It may sound a glam­orous gig, how­ever as Can­vas and Viva’s fash­ion edi­tor Dan Ahwa ex­plains, some­times the job is any­thing but

It may sound a glam­orous gig, how­ever as Can­vas and Viva’s fash­ion edi­tor Dan Ahwa ex­plains, some­times the job is any­thing but

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

I’m on a tread­mill of delet­ing emails from PR com­pa­nies, say­ing yes, maybe, no, or ‘I need to talk to my edi­tor’to the var­i­ous pitches that come in daily.

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 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.

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.

Dan Ahwa pre­pares a model for a fash­ion shoot in Queen­stown.

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