Girl in Media: Zoe Foster (Part 2)

As promised, my chat with's editor-in-chief Zoë Foster continues. And this time it's all about the book, baby. Needless to say, I personally enjoyed Air Kisses ($32.95; Penguin) very much. In fact, I read it in a weekend (and I have the attention span of a two-year-old).

The protagonist is Hannah, who has landed herself a job as beauty editor on
Gloss magazine. Of course, the story is 'loosely' based on the year Zoë joined Cosmo, with a few romantic ups and downs thrown in for good chick-lit measure (it's not all about the magazine, y'know). The pace is quick, each (short) and wittily titled chapter (e.g. 'Sperm Brows'; 'The Bitchy and Scratchy Show'; 'I signed up for sitting at a desk and trying on lip gloss') opens with words of beauty advice (bonus!) and the characters are believable and endearing.

You'll love the mag industry insider insights (the advertising presentations; the launches), and though there are some 'issues' with other beauty editors on the scene (one in particular), this is no tell-all
Devil Wears Prada tale (Zoë wants to keep friends in the industry, you see). Her writing style is Marian Keyes meets colloquial quirky Aussie (there are a few ocker-isms alongside the beauty-isms and Zoë-isms) and you'll find yourself stumbling across more than a few witty similes and metaphors, as you would shoes strewn over your floor.

Pucker up as
Zoë puts on her author's hat...

Your father is also an author. Is writing in the genes? What pearls of wisdom was he able to share with you? Dad’s a brilliant writer. I can only hope of being one-tenth the writer he is. His best advice was on how to fictionalise people you wanted to use from Real Life so that they would never guess it was them. Of course, I never actually used this advice…

Other authors whose work you admire/love... Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman, Jared Diamond, David Sedaris, Mark Haddon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Lemony Snicket, Marisha Pessl, Roald Dahl, Italo Calvino, Nancy Mitford... There are more, but as I’m moving, they’re all packed up and I can’t refer to my bookshelf for reminders. Apologies, temporarily forgotten authors, apologies.

Most influential childhood book... Italian Folktales, Italo Calvino.

Favourite ever book (or two)... Tough call. Some recenty ones that spring to mind: Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Jancee Dunn’s But Enough About Me and, of course, Eat Pray Love.

Did you always imagine becoming an author? No. In fact, dad actively dissuaded me from doing it. There’s no money in it! he’d cry. Get into advertising instead! Take up medicine! Learn to play tennis professionally! Become an actuary!

How did the book come about? I had been at Cosmo for a few years, and still enjoying it, but hungry for a new creative challenge. Mia [Freedman] suggested writing a book to keep me creatively fulfilled, and so I started jotting down anecdotes from the beauty world, imagining a Confessions of a Beauty Editor type thing. We soon (wisely) realised it needed to morph into a fully fictionalised novel in order for me to preserve my friendships and, uh, job.

When did you start writing it and how long did it take? It took a year to write (2006), while working full time at Cosmo.

What were some of the biggest challenges as a new author? Sitting inside writing on a gloriously sunny day while everyone else was out playing Frisbee and hopscotch and eating hokey pokey ice cream. Sustaining an interesting narrative pull for 100, 00 words was pretty tough too. Luckily, I had a magnificent editor who did magical things to my story.

I loved everything about the book – from the pace, to the chapter lengths, writing style, storylines, characters and cover (gush). Give us the mini version of the editing process... Mini version, you say… I submitted my finished manuscript to Penguin/my brilliant editor, Kirsten Abbott. She wrote me a document on themes/characters that needed embellishing, tightening or cutting. I did it. I gave it back. She went through and ‘line-edited’ the whole thing (soft copy) and marked up/commented on everything she thought needed work/changing/developing etc. I went through and responded to all of her remarks. I gave it back. This process may have happened again. She then gave it to a copy editor who subbed it. This is crucial as you become so close to characters and story, you don’t notice the fact that the apartment in the book has stairs one day and a lift the next.

