Break out the bubbly: This January, Fashionista turns 10! We know, we can hardly believe it ourselves. To celebrate the place where so many of us got our start in the industry, we'll be taking a look back on all the things that make Fashionista one of our favorite fashion sites out there (not that we're biased!). Today, we're catching up with the editor who started it all: Faran Krentcil.
To say that Fashionista wouldn't exist without Faran Krentcil wouldn't be entirely true — Gawker founder Elizabeth Spiers was planning on putting together a fashion website as part of her then-fledgling Dead Horse Media stable back in 2006. But one thing that's not debatable is that, without her, Fashionista wouldn't have the unique voice that made it a destination for fashion lovers in the burgeoning fashion blog scene of the late-aughts. Between the quirky, handwritten graphics in the "Fashion Haikus" and "Fashion Trivia" posts, the unabashed love letters to designers like Luella Bartley and models like Kate Moss, and the juicy blind items that lit up comments sections, Krentcil's fun-yet-respectful approach to fashion set the tone for the next decade (!) of Fashionista content.
Growing up outside of Boston, Krentcil originally channeled all of her artistic energy into acting, appearing in local productions of "Annie" and "The Sound of Music." But, choosing to pursue an education over the potentially grueling lifestyle of a child actor, she enrolled at Phillips Academy, Andover, a competitive private school. She loved the challenging academic environment, but never lost her creative edge — or her love for fashion. "When I was there in the late '90s and early 2000s, the culture of the school [made it] very 'uncool' to dress up; we were coming out of grunge," she says. "I would show up in a cocktail dress and a pair of sneakers and I would be so annoyed that everyone was in pajama pants that I would just throw pajama pants on underneath my cocktail dress and call it a day."
From there, she went to Duke University, where she started writing for the Duke Chronicle. Penning a column called "You Write Like A Girl" — while dressed in her finds from trips to Screaming Mimis and Filth Mart — Krentcil embodied the kind of "Sex and the City" cool dominating pop culture at the time. "All of a sudden, it was like all the stuff that I did because I liked it and because I was weird ended up being this very mainstream thing," she explains. That caught the attention of WWD, which featured her as part of a roundup of well-dressed college students and also had her serve as a campus stringer, polling her fellow students for WWD studies.
It would be easy to say that it was smooth sailing from there, but that wouldn't exactly be true, either: There were definitely some failures early on, including being "ejected from the Jane fashion closet" and being fired from a PR job. Still, those lessons carried Krentcil from starting Fashionista to her dream job at Nylon and beyond, as she continues to create her own dream jobs today. Read on to hear about her fashion journey, which involved hard work, a little bit of luck and yes, more than just a pinch of glitter. Who doesn't love glitter?
When were you first interested in fashion?
I don't remember a time when I wasn't. I was, according to my mother, that baby that wouldn't even allow myself to be dressed unless it was something that I wanted [to wear]. One of my earliest memories of being truly amazed is watching an old episode of "Sesame Street." There is a little girl, and she's sitting with Kermit the Frog. They recite the alphabet and over her head letters appear. I was two or three, but I remember the amazement and the joy of seeing that. From then on I was obsessed with drawing letters in every different way. I think that fashion magazines, as I got older, were such a natural extension of what I saw on that "Sesame Street," where you have these different letters and different symbols and they were appearing over these beautiful images — and oh my God, I wanted to live there. Whatever magical world that was, I needed to be in it.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Pretty much the day after I graduated I hopped in a car and I drove to New York. I had written a letter to the fashion director at Jane magazine, because at the time Jane was my favorite. I remember what it said, and this is so embarrassing, but I'll tell you: "I know that fashion has more dry cleaning than Dries Van Noten, but I still really want to work for you and make amazing coffee. Let me know if you have an opening."
I interned in the Jane Magazine fashion closet for two months; Jane didn't hire me, nor should they have. I remember Jane [Pratt] coming in and being like, "What are you doing in a fashion closet? You're not a stylist. You don't want to iron Prada for the next three years. Anytime we have a staff meeting you contribute better ideas than half the people that are actually on staff. You need to get out of here and start writing." I remember being furious at her that she didn't offer me a job. I had no money; I was living with my grandma, so I took a job as a PR firm assistant and all I did for a year was write press releases. I hated myself while I worked there; I thought that it must mean that I was a failure, because I was 21 years old and I wasn't doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. While I was there, I was going on these meetings where I was supposed to be talking about beauty products and really I was going on job interviews. I remember I would put my resume — God, this is bad — in the folder of the client, like it was a press release. I was just so hungry and I was so scared that I was never going to be what I wanted to be, which was a writer.
