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 there's anyone who can make a strong case for Los Angeles's legitimacy and relevance in the fashion ecosystem, it's Booth Moore. Despite having never once lived in New York while covering fashion, Moore is one of the industry's most respected and knowledgeable voices. That the CFDA tapped her to pen "American Runway" — a comprehensive history of New York Fashion Week, out this month — is a testament to that.
The front-row fixture grew up in New York, but hasn't lived there since leaving for Duke University. She took her current role as the Hollywood Reporter's senior fashion editor in 2016 following 18 years at the Los Angeles Times, where she was the paper's first-ever fashion critic. She also has three books under her belt.
Over the years, she's had a front-row seat to the dramatic evolution of the fashion industry, from the fashion week calendar to the democratization of design criticism, to how much more important LA has become to the conversation — much of which is covered in "American Runway," which is as much a juicy scrapbook filled with exclusive behind-the-scenes photos as it is an oral history.
Despite increasing public frustration and confusion around NYFW, Booth maintains a position of optimism about its future. We caught up with her ahead of the Fall 2018 shows to discuss how she got her start, how she made a name for herself in fashion from LA, how she's seen the industry evolve and what's next for the industry and for herself.
Where did your interest in fashion and the greater fashion industry start?
I definitely had an interest in it from birth, I think. As far as interest in it as an industry, I was actually interested in journalism first. I grew up in New York City and all through high school, I worked for our student newspaper, which was actually a really cool experience because we covered a lot of more serious topics.
I had an internship right before college at YM Magazine; Bonnie Fuller was the editor at the time and I was the fashion intern. And it wasn't the greatest experience. I didn't get to do a lot of writing; in fact, I spent the entire summer checking all the numbers on the Rolodex of my editor to make sure that they were still correct, so... it kind of turned me off of magazines a little bit, and then I started pursuing journalism more.
What was your first job?
After college, I ended up in Washington, D.C. I had been working in politics for a little while and I started working for a wire news service called State's News, writing little stories for them, and then ended up at the Washington Post, where I was a research assistant for a columnist for a year.
That's really when my experience with fashion journalism began because Cathy Horyn was leaving the Washington Post at that time and going to The New York Times, and then Robin Givhan, who is now a good friend of mine, was coming in, so I started to read a lot of their coverage in the paper and realized that this was a job that combined two things that I loved: It was writing seriously about a subject, fashion, that I really cared about. It was funny because I think I had even applied for the job that Cathy Horyn was leaving and I was like, 21 years old and never going to get it. Then, I ended up working for a newspaper in Vermont for a year, just covering everything from snowboarding to the State House.
I idealized [LA] since I was a kid growing up in New York, and the whole palm tree-convertible lifestyle, so I was determined to get to LA and find my perfect career position. I had a connection at the LA Times through the Washington Post and ended up getting hired there as a part-time writer in the calendar section, which is all that they had available. But that's where I wanted to get my foot in the door, so I did.
Then I started freelancing fashion stories and went from there.
As far as starting to write about fashion, was that just something you expressed that you were interested in?
Yeah, I sought out the fashion editor at the LA Times, who was Mimi Avins at the time, and said, "I'm really interested in this; can I have a coffee with you? I'd love to help you out any way I can, with research or with writing or whatever." And she finally gave me my first assignment which was to interview Stevie Nicks about her tour wardrobe when Fleetwood Mac got back together. I guess it would've been in the late '90s.
I remember that I ended up going to the Fleetwood Mac concert at the Hollywood Bowl after I wrote that story and someone was sitting behind us discussing the article, and I just thought it was just not going to get any better than that, you know?
How did you begin writing about fashion full-time?
I got hired as a features writer in the Style section. One thing I did for a while, for about a year, was write a column that covered parties and style news and things like that. That was really a good way of getting to know all the tribes of LA, like going out to clubs and parties and all that.
And then there was this small fashion team, and I again just offered my help covering shows and eventually was able to turn my full-time features position into a full-time fashion-writing position and was the junior person on the staff all the way through, including when I ended up covering 9/11 in New York City for New York Fashion Week.
And then I worked my way up to being more senior. They had an editor come in who saw the value in having a fashion critic, which wasn't a position that the LA Times had had before. It was a couple of people who had actually come in from The New York Times who were part of the management of the LA Times for a while, so we decided that in order to cover fashion as a serious business and art form, it deserved a critic's role, so I became the first fashion critic in LA Times history.
Did you see yourself as a critic before that or did you have to to train yourself to look at things in a different way?
It's definitely something I had to train myself to look at in a different way. I think that my role becoming a critic also paralleled LA fashion, sort of taking a different turn. I did have to learn how to critique a runway show and how to not make it personal and how to make it constructive.
