Over the past few decades, both fashion and journalism have changed dramatically, said Vanessa Friedman ’89, the fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times, speaking to students and faculty members in McCosh Hall April 7. The event was sponsored by Stripe Magazine, a student fashion publication.
“Career paths the way they used to exist don’t exist anymore,” she said. “That is both a little scary and confusing, but an incredible opportunity. It really means you can do so much more, because all the strictures that used to exist around sectors and industries are breaking down.”
Friedman, who began as a freelance writer before landing a fashion editor position at the Financial Times in 2002, said she never intended to write about fashion. Rather, she stumbled into the role after reaching out to several editors for a job.
“One of the people I wrote a letter to was the then-editor at the Financial Times, who saw I had worked at Vogue, assumed that meant I was a fashion person, and called me and said, ‘Do you want to write about boots?”
Since then, Friedman has risen to become one of the most prominent voices in the industry. She was hired by the Times in 2014.
Friedman said she values the freedom that writing about fashion has given her. “This is a subject that is universal, which, for a journalist, is extremely valuable,” she said. “The one thing about clothes is that every single person has to wear them. Everybody makes a decision about clothes during the day, every day. No matter how much they pretend they’re not thinking about it, they’re thinking about it.”
In a question from the audience, Friedman was asked about lack of representation in the fashion world. “It’s ridiculous. There are almost no female CEOs in fashion companies,” she said. “There are very few African American designers.”
Friedman said the solution to the problem must come from the top down. “Until you have designers who are diverse, they’re not going to be picking models that are diverse,” she said.
Freidman also was asked about her time at Princeton and whether she thinks her college experience has helped her in her current line of work. “[Princeton] taught me how to think, how to research, and how to write and construct an argument,” she said. “Which is effectively what you do whenever you’re writing any form of criticism or newspaper piece.”
Friedman, who majored in history, also noted a peculiar trend. “Weirdly, the Princeton history department has produced two if not three fashion editors and critics,” she said, referencing Kate Betts ’86, who served as the editor of Harper’s Bazaar and currently writes about fashion for CNN. Friedman also mentioned Robin Givhan ’86, who majored in English and is the fashion editor for The Washington Post.
When asked about advice for students looking to go into fashion journalism, Friedman’s response was quick: “Learn about everything else first.”
“Just be open to whatever happens, and don’t assume that you’re limited by your choices,” she added. “You never know where things are going to lead, and the most important thing is to get the most experience.”