In July, I read a fascinating piece in Financial Times, by fashion editor Jo Ellison. The subject of the feature: Why fashion isn’t always as silly as it seems … Irrelevant? Elitist? The fashion industry makes mistakes, but we should still take it seriously. I loved reading it and was drawn to the writing of Ms. Ellison. And then I thought … what if I could track down Ms.Ellison and ask her to share her thoughts on TFIO? Never mind that Jo lives in London, never mind that she is a true fashion insider, living a fashion insider’s life of interviews and fashion coverage, and getting access to top international fashion shows. I reached out to her. And reached out again. And after several months of not giving up, Jo Ellison answered my questions. What a coup! Now my next goal is to meet Jo in person – London? New York City? Here is a fashion insider’s look at fashion and self esteem …
What is your personal fashion story? Did you always love fashion and think of it as your destiny?
I always loved shopping, and clothes. But I wouldn’t describe myself as one of those people who always saw fashion in their destiny. I was more of an enthusiast. Fashion, to my mind, was always a bit remote and inaccessible. I have always been more interested in the broader societal impact a piece of clothing might have – what it says about us and the world we live in. Whether that’s Theresa May in a leopard print pump, or Julia Roberts winning an Oscar in vintage Valentino.
You worked at Vogue – tell us something about Vogue we don’t know.
Everyone there was far friendlier than people might believe. There seems to be a popular misconception – much mythologized by films like The Devil Wears Prada, or shows like Ugly Betty – that women working in fashion are all horrible to each other. In fact, the office at UK Vogue was one of the most encouraging, team-worky and supportive I’ve known.
You are now Financial Times Fashion Editor. What is a typical day? Is there a typical day?
Not really. The year is completely dictated by the calendar of the shows.I’m probably on the road about three months of the year. During the shows, you’re working around 20 hours a day, writing reviews, seeing collections, doing appointments and working insane hours in the back of a car. Then you come back and the “normal” work of commissioning and editing pages, planning supplements, organising conferences, writing news stories and planning future fashion stories begins. One is more desk bound than the other, but there’s rarely a quiet minute.
Do you have a favorite fashion show moment?
I think there are some shows that you always look forward to because they are a spectacle. Chanel shows are always special for the revelation they turn out to be. Comme des Garcons shows can be truly haunting, and Alexander McQueen has a certain magic that one only gets when seeing something in the flesh. I think all fashion editors crave that hair-on-the-back-of-the neck moment that one collectively feels in front of a really great collection. It’s also thrilling when a new designer comes in and explodes everything that went before – Alessandro Michele brought that in at Gucci. And this season, it was exciting to see Natasha Ramsay-Levi emerge as a name in her own right at Chloe.
How would you describe your personal style?
Huckleberry Finn meets Miss Jean Brodie. I love really quite austere, strict uniform clothes in black, grey and navy. Lots of trousers, bazillions of blue sweaters, blazer jackets, and hundreds and hundreds of coats. I’m obsessed with balance and proportion: if one element is off, I feel hugely uncomfortable all day. And I can’t stand to wear anything asymmetric. At the shows, I make a terrific amount of effort and then I get too exhausted by it all, crack and slob out in huge baggy jeans, jumbo cords, and ancient old boyfriend sweaters. I spend a huge amount of money looking really very boring.
What do Americans need to know about British style and fashion?
There’s a long held theory that British people are more free and eccentric in their style, and will wear things that are more experimental than Americans who are essentially more conservative. Brits are good at mixing vintage with heritage with high street, and I think there’s a greater emphasis on individualism in this country that there might be elsewhere. That said, I think British people, especially Londoners, are far lazier about their general deportment than Americans. Americans tend to look buff and glossy polished, while Brits always look as though they’ve been dragged through a hedge. Although more of us are going to the gym than before, I’m still always impressed at how toned New Yorkers tend to be and how they can all work a cropped top and look awesome in it. In the UK – not so much.
Do you feel there is a connection between clothing and self esteem?
For me personally, one hundred per cent. If you are the sort of person who equates self esteem with what you’re wearing then obviously wearing something that feels comfortable, flattering, and stylish will make you feel more confident. The clothes have to feel authentic to who you are though. It’s no good wearing the most fashionable look of now, and then feeling wretchedly self-conscious all day. The most important thing is that clothes should make you feel like your best self – and that may well mean wearing the same thing every day of your life.