Monday, 17 June 2013

Re: Elitism in Fashion Journalism & Links a la Mode

Sometimes it feels like the privileged elite have already nabbed the best jobs before others can get a look-in (source)
Whenever I do a post on a serious issue facing the fashion industry, I like to write a response post, especially if that post has made it into IFB's Links a la Mode. I'm so appreciative of the time readers take to comment, often leaving in-depth responses which open up new aspects of the issue at hand. That was particularly true of my post 'Is fashion journalism a closed shop for the elite?', perhaps because it's an issue which affects so many of us in the fashion blogosphere. A lot of us are, of course, either aspiring or working fashion journalists, so it's understandable that there should be several comments which reflect growing frustration at nepotism and favouritism in the industry. I'd like to take a look at some of the comments made.

I think that Tarandip of Fashstash pretty much summarised my feelings on the subject in her comment: "The fashion industry has kinda been breaking my heart ever since I decided that I wanted to be a part of it." The system is flawed and biased but that's just the way things work. The only thing you can really do is grow a thick skin and resolve not to give up, even as you see those with friends in high places being ushered passed the velvet rope with little or no effort. Tarandip agreed with me that unpaid internships should go though: "they do not help any cause at all except of the rich, who basically can afford to live with an unpaid internship. And when experience + connections is all that matters in this industry, an internship is pretty vital." This is very true. And though the industry will probably always be inherently flawed, getting rid of unpaid internships is at least a step to putting things right.

Shug Avery of Incognito drew my attention to a video of Giovanna Battaglia (which you can watch on her blog) in which she talks about how she got started in fashion styling. Shug pointed out that "Even though it wasn't said in the video it is obvious that her background did help her, her mother being a model, she must have had some connections in the fashion industry but this part was obviously not mentioned." I have found this to be the case in several interviews with people in the fashion industry. Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, was the most recent guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs (which you can listen to here if you live in the UK - don't know if it will work elsewhere). Her father was theatre critic Milton Shulman and her mother was writer Drusila Beyfus, and she acknowledges their influence in the interview, along with admitting that the area she grew up in and her education were both quite 'posh'. However, it's not made entirely clear how she got her first big break in the industry. I've no doubt at all in Alexandra Shulman's abilities and can't really think of a better person to be editor of Vogue right now, but she's almost certainly been lucky in her opportunities thanks to her connections. The fashion industry is full of Battaglias and Shulmans who, though undoubtedly talented, have also had a shoe-in somehow.

It's not all doom and gloom though. As both Frances of Last Year Girl and Devon of Informed Style pointed out, the rise of blogging is changing the way things work, presumably in all areas of journalism. Frances said: "Blogging, at least, is one way other voices and viewpoints can reach a lot of people and I'm sure has a part to play in shifting these attitudes." It's certainly true. And though it can be tough to make your way in the fashion world via this method, Devon made an excellent point: "Harder work than having it handed to you? Yes. But also more rewarding - and it gives me hope that someone with actual skill as a journalist will be able to snag a contributing editor spot at Vanity Fair." One of the things which Links a la Mode and the fashion-blogging community as a whole shows me is that there is far more diversity out there than appears in the mainstream publications. I think everyone takes a certain level of pride in their blog, no matter how small the readership, and that's because they have something which they believe is worth saying. Let's just hope that there will somehow be a way that the talented and unique individuals - of the sort represented in this week's LALM - can find a place in the industry, even if they don't have connections.

And on that note, please enjoy the 20 best posts of the week!



One of the things I love the most about blogging is that there are both actions and reactions in content. Action: making, creating, styling. Reaction: commentary, reviewing, dissecting. It satisfies both the heady space fashion can sometimes occupy, as well as occupying our two little hands. This week we have a great combination of things you can do and things to think about, and heck a couple of things you can put on your summer wishlist.

Links à la Mode: The IFB Weekly Roundup

SPONSOR: Shopbop Skirts: Minis, Pencil, Maxis, L'Huillier, Tibi, Milly, A+O Skirts, Anine Bing, Derek Lam, Donna Karan, Paul & Joe Sister, Herve skirts

Monday, 10 June 2013

Is fashion journalism a "closed shop for the elite"?

Pippa Middleton has recently been named a 'contributing editor' to Vanity Fair, in a move that many 'serious' journalists are finding hard to swallow. I for one am slightly miffed, if unsurprised. This kind of thing has happened before, especially in fashion magazines (Alexa Chung as contributing editor for Vogue, anyone?) and there are certainly arguments to be made about why Pippa is the right choice for the publication. Yet some view her appointment as indicative of a more widescale problem in journalism. Owen Jones summed it up neatly on Twitter.

