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Adventures in Journalism: Clueless is the new black?
A day in the life of a Daily fashion reporter- March 16, 2005
I hate the words dream job. They sound like a jinx, like they're daring the universe to renege on my good luck. But for the first time in my life, I have one: I'm a staff writer for The Daily, the glossy fashion tabloid that treats Dolce and Gabbana like this week's Brad and Jen.
I landed here when a Daily Candy editor, thinking I'd make a terrible assistant, passed me onto Brandusa Niro, The Daily 's fiery editor-in-chief. She sat me down, and asked, "Are you shy? I need someone who can walk up to anybody and just start talking. I think you can do that." Two minutes later, she offered me the job. Three minutes later, I called my mom and cried.
It was the end of a long search, one that started two summers ago, when Jane offered me a post-grad internship. After hauling Prada for three months, my boss kicked me out of the fashion closet. "You're a writer, not a stylist," she said, handing me a handful of designer sunglasses and air-kissing me goodbye. "Plus," she said, "you're bored here; I can tell. You need something fast and kind of dangerous." The Daily job sounded close to that description, a combination of reporting, writing, and party crashing that guaranteed bylines, an inside look at fashion industry, and, yes, a little danger—the kind that comes from sprinting on 4-inch heels while attempting to look cool. Which, for the record, I never am.
For the most part, the job's been everything I've ever wanted. But like everything else in New York, it's never perfect—especially not during our busiest production season, otherwise known as Olympus Fashion Week.
This is How We Do It
Fashion Week is an eight-day event held twice a year in Bryant Park. At its best, Fashion Week showcases the best of American style, brings the style community together, and introduces new designers to New York. At its worst, Fashion Week is a kind of exquisite torture: it's exhausting, confusing, and spawn to more gossip than a high-school cafeteria. I'd covered fashion events before, but nothing prepared me for the week, or the work, ahead.
The Daily produces eight issues each Fashion Week—we do daily features on models, designers, and your favorite Condé Nasties; runway reviews; and major gossip from the previous day. We work at a grueling pace, but to me it's worth it because I have an all-access pass to every fashion show—the ultimate season ticket to style. Besides the prospect of running into Marc Jacobs (to me, a huge deal), I'll be meeting editors, designers, and maybe even The O.C.'s Rachel Bilson, who's expected at all the shows. I'll also be honing my skills, turning interviews and show notes into coherent copy—at least five stories a day.
What's the downside? Sleep deprivation, close quarters, and major stress. My 8 a.m. deadlines are non-negotiable, and since I cover the after-parties, my stories get written between 4 and 6 a.m. The Daily office is not large, and a staff of almost 20 will eat, sleep, and breathe together for an entire week. When deadlines get ignored, Diet Coke goes missing, or facts don't check out on a story, it's not the most fun place to be.
Still, I love it—especially on the first day, when I see copies of our first issue dotting Bryant Park like a new must-have accessory. The Daily is delivered to showgoers for eight days straight, meaning our readers are editors, buyers, and even the models backstage. Shows are notoriously late to start, so we've got a very captive audience.
Fashion Week is held in a place called "The Tents," which I always imagined as a chic three-ring circus in the middle of Bryant Park. There are three theaters, a press pit, and, thanks to a Kohler sponsorship, the nicest porta-potties I have ever seen.
My first show is Joseph Abboud, a designer with a knack for making staples look cool. Impossibly pretty, beautifully dressed editors are everywhere, gawking and gossiping. I feel like the new girl in a primetime Fox drama.
Rachel Bilson is a sorry no-show, but thanks to my IMDB addiction, I recognize sisters and sometime movie stars Dominique and Chelsea Swain. Fashion shows always attract their share of actors—they're marginally there to pick out clothes but it's more often to remind the press they exist, particularly before a movie's release. The sisters aren't the glammest girls in the room, but they look like the most fun, and Dominique especially is a darling in the fashion world. I move to their seats, and they gamely agree to talk into my little tape recorder.
As with any interview, some stuff is usable; some is not. Below, a sampling of both:
Domenique: I just did a movie with Justin Timberlake—he was an amazing actor, and so fun to work with. (No.)
