Now this is serendipity. Two days ago we conducted a lengthy phoner with Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief of thirteen years, Kirstie Clements. 24 hours later she was fired, to be succeeded by Harper’s BAZAAR Australia Editor-in-Chief Edwina McCann. Looking back, the reasons for her departure frame a lot of the conversation. “I don’t read blogs that much,” she tells us at one point. “I don’t really have time.” On the eve of her ousting (and cloaked in far more dramatic irony than we had intended) Pedestrian caught up with the Editor to discuss her attitude towards fashion bloggers, the stigma associated with Vogue editors and the toughest part of her job. We hope you’re reading Edwena.
Hey Kirstie, where in the world are you and what have you been up to today?
I’m in my office in Alexandria and we’ve been planning the August and September issues today. We just put July to bed so we’re trying to decide which cover we want to send out for August and we are planning for September.
Which, according to the R.J. Cutler documentary, is the biggest issue of the year.
Does that translate to Australian Vogue as well?
Yes, September’s important. It’s an important launch time for most of the houses but we start to address the new season in August. Our September issue while it’s important is not that tent pole like it is for American Vogue. We tend to have a big September and a big October. We often have very big December issues too so we’re slightly different. And the times that I’ve tended to do a big theme they’ve actually been in the December issues.
So I guess we wanted to talk about Vogue as it applies to new media. Specifically, how has the magazine had to adapt and utilise new media properties over your tenure?
I guess the first new media we really saw before we even saw bloggers, tweets and all that is obviously the website. So from the beginning we had to start to work out what’s website news and what’s print news. Because print news obviously is going to take four weeks to get something out, so what kind of layers do we put on the stories in print to make them more significant than the things you would pop up online, and I suppose social media has just encroached, encroached, encroached. Things like tumblr, tweets and updates and daily apps and weekly apps and monthly apps. You just have to sort out the priority of how fast the message goes out and how deep the message needs to be. Obviously deeper in print and more newsy and bitty for spontaneous media.
And how do you create website content that will compliment what’s going on in the magazine?
I mean it’s always just a work in progress obviously and we’re in the middle of a big re-design and a whole ‘One Vogue’ re-launch so it will look very different in a couple of months time. But again you need to have the same heads working on it with the same focus on the quality and the research and the journalism. In the print mag itself it’s significantly different to what’s going to run online because online is much more buzzy and noisy and I think increasingly what goes in our apps, it’s going to become more and more important. We’ve done one with the December issue which was really successful so that’s something we’re thinking about now. And again, the question is ‘what else are you offering the consumer?”. They’ve got to have a circular conversation with the brand so its got to be a 360 degree conversation. How we carve that up is probably one of the biggest issues we’ve got going forward.
How do you personally consume media? What are your daily habits?
I mean, gosh, I’m all over the place with it. I watch a lot of television, and I read a print newspaper in the morning, but then I come in and read another one online. I don’t read the Herald Tribune online but I read a print local version. I don’t tend to read magazines online and I’m not huge on blogs but I love twitter, I love Huffington Post feeds and Daily Beast feeds, stuff like that so that if something catches your interest you can go deeper. I don’t read blogs that much, I don’t really have time.
And what content makers do you admire both in print and online?
That’s a very good question. I mean I find interest all over the place. I’m very interested in current affairs and popular culture and politics but fashion I absorb in many ways because of my job, so other people’s fashion blogs I’m not going to seek out because I’ve got a whole department to draw on here. I’ve got a whole bunch of people to draw on here so I really like aggregated news sites that pull in things from around the world and give you snippets which you can then explore further. I do love the Huffington Post I have to say and T Magazine, I still think the New York Times is amazing, I read that online for sure. To me content is current affairs. I was saying to my Art Director yesterday if you spend too much time on the fashion websites looking at every fashion story that’s gone up that week, it can actually hinder your ability to produce something yourself. And sometimes you actually need to white space to say OK, what’s our fashion story going to be this month? I mean I do look at Fashion Gone Rogue and and Fashionologie, but if you see too much I think it can actually spoil your own creativity and originality, so I tend to spend my time if I’m browsing or not doing work with current affairs because that will inform what’s going to go in the mag as well. And the fashion websites I kind of leave aside, to tell you the truth. Because we do it. That’s what we do.
What were your thoughts on Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia? Dion Lee and Josh Goot didn’t show obviously which may have hurt the buzz around the festival. What can IMG do to ensure the participation of Australia’s biggest designers?