It got me thinking - is this the case for fashion journalism as much as it is for journalism as a whole? Casting your eye down the masthead of British Vogue, the sheer number of familiar surnames, many of which are double-barrelled, gives you some indication of the social position of its staff. But I wanted to look a little further, so I've done some research into the editors of the top 10 UK fashion magazines according to this list by Cision. In a few cases I couldn't find the information I wanted, but of the 7 editors whose education details I could find, 6 went to comprehensives, secondary moderns or public high schools, with only one (Alexandra Shulman of Vogue) educated at an independent school. What's more, two of the editors chose not to continue to higher education or dropped out to take a job in the industry. One of them, Jo Elvin, is the editor of Glamour, Britain's top-selling fashion magazine. It could be observed though that there is a possible correlation between the cost of your education and the RRP of the publication you work on.

So what does this tell us? Well for a start it looks like there might be  a fairly decent spread of different types of schooling represented in the top fashion mag jobs. We can also infer that expensive higher education qualifications are not essential to success, especially if you can gain relevant experience instead. Of those who did go to university, none went to Oxford or Cambridge (though personally I don't consider this to always be a sign of the 'elite' anyway, since many state-educated and even underprivileged students are now being admitted), though many did go to other prestigious establishments such as Central Saint Martins and City University. It's difficult to tell whether they would have succeeded without these courses, but they must have contributed to their rise through the ranks in some way. This is one of the problems which Jones identified on Twitter, there's an emphasis on "expensive qualifications from the likes of City University" which can become the preserve of the wealthy elite. However perhaps this is more of a problem for newspaper journalism than fashion magazines?

Of course, education is not the only factor. If you've ever read any advice on making it in the fashion industry (my personal Gospel is the Teen Vogue Handbook) then you surely must have come across that age-old advice: make connections. Only, how do you make the initial connections which allow you to enter situations in which you can make further connections? The moment I realised it was going to be hard for me to break into fashion journalism came back in 2010, when I read Rachel Johnson's A Diary of The Lady. In one entry, she takes her daughter to Fashion Week - for a start, let's just think about the fact that her daughter gets to go to Fashion Week, which is already an opportunity she wouldn't have if it weren't for her mother - and they are subsequently surrounded by important fashion editors. She refers to a deal she made with Lisa Armstrong of The Times: "I told Lisa I would give her daughter work experience if she had Milly into the Times fashion department. One can see why everyone hates the middle classes so much - they divvy up the glittering prizes now even before university has already begun, in a sort of members' enclosure to which only the privileged VIPS ever gain entry." Well it's nice of you to acknowledge the unfairness of it Rachel but that doesn't change the fact that, at the time, the injustice of it all brought tears of rage to my 15-year-old eyes. So this is the way of the world, I thought.

It's simply a fact, not just of journalism, but of most professions:hard work, skill and intelligence will get you to a certain point; nepotism will get you the rest. I'm not saying that everyone who's ever wrangled a job through their parents' connections didn't deserve it, nor that well-connected people will always take advantage of links to get a foothold in the industry. Perhaps the only way of tackling the problem is to remove unpaid internships from the system. After all, it's only really those with wealthy parents who can afford to live in London, one of the most expensive places to live in the world, whilst getting no pay. If you can't get that kind of experience, it's difficult to market yourself as employable. Another solution has recently been put forward by the NCTJ, who plan to set up apprenticeships with The Independent, The Standard and The BBC for non-graduates, making it possible for some to enter the industry without the need for an expensive university qualification.

On a personal note, I'm hoping one day to become a journalist, possibly within fashion journalism, but I do worry sometimes.Because despite the advantages I have had in life and the fact that I'm going to an excellent university in October, the "glittering prizes" will have already been handed out to the children of the wealthy who already work in the industry. Researching this post has soothed my fears a little; it seems that there's greater diversity in the fashion industry than I first thought - socially at least, because let me tell you there's not exactly a lot of racial diversity (every editor on the top 10 list is white). But if the kind of blatant favouritism which I read about in Johnson's book is still in existence then that makes me very worried, partially for myself and even more for people who aren't lucky enough to have had the opportunities I've had.

Let's start thinking of more ways we can open up the "closed shop".