The Evolution of the Fashion Editor: Industry Insiders Weigh in On How the Job Has Changed for Better or for Worse

There's no question that, over the past ten years, fashion media (and all media for that matter) has changed dramatically--a fact that was underscored last week when bloggers Scott Schuman and Garance Dore took home the CFDA Media Award, something that would have previously been unthinkable. "10 years ago, [Scott and Garance] wouldn't have gotten this award," Pharrel said during the ceremony. "That's what's so exciting about tonight." Garance reiterated that fact, saying, "Six years ago I opened my blog [and] it wasn't taken very seriously." Fast forward to 2012, and she's accepting the highest honor from her peers. Clearly, the landscape has changed drastically. "It is just a different world and different time that we live in," CFDA president Steven Kolb said, of the pair's win. "The reason why Scott and Garance won the Media Award and who they are and what they do, is no different than those who have won before," he added. "Fashion and media are changing every second because of technology." Truer words could not have been spoken. Gone are the days when print publications alone ruled the industry--now news is broken on Twitter, and blogs and websites have become legitimate (and necessary) sources of original reporting. While these changes are generally improvements--particularly for the way we consume media--they also have huge implications for the jobs of those who work in the industry, and not all of them are positive. Now, an editor is not just an editor: She or he must also be a blogger, a Tweeter, an Instagrammer, a street style star and in many cases, a "personality." And that's not even mentioning all the DJ gigs, TV appearances and special projects that editors today are racking up. So, what exactly does it mean to be an editor, in today's ever-changing, digital climate?
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Hayley Phelan
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There's no question that, over the past ten years, fashion media (and all media for that matter) has changed dramatically--a fact that was underscored last week when bloggers Scott Schuman and Garance Dore took home the CFDA Media Award, something that would have previously been unthinkable. "10 years ago, [Scott and Garance] wouldn't have gotten this award," Pharrel said during the ceremony. "That's what's so exciting about tonight." Garance reiterated that fact, saying, "Six years ago I opened my blog [and] it wasn't taken very seriously." Fast forward to 2012, and she's accepting the highest honor from her peers. Clearly, the landscape has changed drastically. "It is just a different world and different time that we live in," CFDA president Steven Kolb said, of the pair's win. "The reason why Scott and Garance won the Media Award and who they are and what they do, is no different than those who have won before," he added. "Fashion and media are changing every second because of technology." Truer words could not have been spoken. Gone are the days when print publications alone ruled the industry--now news is broken on Twitter, and blogs and websites have become legitimate (and necessary) sources of original reporting. While these changes are generally improvements--particularly for the way we consume media--they also have huge implications for the jobs of those who work in the industry, and not all of them are positive. Now, an editor is not just an editor: She or he must also be a blogger, a Tweeter, an Instagrammer, a street style star and in many cases, a "personality." And that's not even mentioning all the DJ gigs, TV appearances and special projects that editors today are racking up. So, what exactly does it mean to be an editor, in today's ever-changing, digital climate?
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

There's no question that, over the past ten years, fashion media (and all media for that matter) has changed dramatically--a fact that was underscored last week when bloggers Scott Schuman and Garance Dore took home the CFDA Media Award, something that would have previously been unthinkable.

"10 years ago, [Scott and Garance] wouldn't have gotten this award," Pharrell said during the ceremony. "That's what's so exciting about tonight."

Garance reiterated that fact, saying, "Six years ago I opened my blog [and] it wasn't taken very seriously." Fast forward to 2012, and she's accepting the highest honor from her peers. Clearly, the landscape has changed drastically.

"It is just a different world and different time that we live in," CFDA president Steven Kolb said, of the pair's win.

"The reason why Scott and Garance won the Media Award and who they are and what they do, is no different than those who have won before," he added. "Fashion and media are changing every second because of technology."

Truer words could not have been spoken. Gone are the days when print publications alone ruled the industry--now news is broken on Twitter, and blogs and websites have become legitimate (and necessary) sources of original reporting. While these changes are generally improvements--particularly for the way we consume media--they also have huge implications for the jobs of those who work in the industry, and not all of them are positive. Now, an editor is not just an editor: She or he must also be a blogger, a Tweeter, an Instagrammer, a street style star and in many cases, a "personality." And that's not even mentioning all the DJ gigs, TV appearances and special projects that editors today are racking up.

So, what exactly does it mean to be an editor, in today's ever-changing, digital climate?

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

WEARING A LOT OF HATS "Ten years ago when I started in the industry, it was all about print," Eva Chen, who is Teen Vogue's Beauty and Health Director/Special Projects Director (and boasts 30,000+ followers on Twitter), told me. "Now when I'm thinking about a story I'm thinking about it across all different platforms...How it will look online, what extra scenes can we use, how will this translate to a tweet, how will this work on tumblr, can we do a google hangout. To be an editor these days you're thinking about things on five different platforms."

Susan Cernek, Glamour's Fashion Development Director, agrees. "Previously, an editor’s role, responsibilities and purview were fairly specific and focused: You were responsible for a certain market or a certain beat and you worked on certain FOB [front of book] pages," she said. "Now, editors still have those core responsibilities, but the role also means bringing that insight and expertise to other areas of the brand, whether that be another section of the book, the brand’s Tumblr or a completely new product."

