“Yes, You Can Make It In Fashion” is a HuffPost Style series that profiles men and women across every area of the fashion industry and explores how they rose to the top, how they thrive and their practical advice for young people trying to break into their world.
Stefano Tonchi has held some of the highest positions in the editorial world. The Italian editor has had stints at Esquire, L'Uomo Vogue and the Sunday Times -- he was even the creator and editor-in-chief of T: The New York Times Style -- and today, he's the editor-in-chief of W magazine. So to say he has accomplished a lot in his career would be quite the understatement.
Tonchi sits at the helm of one of the most conceptual and artistically avant-garde fashion magazines in the biz, yet he has somehow managed to successfully translate W's DNA into the digital space -- which is no small feat. We had the opportunity to chat with the esteemed editor and grill him on everything from whether he thinks young people should start their careers in print or digital, to what he looks for when he's hiring. Here's what we learned:
On how he got magazine experience, even though he didn't live in a big city:
I've always been interested in magazines and fascinated by print magazines -- that's what we had growing up, in the countryside outside of Florence. I started improvising early. I think I had my first magazine, that I put together with a friend, when we were in high school. We were like 16, 17. It was called Apache, I don't know why, it must have been his idea. It was interesting because we were writing the stories using all different names because we didn't want it to seem like it was only one person. We went and sold advertising pages to people we knew, to family friends, and we would create advertisement images for them because they clearly didn't have them -- the ads were selling garden plants or furniture or services of some kind.
On how he approaches editing a women's magazine:
I never think in terms of a specific gender, I think more about a specific state of mind. At every magazine that I've edited, I always edit for a specific kind of reader. [At W,] I describe the reader as someone who is curious -- a person that likes to take risks, that likes to get informed, that likes to get the news first, that is kind of adventurous in his or her choices. I always think of the reader as a projection of my own personality and the people that I like. [It's] about connecting the dots, it's about putting every subject in a larger context of what is going on in society at large. We always look at fashion in the context of contemporary culture, [it's] a signal or a way to express your personality and to reflect the society around you.
On what he looks for during job interviews:
When I interview somebody, I like to hear that it's not just about the clothes or the fashion, it's also about what shows are happening in museums, what is happening in galleries, what is happening on TV -- to have this kind of 360 degree knowledge and to always think of fashion as a part of a larger conversation. If you want to work in fashion, it's not all fun and gloss. Actually it's quite a serious profession, there is a technical part and I think that many people forget. You know, if you want to be a fashion writer, you do need to know how to write. It doesn't matter if it's going to be fashion or science or sports, you need to be a good writer. So the first challenge is to work on your writing -- the same if you want to be a stylist, or if you want to be a designer -- you need to know your craft and it's a lot of research and studying. You need to know the history of fashion to have a point of reference, [so when] you look at a picture of a certain hairstyle or outfit, you can say, this is Victorian or this is Renaissance. And before destroying and mixing, you have to know it for what it is. It's like writing, you have to know the meaning of every word before making up your own words. So when I interview people for jobs, I want to make sure they have the basic knowledge about the history of fashion, the history of photography, whatever they're interested in.
On the hardest part of his job:
Going to parties is a lot of work, especially when you don't really want to go out. And then understanding the business, because it is a business, it's not just gloss, it's something that gives jobs to a lot of people. For every great project that you do, there is a lot of financing, raising money. It's like the director of a museum. You think of them as these great curators, but actually they are the people who have to go around and raise money and research and understand what people want. It's very hard to make decisions. You have a limited amount of time and money and pages and an unlimited amount of ideas and talent and people who want to work on it, so how do you do that? You do need to experiment and bring new things, but you also need to make decisions that are more down to earth. I cannot do a book of clothes that are only available in Paris, in some small store, just because I like those designers. I do need to do stories with designers who are available in big department stores in America -- so it's a balance.
On whether it's better for young people to go into the print world or the digital world right now:
I think digital is where all the action is, but it's about good journalism or bad journalism, independent of how you deliver it. I think for a young person to start his or her career at a Refinery29, this kind of world that is editorial and commerce at the same time, that is only digital, it's maybe not the best choice. I think that person would have a much better chance to have a more complete vision working at The New York Times, in the digital side of The New York Times, or at Conde Nast, where there are still magazines that go to print, just because you see it, you feel it, there is a certain kind of ... I think if you could live a little bit in both of those worlds, it's great. To have an environment where some stuff goes to print, you can feel the difference, you can see how people work and I think that dialogue is great -- that is what I would love to do if I were in my twenties.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.