If you don't know Katharine Zarrella personally, you may have seen her around during fashion month. There she is, sitting front row with one of her signature hats; there she is again, making her way around a party in a pair of vertiginous platform heels. And was that her, leaving a presentation in head-to-toe Comme des Garçons? (Almost definitely.)
It may not be possible for a person to be everywhere at once, but as the editor-in-chief of independent fashion website Fashion Unfiltered, Zarrella is doing her damndest to defy the laws of physics. She and her team of photographers, editors and writers spread out across every major city during fashion month to cover every backstage moment, every runway look and every late-night party. It can be a tall order for any fashion editor.
"We have about 13 people working behind the scenes and also on the ground," Zarrella explains. "We're a super small team, so everyone who works with us are core people. By core people, I mean people who are in New York working with us every second of every day. But, obviously, we have incredible writers and editors in Paris, in London, and they'll all have their boots on the ground covering for us."
Luckily, Zarrella has plenty of experience under her belt. We hopped on the phone with her just before she jetted off to couture week to get her take on juggling her schedule, planning content for Fashion Unfiltered and the importance of sleep. (Yes, she does sleep! Most of the time.)
How do you prep for fashion week?
I prep for fashion week by saying good-bye to my family and friends. [laughs] In all seriousness, we start planning probably one to two months in advance: looking at the schedule, figuring out who's going to cover what, how we're going to approach it. We talk about the features that we're going to do in advance. We like to look at fashion week from a lot of angles.
I think right now it's so interesting, because everything is changing so much with how we're consuming clothes changing, which means there's changes in the schedule, which means brands are trying to figure out new ways to reach their consumer during fashion week. We look at what's going on, what's shifting, what's the most interesting and how we can bring all of that information to our readers both in a preview context and also during the shows.
How many events would you say you attend each day on average?
I'd say probably about between seven and 10. It's a lot. I try to keep it to less, because, obviously, it's difficult to write and say anything significant when you're running around a little too much. But us being such a small team, first of all, we all want to see as much as we possibly can, whether it is an event or a show, because, like I said, we like to approach fashion week from a broader context, and you can't really do that if you're only seeing really tiny snippets of everything.
Nothing goes live on the site without me looking at it, so I get to read every single recap of every show, and every news story, and see every image. But it's different when you're there, especially if it's a key fashion week event.
And how do you balance going to so many events with being in charge of a website?
A lot of really deep breathing. [laughs] It's tough. I've had great training at various other places. Fashion week is crazy for everyone; it's not just the magazines with small teams, or people reviewing the shows. It's always nuts, but it's always exciting. I think that the adrenaline kicks in, and I get so excited to be able to tell our readers about all the stuff that I'm seeing and bring them stories from William [Buckley], and Hilary [Shepherd], and Roxanne [Robinson], and Amber [Kallor], and all of these other people that the adrenaline keeps you going and keeps you focused. It really takes a lot of time management. And also, when I'm in a cab going between shows, I'm either writing a story or I'm editing a number of stories. No time can be wasted.
I'm kind of a luddite. I need to get a Mophie for sure, but usually I just carry my computer around with me everywhere when my phone dies. I plug my phone into my computer, or I'm scrambling around whatever show venue trying to look for a plug. I've gotten so many in those care packages that people will send you, and I don't know where one of them is. Not a clue. I always forget to charge them. That's my real struggle, is that the last thing on my mind is charging my Mophie. So I'm like, "Oh, it would be a great idea for me to bring this." And it's seven in the morning, and I've just finished writing all of my copy and then I'm like, "Oh, but it's dead and I have to leave right now." It's not going to do me much good.
When do you sleep?
If you don't sleep, you're not going to get anything done. I've definitely tried in the past, in my younger years, to stay up all night every night and get everything done. And it always just ends in complete disaster. So I try to get at least four hours of sleep at night, which I find very helpful.
How do you balance doing the shows during the day with events in the evening?
Honestly, I go to very few events and dinners, just because as much as the adrenaline does kick in, and I try to find time to do as much as I can, it's really difficult to edit the entire day's copy and also write about everything that I've seen during the day while also going out to events.
My team definitely goes to all those amazing events and covers them, but my focus first and foremost has to be making sure that the day's copy gets live.
How do you go about getting access to everything for your team?
We work really, really hard throughout the year to make sure that brands are excited about having us provide our coverage, because I think we do provide a really unique perspective and a unique point of view, whether it's from an imagery standpoint, an editorial standpoint, even from a social media standpoint. We all do our part, and we've all been doing this for a long time; we have our various people that we've worked with, the different houses, and PRs, et cetera, and we all pool our resources and make sure we have the best possible access that we can.
How much do you travel for fashion month?
I travel a lot. Sometimes I'll do all four cities. In the last two seasons, I did New York and then Milan and Paris. This season I am just doing New York and probably Paris; I might catch the tail end of Milan. One of my best friends is actually getting married during Milan Fashion Week, and I feel it's very important for me to be here for that. While it breaks my heart to not be going to the full Milan experience, you have to be able to put your friends and family first sometimes, and this is one of those occasions.
For you, what is the best part of fashion month?
There's a couple of things that I really love about fashion month: first, when you see one of those shows that reminds you why you love doing what you do so much, whether it's because it's technically beautiful or it's sending a really powerful message. I think it's so easy, because everyone's so tired and running around, to get jaded. But I think when you see those shows that kind of take your breath away, it's saying, you know what, we're so lucky to be here and do this.
I think the runway is such a mirror for what is going on culturally throughout the world, and it's being used as a very powerful platform by some of the most talented designers in the world to actually send a message to an incredibly captive audience. It reminds me that fashion is a very, very powerful vehicle to send a message and affect change, whether that's just by sending a message about beauty, or sending a political statement, or a statement about strength and diversity.
I also love to be able to be in the mix of all of these people in the industry, from all of the big fashion capitals and beyond, coming together and having these conversations. There's a lot of people that I see during fashion week, whether it's at a dinner in Paris or waiting outside of a show, that I don't get to talk to on a daily basis. Being able to get their take on what they've seen so far and what they think of X, Y, or Z happening in the industry, or things that are happening outside of the industry, to be able to talk to people with all these different perspectives really excites me and I find that really fascinating. It gets me more excited to consider what I'm saying, and what I'm writing about, and what I'm thinking about.
One of my favorite, favorite things during NYFW specifically is coming back after a long day of shows and events and talking with my brilliant team about all the things we've seen. Our opinions often differ, so it's always a lively, informative, hilarious, and sometimes mildly delirious discussion. Throughout fashion month, Amber, William, and I do an Instagram Stories series called "Bubble Babble," during which we have deeply "unfiltered" discussions about the day's shows, and some of my best memories of fashion week are from laughing with them while shooting that series.
What's the most challenging part?
Staying awake. [laughs] No, it's definitely both a sprint and a marathon, if that makes sense. It's long, and it's a lot, and making sure that I'm keeping my energy and focus up to do the absolute best that I can do for myself and my team is always rough, but it's always worth it.
What is your post fashion month ritual?
It is in Paris, every single season, after the very last show, I go to Le Castiglione and I order the biggest cheeseburger in the world — the Casti Burger, it is delicious — with a glass of champagne. And I sit there and I eat my cheeseburger and I take a deep breath, and I just sit and reflect on everything. I think, for the last decade, that has been my post fashion month ritual.