I believe changing the date, that’s something that designers have petitioned for for a long time – to bring the date forward earlier than May – that helps. It makes more sense for their deliveries and in-store drops and things like that which is why IMG are now talking about it being in March at the tail end of the European season. Unfortunately it’s not something that you can regulate and these aren’t big European design houses, they’re really strapped for money and if they spread themselves too thin, if they do something like a show in London or a trunk show in New York or a presentation in Paris, they often just run out of money. So I they have to feel like showing at Australian Fashion Week is going to bring them orders as well as marketing, because it can’t just be a marketing exercise, you’ve actually got to generate some business, too. I think then it’s up to the designers to make that an important part of their calendar. IMG puts on a great infrastructure so it’s really up to the designers and their PR people to work out what works for the designer. They have to decide where their market is. Is their market in Australia or is their market in Paris?
Who impressed you this year?
I loved Romance Was Born. I thought they were really clever. And it really went up a scale in its finish, make and its expertise. I loved that and I loved Christopher Esber.
Yeah he definitely filled that void.
Yeah definitely, I mean that felt like a European show to me. I mean there’s a lot of pressure on the poor boy because I’ve written about him in the paper. We’ve seen stuff in his studio beforehand, we thought, he’s got talent and continues to mature but the whole show was mature, the way he sent it out, sent it out so fast and the music was so great and the mix of guys and the continuity of the outfits, it was really, really great.
Where do you see media going in the next five to ten years? Obviously, with fashion in particular, there’s more connectivity between content and the ability to then purchase a product online, which all helps satisfy certain commercial imperatives you may have. Where do you see it going in the next couple of years?
I don’t have a definitive answer to that because you learn things everyday and my opinion of something a year ago is completely different to the opinion that I’ve got now and that I’ll have tomorrow quite frankly. Obviously the biggest challenge for me is to keep our brand strong and to protect that brand and protect the expertise and integrity and all those things that come with that brand because it’s terribly important for us to hang onto that. If you start to ameliorate that or if you start to spread that too thin then you will have nothing to hang on to in five to ten years. There’s different pockets of things, the click through to e-commerce, the e-tail part of it will certainly become more prevalent. It’s a bit like you’ve got to walk through and just find your way.
I kind of love at the moment sitting around at meetings you can be with media buyers and strategists and clients and everybody’s going ‘Well, we’re not really sure, we’re not really sure’ I quite like when you’re not really sure, when you actually say OK let’s experiment with this, let’s try this, let’s have a go at that, which is what we do with our app. We’re really not quite sure how much we should charge, should we not at all, how many people are going to download it, how will you find it, what should it look like. But if everything starts from a creative spark, I think there’s lots of different avenues that are going to open up and they’re exciting new avenues so even something as commercially driven as e-tail has to have a creative spark behind it. Otherwise it’s going to the antithesis to what people want from magazines in the first place. I think we have to find a happy medium within all the areas to put underneath one brand.
Definitely. You’ve previously been a bit skeptical about fashion blogging with respect to authority. Have your views changed on that slightly?
Yeah, my views change all the time I’m looking at it from the standpoint that most bloggers when they start out are not journalists. There’s journalists and there’s bloggers. They’re two different things. Some bloggers will become journalists, and then some journalists now blog. Like I would suggest the column I write in the Sunday paper, it’s in first person, it’s not backed up by a particular amount of facts, ergo, it’s a blog, but it’s a blog based on 25 years of experience. Where I think bloggers are really interesting is in the immediate. I was hosting an event at a luxury retailer the other night and we invited a lot of bloggers, and there were these really great young kids who were in the store looking at all this stuff and blogging about it and learning about it and I thought you didn’t see that a year ago. They’re valued, they’re customers, they’re fans and there’s a whole new group of people looking at merch and getting excited about merch and I think they add a really great new audience that’s spreading the word out.
So my opinion changes every day but as I say, a good blog is going to rise to the top and then either that blogger, you ask that blogger to be part of your organisation or that blogger becomes it’s own organization. I just don’t like first person journalism. I like lots and lots of context around things. It’ll lose me if you just go that shoe is really hot. I want to know why, I want to know the historical context, I want to know what shoe to wear a pant with…
It’s a very fluid term isn’t it? Fashion blogger? Because there’s even just image-based blogs and that really is just like ‘I like this’ with no context or reasoning behind it.
