When I met with former Style.com editors Katharine K. Zarrella and Amber Kallor at the Mercer on Monday, they both said that working at the now-defunct digital publication was the kind of dream job they could only imagine as two women growing up far from fashion's epicenter. So Condé Nast's announcement in April that it would shut down the site by the end of the summer was disappointing news, to say the least.
"We were all very sad about it, and a lot of people began coming up to me and saying, 'We don't know what we're going to do without it,'" said Zarrella, who was working at V as a senior editor at the time. Kallor was a senior beauty editor at Style.com — the two overlapped there and became friends in 2013 and 2014. "We just saw this gap in the market," said Zarrella. "I think there's a reader right now who's not being addressed: It's somebody who's really savvy, it's somebody who's really passionate about fashion, it's not necessarily [an] insider... It's just consumers [who] want to feel like they're behind the scenes." And she and Kallor had already been thinking about starting a fashion and beauty publication that reflected their shared vision.
On Friday, FashionUnfiltered.com goes live with Zarrella as editor-in-chief, Kallor as beauty director and a whole host of contributors: Ashley W. Simpson as features editor-at-large; makeup artist Vincent Oquendo as beauty editor-at-large; and Style.com and Teen Vogue alum Jessica Minkoff as market director-at-large. In addition, there will be columns and/or contributions from Shweta Shiware, Elizabeth Peng, Todd Plummer, Baze Mpinja and fellow former Style.com staffer Brittany Adams — with many more to be announced, Zarrella promises.
There will be original editorials, too — at least one fashion and one beauty shoot per month, in which Zarella wants to give stylists and photographers the opportunity to "play and do something they really believe in and not have any restrictions or limits — and just make something that's beautiful and communicates their point of view."
Indeed, embracing the contributors' points of view is what Zarrella and Kallor say will separate Fashion Unfiltered from other digital fashion publications. "We don't have one way that we talk to readers or one voice or a specific attitude or language," said Kallor. "I think that's why we've had so many amazing contributors — everyone can come and speak in their own voice and bring their own point of view to the table." Zarrella also emphasized a focus on honest, unbiased, respectful reporting from a range of diverse viewpoints. "Just because someone's reading about fashion doesn't mean that they need to be talked down to; they don't need to have a celebrity slideshow of some reality star every single day," she said.
Fashion Unfiltered will tackle breaking news in addition to features. "We are going to be chasing after exclusives, absolutely," Zarrella, but added that if news breaks elsewhere, publishing it quickly is less important than adding to the conversation. "The race to get things up really, really fast after it breaks — yes, I get it. It's trending in the right rail on Facebook and everyone wants the clicks to ride off of that other publication's exclusive. But if we're not adding anything to the conversation, I'd rather have something that's very researched and interesting go up an hour or two after the news breaks than three lines regurgitating someone else's story 10 minutes later."
Much in the sprit of Style.com, runway coverage and criticism will be substantial. Fashion Unfiltered has partnered with Firstview for collection imagery and the site plans to cover about 250 shows during the fall 2016 season."There will be a brief recap for every single show that we cover... so if you're a fashion obsessive, a stylist or a buyer and you want to know exactly what went on, what the fabrics were, what the trends were, etc., you can read those two sentences and then get into the images," said Zarrella. Then the next day, one or two critics in each city will produce a more considered daily report that will address the collections that stood out through a seasonal, cultural and fashion historical perspective.
As for backstage beauty, Kallor says it won't be the traditional breakdown. "I think what readers are interested in when it comes to beauty are the tips to the insider info on what products were used... and that voice from Pat [McGrath] and Peter Philips and Sam [McKnight] — these very influential beauty voices that you so often don't get to hear, and they say really funny, irreverent and important things about the state of fashion culture and beauty."
In addition to financial support from family and friends, Zarrella said Fashion Unfiltered has additional funding from a source she declined to name. "We're lucky that the industry has been really supportive and really generous," she said. Advertising from fashion, beauty and luxury brands will be the main source of revenue, as well as branded content in the form of shopping stories. So what happens if the site's unbiased reporting or less-than-stellar reviews irk gatekeeping fashion publicists or advertisers? "We've been very, very honest with everyone [and] saying we have to keep our journalistic integrity intact," said Zarrella. "It's a huge reason I'm doing this... In my experience, people might be upset, but at the end of the day, as long as you're respectful in what you say, no one can get mad at you for being honest."
That balanced approach will begin to manifest itself online Friday on a very clean, black and white site designed by Ouruse Creative Director Natalie Marie Gehrels — "I've been joking with people that its like the Xanax of fashion websites," said Zarrella — along with optimized interfaces for mobile and tablet. A future print component is not out of the question.
"At the end of the day, I talk about how fashion is a very serious industry and I do believe that aggressively, but it should also be fun — gosh, it's so much fun and hilarious at the same time," said Zarrella. "We're not trying to tell our reader what to do... We're letting [readers] know what's going on in the fashion world and what's happening and they can decide what tribe that they want to fit into." Choose your own fashion filter.