Cecily, our co-founder catches up with her friend Elizabeth, a reporter for The New York Times, covering the fashion and luxury sectors in Europe. Her areas of industry focus and interest include business, tech and sustainability, along with fashion week coverage from London, Milan and Paris. She tells us about the uniqueness of fashion as a female-led industry, her approach to workwear, and what gives her confidence.
CM: Do you think the expectations on you as a women are different to that of a men in your industry?
Elizabeth: From a journalism point of view, print sections and reporter beats could feel quite gendered. More recently, however, women have taken more power in newsrooms than ever before, and we’ve seen a series of women take some of the top editorial positions in the world, from The Guardian to The Economist and also in TV. It is very inspiring to watch. Fashion is also interesting because it’s one of the few businesses in which women often earn more money than men. Is the gender gap is reversed? Sometimes. That said, there is still a lot of inequality through the ranks and it is a far from perfect industry. As a reporter, it is an important part of what I cover.
CM: What do you rant about/What makes you really angry?
Elizabeth: Lateness. My time is precious, your time is precious, so let’s not waste it. Be on time!
CM: What’s the question that you get asked about most – what do you think is the most contentious question that you are asked to debate in the context of your job?
Elizabeth: Fashion is a great lens into all sorts of key parts of the news cycle today, whether that’s race or climate change or gender pay gaps or technology. But, at the same time, if you cover fashion, there are some people who will never take you as seriously, which can be very frustrating. Fashion generally gets less credibility than the other arts, like music and art, despite being a multi billion dollar business. And there are often sexist undertones to it – you rarely find people criticising journalists who cover the culture and business of sports. So that’s an ongoing question I find myself answering: what is the point of covering fashion in the way you do and why does it matter?
CM: Do you think the criticism is because a women-led industry?
Elizabeth: To some extent. Fashion can be superficial and about providing distraction from the current news cycle but another part of it is all about self-image. Appearance is about projecting who people are to the outside world, which women are particularly aware of, and sometimes we should be covering that. Every time we write about power dressing, for example, whether that’s what Melania Trump wore to the G7 summit, or what Meghan chose to wear to her wedding, readers get furious. Yet those stories still get millions of views and hundreds of comments. To pretend those women in the media spotlight haven’t spent time and money strategising around what they wear, and when they wear it, would be naïve. There’s been political power dressing for literally thousands of years. Why not write about it? When women exercise clothes as a tool, it riles people up, no question.
CM: What does dressing in that very loaded context mean for you then personally?
Elizabeth: One thing I’ve always been really adamant about is that I’m an observer, not a participant in the fashion industry. I’ve never had the time, energy, or inclination to dress with trends as they change. But, I do think about how I present myself and what I wear. The easiest thing to do, and particularly when I turned thirty was to get a uniform of sorts, so that may be one of three or four looks. It is a privileged position to be in, but it really is worth saving and buying one piece that you’ll have for forty years than buying ten dresses that fall apart after ten wears. Both from a sustainability and sanity point of view.
CM: So what do you invest in?
Elizabeth: I invest in tailoring, shoes and jewellery. For someone who works in the fashion industry, I don’t buy that much. Sometimes I am a slave to trends. For example, last week, I really wanted a boiler suit, but for someone who’s curvy buying a jumpsuit is hard. So I ordered loads, but I kept one!
CM: What are you most proud of?
Elizabeth: My front pages. In the digital age the internet is your newspaper – online I’m able to see how many people have read a story, and that really matters to me. But there have been a handful of moments in my career where I see my work on the front cover of the FT or the New York Times in an airport or newsagent and I’ve felt really proud of myself and the work that I do. I try to keep paper copies of those editions if I can.
CM: What are you most intimidated by?
Elizabeth: The current news cycle. It never rains it only pours. Sometimes it is hard to cut through all the noise and work out what are the right stories to cover when and which are the ones to leave. It makes me really anxious. I love my job, but I think journalists in particular are one profession that feel like they can never actually switch off.
CM: Are there rituals/things you do that give you confidence in your day to day?
Elizabeth: I feel more confident when I have my hair done. I think that hair is a really powerful source of self-confidence for a lot of women, and when I’ve had it done I can fully concentrate on my work. I have a public facing side to my job – I can be asked to go on TV at the last minute, or present at a conference to hundreds of people – and over time I’ve simply realised if you feel happy about how you look you will perform better in that role. At one point I felt guilty about the financial output required to have a blow dry once a week. But that investment is me feeling the most confident I can, and being the best version of myself publicly both for myself and my employer. That’s a strong investment. And I can do my emails!