This book is often compared to Devil wears Prada and, to be honest, it is a HUGE compliment to the latter. I’m not exaggerating (this time).
It’s not about characters or fashion industry so much, it’s about trends and how hard or difficult (but totally inevitable) it is sometimes to embrace the change. Plus absolute top insights on how and where to use digital media to your advantage and why you needed it yesterday.
The plot: Imogen, the chief editor of a Glossy magazine, comes back from her 6 months cancer recovering medical leave and finds out that her world no longer exists, Glossy is going digital. Glossy is not anymore a fashion industry behemoth, it’s a start-up app “Net-a-Porter meets Amazon on steroids” that needs funding and answers to investors. The former assistant of Imogen (why does it always need to be an assistant?!?), Eve, is in charge. She is THE “twentysomething” phenomenon that we all are constantly trying to figure out [to no avail].
“For a second she’d panicked and thought Eve was there in some kind of senior role that she hadn’t been told about. Of course it was 2015 and of course the magazine had a website and sure, all of that meant something. But the website was just a necessary appendage of the actual pages of the magazine, used mainly as a dumping ground for favors for advertisers and leftover stories… The girl was in charge of something relatively inconsequential.”
You already see where this is all going, right?
I loved the book and repeatedly found myself split in between and advocating for two different worlds: old (there is such thing as office proper uniform, people had “actual” offices, lunches meant going out, seniority equaled respect and authority, bringing your phone to the meeting was rude) and new (seniority in the company means nothing, lunch at your desk is a norm, slogans are everywhere, you “reply to all” during the meetings, and your fashion wisdom can be anywhere between jeans, hoodies, gymwear or whatever).
Just an episode – Imogen’s first meeting did not go that well:
“Quickly scrolling through the most recent ten messages, Imogen realized that everyone had worked through that morning meeting. During a time when she thought she was supposed to detach from her electronics, brainstorm with her colleagues and plan their day, everyone else had been sending ‘Reply All’ emails. It felt as if Imogen had been in one meeting and the rest of the staff had been in another. An entire subtext was missing from her experience of the conversation in the conference room. The photo shoot they discussed was already scheduled. A photographer, not the one she recommended, had been booked. Hair and makeup were still outstanding. Wait. No. She scrolled up. Hair and makeup had been booked. The cost for catering was too high…Ashley had taken a video [of the meeting] without her knowledge. And then posted it on the Internet. What a grand invasion of her privacy! Who just films someone without asking? Who just films someone when they are doing nothing at all but sitting in a meeting? She looked tired. Her sharp black crepe dress from The Row looked dull and old against the bright yellow hoodie of the woman sitting next to her…”
Imogen is an old-school, she lives fashion, dresses the part, values relationships, cultivates and cherishes her professional network… plus she is nice. But she takes the industry and its perks for granted and does not care if they make money or not.
Eve is a “techbitch”. Digital commercialized nakedly ambitious Glossy is her Harvard- MBA-inspired idea.
“If someone mentioned they needed a restaurant reservation, Eve would send them five options. If they said they liked her bracelet, she would buy them one for their birthday. When Imogen added new honey-colored highlights to her hair, Eve did the same. The girl’s wardrobe graduated from basic J.Crew to much more aspirational designers, funded mainly by a string of older gentlemen suitors who consistently picked her up from the office in their Town Cars late at night. Eve kept her ambition tucked inside her like a set of those Russian nesting dolls. Each time she shed a layer, she appeared more confident, more self-assured…In meetings she was dynamic and charismatic. One-on-one she was standoffish, cold, even reptilian, but over email and social media she oozed abundant warmth, trying to prove to the recipient and the entire world that she was a good person, fun, fair and aspirational.”
On the same first day, Imogen learns that her mentor and fashion industry icon was fired and to be “replaced with a group of pop-up editors, a rotating cast of iconic designers, stylists and former editors, who will each play the part of editor in chief for a month before passing the baton to the next boldfaced name. Imogen’s big title, the one she’d coveted for so many years, no longer felt like such a big deal at all. Editor in chief was apparently something anyone could do for a month at a time”.
Imogen’s new staff are all “twentysomethings” – hard working, tech-savvy, living with their parents, eco-friendly, all dreaming of starting their own business the day after tomorrow. They don’t want to be CEOs, they want equity, industry disruption, market share, fund-raising rounds and change the world (just to start with).
“Millennials, the new target demographic, lived in a tough world. They came of age in the shadow of 9/11. The job market was dismal when they graduated from college and even worse when they came out of grad school. They wanted to consume content that was funny and optimistic and demanded a maximum investment of two minutes. They didn’t languidly browse through magazines for hours. They swiped, they liked, they tapped, they shared. Most important, they didn’t care if content was branded as long as it made them LOL or ROFL”.
The “old fashion guard” looks entitled and out-of-fashion in comparison. “Editors in chief enjoyed their real rock star moment in the nineties, before being replaced by Food Network chefs and ultimately tech billionaires and personal trainers as the celebrity careers du jour”.
Imogen is confused, she isn’t ready to go back, travel economy class, operate on a tight budget, share rooms and get her hands dirty: “She’d paid her bloody dues. She had steamed clothes. She had scrubbed studio floors. She had booked models and gotten parking permits for fifteen bloody years. Those fifteen years meant she didn’t have to do those things anymore. She’d worked her ass off so that she could happily sit at a desk and say yes and no and have lunches and make deals…”
But she learns how to Tweet and Instagram and all about site traffic, conversion and bounce-back rates. She turns her career around.
It’s a fast-paced, funny and very informative read. And it also got me rambling. Why do we get so entitled after the first years of successful career? In my early thirties I was still relatively junior, naive and easily spoiled by corporate business-class travel, lounges, free hotel miles and all sorts of consultancy perks. I almost felt all those status symbols were “the norm”, because everyone around had it. Then I started working for Amazon, and it changed my perspective: someone paid for these perks and excessive luxury, which that had limited value for customers or shareholders.
Once, I met a former ArcelorMittal colleague on a train to Paris, we both were on business trips, I traveled 2nd, he traveled 1st. It was 2013, 2 hour ride from Luxembourg to Paris, I worked for ~25% YoY growing heavily investing wildly successful company and he worked for a company struggling with margins and market share, in debt and posting negative operating cash flows for the 4th consecutive year. Where is the logic?
[I still want to travel business class and be comfortable, don’t get me wrong. But I’m glad I learned how to feel responsible for the corporate money and care about the company future and its’ state of affairs].
Read the book, it’s lovely!