What do you think were the advantages and drawbacks of being based in LA and covering the fashion industry?
I definitely think there were both: It's a smaller pond, and that helped as far as me being able to gain visibility. Also, I feel like it was good that LA was starting to get buzz as I was coming up in my career because that gave me a voice that I think people were interested in listening to beyond just the confines of LA.
Certainly disadvantages are, when I started going to Europe for the shows, not everyone was taking LA seriously and I had to have a couple of conversations with publicists about getting into shows, in particular Balenciaga, I remember, and just saying, "No, LA is a really important market." People here shop and they buy and consume fashion and are interested in it, and the LA Times should have a seat there.
Now I certainly think that everyone knows that we exist, if you look at the news about Hedi Slimane going to Céline. It's like LA, in many ways, because of the celebrities here, has become the center of fashion.
Do you feel like you've also had an advantage in being able to cover the intersection of fashion and entertainment?
I think so. I was always attuned as to how, not only how celebrities were influencing fashion and even the success of various brands, like Balmain, for example. I would argue with colleagues — in a nice way — about why certain brands end up succeeding and others don't, and I would always sort of point out the celebrity associations and how powerful those are.
[After fashion month], most of the designers and a lot of the creative teams would head to LA either to shoot ad campaigns or court celebrity stylists for award shows, and [that showed] what a central role LA plays in the messaging of fashion after the obvious messaging that you see on the runway.
Going back to the LA Times, you were there for 18 years. What do you attribute that to, staying at the same publication for that long, and why did you leave?
I felt like it was a really great perch to be able to have a voice about fashion and LA and all the things we just talked about. The LA Times was a brand that was recognized worldwide.
When I left, I really felt like, sadly, there wasn't as much of a commitment to covering fashion and lifestyle as there had been at other times that I was there, and there wasn't necessarily an interest in sending people to the shows. I was really worried that the quality of the coverage would suffer. I didn't really want to be a part of that.
I had written one book and I wanted to do more, and wanted to freelance and just sort of see what else came my way, so it was a nice opportunity when they had a round of buyouts to try something new.
I tried freelance for about a year or so and then, I'd actually been talking to the Hollywood Reporter for a while and thought that it was a cool opportunity to go there and to have more of a digital focus than I had at the LA Times. I was excited to go back into editing again and also to be part of the entertainment industry a little more closely and see what that was like.
How did you get your first book published? Did somebody approach you? How does that process start?
The first one was the Juicy Couture book, "The Glitter Plan." That came through just writing about Pam and Gela for a long time. I think I met them for breakfast and they had discussed that they were trying to find a writer for their book. We were just hanging out at the Polo Lounge and I was like, "What if I just pull out my tape recorder and we talk about some stuff and then I practice writing it in your voice and you can tell me what you think?" So we did and they liked it, so I ended up writing their book.
The second book — "Where Stylists Shop" — actually came through a meeting with Judith Regan, the publisher. She was like, "It'd be a shopping guide of really stylish people or stylists or whatever." I was like, "That would be a cool idea, but it shouldn't just be stylists; it should be all the people in the fashion industry, like designers and models."
And then the third book was, when I had left the LA Times, I had a meeting with the CFDA and they had an idea for a book about the American runway, so we decided to do it together. They had some rough outlines of what they thought it should cover, and then I'd flesh it out.
The book is great; it's so interesting to see all of that history packaged together. What were your biggest takeaways in researching and writing it?
It was really cool to learn about the kick-ass women who were part of getting fashion week off the ground and promoting the American fashion industry for the first time. You know, everyone from the publicist Eleanore Lambert to Eleanore Roosevelt, who came up from Washington for the ceremony where they sewed American Made labels, or New York Made labels, into clothing. That was a cool angle, or part of the story that I hadn't thought about a lot. And then it was really cool to interview all the people about what it takes to put a fashion show together, including Marc Jacobs and Thom Browne. It really just gave me a 360-degree view of the industry like I hadn't had before.
It's a real celebration of the American industry. As as down on fashion week as some people seem to be, I think it really deserves respect and I hope that there continues to be some sort of seasonal gathering where we celebrate our creativity and what we've accomplished — because I think it's good for the industry and then it helps elevate it in stature.
There were a lot of quotes and little stories that seem so relevant now — instances of people getting fed up with fashion week in the same way that they are now, but like 20, 30 years ago.
Even back then, people were complaining about not being able to get from place to place. I think everyone loves to complain, but the industry has a lot to be proud of, which hopefully the book shines a light on. My favorite quote is the last one from Stan Herman, a longtime industry insider, who said something like, "As long as people love to strut, there will always be a place for fashion."