Back to me in hard copy. I edited it. My editor edited it. The cover was presented to me. I fell in love instantly. (You don’t get to choose your cover, so I was thrilled to my gills that it was so spectacularly foxy). Back to me in uncorrected proof (book form). Very exciting moment. I made tiny changes. (It’s gobsmacking how different it reads once in book form. Small issued of incongruity or inconsistency leap up and slap you in the chops.) My editor gave it one last edit, I signed off on it, and it was off to get printed by the thousands of small penguins we employ on Phillip Island.

Do you think you'll keep your future works within the 'chick literature' genre? I do. I do indeed. I’ll flirt with other genres and non-fiction too, but I’ll certainly have a few more lattes in the Lady Fiction lounge.

How is the Aussie chick lit scene? We’ve got some very strong chick lit writers here, Maggie Alderson, Melanie La’Brooy, Monica McInerney are all wildly popular and successful writers. It’s a thrill to be mentioned in the same sentence as them. Oh, hang on, I wasn’t. Never mind. Carry on.

Can you tell us about the new book you're working on? It’s a thriller about a band of inebriated, recalcitrant possums who take over a small town using nothing but lemonade and coat buttons.

Zoë has signed a three-book deal with Penguin. Air Kisses is available now.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Girl in Media: Zoe Foster (Part 1)

Last night pretty Zoë Foster, 27, editor-in-chief of, the beauty site set to take the 'net by storm when it launches next month, celebrated the launch of her debut novel, Air Kisses (shhh, the release is embargoed till next week – needless to say, it is fabulous).

Zoë is the kind of girl who reaps what she sows – her positive energy, humble, country-bred nature and fruity spirit (not to mention her quirky writing style and hot footy-pro beau) have brought her much career success and admiration (and, yeah, a little undeserved jealousy), putting her firmly in the 'girl you wanna be' category.

Here, we chat (mostly) about working the beauty beat in Sydney Mag Land, but do visit again next week for the next installment of my e-banter with Zoë, in which we chat about her book. So, to the Zoë story, part 1...

Where did you grow up/study/what did you study? I grew up in a picturesque little town called Bundanoon. It’s become all cool now. I mean, they serve aioli. Aioli! I studied Media and Communications at UNSW.

When did you move to the Big Smoke and how did you cope? I moved to Sydney when I was 17, in the seconds following my HSC results being dropped into our mailbox. I deferred for a year to work and play in the Big City before settling into study again. I desperately wish I’d travelled instead during that year, because mostly I was just broke and bored and doing enviable jobs like nightpacking at Coles, telemarketing and promo work.

How did you get your start in magazine publishing? And why magazines? I applied for any journo job going following graduation, because, well, I liked to write, and rumour had it some people would actually pay you for it. I ended up deputy editor of a kids magazine called Mania. Being horrifically underqualified, I firmly believe my “clever” CV got me in the door (I wrote it as if I were an eight-year-old boy). Of course, once in said door, I worked my arse off to prove myself. Helped that I had a cool editor: If she didn’t, uh, ‘get’ my CV, I may not be where I am now.

Which magazines did you read growing up? MAD (the only magazines I’ve ever kept), Hit Songwords, Smash Hits, Dolly, Girlfriend, Cleo, Cosmo, New Scientist (stop sniggering; Popular science is extremely underrated.)

Did you have any influential mentors or women you looked up to? [Former Cosmopolitan editor] Mia Freedman. I always thought she was cool and that she knew her stuff and was a clever writer and that I wanted to work under her one day.

Did you choose beauty editing or did it choose you? It chose me. I applied for a job at Dolly while working as Deputy at Smash Hits and, as usual, I was exceptionally underqualified. But Mia (who was then the EIC of Dolly) thankfully saw through all the nonsense and all the chutzpah and ended up offering me the beauty editor job at Cosmo a few months later.

How long were you beauty ed. at Cosmo? What was it like coming into the role as a beauty novice? 1. Three years. 2. Scary: A lot of those Fraud Complex feelings are reflected in Air Kisses. Thankfully the Cosmo girls were extraordinarily nice and very patient with a girl who had the style of a wombat and who, having tiptoed in from teen mags, showered every sentence with criminal amounts of these: !!

