In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
If you, like me, have found yourself frustrated with the current rough-and-tumble state of the fashion industry, I implore you to talk to Alexander Fury. The London-based journalist, author and critic's almanac-like knowledge of fashion history and culture is incredibly impressive on its own; and the passion with which he skillfully reports on the industry will leave you remembering why you fell in love with it in the first place.
Fury graduated from Central Saint Martins with a degree in fashion history and theory, later cutting his teeth as fashion director at Nick Knight's ShowStudio before editing Love under editor-in-chief Katie Grand. For the past three years, Fury's served as fashion editor of The Independent — as well as the inaugural men's critic for Vogue Runway — and as of last month, T Magazine named him chief fashion correspondent, a plum new role about which I was anxious to learn more.
While his resumé is, to put it mildly, imposing, Fury's encyclopedic expertise comes from the most genuine place: a love of fashion that began when he was just a boy growing up in Northern England. I chatted with Fury over the phone from New York about his time in fashion school, writing a constructive (at times negative) review, how the digital space has impacted his career and what's next.
Let's start from the beginning. Were you always interested in fashion?
I was always interested in clothes. When I was growing up, my mother didn't really wear high-fashion clothes, but she did wear fashionable clothes, so I was interested in what she was wearing. It was when I became a teenager that I discovered fashion. From that point on, I was embedded in it and knew it was the only thing I wanted to do.
Did you have a "click" moment you can remember, when those career aspirations became vividly clear?
When I was about 12, I saw a picture from [John] Galliano's fall 1995 show of Carla Bruni wearing a long, white dress with a black flower on it. I'd seen images of catwalk shows, but that image didn't correspond to anything I'd seen before.
Also, I was incredibly lucky that I was growing up in the mid-'90s in London when Galliano was going to Givenchy and Dior, when [Alexander] McQueen went to Givenchy. It was national news that these British designers were taking over these French couture houses. There was a lot of information around, particularly in a pre-Internet age. It was then that I learned who the characters were — I began to become aware of the fashion system.
I was always very curious of the way that McQueen and Galliano worked. Their designs were incredibly historical, so you'd read a review of a Galliano show and they'd talk about Charles James, which would make me go and read about Charles James. That was when I became interested in the historical aspect of fashion.
What was it like growing up in the U.K. at that time?
I grew up in a tiny village just outside of Manchester. I was very removed — I wasn't being cool and precocious and trying to get into fashion shows in London when I was 13. Because it was pre-Internet, I used to buy four or five magazines a month. During the collections, I would buy the four main British newspapers every day because they were the only places you could get actual images. My love of newspaper and fashion reportage came from that era. Even when I didn't have a huge knowledge of fashion, I was reading that.
Tell me about your education at Central Saint Martins. Have you found that attending fashion school has been an important influence on your career?
The course I did was called Fashion History and Theory, which one of my classmates once said sounded like something Cher Horowitz would do, which I think is very funny. It was an incredibly analytical, intelligent course. It's entirely essay- and writing-based, whereas there are others such as Fashion Communication and Promotion where you produce a magazine. I had this real passion for the history of fashion since I was 12 or 13. I'm very interested in how approaches to fashion in the past have brought us to where we are today and how it still engenders some of the ways we look at clothing.
[CSM] is in the heart of London, which was amazing exposure. We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I'll always remember we got to hold the skirt of a [Christian Dior] bar suit on a hanger. To interact with garments like that is incredibly interesting because you feel the weight of it and can imagine what it's like to be a woman carrying that thing around. It really makes you look at those '50s couture images very differently.
How did you spend your time while at CSM outside of your studies?
A lot of people don't know that at the same time, I worked for an investment bank. That's how I paid my way through university. It was very much a means to an end.
One of the times I interviewed Demna Gvasalia, [I learned that] he almost ended up working at a bank in Dusseldorf because he studied economics and then decided to go the [Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts]. It's quite odd that we both ended up doing similar things.
After graduating, you edited Condé Nast's Love before becoming fashion editor at The Independent. Did you find that being an editor, first and foremost, changed your writing?