Oh completely. No context or reason whatsoever but as I said the good people rise to the top and often it was the people who did it first, so your people like Bryan Boy and Candice Lake. I mean everybody can walk outside the fashion shows now, dressed in something, put a phone to your ear and say ‘I’m a fashion blogger’ but in the old days that was called writing a diary. So the question becomes why would Vogue’s opinion be more important than that blogger’s opinion? What do we have going for us that they don’t? It’s our access to things and our knowledge, that’s terribly important for us going forward because if everything was completely egalitarian and everybody got to look at everything then brands would disappear.
So what are your thoughts, and I’m not trying to bait you or get you to say something negative, but what are your thoughts on something like Harper’s Style Network which co-opted all these young Australian bloggers to maybe target a younger market. Does that kind of thing enhance a brand or does it diminish it?
What do they do though Ashley, are they in the magazine or online?
I think they have six Australian bloggers who provide content for online so it’s a two way relationship built on content and traffic. It’s like syndicated content that’s housed on a section of the Harper’s website.
Right, right. I mean, they have that on British Vogue as well. I mean, I think that’s great. It’s good content and these people have followers. I think that when our website is redesigned you will see more of that, it comes down to the art of selection and the art of editing. Who it is that’s blogging for you and whether they are the right person for your voice. Because that person has to, in terms of Vogue, the person that we chose to represent us has to reflect the Vogue sensibility. So I think, for me, brand always has to come first before ‘oh, this blogger’s hot’. Is that following the same sensibility as Vogue? I’ve always got to make sure that the brand, the protection of the brand and promotion of the brand is Vogue’s brand first and foremost. Of course, there is room for bloggers and contributors but you’ve got to pick the best in the world.
How consciously are you guy looking at your reader demographics, both in print and online and trying to target or cater to different people or markets that maybe didn’t consider Vogue as a first stop for fashion?
Good question.
Because obviously that’s a big part of media, being prescient and self-aware enough to, and Pedestrian does this all the time too, kind of reevaluate where you’re at and make a plan which moves the brand forward.
Oh, I think we do that pretty much on an hourly basis. I mean everything, when you start with a clean board, is what’s going to inspire, what’s going to motivate, what’s going to make us a market leader, why will ours look better? I’m probably not that analytical in terms of saying ‘oh, hang on this will pull in the over 18 year olds’ and ‘this will get the over 60s’ or whatever, I think Vogue is a sensibility and a state of mind, so, for us it’s always wanting to make sure we get the exclusives and we get the best models we can possibly get internationally, we get the best photographer we can get, we get the edits that we want off the press racks so it’s the pursuit of sending out the best which sorts out your audience anyway. Many years ago people thought Vogue was for their Grandmothers. We never did a marketing campaign or anything like that to try and change that perception. We just changed what was in the book, and eventually they came, because you’ve just got to be on top of it.
But if you’re in publishing or you’re in media that is your constant challenge. Every ten seconds you’re thinking is there something in there for everybody. If you don’t like that, could you possibly like that? Or I think in a way particularly in print if I just isolate it back to the core product, the whole issue’s not going to be dark and gothic, there’ll be something else in there that’s pretty and girly, just so that you feel included, I’m rambling here but it’s inclusive. I think that the philosophy of Vogue is inclusive. It’s on the money and we know what we’re talking about. We know how to dissect a trend, but I still think we’re a very inclusive magazine.
What questions do you ask yourself about the issue before it goes to print? Do you kind of have a mental checklist or anything similar to that?
I do. Not before it goes to print as we’re quite a well-oiled machine like that but we ask ourselves those questions when we’re planning it. Why this particular location? Actually, way back, straight after the ready to wear shows where we sit down and go which location, which model, what story, what would then spin off from that? t’s in the planning. I mean, by time you get on the board very rarely would I change something at the last minute or pull something. We’re a much more well-oiled machine like that because we have to be.
What’s your favourite thing that the magazine has done in the past 12 months?
I think we’ve really made some headway with our covers.
Max Doyle has shot a lot of them.
Yeah, Max Doyle has but there’s been quite a lot of international ones as well. We’ve raised the standard of Vogue whether you’ve noticed it or not over the last two or three years so that we’re getting the world’s top girls now and I think we’ve edged up that aspect of the magazine. We’ve got a stronger identity with our covers, not that they’re formulaic in any way, shape or form but they have a confidence that I’m quite happy with.
They are distinctly Australian Vogue. I do know what you mean.
