she suffered from daily migraines and felt “frazzled.” After taking time to regroup, she decided to work for herself, launching her site Girls of a Certain Age. “I looked around at the environment and I didn’t see where I fit in, honestly,” France explains. “I knew I didn’t want to work in magazines anymore; it was an industry that was dying and I didn’t want to be there when the lights went out.”
Working for herself means that France can write truthfully about fashion, which was a luxury she didn’t always have while working for a major corporation. “If I think that a dress is too expensive, I can say it’s too expensive and that’s really fun; I never would have been able to do that [at Condé Nast],” she explains. “If I think a designer’s pretentious, I can say a designer is pretentious, and my readers really appreciate that.” France is also working on an upcoming memoir that will cover not only her time at Condé Nast, but also at Sassy and her life today running Girls of a Certain Age.
When Wells was pushed out of her role at Condé Nast, she immediately picked up some consulting work and wrote for both The Cut and Hearst, in no small part thanks to the reputation she had built for herself in the 25 years she spent at the helm of Allure. But after lining up some work, she headed west to California for a week of re-centering. “I just wanted to hike and be in nature and kind of just take a deep breath,” she says. Ultimately, Wells missed working with a team — a common theme with former editors-in-chief — so she accepted a role as chief creative officer at Revlon. She’s helping the cosmetics company revamp its social media presence, working on ads and packaging for Elizabeth Arden, and trying to “reconceive the way a cosmetics company interacts with consumers.” Fortunately, making the transition from the editorial side of the business to the brand side hasn’t been difficult for her.
“All the things I’ve been doing for the past however many decades of my career really translate into what I’m doing at Revlon; all the relations I have with the hair and makeup people and photographers and writers and editors — I’m tapping into all that right now,” she says. “What’s interesting is that now magazine editors are producing native content and branded content, and everyone’s got their hands in edit and advertising simultaneously. There’s something really pure about [it], I’m on the brand and I’m not pretending I’m doing anything but what I’m doing. It’s kind of nice — it’s not conflicted at all.”
Holley also stayed in the fashion industry, but launched her own business. “I came out to Montauk; I sat on a beach out here and tried to think,” she says. “I didn’t want to go back to another corporate job; I really felt the pull to do my own thing.” Her time at Lucky made her passionate about guiding women to make decisions about fashion that were as practical as they were stylish. She loved helping women who were stymied by making wardrobe choices and wanted to bring that Lucky mentality to every woman — or, as she explains it, “What if you had a Lucky editor on your shoulder whispering in your ear when you’re shopping?” That notion inspired her to launch Everywhere, an app which aims to do just that.
Holley’s time as an editor-in-chief helped prepare her to run a tech startup in a variety of ways. “Leading a team and having a mission, getting people motivated to get to that goal, has been really easy because that’s what magazines did,” she says. “It wasn’t easy in magazines; it’s pretty rough. The industry was experiencing pretty historic changes. We had to be committed and not be fearful about what was around the corner — that’s helped a lot.” Holley has also had plenty of experience as the face of a brand, having headed up Lucky, ElleGirl, Yahoo! Shine and Jane. It also prepped her to gather the courage to ask for funding. In fact, there isn’t much that having the role hasn’t prepared her to do.
“To be editor-in-chief is a pretty amazing thing; I think that the editor-in-chief is someone who is a marketer who understands the consumer,” Holley says. “You are beholden to an audience and if you can perfect that — which I think I was pretty good at — then you can take that anywhere; you can create e-commerce platforms, you can create physical products.”
Ultimately, having the editor-in-chief title means only what you make of it, both while serving in the role and after you move on from it. Like so many other fields in the fashion industry, success is found in the ability to adapt and change, not in the words on a business card. While it’s certainly a scary time in media, there’s a silver lining in the shifting landscape.
“I never thought of [being an editor-in-chief] as an end goal, like this is it and when I achieve that, I can die; you know, life doesn’t work like that,” says Wells. “It feels very optimistic to know that there are chapters, as opposed to an ending, and that you can rewrite your next chapter.”
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