Katie Grand is editor-in-chief, and I was an editor beneath her [overseeing] a lot of the text in the magazine. Working with Katie was an incredible experience. She's an absolutely incredible editor; she's an amazing woman. It was fantastic to work with somebody who has such a specific view of fashion. What's fantastic about Love is that it completely reinvents itself every issue. Nothing's templated. The magazine is designed from scratch each issue.
Then I moved onto The Independent where I was overseeing the fashion content of the magazine. That proved invaluable, that experience of working with a team, talking through massive ideas and how they translate between a photographed and written editorial tied together to make a cohesive message. That was really important to me.
Business of Fashion said you're "unafraid of either sharing [your] true opinion, or polarizing the opinion of others." Do you find that this voice has helped to make you a successful critic?
[Laughs] I just try and be honest. Ultimately, I hope that's what people react to. To their credit, the vast majority of fashion brands have been incredibly supportive. They understand what criticism is. They don't expect us to write great things about everything; they like to have a dialogue. Sometimes you'll have a discussion [with a designer] and they'll say you didn't see what they wanted you to see. I think they feel it helps them or it pushes them to explore things in different ways. I never want to see what I do as destructive; I always hope it's constructive.
I try not to have very set ideas of what I want a designer to do. The most exciting thing is when you can be surprised by what a designer's done. I hope people react favorably to the way I try to have a historical point of view and talk about fashion in a broader context. I'm really grateful that the designers and the fashion brands have listened to me or paid attention to what I write.
How has the digital space affected fashion journalism over the course of your career?
I worked in reverse to a lot of people. I started at ShowStudio in the digital space, then moved to a magazine, then moved to a newspaper. Next, I should be chiseling something into stone. [Laughs] I feel like I've been moving backwards. But at the same time, I started digitally, then I moved to a magazine with a digital platform, then to a newspaper which now has gone digital-only.
You can be much more reactive online. You can't write about something two weeks after it happened. You should be writing about it the day after it happened or the day it happens or the day before it happens. Alongside that is what everybody talks about — [the Internet] has increased the speed at which you're expected to write. When I was working at Vogue Runway, our turnaround time, ideally, was three hours between seeing the show and filing the show. I think there's something great about that.
I see the Internet as being incredibly positive because it's making us write in different ways, making us look at print journalism as something very different [than] online journalism. It's a way to express a message differently. That's how I look at it.
Do you find it difficult to write thorough, analytical pieces when it's often encouraged to file a story as soon as possible?
I felt that working on a newspaper. When I started working at The Independent, I was really struck by when people would say, "Oh, you know, the deadlines must be so much easier." But the deadlines are tougher on a newspaper! I had to file everything by 5 p.m. At Vogue, I could write into the wee hours, but at a newspaper, if it's not there by the time [it goes to print], it's not going in. It's not going to happen. If you've got the news that David Bowie died at 2 p.m. and the newspaper was going to print at 5 p.m., you have two hours to do your David Bowie think piece. But for online, they want the think piece 10 after 2 p.m. There's a danger that people don't want you to be best, they just want you to be first — to be the first thing that's going to show up at the top of the search results.
That can be quite counter-productive. Surely it would be better to have a longer, thought-out piece. [But] because the Internet doesn't have any deadlines, there isn't a point you're working towards. With a newspaper, if something happened at 11 p.m. at night, you can't do anything — that's just going to go in the next edition. I think it is very good for news — because news happens all the time — but I think it can be problematic when what you really want is an intelligent, considered piece. That does take time.
What can you tell me about your new role at T? How will it differ from your work at The Independent?
I'm coming into a very established team, whereas at The Independent, I came in as a fashion editor. I wasn't really augmenting an existing team. And at Vogue Runway, they had a huge team for womenswear, but they didn't have anybody on menswear, which is what I came in to do there. The way I'm thinking about my role at T is: What angle can I have that will be different from the one other people are taking? How can I supplement what they're already doing?
Also, I'm not coming in as a critic — I'm the chief fashion correspondent. It's writing about fashion in a different way. There will be critiques and it will be analytical, but I might not necessarily write about individual shows. I might write about things going on behind the scenes. They want things that are intelligent. They want analytical writing about fashion, and that's what I really want to do. That's what I hope my work comes across as — really passionate.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.