Chelsea: We love L.A. designers; especially Petro Zillia! (No.)
Domenique: We're going to that place with an M—Marquee!—afterwards. Isn't that where the Olsen twins always go? It might be cool to see them. (Yes. We love celebs referencing other celebs.)
Domenique: What's the show after this? Heatherette? I don't know, we weren't invited. (Yes, hysterical!)
Chelsea: This is my first fashion show. (No, but comforting, nonetheless).
Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her
Meredith Melling-Burke works for Vogue. She has straight, glossy hair, like a Mattel doll. Her teeth are small and pointy; so are her shoes. She is unfailingly nice, impeccably dressed, and everything I will never be—she can even walk in four-inch heels.
Meredith and I sit side-by-side during the Jennifer Nicholson show. She wears a black, boucle-knit Chanel top over a flowing white tunic. I wear a pink tee from American Eagle over jeans I found at Urban Outfitters. Photographers shove me aside to snap her picture. A publicist asks if I'm in the right seat.
After the show, I haul home to Brooklyn and raid my closet. "Surely I have something from Chanel," I mutter, clawing my way through a pile of tops. I settle on a fitted wool jacket from H&M, plus a stack of pearl bracelets. I find my only pair of four-inch heels.
At the next show, I bump into Meredith. "You look cute!" she says approvingly, fingering my jacket. A publicist makes sure I'm seated. The Patrick McMullan people take my picture.
My feet are killing me.
Blondies Have More Fun
There's someone famous at Boy George's fashion show but I can't place her. She's gorgeous, in a weary way, and she looks like she could kick my ass. I'm dying to meet her, so I tiptoe over to her seat. As soon as she glares up at me, I regret it.
"Hi," I smile shakily. "Can I interview you for The Daily?"
She nods silently.
"I'm sorry," I lie, "but can you say your name into the mic? My editors make me do it."
She seems convinced, and leans into my tape recorder.
"I'm Deb-bie Har-ry," she says slowly.
"Of course you are," I grin. "Who else would you be?"
How to Find Your Story
Teri Agins, the Wall Street Journal fashion editor, sips a cocktail in the W Lounge.
"Hello, Daily girl," she says, raising her glass. "Are you finding your stories?" She doesn't let me answer.
"Here's the thing about finding stories—the story you can get is the story where people will give you access and information. Even if that story has a lower profile—it will always be better. Those are the stories that will make your career, at least in the beginning."
Teri's advice turns real later at Hiro, where my editors send me to scope Yellow Fever's manic after-party, a crush of hipsters led by Vincent Gallo. Designers are doing lines in the bathroom, photographers are slinging back shots at the bar, and drunken Williamsburg refugees dance with wild abandon, slamming right into me and my wobbly four-inch heels. I crash to the ground, along with my tape recorder. It snaps open, and the tiny cassette flies into the throbbing crowd. Thirty minutes later, I still can't find it, and the bartender threatens to throw me out if I don't get off the floor.
Furious, I stumble upstairs to the Maritime Hotel. If I can't get a story, at least I'll get a drink. But I don't even make it through the lobby: Richie Rich is hosting a game show with drag queen Amanda Lepore (no relation to Nanette). Runway models blot their overglossed lips on champagne glasses. And—finally—the Heatherette crew gives me some prime fashion gossip, which I scrawl on two cocktail napkins.
Last Night a Cupcake Saved My Life
A 3 a.m. To-Do List:
1. Transcribe tapes of front row/ party quotesI hate coffee, so I use Magnolia cupcakes to stay awake. I down two a night, a secret I don't share with my Atkins-obsessed editors.
2. List most overplayed songs of day (It's time to retire Vicious by Lou Reed, ladies).
3. Turn tapes, cocktail napkins, etc. into coherent stories.
4. Soak now-bleeding feet.
I fall asleep fully clothed, with the day's images still in my head: willowy models, sharp-cheeked editors, dazed Project Runway contestants. As I drift off, I realize it really is a dream job—I'm starting to see it in my sleep.
Faran Alexis Krentcil is a staff writer at The Daily. She is thrilled that flats are in for spring.
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