What was your weekly schedule like on Cosmo? Psychotic. Up to four functions a day and lots of blank word documents to satiate either side of that. As beauty and lifestyle editor, I had 10 beauty pages a month as well as a feature (usually on relationships, but sometimes on identity theft/drink-spiking/financial planning) and a dating column. Bee. See. But fun. A lot fun.

Your casual/quirky writing style on Cosmo was quite revolutionary for the mag (you even won a Jasmine Award for it - um, as you might recall). What was your beauty editing and writing ethos on the mag? I was lucky: both Mia and Sarah Wilson allowed me to explore and enjoy a very conversational, colloquial style of writing. I didn’t have a writing ethos, per se, just a warped sense of humour and a desire to make every topic, (blackheads inclusive) entertaining for the reader.

What is a common misconception about beauty editors? One widespread fallacy is that we must be good at everything regarding beauty. My orange ankles, uneven eyeliner and foundation lines prove that this is completely unsubstantiated.

Harper's BAZAAR - how did your role on the mag differ to your work on Cosmo? The BAZAAR reader demands a different style of writing to the Cosmo reader. I had to shift from being self-referential and silly, to sophisticated, subtly clever and elegant. It was excellent to be challenged in that way. I loved working under Alison. Cosmo, to me, always felt like a friend, a girl who was just like me. BAZAAR, on the other hand, offered a world of fantasy, desire, luxury and fashion that spanned to dizzying heights.

Did/do you ever feel pressure to 'look the part' on the beauty scene? I’m aware there is pressure, but I want and choose to look polished for work. I enjoy it. It’s not about being super massively fashionable and throwing your entire pay cheque at Belinda Seper (pleasurable as that would be), it’s about looking like you take pride in your appearance and representing your title well. Ultimately you are a physical representation of your magazine when you attend events on behalf of that title.

Major perks of being a beauty editor... I think we both know the answer to this one [GWAS - um, that would be the freebie product and services and canapes and champagne and junkets in Byron Bay].

Advice for girls considering beauty editing as a career... Strive to be a writer first. It will give you a whole lot more ammunition when you have to write about mascara in different ways each month/week.

Why did you start beauty blog Fruity Beauty? It’s two-fold. On one hand, back in 2005, I thought Cosmo needed a stronger online presence, and that a beauty blog could be a nice avenue into that. On the other hand, I felt like I had far too much information in my head about hair straightening/lipgloss/hair removal and not enough pages in the magazine to communicate all of it to the thousands of women out there who desperately needed to know about the benefits of dry shampoo.

How did Fruity evolve? She started as a kind of outlet for me, with just a few of my friends and beauty PRs logging in occasionally, and then, with a little bit of word of mouth and some press, she grew into a big bloggy mass, with thousands of members and not nearly enough posts to satiate them.

Tell us about Primped. There's a bit of buzz around the site - what's it all about and what can we hope to see when you launch in July? It’s a site just for beauty. No fashion, no gossip or relationships, just beauty. We launch in July, and I can’t wait to show it off: we’ve created all of these glorious videos, and tricky little widgets, and we’re using technology not seen before in Australia… the user experience is awfully enjoyable. The writing, advice and visual candy is paramount, of course, but there is an enormous focus on fun and entertainment, too. Beauty can easily become too serious, too earnest; I’m a big believer in keeping it fun. I guess it’s kind of like fruity… only 478 times bigger, with money, designers, producers, infrastructure, a whole team of amazing people, a whopping great office, sweet new laptops, a fridge with food in it, manifold blogs updated daily…

To be continued...

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Feel like a little post-lunch shopping snack? Then skip the vending machine and get thee to FrockYou– everything is still 35% off, like these cute-as-a-button 'Breezy Bow' ballet flats by Sunday, $59.95. I can imagine Zoë wearing them when she's having one of her beauty closet clear-out days (oh, yes, they happen: and things often get messy), which are promptly followed by beauty sale days, which involve a whole lot of feet-stomping, thereby requiring footwear with protection... like steel-cap boots.

