When Edward Barsamian tells you that something is the chicest thing ever — in this particular case, the Vogue Anniversary Rose, an exclusive breed created for Vogue's 125th anniversary — you believe him, not just because he's Vogue.com's style editor, but because he seems to have chic running through his veins.
Barsamian grew up reading Vogue and cultivating an interest in fashion thanks to a familiar source: his mom. "My mother definitely cared about fashion, and made sure us kids, my brother and me, always looked good," he tells me in Vogue's offices; we're tucked into a conference room where a celebrity had just performed an intimate set of new music for staffers. These days, that's par for the course for Barsamian, who covers the glitterati circuit, from intimate dinners to blow-out red carpets. Getting to this point, though, meant taking some risks: Barsamian left school at prestigious St. Andrews University (perhaps you've heard of it: It's where Kate Middleton met Prince William. NBD.) to follow his dreams of working in publishing, finishing out his degrees in international relations and art history at Parsons in New York City. Meanwhile, he worked full time as a market editor for a New York society magazine.
Juggling a full-time job with higher education paid off for Barsamian; soon, Vogue would come calling, and he would count Anna Wintour and Sally Singer amongst his professional mentors. Barsamian filled me in on how he made the jump from assisting the editor-in-chief of Vogue to learning to exercise creative freedom at T and Vogue.com — and while a lot of his success owes to that innate stylishness and the hard work, he's also just plain nice. Now that's chic.
When were you first interested in fashion?
It all started as a kind of self expression. On a very micro level, fashion is so expressive of who we are as people and our personality; on a much more macro level, it can say so much about global events and culture... Being part of a team that gets to document that at Vogue and Vogue.com, it's insane. It's so cool.
How did you get your first job?
It's funny, I know people don't send cover letters and resumes the way that they used to, but it really did happen [that way]. Back in high school, senior year, I had written to several publications that I had read — Vogue being one of them, of course. They didn't accept students unless you were in college back in those days, and I was still a high school student. Christopher Meigher and David Patrick Columbia, the publisher and the editor in chief of Quest, responded. Quest was a magazine that my grandmother had given me. It was wonderful. They saw something in me, and they gave me my chance.
What were you doing when you first got to Quest?
My job was working with our market editor at the time, going on market appointments, meeting with jewelry designers and then also writing. I would work with our senior editor on copy, whether that was real estate — because that was the primary focus of the publication — society, or just generally fashion.
As market editor, I was there for four years. [Then] I went to Vogue. I graduated from university, and I had stayed at Quest full time for another year after graduating. An opportunity presented itself at Vogue to work in the fine jewelry department, then under Amalia Keramitsis, who was incredible — of course I took it.
How were you juggling being a full time employee somewhere and being in school?
It's all about time management. I feel, even today, you can always do more. I look back and I think to myself, "How did I do it?" In retrospect I feel like all of us could. You work a full day, and then you go to class at night, or you go to class during the day, whenever it works in your schedule. If you have that self-drive and self-determination, I think that works.
When you first got to Vogue, what were you doing?
I was working in fine jewelry, and then I was moved to the editor in chief's office. What was great about that time at Vogue was the internship program: If you proved yourself, and you did hard work, it went noticed. That's still true today of course, but back then it was a huge honor and a privilege. To be asked to work in the office of Anna Wintour, it was the best school. It's a very small club as well, and I'm still friends with a lot of former assistants. I was not there very long; probably two and a half, three months. That office was undergoing a transition at that time, and it was a changing time at Vogue. It happens in waves.
What did you learn in that particular job that stayed with you?
Organizational skills, hands down. You learn from somebody who is so awe-inspiring, both in her prescience in terms of global trends and then her decisiveness. You really do see what it means to be a leader in the industry and how to think about fashion beyond just superficial terms.
Where did you go after that?
[I went] to New York Times' T Magazine. Sally Singer had departed Vogue around the same time and was quietly building her team. I was a fashion associate and then market editor. Under Sally, I was able to write for the print magazine and the website; my primary focus was working with all of our stylists. It was Vanessa Traina, who, again, her taste was impeccable — still is — then a lot of our contributing stylists like Mel Ottenberg.
