Earlier this year I had the pleasure of going to a ‘Get into Fashion’ event through Go Think Big for an evening with Jo Elvin, the pioneering Editor-in-Chief of Glamour magazine UK. I have been buying and reading Glamour for almost 10 years now, and to see such a loved and admired role model ‘in the flesh’ was truly wonderful. Jo has been the editor of Glamour magazine for 16 years now, and the much loved ‘handbag-sized’ version is only now being fully replaced by the standard glossy size. Changing times, changing sizes! The event itself was held by the PPA at the Old St. Records in Shoreditch, where on the night every young aspiring journo-to-be eagerly headed into the basement for the informal interview and drinks. The talk was between Jo herself and her friend, and past rival, Editor-in-Chief Mark Frith of LOOK and Now magazines. The bar was cosy and gently lit with red neons which gave it the pleasant grunge feel of a slightly seedy-yet-cool downtown music venue. It was equally well decorated with fashionable ‘If the walls could talk…’ pink neons which aptly described the evening to come.
Jo started the conversation with her recalling how at 13 or 14 she was obsessed with ‘Dolly’ and British magazines. She said that these magazines gave her a ‘club sense of belonging’, where the language and general feel of the magazines conveyed an identity for teens that just spoke to her. From ‘Dolly’ her interest swayed to ‘Smashhits’ where all that classic teenage angst was so perfectly addressed in the magazines, echoing the tumulous adolescent years. There was a particular interaction with the writers and readers of these teenage bibles, a conversation that Jo says you couldn’t really find anywhere else. Jo mentioned a businesswoman memoir, but I didn’t recognise the name. She seemed so genuine and honest about her experiences as a reader, she had a real genuine interest in the way magazines worked and interacted with teens, let them have an outlet and someone to talk to and understand what they were going through. She said that she credits her mother for her eagerness to succeed and for her energy to work. Jo was very focused on independence, she wanted to have her own career, her own pathway. She called around different magazines and newspapers in the summer because she was bored and she wanted to have something to do. One of the many tasks she got that no one else wanted was to ‘find a bushwacking girl from a cattle farm’. What a task! The Australian outback is hardly the most welcoming and accessible place, so this was no easy feat. Jo said that she called and called and was very persistent. In the end, she found 3 girls.
As the evening descended further into the topics, the one thing you could really tell from Jo’s stories is that she had real determination. Nothing could have dissuaded her from her dream of writing and editing magazines. She said that over the course of her career, she really tried to visualize her goals and the kind of work she wanted. This had the desired effect, improving her focus and imagination. Visualization is seen as an effective, easy way to make yourself see what is right in front of you, but may be hard to think about, especially if the goal seems far away. Sometimes, it simply takes time to imagine your goal to make you realise how badly you want it and how achievable it is. During the talk, I felt like the main motivator was seeing this brilliant, motivated, highly ambitious woman talk so freely about her experiences. So many of the people who dream big get put off by obstacles on their path that it really is incredible to see someone who bulldozed past them.
Her career story continued with a lucky incident. Two feature editors at the magazine she was working at got sacked, so Jo got their job for two and a half years as a writer. She didn’t only focus on magazines though. After the time working at the magazine, she worked for six months as a publicist for the popular Australian TV show ‘Neighbours’. She found out that working as a publicist was entirely not what she imagined. The scandal with an on-air kiss between a brother and sister got her recognised as a publicist in Australia for putting the scene through in the UK.
Since her teens, she had been following British magazines and England had always been somewhere she had wanted to work. She arrived in the UK on a 2 year Visa with the ambition of finding a job in her sector. She arrived in 1992 and got her first job at ‘Sugar’ in 1993. She met her husband at the same time. The ‘Sugar’ magazine was based on ‘Dolly’, so no wonder Jo loved it! The magazine was centred around a ‘new woman’ idea and that was something both progressive and approachable to the female readers. Condé Nast then approached her about launching Glamour in the UK after a very successful stint in the US. Jo relished the challenge and creating Glamour magazine in the UK was by far her greatest achievement. Through her experience and know-how working at Australian publications, she had more than enough experience and bravado to launch the title. Her first issue sold 600,000 copies.