I started writing articles for magazines when I was 21. I was still working at this PR firm, so I would have to take the magazines where I had bylines and rip out the pages before anyone else saw them because I was so scared of getting fired, which happened anyway. I'd been interviewing with all these people, I had a smattering of bylines, then I got a call from Brandusa Niro, who is the editor-in-chief at The Daily. I brought in clips and she's like, "Great! Why don't you start?"
I remember coming home and crying and calling my parents weeping and saying, "I'm a real fashion reporter!" I worked at The Daily for a year. It was crazy. There wasn't a fashion website, really, except for us. It taught me not to be shy, because I had to literally just walk up to people and say, "Hi. I work at The Daily. Can I ask you a question?" It taught me how to think very quickly on my feet. It really tested my memory because I had to walk into a fashion show and look at the front row and know, pretty much immediately, who every single person was.
I was kind of on my way out of The Daily and a little scared because I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to do. I was lucky in that my work there got good attention. Also, while I was at that job, a blog popped up called Imaginary Socialite that people seemed to really like; they liked to talk about me in that blog in the same sentence, which is interesting. People started to know me for me, for better or worse. That's when Fashionista came along.
What was appealing about Fashionista?
I read in WWD that Elizabeth Spiers, who was the founder of Gawker and the former editor-in-chief of New York Observer, had founded by what is now Breaking Media and was bringing together this dream team of bloggers. They were going to have a bunch of different verticals, and they wanted a fashion vertical. I remember reading it and being mad: "Well, if they wanted a fucking fashion vertical they should have just called me." [laughs] Lo and behold, a couple of days later, I got this email from Elizabeth, who I'd never met before. We started talking and she was very open. She said, "What kind of site do you think we need? What kind of a site doesn't exist?" They were like, "Just come into the office, build an archive and build the graphics, see what you think it should look like and feel like, build the voice and go."
I was lucky because I had all these relationships with designers and publicists and I would say, "Can I talk to Rachel Roy? Can I talk to Charlotte Ronson?" We built a lot of really strong content before we even started. I know there was a lot of hype about it. I was not paying attention; I think if I had been paying attention I wouldn't have been able to do my job, which was just to keep talking to people, to keep building stories. We didn't have a budget for a photographer; I started teaching myself Photoshop. I started making these crazy things. It was a novelty at the time to see a handwritten note on something so digital. I was like, "We've got to bring that element of joy, because if we don't then I won't have any joy, and then what am I doing there?" I was having so much fun and I think that really came through. The more people that joined when I was finally allowed to start having interns and helpers, you know, that strengthened the voice and it also strengthened the joy and the fun and the insanity of it all. I think that was really infectious.
The other thing is we were lucky. I think that [our] kindness was what gave people the goodwill when we started Fashionista to start leaking a lot of information to me that should never have been leaked to anyone. We became kind of this weird espionage center where people would call me and email me and meet me on street corners, essentially. They would give me things like zip drives to collections that hadn't been released to the public yet; look books, passwords to websites, contracts that had been drawn up by huge, major luxury companies about new designers.
What do you think was your biggest scoop?
We had a lot. The first mega, mega, mega one that we got was the Sarah Jessica Parker for Steve & Barry images. I don't think that was more than a month out. We were given those images by a fashion editor at a major magazine. Once that happened it was like we were open for business in the fashion secret department. We knew that Sonic Youth was playing the Marc Jacobs show. We ran hints to it because we loved Marc Jacobs, and then Cathy Horyn called us out on it on her blog and said that it was like an absurd rumor. Then it happened, so that was cool.
We did a good job thinking people were cool before they were. We had the first little interview with Georgia May Jagger. We were on the Agyness Deyn train before anybody else. We also just had a lot of fun. I remember one of the first times I realized that people were listening and that they wanted to talk to us was when I put, "Question; What did your prom dress look like?" We got hundreds of comments. We mixed the breaking news journalism with the human interest with the trend spotting, but then we also would make it very clear that we were going to talk back to you.