And then you came back to Vogue?
I stayed at T for a year and a half under Deborah [Needleman]. I think Deborah did a wonderful job at T, and I wanted to see what her vision of it was. When Sally presented me with the opportunity to rejoin Vogue on the digital side, it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up.
You were market editor, but now you're the style editor; how do those two roles differ?
It was an organic transition; I think they go hand in hand. One thing for which Sally's been one of my biggest champions is my ability to take what people are wearing — whether it's a celebrity, somebody on the street or just one of the pretty young girls at a party — and think about their wardrobe and their fashion in a very relatable context.
What excites you about covering the red carpet?
Red carpets, for me, are the new runway. You're seeing celebrities develop their own style off duty, whether that's at the airport arrival-departures lounge or on the red carpet. They're really trying to come into their own. You're also seeing the rise of the celebrity stylist, very much so thinking in editorial terms. There are a few that, of course, think more like editors because they have training in that, including a few Vogue alums like Kate Young. But what excites me about red carpet reporting — and the opportunity to be on some amazing programs like "Live with Kelly," "Access Hollywood," or "ET" — is that you're really talking to America as a whole: This is the message that this actress or actor sent with their outfit, and this is why it's relevant.
What do you think people misunderstand about your job?
People probably have this idea that it's very glamorous 24 hours a day — I'm not going to demystify it. Yes, we do get to have a lot of fun here, and what we do is incredible. It's a lot of work. I started from the bottom up; I was an intern here, and because [my work] was recognized by Anna and a lot of the editors, that's how I got to become an assistant to the editor-in-chief and then rejoin years later as style editor.
What does it mean to be a part of the Vogue team on its 125th anniversary?
You might see a few surprises across all of our various social channels and in print. But for me, personally, it goes back to what I said before: To be a part of a team where you're really driving fashion forward, and you're able to tell that story in such a clear way through pictures, through stories, that's incredible.
Recently, you wrote a personal take on the Supreme x Vuitton Collaboration. What compelled you to write that and how would you say your own style contributes to your job?
I don't often write first-person stories. Having seen the Louis Vuitton x Supreme show, I felt compelled to address it. I saw Guy Trebay had written his piece in the Times; I thought it was beautifully done. I also think it's different when it's coming from the perspective of somebody who is aware of the brand and who has kind of taken it from its streetwear roots and played around with it. That's what we do here at Vogue, that's one of the wonderful things: We get to have fun with fashion. That's the main message we always try to get across in every story, is to really express yourself with your wardrobe, and have fun with it. Does my personal style contribute to my job? I think to an extent, the way it should for everyone here.
What role have mentorships played in your career?
Without Christopher Meigher and David Patrick Columbia from my Quest days, I don't think I would have been given that boost into editorial and really gather my bearings in the editorial world. Then, moving to Vogue, Anna and Sally have both been such advocates. Anna is such an iconic figure, both in terms of leadership, and also in how to think about fashion [that's] bigger than us. Sally really fostered that creative side; she just lets you be creative — not that Anna doesn't, but I've worked with [Sally] more directly on editorial matters. Sally really encourages and fosters us to kind of just let our freak flag fly, for the lack of a better phrase.
What advice would you give to someone starting out looking for that kind of mentorship?
Again, I think it has to happen organically. I know this generation today is very much focused on immediate gratification; I understand that digital is contributing to that. My best advice is if you stumble, that's fine. Work hard, and just put your nose to the ground. It takes awhile to get to where you want to be or where you think you should be. Just keep plugging away.
What do you wish you had known about your job before starting in the industry?
That it's okay to stumble and make mistakes. I try not to, but everybody's human. There are those moments where you'll fall, but if you're resilient, and if you have a clear point of view and conviction in your view point in everything, you can do anything. That's really a message that I feel like is fostered here, both in print and digitally, company wide.
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Stock up on hoodies! [Laughs] No, I think everybody should forge their own path; definitely have those that you respect and admire. Of course I've long admired so many of the people here, and at the Times. I was thrilled to work at both organizations. To try to emulate or follow somebody, it's not worth it. You've got to always be you at the end of the day.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.