An Interview with Lauren Sherman, Chief Correspondent, New York, Business of Fashion
Yale Fashion House
From Yale Fashion Quarterly, Issue I
Y Fashion House President Claire Kalikman hosted the second in her fall speaker series of professionals in the fashion industry on October 25th, 2019. We were honored to host Lauren Sherman, Chief Correspondent, New York, Business of Fashion for a talk about her rise through fashion journalism and some of the most critical issues in fashion today. The event was generously funded by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.
Q: What did your path look like?
A: I interned at a variety of magazines including Nylon and a luxury fashion magazine in London. I moved back to New York and then I got an interview to be a news editor at Forbes.com - now, I did not want that job at all because I did not know anything about financial markets. I wanted to be a fashion journalist. But I got the job and I was honest with them that what I really wanted was to go into fashion. They told me that in order to do that I first had to understand how business and retail work. About six months into it, I realized that I actually liked writing about what was going on at the business level and with the designers and not writing the display text for service-oriented publications. I realized that if I can understand how the business works and I have an interest in fashion, it’s going to make me much more sellable as a writer. There are tons of people who want to be fashion journalists, but few roles. Business journalism is a great path because there are many more roles and a lot of fashion people do not want to write about the markets. I stayed at Forbes for four years and then went to Fashionista.com. Then I went to Lucky magazine, which was about shopping, and was basically a very cool catalogue. It didn’t work post-internet. I also learned that I like telling the truth about something - magazines rely on ad money, so you end up only promoting products and not saying negative things about them, so it made me deeply uncomfortable. After a year, I decided to go freelance and did that for a while, then became the first full-time person in New York for Business of Fashion.
Don’t say no to an opportunity just because it is not exactly what you expected. I wanted to be a fashion writer since I was thirteen, but becoming a business journalist has been hugely important for me.
Q: What does your role look like today?
A: I like helping writers develop their ideas, help with sources, but I actually don’t like being an editor. So I work on my own stories and then also work with the rest of the team to help them along, but I’m not the main editor. I write about everything from Target to Hermès.
Q: A lot of the publications you mentioned working at throughout your career have since shuttered. Why has BoF been so successful? I am also a huge fan of BoF’s podcast - what role do podcasts play in journalism today?
A: We operate on a subscription model. Students get a free subscription but everyone else has to pay about $250 per year. We don’t really have advertising, just a few in our print magazine. It is a more sustainable and ethical model. The other part of the business is our job board and we drive sales through that. The founder, Imran Ahmed does not come from a traditional media background and he demands a higher degree of analysis. We are also very careful about disclosing everything and avoiding conflicts of interest. We have more rigorous reporting than other magazines - I would say our reporting is more at the level of a national publication. Traditional media is basically “this thing happened,” so it’s no different than a press release. In terms of podcasting, I’m actually going to start doing more of it. I like the podcast format because I’m not very comfortable being on TV - I prefer panels like this - but doing a podcast is like writing an essay and doing analysis.
Q: How can brands stay relevant today in the age of social media?
A: I’m working on a story now about “clusters,” groups of brands that will cluster together to become more efficient. But it is still possible to stay relevant. You have to remember that most of the brands that luxury houses own were dormant for thirty or forty years until Bernard Arnault of LVMH and François Pinault of what is now Kering bought them up. They were these fuddy-duddy old fashioned brands. I think Christian Dior was bought in 1989 by LVMH for a dollar and he promised to keep all the workers (who he of course then fired). Chanel was dormant for fifteen years between the time that Coco Chanel died and Karl Lagerfeld started. They have these long histories so people think that they have been around forever. These are heritage brands. I don’t think that a lot of the brands that have been started recently will exist twenty years from now - maybe even five years from now. The current generation of designers aren’t going to fashion school, aren’t building to last for a hundred years - they design, then they are also DJs and artists. The lifecycle of a brand is getting much shorter. These groups are a safeguard against that because maybe one does well for a while and can support the others.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a fashion journalist?
A: Write every day.