Jo really wanted to explain ‘Why GLAMOUR?’, as it can still be seen as a risky decision to launch a new title. So many fail that it really is hard to hit the right formula. However, with Glamour, Jo says there were a number of positives that decided the launch. The magazine had good timing, it was a ‘new’ magazine with a completely new target group and content, something that truly made it stand apart from other magazines in the UK. Marie Claire had launched previously. The attractive and innovative handbag size drew attention to the newbie on the block. Glamour would champion unapologetic optimism and give the UK fashion magazine industry the ‘spring clean’ it so desperately needed. Nowadays, Glamour has grown from strength to strength under Jo’s leadership, expanding from the print copy into online, with 2.5 million unique viewers every month. The magazine has become a beacon for young, talented fashion journalists in the UK through its innovative approach and its easy club-like feel that Jo replicated from those magazines she read herself as a teenager.
Jo didn’t just talk about herself- as the evening went on, the talk descended into how exactly are you supposed to ‘get into’ fashion journalism. There are so many writers, bloggers, influencers, editors and the like that it is hard to stand out among so many amazing applicants and positions. Jo focused on the importance of how you connect to other people- how empathy and a refreshing view thinking only about audience got her the job at Glamour and how it transformed the way a magazine should work. Nicholas Coleridge, the chairman of Condé Nast UK oversaw the release of the first issue of Glamour with Jo, saying it was the ‘best first issue we have ever seen’. Although Jo would be considered a very experienced editor-in-chief, with 16 years at GLAMOUR under her belt, she doesn’t want to move anywhere else. The reason? She herself said that ‘nothing else is as exciting’. She hasn’t considered America as for her, it is a completely different world.
With such a glamour-ous job (see the pun?) comes an equally glamorous clientele of celebrities that grace the covers of each issue. Someone in our audience asked ‘what are celebs like?’. Apparently, no divas and very business-like and they are more interested in globalising their own personal brand than anything else. Jo says that one of the most impressive celebrities she has met was Madonna- nothing could stand in her way to what she wanted. Madonna said that she wanted to win a Grammy’s with MJ’- and she did! Jo loves her conviction in what she wanted and sees Madonna as a true celebrity icon. Although there have been many highs in her life, Jo says that the most impressive, inspiring, and, surprisingly, the most personal high point was the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. She had built it from scratch, spreading the word about the event throughout the industry, hatching the idea and nurturing it from its very conception.
Finally, Jo talked about the tips and tricks she has for getting your foot in that eternally hard to open fashion door. With so much experience, she has seen interns and workers come and go over the time at the helm of Glamour. She gave a variety of tips on different topics, starting with what to do on an internship. She said that impressing on the internship and showing you can work digitally was by far the most important things to do. She also stressed the importance of passion, persistence and thinking broadly at the beginning of your career path. Glamour’s resident sex editor was previously at a car magazine in Peterborough but her attention to detail and depth in that car magazine showed Jo that she could adjust, be flexible, and show passion no matter what. She also underlined that persistence can pay off, but to know where to draw the line: show you are keen and be honest that you’re enthusiastic. Being sensitive and getting people to trust you were also very big on her list. One quite funny tip was to get fired, as getting fired gives you confidence that you may not be able to find unless you are left high and dry.
Although my time with Jo Elvin was very short and sweet (a quick couple of questions and gushing about the magazine before a quick hug) as she had to leave the event a bit early, leaving the eager listeners to mingle and eat some delicious pizza from the restaurant upstairs. I met some very interesting people at the event and I am hoping that these wise pearls of wisdom from the most positive, dedicated Editor-in-Chief will help any young fashion journo out there!