'Tales from the Back Row' Gets Real About Fashion in the Digital Age

Amy Odell gives a brutally honest look at what it takes to make it in the industry's most misunderstood sector: the Internet.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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Amy Odell gives a brutally honest look at what it takes to make it in the industry's most misunderstood sector: the Internet.
Author Amy Odell at 'Cosmopolitan' Magazine's Fun Fearless Life Conference. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

Author Amy Odell at 'Cosmopolitan' Magazine's Fun Fearless Life Conference. Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

It's often assumed that working in the fashion industry is all glamour all the time — thanks in part to the media that portrays it. From shows like "The Hills" and "The City" infamously filming interns jetting off to Paris and beyond, to the novel-turned-blockbuster "The Devil Wears Prada" leading fans to believe that assistants at top magazines are gifted full wardrobes of current season Chanel, it's easy to see why so many young men and women dream of having a career in this world. 

One realm of fashion publishing that's had very little time in the spotlight is the digital sector, and while working as an editor on the Internet can be an exciting adventure, the wild, wild web comes with its own set of challenges — and is decidedly less glamorous (and way more low-budget) than its glossy print counterparts. In her first book, "Tales from the Back Row," Amy Odell — the editor of Cosmop0litan.com who made a name for herself as New York magazine’s first fashion blogger at The Cut — gives readers a brutally honest look at how this "other half" lives through essays rife with humor, introspection and just the right amount of snark.

Odell started at The Cut in 2008, when fashion bloggers (Bryanboy, Tavi, Susie Bubble) and the street style phenomenon were beginning to enter the industry's collective consciousness. She recounts her rise up the ranks as an online journalist with completely unfiltered stories (yes, she names names) about assignments that left her awkwardly hovering backstage at fashion shows, making small talk with celebrities at fancy parties, getting outfit-shamed by Anna Dello Russo and even receiving a side-hug from Kanye West — all in the hopes of getting a quote or tidbit that she could turn into a story.  

Sure, Odell often found herself in the same room as greats like Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld, but she admits that she was often made to feel pretty unimportant and — considering the fact that she sat behind a computer for 10+ hours a day wearing a Beyoncé T-shirt — downright unstylish. But building a voice and breaking stories mattered much more to her than the perks (or the lack thereof): Odell relied on sample sales to afford designer clothing, and the only time she got to raid the New York fashion closet was for a very special occasion — one that involved her idol, Anna Wintour.

"Tales from the Back Row" also addresses frustrations about working in fashion online that few will say out loud. For instance, she discusses the "dubiously employed," Internet-famous folks who hang around Fashion Week in order to get their photos taken and who somehow occupy a large section of the front row; the fact that self-promotion and building a personal "brand" through social media can be more important than actual talent; the nasty commenter culture that can leave writers feeling attacked and unsure of their abilities; the bullying that ensues from publicists who are not pleased with a post; and the difficulty of getting media-trained celebrities, models or designers to say anything remotely interesting during an interview. At Fashionista, we can relate to Odell's observations on a very real level.

As someone who turned freelance red carpet reporting gigs into a full-time job at New York (eventually leading to her role at Cosmo), it's refreshing to read Odell's no-BS primer on how to achieve success in the industry without crazy connections and/or a trust fund. Plus, some of the anecdotes she shares from her years as a reporter — from Alexander Wang's first big-time runway show to a full-on lovefest with Rachel Zoe — are almost too hilarious to believe. 

To close her book, she provides a cut-and-dry "10 Commandments" that everyone who wants to work in fashion should follow — something that's highly valuable on its own. Whether you're interested in pursuing a career in publishing, public relations or design, or you're just fascinated with what really goes on behind-the-scenes without the usual sugarcoating, we'd say this is required reading.

Tales from the Back Row is available on Sept. 1 at Amazon.com.

Photo: Simon & Schuster

Photo: Simon & Schuster