Was there a moment where you thought, "Oh, this is a bigger thing than even I thought it would become?"
I never thought it wouldn't be a big thing. It never occurred to me that it could fail. I don't think that it was ever a surprise that girls were paying attention, because I knew that there wasn't anything like this. I was never surprised at the readers because I never felt like I was part of the industry, I felt like I was one of the girls in the comment section. What was a surprise was how quickly the industry decided to really give us a chance. I think part of that was because we were doing something good, really good, and new and fun and a little bit insane. I also think (and hope) that part of it is because we tried so hard to operate with as much kindness as possible; we always try to be compassionate and empathetic and we try to treat each other really well. I want to think that goes for a lot.
When did you know it was time to move on?
I say you always know it's time when the stuff that you used to love is the stuff that makes you resentful for being there. I was creating so much content that I was feeling really burned out, and I had amazing, amazing people. They gave me free reign over 99.9 percent of anything I wanted to do, but in a way, that meant I wasn't learning anything because I didn't have a boss who was creative. I felt like I could stay where I was and be a small queen in a small kingdom or I could go and I could be a little duchess in a big kingdom and learn. I was hungry for that.
The decision to leave was really hard and broke my heart. It was like breaking up with someone that you really, really love. It still breaks my heart. In the end, thank God I did, because look at all of the opportunity and all of the strength that came from new voices. The fact that I've created a springboard for other women to launch careers that are way stronger than mine, that's pretty amazing.
What were you doing at Nylon?
I was at Nylon for six years. I was the digital creative director — we didn't know what that meant when I started. Basically, we had a website that sucked. We had Nylon TV which was just starting. We had a lot of followers on MySpace. We were the first magazine to get on Twitter; we were one of the first magazines to hop on Instagram. As my role progressed, I also started developing these partnerships that Marvin [Jarrett] and Jaclynn [Jarrett] were genius enough to create with major, major brands like Google and Apple and Facebook and iTunes. I got to go into these incredible offices and talk to some of the best and most impactful creative minds in the world. It's a small office, so I got to help out on the print issues; I got to be on set for a lot of cover shoots because I would collect content for social media, but it showed me all that stuff I wanted to know.
It was one of the most formative, amazing experiences that I've ever had, and it was at a magazine that was my favorite magazine from when I was teeny. It was such a privilege to be there and to have so many great people there, and also just to have such trust from the talent, so many amazing artists and actors, like musicians and designers. Then the same thing happened where I started just feeling really drained and the stuff that I used to love was the stuff that I started dreading because I just didn't know if I had it in me to think of another great idea. I was feeling empty and I had to go. It was time for other young women to go and to learn what they could from that job.
How have you been picking your work and your projects since then?
I didn't want to be in New York full time, and so I started consulting for a series of fashion and beauty clients. I would take on the projects if I thought they would be fun, and if I thought that they would be worthwhile from a career perspective and from a monetary perspective. Pretty much the day that I left Nylon, Amina Akhtar, who had been my old editor at New York, called me and she was then the site director at Elle.com; that's when I started working with them. That hasn't stopped, because it's incredibly rewarding to write for a site for and by incredibly smart, incredibly opinionated, incredibly diverse women and I have been so fortunate that they embraced my point of view enough that they kept me around. That also led to Yahoo calling me and saying, "Do you want to come help us out with some stuff?" That led to more work and contributing all the time to them. It's been a neat little balance.
The other thing, which is sort of the secret reason that I left Nylon, is that I have known that I needed to write a book for a really long time, because I'm a writer and that's what I do. I finally started meeting with agents and production companies and started talking about this book. It's been a goal of mine and it's been something that I knew had to happen for me to be fulfilled. Not being full time at any one place, I call it like creative cross-training. I illustrated [The Craft], I was doing art nonstop for a month and a half. I was doing fashion journalism and backstage beauty and then I was in the Clarins office writing stuff for them. It's been a real opportunity and a really amazing, much needed thing.
The thing that is missing is that I hate not being part of a team anymore. I miss mentoring young women. I miss working on the same goal all the time. That's kind of been the trade off and so far it's been alright. I can't tell you what's going to happen. I've only taken three meetings in the past three years for full-time jobs — each one of them has been to be the digital creative director at a magazine. Each time there wasn't enough creative freedom or it was just a little bit of a weird fit. I've never been offered a print situation. I think that people are very goal oriented when they're hiring and they're very scared of taking risks.
