I am an avid reader. Give me a book on almost any subject and I will devour it. Honestly, I read books on so many different topics from the most low-brow trashy crap to great pieces of literature and a whole bunch of stuff in-between. Now my usual method of reading is buying a book from Amazon marketplace for a penny plus postage and waiting 6 weeks for it to arrived in a tattered, old condition from some random town in the middle of the United States. This book was slightly different though. I received it for Christmas in 2013, brand new and untouched. Almost fresh from the print, the book was just out and just making a stir: I read it in 2 days. Realising that it was probably not enough time to digest what I had actually read, I decided to read it again this spring and you know what? It is a really good book.
Let me give you some background information. The Vogue Factor is written by Kirstie Clements, ex-editor in chief of Vogue Australia. She wrote the book after being fired from her position after working at the magazine for almost a quarter of a century. The book tells her story of how she grew up in Australia and managed to snag a job on the reception desk of Vogue and how she managed to work her way up to the very top by making herself practically indispensable. She discusses the glamour and the passion of the staffers for Vogue, as you can imagine, and all the behind the scenes stories ranging from gossipy titbits to real business talk. As luck had it, Kirstie moved to Paris, moved back to Australia, worked for a couple of different magazines (mainly branches of Vogue), and had a hell of a time in the process of it. Yes, she’s not Anna Wintour but she is, or was, Australia’s equivalent, except less scary and a little bit more approachable.
When I found out that she had been fired, I expected the book to be very bitter, but it wasn’t. It genuinely was just a woman sharing stories of her life, one that likely inspired many young girls after reading the book. But don’t get me wrong, she didn’t look back on everything fondly and paint life at Vogue as all sunshine and happiness. It was very much a no bullshit book. She called out the fact that there is a definite Conde Nast hierarchy and Vogue Australia is very near the bottom of it. She acknowledged that so many things that are commonplace in the fashion industry are absolutely ridiculous; like the super-skinny models who reportedly ate tissues and spent lots of time on a hospital drip. But mostly, she seemed appreciative of all that she had experienced and proud of all that she had achieved. I think what you can tell from her book is that she got very lucky and I think she knows that.
I think perhaps the best example of her luck is the fact that she got a job at Vogue with no degree, no contacts, no real fashion experience. Ah, yes back in the simpler times when a degree didn’t equal success (even though it doesn’t guarantee it now), you could get your foot in the door by starting at the lowest level and working your way all the way to the top. Now, you need a degree to even get an internship or to fetch a cup of coffee: ridiculous but true. Despite her lack of formal education, she seemed to have a rough idea of what she was doing and managed to get herself involved with as many projects as possible. This led to her promotion at the magazine and she ended up in a more senior role than just reception. Then she moved to Paris and contributed to Vogue Singapore (I think?) then moved back to Australia and came back to Vogue. She was made EIC in 1999 and was fired from that position in 2012.
I think what I’ve really taken from the book is how different things would be at a major edition of Vogue, say American or British, in comparison with what it is like in Australia. Yes, the Australian fashion market is ever increasing but it is unlikely that it will ever be a major player in the global scale like say the big four (New York, London, Paris & Milan), maybe in a decade or two… Clements discussed having to get Aussie designers to literally copy designs from the catwalks of Europe to feature in the magazine because the pieces weren’t available in Australia. She talked about how difficult it was to book the big-name models and photographers because they could not offer them enough money or the magazine wasn’t prestigious enough for them to want to work for. She talked about the fact that even though she got invited to all of these wonderful fashion events, say Paris Fashion Week, Vogue Australia would only ever get one seat (or sometimes just standing room). Lets face it, Australia is a small fish in a big sea.
What I got from her story was real inspiration. Now I’m not a fool: I understand that the world of fashion is not paradise, not even close. But what I do know is that it is a world that I want to be a part of. Not just for the glamorous parties, fancy foods & the jet-set lifestyle, but for the love of fashion. It is something that excites me, and as a person who looks perpetually unimpressed (it is just my resting face, honestly) fashion is a big deal in contributing to my happiness. The joy that I feel when seeing brilliant clothes, striking editorials and, even, eye-catching advertising campaigns is unparalleled. I think the people who have a genuine love for this industry will succeed, should they work hard enough. The people who are social-climbers and really don’t give a fuck will fail, in the end anyway (even if they seem more successful than you at the time). What was so great about Kirstie’s book was that she did not seem jaded by the fashion industry, despite her decades-spanning career in it. She still seemed to care and she still seemed excited, and that’s what I love to hear. So yes, she may no longer be Editor-in-Chief but she likely has other things ahead. This is a woman who seems smart, is a good writer and who actually cares: three things that are practically vital for success in magazines. I wish her all the best in the future and I’m actually kind-of glad that she was fired, purely because if she weren’t this book would not exist. Ah yes, the silver lining.
Note: The Author has now published another book, which I haven’t read yet, entitled “Tongue in Chic”. It is marketed as an expose of fashion magazines and a tell-all book revolving around a fictitious fashion magazine called Chic. I can’t tell if this is fiction? Maybe it becomes clearer when it is read. She also has a career guide book that is due to be released this year.