GWAS Scoop – Meet Vogue girl Clare Press

Following in the chic, stiletto-clad footsteps of ex-magazine editor/scribes Lee Tulloch, Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman and Zoe Foster, after five years working for Vogue Australia, former features director Clare Press, 32, has embarked on the next phase of her career. And that involves writing her first book.

But that's not all there is to Project Press: between penning fashion stories for The Australian and working on designs for her fashion label, Mrs. Press, a delectable selection of vintage-inspired slinky frocks, slips, knickers and camisoles, the witty wordsmith is also launching a beauty brand tie-in, Mrs. Press Dressing Table. With all this on her (fashion) plate, UK-born Press still managed to find time to speak to GWAS (who's had a bit of a girl-writer crush on Press for some time!)...

You've left what could be considered one of the most covetable and respected positions in Australia fashion magazine journalism. How did you come to the decision to leave your Vogue post? Mrs. Press started as a hobby and grew. In the end, I was working fulltime by day, then coming home to another five hours on the label. Something had to give. But every time I thought of resigning, someone would say, ‘You have the best job in the world!’ And, timing-wise, the media is in massive flux; with people facing redundancy, what kind of lunatic gives up an amazing job at Vogue? So I suppose I am crazy, but my goal posts shifted. I want to write books, and give my label the attention it deserves.

Had you always fancied a career in fashion design, or was that something that evolved as you worked for Vogue? It was always in the back of my mind, this idea of trying to build a brand around the dressing room, the dressing table, an old-fashioned approach to slips and lingerie and vintage sensibilities. I’m working on candles and soaps and boudoir treats to go with that. It’s all part of what I want to do with my first book, too.

Given your associations with Vogue, do you think it will be harder for you to gain press support for Mrs. Press? So far I’ve been incredibly lucky. Today I saw a pair of my French knickers in the new Marie Claire and jumped for joy. That’s very exciting for me.

Do you think most magazine jobs should come with an expiry date? Can a girl work in glossies forever? For me, yes, but there are plenty of people who stay on the same titles for decades and it works for them.

Can you tell us who has filled your shoes at Vogue? The very clever and fabulous [former beauty editor] Alexandra Spring. She will do great things.

Did you always aspire to be a fashion writer?
No, my degree is in politics, and I always wanted to be a novelist. Still do…

How did you get your start in magazines? I didn't know a soul when I [migrated to Australia] at 23, but I made connections. I was in Melbourne first and I called up Rachelle Unreich, who was doing an online mag back then and begged to work for free. Then the gods sent me an angel in the form of Jeff Apter, then Music Ed at Rolling Stone, who gave me my break - he published an interview I did with an unheard of band (Goldfrapp!!) then let me interview all my idols; it was a blast, trial by fire. I'd walk backstage, this girl in a frock, and they'd say, 'So where's the Rolling Stone guy?' Then Charlotte Scott gave me a job at Oyster. We got paid peanuts but had so much fun, and she and the other girls I worked with are still my best friends. I was lucky in that I made lots of friends in fashion. But I am also very driven - I put the hours in.

How did you get the Vogue gig? I was writing freelance for The Australian and Harper’s Bazaar when I got offered the job at a Christmas party given by a friend. [Editor Kirstie Clements] was there and we were chatting quite casually. When she asked me I nearly fell over. That said, we had met before more formally to talk about me writing for the magazine.

What did you wear to the interview? An eccentric gold disco dress, if I remember rightly! But had I been going to an interview, I would have worn a Miu Miu skirt, a little white Marnie Skillings blouse and metallic ballet flats, and I would have had a manicure – first impressions count.

What is the difference between a features editor and fashion editor on a glossy? A huge one: Fashion editors are stylists; they conceive of and direct shoots and they also attend the shows and distill the essence of the season for readers. Features editors work with words. My job was to write and commission stories for the magazine, to seek out wonderful writers and woo them into the Vogue fold, to generate and field story ideas on anything from politics to opera, and to interview fascinating people for profile pieces. It was my dream job.

What part of your role gave you the most satisfaction? The people it gave me access to, both those whom I interviewed and those I commissioned. Lee Miller’s eminent biographer Carolyn Burke comes to mind, and Alfredo Bouret, who illustrated for Frogue in the 1940s and 50s.

