Tips of the Trade: Fashion Journalism

Charlie Porter, deputy fashion editor, The Guardian

To be a decent fashion journalist you need the same qualities that are needed to be a regular journalist – an eye for a story, an ability to write, a sense of fairness. Although fashion is a frothy subject, you still need to be tough. So many of the stories that are around are empty PR-led affairs that are of no interest to the reader. Fashion needs to be treated just like any other features or news subject – pretending it’s special, being all aloof and exclusive, can actually denigrate it. None of us at The Guardian went to fashion college, so training in the subject isn’t really necessary. I had a place on an MA fashion journalism course, but couldn’t afford the fees so I got a job on the Saturday magazine and then I moved over to features at the Daily Express. Wherever I’ve been since I’ve always written the odd style piece, so when my current job came up I had a good portfolio. It’s the same for everyone – it’s best to have lots of fingers in lots of pies. Also, learn shorthand.

Nicola Wood, fashion editor, Drapers

Unfortunately for fashion writers it does ring true that a picture says more than a thousand words. So it is important to be able to think visually while writing copy relevant to your audience.

Having the strength of your convictions is also key – fashion journalists can destroy reputations and the most delicate egos (comes with the territory) with a scathing remark – so you need to be able to justify yourself. Loving writing and a passion for fashion at all levels of the market is essential.

I have seen a few great interns come through our department via the fashion journalism course at London College of Fashion but I actually prefer writers to come through a pure journalism degree then develop their fashion experience and knowledge through relevant work experience.

Sometimes those that come through fashion colleges are a bit too much fluffy fashion bunnies and not so much substance. On a trade title we have to have writers not stylists. If I could go back I’d tell myself to save lots of money after university before even starting because working for free for at least three months is hard to do in London. I would also say that fashion is a very small industry so be nice to everyone as you never know when and at what level you will meet them again.

Navaz Batliwalla, fashion editor, CosmoGIRL!

It is important to be passionate about your subject, even to the point of saddo-obsession! I love fashion and am intrigued by teenagers so teen mags were always my goal. Whether you freelance or work on staff, always give 110 per cent – getting copy in before the deadline and making your employers’ lives easier will endear you to them. A fashion journalism course is ideal as you can network via visiting tutors who will have lots of contacts. Work experience is vital, even if you have to work for no money, but make sure you ask lots of questions and really gain something from the placement. Get out and meet people without stalking them. Don’t compare yourself to others. Never give up.

Grace Saunders, Elle fashion writer

The importance of a fresh writing style goes hand-in-hand with needing a good eye for what makes an interesting and innovative story and ability to sell this too the appropriate editor. A sense of humour and viewing fashion within the wider picture is also essential. Write, write, write, even if it’s just mock articles for your own use, keep those ideas and that style flowing all the time.

Interviews by Sarah Boden

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