Mags: UK Vogue – ageing gracefully, thank you

My mind is prematurely ageing – thanks to Sex and the City The Movie, books like Helena Frith Powell's To Hell in High Heels: how to age gracefully, disgracefully or not at all, Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck and Maggie Alderson's Gravity Sucks, Hillary Clinton running for president, the return of the 90s supermodel and a bunch of magazine editorial dedicated to helping older women merge gracefully, stylishly and wrinkle-free into their 40s, 50s and 60s (journalist Pamela Robson has written a series of little books on looking good as you pass through each decade, but more on those in a future post), I currently have the mentality of a 47-year-old. I am 27.

At this point, anyone over the age of 27 has permission to throw something at their computer screens. I don't have to read this stuff, after all. But it's hard not to get caught up in the world of ageing when you're being visually assaulted at every page turn and glossy cover. Really, this is a good sign. For so long (since at least the '60s) the world has bowed down to youth like it had earned respect, fuelled by the cash-hungry global marketing machine that invented a whole new demographic (the 'tween') to better cater for the wants, needs and spending habits of the trend-conscious young and their (perhaps overstated) persuasive ability to influence mum and dad purchases.

And now, while Gen X is heavily pregnant, balancing the demands of corporate and home life, the baby boomers are happily reaching retirement age, their savings and super funds and homes insurance against the poverty their elderly predecessors have been stricken with (to the point where you can sponsor an elderly person like you would an African child). And they are spending big, and running big business, and editing magazines. As a result, or maybe because we just got tired of seeing Lindsay Lohan’s face, never have older women been more relevant or visible or celebrated.

This month's UK Vogue, superbly edited by Alexandra Shulman, who is fast becoming one of my favourite editors, so refreshing is her down-to-earth, transparent and self deprecating attitude in the fickle world of fashion, is devoted to 'ageless style'. The magazine has succeeded in bringing together a group of women for whom style is in the genes representing all age groups – from 18-year-old model Jourdan Dunn to Margaret Thatcher, 82. It's the kind of issue you will relish, such is the delicacy and refinement with which the topic is handled. The visuals are stunning (as are the women) and the editorial lyrical and poignant, with a diversity of voices (young and old) and an essential message of female empowerment through fashion (though, being Vogue, we are given certain sartorial rules to stick to, such as in the ‘Forever in blue jeans’ denim feature).

As ageing and style are such subjective concepts, Vogue offers us a range of women to whom we might relate (of course, they are of a certain privileged caste). To that end, there are several first-person features this issue, with each woman offering insight into a time in her life when she experienced a sartorial awakening of sorts.

Kapka Kassabova writes about how the falling of the Berlin wall led to her first true shopping experience (a real novelty at age 16) but concedes that despite the material deprivation that marked her childhood, her parents’ love was the ultimate luxury. Polly Devlin, 67, talks about leaving the English countryside to take a job in New York City, when her sartorial standards, and self confidence, changed dramatically (for the better, it seems).

Sarah Harris writes about denim and why a woman need never give it up (such is the diversity of styles and washes available now); Linda Grant takes us back to 1968, when she was a wayward schoolgirl and fashion marked a time of change and Jean Shrimpton was a style icon; fashion editor Lisa Armstrong relates her experience of working in a world where what you wear is paramount in ‘Perfect Pitch’ and talks to several other fashiony types about their thoughts on fashion, taste and style and maintaining a certain level of sartorial credibility (I love this line: “But yikes, you have to know what you’re doing to fool around, particularly once you reach the mystical point of being a grown-up (roughly speaking, that’s when your daughters or your friends’ daughters hit their teens)”); Chloe Fox talks to Mary Quant, Bella Pollen and Amy Molyneaux, designers from three different generations, about partying and branding; Candida Lycett Green gives us a comprehensive four-page feature about lace; and Jan Masters writes about beauty treatments in ‘The guinea pig generation’ (one of the better features I’ve read on the topic of ageing so far).