When and where do you find the time to work on these books?
It was like all weekend, every weekend. I mean, it was a bad year. It was tough. My husband jokes about how I finished the stylist shopping book and then I sat up from my desk, stretched and then sat back down and started the other one. It was pretty gnarly. I did early-morning interviews on the phone with designers and then was able to meet with some people during fashion week.
Do you have any more books in the pipeline yet, or are you going to take a break for a while?
I've kind of been toying with the idea of writing a book about fashion and feminism because it's so timely and it's something I've been thinking a lot about now: how they can co-exist. I don't know, I may do that, or I've also been toying with writing a more personal book. [Moore later mentioned wanting to write "a detailed history of the Los Angeles fashion industry in the same vein as 'American Runway.'"]
I enjoy writing books a lot because you get to really delve into research like you're researching a paper in school, and then you just get to spend a little bit more time with it. You get to have control over it. But they do take a lot of time and they're sadly not as lucrative as you might hope.
What would you say are the biggest changes you've seen in fashion reporting since you started working in the industry?
Number one has to do with technology, that people were barely using the internet when I started in this industry, so the speed of information is different and also how you communicate with people. You barely have to pick up a phone anymore if you don't want to.
Secondly, and this has just changed in journalism in general, just the whole idea of expressing your opinion. You used to have to be a critic to express your opinion and now I think most fashion coverage is opinion-based.
There's also a lot of ways that brands can tell their own stories and bypass the media, and that's also because of technology. That's perhaps made the role of fashion journalists less important.
The magazine closures and things like that have really put everything into disarray. And then certainly, the rise of social media — how that changed the whole idea of this whole top-down theory of fashion where you had the editors-in-chief and the designers deciding everything and trickling that down to everyone else, and now, anyone can be an influencer or a designer or whatever. That's really powerful.
Also, I just think that fashion is everywhere now. Again, talking about when I was growing up in New York and I barely noticed it in New York, I think it's impossible not to notice it now. That's both good and bad. There's been a lot written, including on Fashionista, about: Is fashion overexposed, or is fashion in danger of becoming nothing more than an internet meme?
The quality of dialogue about fashion isn't always as great as it used to be and the good thing about that is: It's fashion, let's not take it so seriously. But the bad thing is, if nobody takes it seriously, where does that leave fashion?
How do you decide what to write about during fashion month, and how has that evolved for you?
Social media has become a focus. It used to be that you'd have a day or two to work on your reviews and it felt a bit more like, "We're going to the shows and we're going to review them all." Now the pressure is on designers to make some sort of news, which I think is tough because it's like, are you going to send a naked lady down the runway or like shoot off fireworks or whatever? In order for something to pop on the internet, there's gotta be some sort of news element to it — so, looking for news; looking for something that has changed; looking for how a collection or designer, what they're saying fits into what's going on with the rest of the world because everything's connected.
It's kind of whatever strikes me, and I don't really have a huge plan ahead of time. We just kind of roll with it and see what happens.
What would you say your biggest career milestones have been so far?
Being named the first fashion critic for the LA Times, launching the Image section and probably writing my first book because I was like, oh, I can do this. Sitting front-row at a fashion show is pretty awesome, too.
Do you have any future ambitions that you haven't reached yet that you want to do?
I think if it was anything, it would be doing something different. Something maybe not in media, something more in business strategy or consulting or even more of an industry role — or doing something totally out of fashion.
Fashion is very self-involved and self-absorbed, and when you cover something for this long, the surface-ness can wear a bit. You start to wonder about doing things that have a greater good or something — not that I'm diminishing the industry at all. It certainly employs a ton of people and [is a] multi-billion- and trillion[-dollar business] and yeah, fundamentally, everyone has to get dressed every day and that's a creative choice, so as long as that's happening, there's going to be businesses and brands to cater to that.
What advice would you give to an aspiring fashion journalist?
One of the people that I hired at the LA Times just had a blog that she'd created herself and then a few clips from local press places, so get writing is one piece of advice because then even if you self-publish something, it's out there and people can read it and you can use that and show prospective employers.
Again, sort of what I said about putting in the time, go to things you can go to that are open to the public, or volunteering for fashion shows or just trying to be in the throw of it all. Even if it's not exactly the role you want, just to get experience and hopefully contacts.
Then also, just to read and pay attention and know what's going on, to develop some writers that you like or some publications, so you can have a road map of where you want to be. I'm envious of people who want to get into the business now — everyone always thinks that the next generation has it better — but that you can create your own opportunities and that there are so many more places to write for. There are a million websites, and a lot of them will give you a chance if you want to try to write something.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.