What kind of opportunities were you presented with while working at Vogue? One Christmas I got an Air New Zealand beanie hat! It’s a misconception that we’re all dashing about on free trips and taking delivery of mountains of free handbags every day. I did go to LA to shoot actors. And I once flew to Austria to a party, which is the stuff movies are made of. I was single at the time and dreamt of meeting a mysterious count who’d sweep me off my feet, but when I got there it was exactly like being at a fashion party in Sydney – loads of gorgeous women and three gay hairdressers.

Did you ever feel constricted or conflicted by advertiser arrangements? Never. But then features is different from fashion and beauty.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the women who work for Vogue Australia? That the offices are glam. News Magazines on the trucking route from the airport next to Bunnings.

And, of course, is working at Vogue like The Devil Wears Prada? Yes and no. Can I leave it at that?

Any advice for aspiring fashion writers? As an editor, my mantra was read, read, read. Liking clothes does not a fashion writer make; you have to learn your craft and reading the work of others is a key part of that. The best fashion journos are brilliant wordsmiths with their own distinct voices, and reliable opinions based on a total understanding of the context.

I like Nigella Lawson’s point that a good writer can write interestingly about anything at all – be that vegetables, shoes or, in her case, make-up. She was the first make-up columnist at London’s The Times Magazine, even though her then partner John Diamond tried to stop her, saying writing about lipstick would make her appear dumb, that she should stick to book reviews. She proved him wrong, didn’t she?

Do you think working in a glossy environment warps a girl's perceptions of the world? Certainly.
Are magazines to blame for eating disorders? Certainly not.
Did you feel pressure to look or dress a certain way, or did you just accept this as part of the job and/or relish it? Dressing up for the office is the fun part! I don’t do casual. Right now I’m trying to work out what to wear to work from home – at the moment I’m in a Talitha Getty phase typing away in a floor-length bell-sleeved peasant dress and a lot of jangly bangles. It’s a great outfit, but I fear it’s wasted on my cats.

Where do you like to shop?
The Society, my friend Sibella’s shop in Paddington, NSW. It’s a whole house and everything in it is for sale, from the paint on the walls to the furniture and frocks in the armoires. She works on Grazia and styles incredible interiors and every three months overhauls this space from top to bottom and themes it with new colours. I don’t know where she finds the time.
Most loved item of clothing... Changes every day.
Favourite holiday destination... Oak Beach, Port Douglas.
Weekend breakfasts are best at... East Ocean in Sydney for yum cha.
To relax you... Loll about in a kimono with a book and a glass of bubbles.
Favourite film... Out of Africa.
Album on rotation... Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room.
Mentor, role model or inspiration... Jane Roarty, executive fashion director at Marie Claire, is my surrogate mamma here, as my family is in England. She is adorable, incredibly stylish and full of wonderful stories. One of my favourite writers is my friend Kathryn Heyman. Her latest novel, Captain Starlight’s Apprentice, is brilliant – buy it!
And, most importantly, which magazines do you buy and read? All of them - I'm an addict! I read all the local glossies. Words-wise, my favourites are Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Monthly. Online, I look at The Daily Beast every day. For inspiration: Lula, Another Magazine, Sky Parrot's new one (Dossier), V and Purple...

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


rachel said...

Clare Press is such a talented writer and editor (so many top notch features in Vogue) - thanks for featuring her, Erica.

And, haha, I eat yum cha at East Ocean on a regular basis too. Perhaps I'll see her there some time. ;)

Anonymous said...

oh no, leaving Vogue! she will be missed, I always enjoy her articles and especially loved her wedding pics in the Vogue Special edition a few months back.
good luck with everything Mrs Press

Steph said...

Thank you so much Erica! I love Clare. Her writing is fantastic and such an inspiration to me. I still have an article she wrote in 2005 pinned up on my notice board at home!

I hope her new adventures prove very fruitful.

On Track said...

Fantastic interview, wonderful questions and really in depth interesting answers :)

jess said...

Thanks for the interview, Erica! Love to hear the thoughts and advice of magazine writers/staff.

Mes said...

I also have a bit of a girl crush on Mrs Press! Thankyou for featuring her! She was one of the main reasons I have bought every issue of Vogue for the last two years though, it will be interesting to see what happens now. Press is a wonderful writer who always gets it just right.

far out brussel sprout said...

can I start crushing on her too?