When my editor asked me to write about what a fashion editor actually does, I smiled nervously, slowly walked backwards and later panicked at what I'd agreed to. Because there's no concise way to answer the question: what does a fashion editor do? I can be peeling the dirty remnants of masking tape from the soles of shoes one day, or drinking cocktails with the CEO of a luxury brand the next. Most days I'm driving around Auckland trying to find a car park, talking to sales assistants on the shop floor (very important people), fashion designers in their workrooms, and making multiple trips to the mailroom (more very important people).
Other days, I can be talking to fashion students, cajoling interns, answering questions on how they can become fashion editors (most of the time encouraging them to do something else while they still can). I'm looking at a stream of clothes to consider for shoots and product pages; new season previews, shoes, accessories, some cheap, some very expensive; some nice things, some awful. Yesterday, I was looking at technical sandals and golf shoes for men, tomorrow I'm signing off samples from Rome worth thousands of dollars. Editing the fashion pages for two weekly newspaper magazines requires a generalist point of view.
Most weeks I'm procrastinating about writing, then furiously trying to meet double weekly deadlines for Canvas and Viva. I also help create social media content, video content, loading and basic coding - new skills required of a modern-day fashion editor. There are meetings with my editors to discuss the fashion content; what needs improving, what they want to see more or less of; meetings with advertising and marketing teams to discuss creative ways to engage readers through events or sponsored content.
To foster genuine engagement between designers and retailers with your audience relies on versatility ... and tact. Ninety-five per cent of the time I'm invited to an event because of the publication title - not because of who I am, so a level of respect for the position and fulfilling those duties is important on behalf of the magazines and the teams you work for.
I'm on a treadmill of deleting 20MB emails from PR companies, saying yes, maybe, no, or "I need to talk to my editor" to the various pitches that come in daily. I organise teams for shoots including photographers (lighting is crucial), hair stylists (good hair essential for covers), makeup artists (magicians), models (I never dress them, they can dress themselves), and their agents (we need more diversity!) and beg people for locations to shoot in.
How I've managed to do this with an expressionless face and monotone voice is beyond me. To disappoint people further, I don't have fantastic visions in the middle of the night of wearing a turban or a cravat the next day. Truthfully, I stumble out of bed most mornings, peel the cat off me, head to my closet and go with my gut, my arms firmly inside each sleeve of my coat.
Has my dress sense improved since becoming a fashion editor? I hope so. Do I care about what other people think of what I'm wearing? Nope. If I could wear a uniform of T-shirts, jeans and Birkenstocks every day for the rest of my life, I would; but I'll never denounce anyone who likes to dress up. Fashion comes in all forms, and I admire people who make an effort. My grandparents are my style icons.
A fashion editor's job is one where you get what you put in. It's a precarious balancing act of personalities, logistics, budgets, creativity and commerce. As Hamish Bowles, the European editor at large of US Vogue says in the 2012 documentary An Editors Eye, "At the very essence of it, a fashion editor's job is to report on fashion via stories and photo shoots ... What you're doing is collaborating with a photographer to create an image that reflects the fashion you're trying to capture, and to hold a mirror up to the zeitgeist of the moment." Nowadays a fashion editor's job requires you to be so much more.
Diana Vreeland, the iconic editor of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar during the 60s, sent her fashion editors to exotic destinations where they would shoot for weeks at a time, using models with such singular names as Dovima and Verushka. Today's budgets don't allow for such excesses; however knowing how to pack 10 coats into a single suitcase and how to legibly fill out a Carnet form are essential skills for any fashion editor. I learned the latter the hard way, spending hours in Customs during my first overseas trip for Fashion Quarterly magazine, every itemised piece of a cocktail dress due to be photographed plucked out, one by one, by sour-faced Customs officials as I documented them in front of impatient backpackers.
The job is a social one and, as an introvert, I've learned to develop my game play over the years, trying my best to look less bored: the natural state my face prefers. While there's no shortage of interesting, talented and fabulous people to talk to at stylish social gatherings, often you'll find yourself talking to people you'd really rather not. Like the PR who introduced me as Chang Hung from The Edge to her client, ex-rugby legend Tony Marsh. She no longer bothers me after I corrected her with an eye-roll.
Aspiring fashion editors: when it comes to social gatherings, my advice would be to always go in thinking you don't know anything, don't talk about yourself too much, and most importantly, listen.
People like to project perceptions of what fashion editors are like. They might be charming romantics like the head-girl of fashion editors, Grace Coddington of US Vogue; or flamboyant veterans like Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and Anna Dello Russo. They can be cerebral like Robin Givhan of the Washington Post or Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times; the coverage from both editors during the US elections included dissecting signals from each political candidate's choice of dress - informative even to readers with no interest in fashion. Like Givhan and Friedman, Godfrey Deeny from Le Figaro is not a stylist, but a writer, a different type of fashion editor. Deeny's news and finance journalism background provides authority in an industry not always taken seriously.
It's an industry predominantly made up of women and gay men, but the archaic assumption that every man working in fashion must be gay is untrue. Some of the most inspiring fashion editors I look up to are men, some gay, some straight. It's never been an issue for me but it seems to matter to people outside the industry. I've always viewed people and their capabilities based not on gender or sexuality but on their character.
Along with a supportive and open-minded team and, importantly, my partner of eight years, Zoe Walker (who I also work with at Viva), it's helped me become more confident in my role.
From gender to age, times have changed. In the documentary Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, the magazine's fashion director, 57-year-old Lucinda Chambers is charged with styling HRH the Duchess of Cambridge for the magazine's centenary issue in June last year. No mean feat, the documentary captured the tight-lipped measures taken to feature its high-profile subject, dressed in a casual wardrobe including a Burberry trench and vintage hat for the cover. It showcased a seasoned fashion editor with an unflappable patience in a high pressure role. Yet in May, after 36 years in the job, she was fired by the magazine's new editor, Edward Enninful.
In an interview for Vestoj.com in July, Chambers expressed her frustration. "You're not allowed to fail in fashion - especially in this age of social media, when everything is about leading a successful, amazing life ... instead, the prospect causes anxiety and terror. But why can't we celebrate failure? It helps us grow and develop. I'm not ashamed of what happened to me."
Differentiating between genuine fashion editors and those playing fashion editor - with their coats over shoulders, walking aimlessly in quiet desperation that someone will take their picture - is like separating the wheat from the chaff. But fashion posers and stereotypes make brilliant fodder. Who can forget the Bolli-swigging fashion editor Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous or the bitchy display of vanity in films like The Devil Wears Prada and Zoolander? The New Zealand fashion industry is rarely like this, but there are people who think playing to stereotypes will get them a goody bag and a free glass of champagne.
The challenge now is to adapt; to act as a filter for the barrage of product from chain stores, support new design talent and champion sustainable brands. Fashion editors also play a small part in fostering the standards of an industry, by carefully editing and guiding (not dictating) to consumers what they should spend their hard-earned money on. My relationships with designers are important, and I've become friends with some - but the edit should always be impartial. On the eve of my 12th New Zealand Fashion Week, I'll be putting on my fashion editor hat and supporting the talented people in our industry. From uni students backstage to established designers who've done much to put New Zealand fashion on the map.
I'll be avoiding the posers and trying to file my weekly copy back at the office, with half a sandwich falling out of my hand. Will I be doing this when I'm 40? Who knows, but one thing's for sure, I won't be doing it with a coat over my shoulders.