What did you look for in the people that you hired or the people that you wanted to write for you?
When we first started hiring interns, we would give them a test — if you didn't love fashion, I didn't have time for you. I made this test and it had a picture of a very recognizable Miu Miu dress with Jacquetta Wheeler wearing it on the runway. Then there was a screen shot of the Zara website and it said, "Name one knockoff from this website and tell us what it's knocking off. Name this dress. Bonus if you can name the model." If you had been reading Fashionista this was an easy test.
Then, I would take them out for coffee and I would ask them why they were interested and what stories they liked and what stories they would have changed. I wanted them to have a real willingness to work together and a real love and as much knowledge as they could possibly have about fashion without having worked in the industry. They also had to be a little bit gutsy. I remember when Karl Lagerfeld was shooting in Gramercy Park and Sabrina [Bacon] jumped up, she's like, "I'll go. I'm going." That was such a fun thing; we got to run behind the scenes with Karl Lagerfeld because Sabrina jumped up and wanted to go meet Karl Lagerfeld.
I always look for people who understand the realities of the job and also people who have dreams. I want you to dream. I want you to know that there are bigger things in your future. I want you to know that hard work and ambition and joy will lead to those big things. I also really, really need you to fact check this story and I need you to be on time.
How have you seen the internet change since starting Fashionista?
If I honestly looked at the internet and how it's changed and how it's grown and how we've changed and how we've grown, I would freak the hell out. I think within the fashion industry and within the media industry it's created a lot of opportunities, a lot of jobs, a lot of view points, a lot of voices and that is unbelievable. I am honored and humbled and amazed and frankly a little bit smug that I got to be a part of sparking that.
I think the flip side of that is that there is a lot of anger about disenfranchisement — "I worked my whole life, I majored in fashion, I was someone's assistant and now some girl who's pretty and who has a million Instagram followers is getting opportunities that I'm not getting, even though I've worked for it." It's tough for both sides, because you have women who are building a different kind of digital business by style blogging and social media influencing and a lot of them feel that their work and forethought is not being acknowledged. Then you have a lot of women who are on the other side who feel that their work and their deep knowledge of the industry is not being rewarded. I think that we're all going to have to continue to have to work through that.
What do you wish you had known before starting out?
I do believe that we need to be easier on ourselves as young women. That said, I wish I'd been a little bit more proactive about representing myself. I had so many TV opportunities in the early days and I didn't care. I would show up with shitty makeup and [messy] hair and I was representing a major fashion website. I think it could have led to more opportunities earlier on. I wish that I had known that your team is everything. What you put into your team is just as important as what you put into your writing. Going along with that, I wish I'd known that delegating is a great way to make sure that you don't go insane.
I will say that in college (and just after college) I wish I'd been more proactive about reaching out to people who said they would help me. I had this crazy notion that they didn't mean it — that they were just being nice, that I had to do it on my own. People don't offer their help unless they want to help you, especially in your career. Stop thinking you don't deserve someone's help. If they offer it to you, take it.
What's your ultimate goal for yourself professionally?
I'll tell you, but it's weird. This is another thing I've learned that's hard for women to admit. It's hard for women to admit they want to be someone great.
There's a Tarot card called the Empress — I pull it in the strangest times, and it's kind of become a real guidepost for me. I want to be an Empress, and what I mean by that is: I want to be a thought leader. I want to be kind of a mother and a mothership to young women who believe in beauty and in power and not thinking that those two things have to exist separately. I want to be the person that helps young women navigate those conversations. I want to be the person that helps spark those conversations. I want to be the person that makes it the most fun.
I want to be the Empress of some sort of media brand or media planet. I don't know if that's going to be through being an author and writing these books and having these books turn into movies, I don't know if it's going to be by having my own magazine, I don't know if it's going to be by starting my own cosmetics line — I truly don't know. I know it's going to be a really long, involved road but I look at everything that I've done professionally and I see it all weaving into a really strong base for that. I hope that I can do it. If I can't do it, I hope I'm still really hot when I'm 45.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Homepage Image: Faran Krentcil, BFA