Have you ever wondered what happens behind closed doors at a fashion magazine? Ever been particularly curious about the creative process at Vogue? Have you ever speculated as to how you may be able to get your foot in the door at such a place, or into the fashion industry as a whole? If you could ask an editor one thing, what would it be?
I had wondered about these things, too. Over the course of my career, many additional questions had loomed in my mind, as well. I often learned the answers to these questions in the heat of the moment, by experiencing many different types of situations, working on photoshoots, and on various projects throughout the publishing world. I learned by doing and by observing on sets, often collaborating with many talented individuals who were kind enough to pass along their knowledge to me, and finally by creating my own photoshoots, learning by trial and error all the way.
However, after I became a fashion editor, though the position builds upon some of the skills I had been honing as a stylist and photographer, I could find very little information regarding exactly what fashion editors do. Additionally, I am often asked similar questions about how one can produce photoshoots, go about finding jobs in the creative industry, or write a fashion story. That inspired me to open up my little world of “fashion editing” to you here, not only by sharing my own experiences, but the experiences and wisdom of some of the industry’s great professionals.
For these reasons and more I was compelled to reach out to Virginia Smith, Market Director of Fashion & Accessories at Vogue Magazine. A senior editor, Virginia has been working her magic at Vogue for 15 years. Profoundly skilled at what she does, and highly influential in the fashion and art world, she is responsible for shaping much of our culture. Virginia attends runway show internationally, oversees the selection of fashion and accessories, helps conceptualize stories and edits the Last Looks Page. As an expert in her field, Virginia’s time-tested wisdom and insight into the fashion world is entrepreneurship gold. I’m sure, now, you can imagine my delight and surprise when she responded to my request for an interview with a “yes”! I was thrilled, not only for myself, but for every reader she was subsequently opening the doors to, by providing rare and incredibly insightful information for those of us who don’t generally have access to this world.
Speaking with her and working on this post has been incredibly inspiring and enlightening, and I am beyond thrilled to pass along the opportunity for you to become as inspired as I have by Virginia’s story and insight. What follows are my favorite of her quotes taken from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
On How Virginia Got Started at Vogue:
“Deciding my next steps, I had been out of college for about four years and decided to - obviously I graduated from college - but [I] decided to go to FIT for their one-year Fashion and Design Merchandising Program, because I, sort of, didn’t know enough about fashion. I knew there were designers, I knew there were buyers, but I didn’t know what was between the two, so I took a one-year course, which was great and had very strong connections to the fashion industry. When I was at FIT, I had an internship with Anne Klein… and from there I was actually hired by Anne Klein for an assistant position and ended up staying there for eight years and [was] introduced to the public relations world. Then from Anne Klein I went to Calvin Klein and did Public Relations there [for another eight years]. Then one day I got this phone call “there’s an opening at Vogue” and 15 years later I’m still here!”
Best Advice on Breaking into the Industry:
“I think one of the best, best things anyone can do, is grab an internship. I mean, sadly, they’re fewer and farther between…but if you can get one, just get your foot in the door, it’s the best way to learn - sometimes you may learn that’s not what you want to do…And, I will say, FIT, Parsons, LIM here [in NYC], they all have very strong internship programs or freelance programs.”
Advice on Some Non-Conventional Ways to Break into the Industry:
“I think (…do to not be a pest, because everyone working is obviously busy) anything you can do to maybe catch someone’s attention that would allow you to get your foot in the door…an interesting letter or an interesting email. You get some that are boring, or you feel like the person didn’t really do their homework. Those you just hit delete and don’t bother to answer, but if it’s someone who’s put some thought into it and you can tell has done their homework on you, or Vogue, or whatever the thing is, then I think you take a second look and try to carve out a few minutes to see them. We’re just bombarded. We’re bombarded with email, from PR companies [etc.], and so it really has to stand out. I think that would be my best advice.”
“Anything you can do to sort of network and find a little “in”, like a friend of a friend. Ask a favor, because if you keep trying at it and keep meeting people and say, “do you know anyone in this industry who does this?” …eventually, you’re going to get a little thread that might weave its way through and turn out to be something.”
Virginia’s Biggest Influences:
“Well, I’m definitely inspired by my boss, Anna. If I had a company to run, I would run it just like she runs Vogue. She is a constant inspiration.
“I also come from a family of very strong willed southern women. My Great-Grandmother was the editor of [a newspaper]. Her husband passed away and he had many business ownings, but one was The Fayetteville Daily Democrat. She inherited it and ran it, and by all accounts was quite a force to be reckoned with, and this was very unusual. This was in the 20’s that a woman was doing this. And, my Mother is quite the velvet hammer…you think it’s just a nice southern woman, but, you know, she can really be quite strong when she wants to.”
Qualities You Should Possess to Work at Vogue:
“You have to be decisive…You have a team and you have to guide the ship and get everyone focused, and it’s something you have to do almost daily, especially around here. Things change rather quickly, and I think that’s the [industry’s] climate in general, and I think what’s true today may not have been true yesterday, and I think the focus today may not be the focus tomorrow. We have a lot of little team meetings several times a week. We sort of say, “ok, let’s go through everything we’re working on” and get everyone focused, and that really works a lot better than email…it helps to get everyone in a room, as old fashioned as that sounds.”
“Everyone would say, ‘oh, a great fashion sense’…especially if you’re wanting to go into the styling aspect and be a stylist, and that sort of editor - sitting editors is what we call them here - that sort of visual sense of seeing how clothes are working together, and also seeing how the whole picture is working together. Some editors are very good at seeing the clothes, but not so good at seeing the picture, and those editors might be good at styling for a fashion show, because that’s a very different thing, because you’re getting a singular point across in about a 10-minute time period. Creating a picture is different; you’re putting on a different point of view for that. You’re telling a story.”
A Bit About Fashion Photography at Vogue:
“We have Phyllis Posnick here, who’s one of our editors, who typically does a beauty picture, and she only has one picture to make that point, so she has to make a really strong image, or no one’s going to understand what we’re talking about.”
How Vogue Scouts for New Talent:
“We use everything, really. We use a lot of word of mouth. When we hire freelancers here, we really try to hire people we can see moving into a permanent position, if one opened up…That’s why I think it’s so important - going back to the beginning; just get your little foot in the door, and just work so hard, because once you get just that little bit of footing, then you can start your journey.”
So, there you have it! The profound wisdom of a fashion editor icon! Enormous thank you to Virginia Smith for taking the time to share her expertise, and to Vogue altogether for allowing us this incredible peek into their fascinating world!
Now, go fourth! Use this Knowledge! Be entrepreneurial! Be Creative! Be Courageous!