In short, editors have to wear a lot of hats these days--and their jobs encompass far more than just, you know, editing. And considering more and more magazines are moving away from purely publishing pursuits, partnering on TV shows or launching e-commerce sites and product lines, an editor's job is likely to get all the more complicated. Many editor-hopefuls may not have exactly pictured themselves sifting through product prototypes, or running an e-commerce site, or writing ad copy, but more and more, those responsibilities are becoming huge parts of the job. Chen, for instance, tells me that a good portion of her day is spent working on Teen Vogue's bedding line. "The editors, even [EIC] Amy [Astley], are so involved in the designing of every single item," she said.

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

CONSTANTLY PRODUCING CONTENT It isn't just special projects that are swallowing up an editor's day. The necessity--or the preceived necessity--of staying connected via social media has definitely added to the average editor's workload--and sometimes it can come at a real cost to the job. "At fashion shows, I’m often struck by how frantically people are Tweeting comments and uploading images or videotaping a show," The Daily Beast's Robin Givhan, who is the only fashion journalist to have won a Pulitzer Prize, told me. "They’re not actually watching the show. At best, they’re viewing it through the lens of a camera. And after having many conversations with still photographers over the years, I know that seeing a runway show through the lens of a camera while you’re photographing it is a wholly different experience from just sitting and absorbing it. People are turning real experiences into virtual ones. I find that disheartening."

"I definitely feel pressured to be producing content at all times whether it's blogging, tweeting, or editing," Chen said. "It does get overwhelming sometimes. I feel like my job is never over." However, Chen is quick to add that social media has given editors a chance to connect with readers in a way never before possible, and that that's something she would never want to give up.

Social media has also become an indispensable tool for editors to build their own brand, and solidify themselves as a "personality" in the industry. One need only to look at Anna Dello Russo's meteoric rise to fame, or Derek Blasberg's career trajectory, to understand how important the cult of the personality is in the fashion industry, and what a powerful tool it can be for an editor's career. The problem is, sometimes it gives an unfair advantage to those who, while being perfectly outfitted in the best designer duds, frequently photographed with celebrities and always present at the industry's coolest events, are not necessarily that great at being editors.

"People might be so caught up in creating a persona or sharing a persona on social media that it takes a way from what their job actually might be," Chen said. But in an industry like fashion that quite literally revolves around appearances, a person's projected image can easily be mistaken for reality. And that, in turn, can put a lot of pressure on aspiring editors or fashion journalists to fit into the preconceived notion of what they should look an act like.

Take the proliferation of street style bloggers and their fascination with how the fashion set puts together an outfit. "It's flattering to be photographed by the talented and discriminating eyes of Garance, Phil Oh and Scott Schuman," oft-street style-snapped Teen Vogue editor Mary Kate Steinmiller told us, "and one can't help but to take an extra moment to put effort into looking camera ready." But, she concedes, it's all gotten a little out of hand. "We are all supposed to be going to fashion week because its our JOB, not to be self promoters getting photographed," she said.

A job that never stops.

"Because of the cult of personality, being an editor can definitely feel like a 24-hour job," Chen said, adding that she is much more aware of how she appears and interacts with others during her off-duty hours.

For Givhan, trying to be a 'personality' is just too stressful. "I don’t want to be Robin Givhan: personality. Frankly that’s way too much pressure!" she told us. "I’m Robin Givhan: gratefully working journalist. I hope that stands for something."

Tavi sitting front row. Photo: Getty

Tavi sitting front row. Photo: Getty

THE BLOGGER QUESTION Another reason editors have had to step up their game--online and on social media--is because they're now facing competition--and lots of it--from non-industry bloggers.

Magazine websites have to compete for page views with blogs, and, by necessity, editors now have to compete with bloggers for jobs. Take Tavi Gevinson who, at 15, became editor-in-chief of Rookie Magazine, or Elin Kling, who has also launched her own magazine STYLEBY. And that's not even to mention all the magazine staffers who found their way into media by first starting a blog.

"When I'm looking to hire an assistant...she doesn't necessarily have to have a Twitter following or an online following, but it's certainly an asset," Chen said.

Cernek noted that being active on Twitter and social media demonstrates two invaluable skills for an industry-hopeful: "expert-level multitasking and the art of crafting a witty one-liner."

It also demonstrates the ability to connect with an audience. And in this respect, bloggers may be a little bit ahead of the game. So will editors, eventually be edged out by bloggers? Probably not.

"For all the brouhaha I think an editor's eye will always have a different level of depth [than a blogger]," Chen said. "You cannot in anyway discount that experience you get from working for years as a stylist or as a fashion director."

Cernek says that it really doesn't matter whether a person started out as a blogger, or worked their way up the masthead at a magazine, it's what they're saying--and doing--that counts. "One thing hasn’t changed about the industry: the strongest, smartest and most stylish voices still stand out from the rest of the pack," she said.

But while there's no clear-cut answer to what an editor's job might entail, one thing is for sure: fashion media, and the jobs therein, are changing--and fast. Skills that were once irrelevant to an editor, are now integral to the job and industry players can no longer thrive behind the scenes. New publications are being born--and old ones are dying. Most importantly, digital and print media are no longer mutually exclusive.

"It's sort of an old fashioned distinction to make between 'traditional' media and 'new' media," Chen said. "Today, ideally, they are the same thing." And similarly, an editor's job description--and skill-set--have to reflect that hybrid.