Perhaps my favourite feature this issue, for its inherent pearls of wisdom and wit, is by editor Alexandra Shulman. Over four or so pages, she recounts her experience of fashion and passion for shopping, using her 50th birthday as her starting point. “My wardrobe has never, not even now, after 16 years as editor of Vogue, been dictated by fashion,” she writes. “If fashion has what I like to wear on offer during any particular season, I will be the first person to rush towards it. If not, we part company, amicably.” She talks about her ‘flirtations’ with various trends but says she always returns to her default look: “While it’s important not to get stuck in a rut as the years pass, there is normally a continuum of style in the women I deem most stylish.” On ageing she says: “I don’t want to engage in a constant battle against the forces of time… You can’t win a battle against time… Instead, I choose to channel that energy into other areas of my life – friendship, motherhood, sex, work, the house.” How refreshing. But she’s a realist: “It’s a huge help to have been nice-looking but never very beautiful. I also think it’s an advantage to have always had a pretty dodgy figure… For those whose identities are completely bound up in their good looks, the diminution is terrifying.” As we know, she detests Botox and fillers but feels differently about using clothes to stay young (“I don’t want my wardrobe to become my business – I still want it to be my playground”), though concedes “the insecurity about whether you are heading into mutton-alert territory hovers determinedly.” She favours comfort, Marni, Betty Jackson, Gap and Burberry, but is also given to “Friday-lunchtime treats” at Topshop, and says her new devotion to finding and buying the right underwear is what’s changed with the passing of time. She concludes: “At some point we all think that we lose the person that we were when younger and become somebody old. But we don’t, and our clothes, and the pleasure we take in them, should reflect that.” Ahh.

I’ve never found cover model Uma Thurman, 38, particularly relatable, though she comes across as endearing and fragile, almost childlike in her vulnerability and indecision, in Luke Janklow’s profile. As so many celebrity profiles are prone to do, we are led into their conversation with a paragraph in praise of Thurman’s eating habits: “Uma eats. She eats with gusto…” we are told, before the Hollywood-ness kicks in: she’s been fasting. I too would be ravenous and chow down on pasta, salad and cookies with abandon over lunch (“a woman who eats with passion”)! Uma is praised for her effortless style, which she describes as “utility survival”, her “ethereal, otherworldly beauty” and the “masculine component to her femininity”. She says growing up makes her feel more immature, exercise is a stumbling block (she’s not a fan) and though she is “clearly happy” with new beau Arki Busson (he likes ‘em tall and leggy), it took her four years to get over her marriage breakup.

Other profile pieces include ‘Soul Kitten’, devoted to diminutive British songstress Duffy (“pretty and perky with Bambi eyes and a Bardot pile of blonde hair”), who has led quite the interesting life (no overnight sensation is she: the kid did it tough); ‘Tempered Steel’, through which we get to know Maggie Thatcher, now 82, and her friend/confidant/dresser of 30 years Mrs Crawford, with a focus, of course, on her relationship with fashion; ‘A woman’s touch’, a profile of Valentino creative director Alessandra Facchinetti (divine); ‘Force Field’ introduces us to Lynn Forester de Rothschild (a formidable force in business); and several smaller style pieces through which we meet model Jourdan Dunn, Tricia Jones (of i-D magazine), actress Rebecca Hall, MA student Anne-Laure Zevi and Sisley VP Isabelle d’Ornano.

The truth is, at any age, the fashion choices (and mistakes) we make is one of the clear indicators of how we’re feeling about ourselves and where we’re at in life (a daily wardrobe of tracksuits and uggs = not a good sign, a la Britney Spears).

I’m off to embalm this edition for future reference.

Overall excitement factor: 9/10
Feel-good factor: 7/8
Eye candy rating: 5

The Stats
Issue: July 2008
Book size: 210 pages
Inside front: BMW
Back: Cartier
FOB ads: Chanel, Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany & Co.
Editor: Alexandra Shulman
Publisher: Conde Nast

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel