Interview: New York fashion journalist Debra Scherer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 March, 2015, 10:24am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 March, 2015, 11:07pm

The New York-based journalist started her fashion career at the esteemed publications of American, Italian and French Vogue, before founding creative consultancy The Little Squares.

"I started [my fashion career] doing summer internships at Conde Nast and began working full-time at Vogue four days after graduation. Having studied fine arts, I was interested in all aspects of the process of making magazines, from how ideas became stories to how the images were put together.

I was also interested in design and architecture, but at Vogue you got to see the workings of many fields at the highest level.

At that time, what we were doing at Vogue was immediately influential. It wasn't like today when they say "Here are 25 shoes that we like." We were taught that not all shoes were created equal. It was about grand statements such as: "Here is the one shoe you should have."

Vogue, through its interpretation of fashion, spoke with total authority and that was exciting to be a part of.

I started at American Vogue when Anna Wintour had just taken over. Every day was a history lesson, from Candy Price's stories of the 1970s New York social scene to Andre Leon Tally teaching me all about the values of haute couture.

Then I moved to Milan and worked at Italian Vogue. That was the most creative office as it was a very small team and we all did everything. My Milan years shaped my own aesthetic as a photographer, writer and creative director. It was like a golden age there because everyone strived to do their best and most creative work for Franca Sozzani.

When I lived in Paris and worked at French Vogue my best memories are of a lot of the fashion shows we got to see. I even did a story called "I was an undercover client", where I pretended to be an American heiress who had just flown over for haute couture and we went to all of the shows, lunches, cocktails, dinners, and sat with the clients rather than with the press and even went for actual fittings. It was so much fun.

The role of the media over the years certainly has changed. Social media has taken over the news as it is much more immediate and, of course, criticism is a thing of the past.

Now everyone has an opinion, but it's not "classic criticism", that is, when you are speaking with a certain authority. I think now it's more like commentary and it's in the first person, so it's much more about shopping and personal taste, which is inclusive, rather than being about fashion, which is exclusive.

Fashion used to be a very sort of boutique industry but now the business and the numbers are so big that there is so much more at stake for everyone.

It's like the industry has been split up like a deck of cards for a lot of other industries to play with. Hollywood has a hand, private equity has a hand, the celebrity machine has a hand and now even technology has taken a seat at the table to play, and everyone is playing to win. The exclusivity is long gone, but what they do have is a lot of power for those who are good at playing cards.

What I hope I can inspire in the next generation is to not be afraid of the game. In other words, just keep going even when everyone tells you that you are doing everything the wrong way

I started my own creative agency, The Little Squares, to produce and showcase my own work as an artist and also to act as a production house when I work from time to time with clients producing work for them. The mission is to keep going, to keep making stuff; photographs, films, stories, commentary and always to stay nosey. That is, so I can keep looking around outside of one particular industry and try to make connections between them.

I recently did a project with Suzy Menkes, which was fun. If you have to have a daily discussion with someone during fashion week, I can't think of anyone better to dish with than Suzy.

The most exciting and creative work I'm doing right now is our own Little Squares 'zine project. It's a real newspaper that showcases the aesthetic and point of view of The Little Squares in both print and digital formats. It showcases all of my experiences in editorial while continuing to explore and comment on the overlap of cultures. We are about to come out with the next issue, which comments on advertising, radio, retail and the real relationship between fashion and technology.

I have gone down a different path from most of my contemporaries, who have gone on to have amazing careers and be influential within fashion.

What I hope I can inspire in the next generation is to not be afraid of the game. In other words, just keep going even when everyone tells you that you are doing everything the wrong way.

It's not easy, but I get to fall in love with every story and try to represent that through the work. You can't be afraid of having everyone saying you are wrong all the time."

As told to Divia Harilela