They have a distinctive voice. I think given that it’s challenging being in Australia, you’re not in the northern hemisphere with Mario Testino at your fingertips, you’ve got to really pull out all stops and be incredibly creative but I think we’ve managed to get a sense of strength and confidence in Australian Vogue via the covers.
You touched on it a bit there but is it ever a concern that other global iterations of the magazine kind of cannibalise your own audience?
Oh gosh yes. Like American Vogue and Paris Vogue, fashionistas are fashionistas so even if they weren’t on the newsstands those girls would probably subscribe to the ones they like anyway. So everything is competition from your own Vogues to outdoor billboards and television and oh god what isn’t competition? You’ve just got to wipe it all out.
So how do you wrestle with that? They’re your sister publications but in a way they’re your biggest competition for a particular reader.
Oh, we’ve just accepted that. I mean our circulation remains very strong and we have a strong subscriber base so I’m happy with our figures. I think we can continue to grow them but I think the real fashionista wants all the Vogues anyway, so I don’t anything’s getting cannibalised I’d rather it be one of our sister publications then somebody else.
And finally, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
In the issues, in Vogue terms?
In Vogue terms, yeah.
Oh god we’ve got so much happening, obviously we’ve got Fashion’s Night Out in a minute, we’ve got a big December issue planned, something quite fantastic with an app attached and we’ve got something, I can’t tell you obviously, but we’ve got some really great projects coming up. My Fashion Director is heading to New York next week and we’ve got back to back shoots and some really interesting cover people coming through actually. I’ve got one for July that should be a bit of a hit I would suggest, cross your fingers. As I said to you we are still very reactive, more reactive then we’ve ever been. Although there’s planning in magazines, I’m incredibly reactive to the marketplace and what’s happening not like in the old days where you had subjects of issues planned for the next twelve months. You can’t really do that anymore.
Speaking of covers, where do you lie on the model vs celebrity continuum?
Oh models, most of the time. Of we do a celebrity she’ll be Australian. But we do really well with models, I like models, they go on the journey with you, they wear the clothes you tell them to, they don’t nominate their own stylists. I think way back we switched to models because that’s what Vogue stands for really. The great Aussie girls, actresses and things like that, fine. But, I’m going to say ten out of twelve will be models.
And finally, what’s the hardest part of the job?
Pleasing everybody. You have many, many masters. (laughs)
Publishers, advertisers…
You have publishers, advertisers, designers, the most important person is the reader, the most important person is the consumer for sure. So just trying to find your way between different opinions because what’s brilliant about Vogue is that people feel very invested in it. Everyone has an opinion on Vogue: good, bad or indifferent and they’re certainly not afraid to tell you. People feel very strongly, it challenges people, it brings out very strong opinions in people whether you want them or not (laughs). So that’s probably something I’ve had to deal with over the years is listen to everybody and then at the end, you get your major core people that you truly believe in, your team, and your reader and just focus.
I’m sure some people are as intimidated by you as vice versa.
Yeah, I think yes, a lot of people are intimidated by me before they even meet me because of the job.
Yeah, I wanted to quickly talk about that because there is that stigma obviously, The Devil Wears Prada, Anna Wintour of that power editor, do people have preconceived notions of you before they meet you?
Yes. Absolutely. And I often think that I’m not really that frightening so I often think they might be disappointed if I’m too nice. But it’s not very Australian to be this scary, authoritative figure but people invest a lot of authority in you as the editor of Vogue. And I take that seriously. I mean it does come with the gig. People expect a certain sense of manners and decorum and rightness and integrity and that’s great, that’s amazing that a brand and a job could bring that to you so I respect that. I think I have to work hard to ensure that younger people or whoever don’t get intimidated, or not, some are quite the opposite (laughs).
You sound very pleasant on the phone, I must say.
I’m probably tough in business and that’s about it. I’m well brought up.
I think it just stems from conviction which is a byproduct of knowledge.
Yeah, it is conviction. Being the Editor of Vogue you are so fortunate in your job to work with people who are just incredible, the best people in all of their fields, whether they’re the Managing Director of a luxury house or a make up artist or a stylist or photographer or a writer, everybody is at the top of their game and it’s such lovely company to be in. So I guess it could seem like quite an intimidating role but it’s not really, everyone’s just getting on with the job. It’s business, you know.
Kirstie thanks so much for your time, I won’t waste any more of it but thank you so much for speaking with us.
Alright, thanks Ashley. Bye