Emma joined Man Repeller as a summer 2015 intern after Leandra reached out to her. She is an avid writer and can be found in many comment sections! She is now a contributor for Man Repeller.
This interview took place via email between Tate in New York and Emma in Quebec, Canada
TVPS: How did you land an internship at Man Repeller?
EH: Leandra actually extended the offer, which was exciting! By that time (October 2014), I had written a few pieces for them, and then one day I woke up to an email inviting me to come on for the summer.
Was there an interview process at all?
I guess in this scenario the interview process was a little different. Leandra and the team had gotten to know me, in some ways, through the comments section on the blog, and through the pieces, I had written for the site. It was as if I had already created a portfolio for the company.
A fellow MR intern had told me, though, the interview process included the pitching of hypothetical stories, a copyediting test, and a phone interview. All of these in addition to a resume, of course.
What were your responsibilities?
My tasks were pretty wide-ranging, which provided a necessary variety each day. I did anything from pitching and publishing my own stories, to transcribing interviews, to optimizing SEO and taking care of other more technical “back-end” duties. I also supervised reader engagement to make sure the comments section of MR remains constructive and generally supportive in terms of reader-to-reader relations.
What was the company culture like?
The company culture is really interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the women who work there are interesting; the growing team is comprised of really strong yet varied personalities. Secondly, the office is a lot quieter than most people expect it to be. This now makes total sense, though. A quiet environment is really the only kind conducive to producing such consistent and frequent content. It’s kind of a paradox- the subject matter is mostly fun and stimulating, but in order to be efficient, the office has to be quiet and productive.
What are the departments at MR?
The company is expanding in new directions fairly rapidly, but currently, I believe there is: Editorial, Photo (which includes shooting original images and also photo research), Video/Podcasts, Social Media, Ad-Sales.
Each of these larger departments has sub-categories, of course, wherein new hires are taking on more specific tasks.
How were you influenced by your time there?
I learned a lot at Man Repeller, in both the realms of applied skills, in a less tangible sense. In terms of applied skills, I was able to learn about SEO how to think about and apply business- terms for the blog’s monetary trajectory, and simpler things such as the most efficient way to transcribe long interviews, which was useful when editing MR Roundtables and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. The latter is their interview series on couples in the fashion industry.
However, I’d say the most valuable learned skills were time-management and a flexible attitude. The fast-paced nature of the internet, when paired with the relentlessly forward-thinking nature of fashion, means that there is little time for reflection. It is critical to get a story out at exactly the right time, and even more important to be able to make the decision to cut it if necessary.
I was fortunate to sit in on MR editorial meetings and see how flexible the editors were about storylines. It is very easy to be idealistic about a piece, but I learned from Leandra and Amelia Diamond, MR’s Deputy Editor, how to keep audience and purpose in mind, in order to convey my ideas in the most useful way.
Any favorite stories from MR?
This is a really tough question! I always love Leandra’s fashion week reviews – she’s really come into her own as a fashion critic, and I enjoy the accessibility of her pieces. I also really like one of Amelia’s first pieces, called A Place to Call Home, about moving, identity, and creating connections with the places we live.
My favorite pieces that I wrote for Man Repeller were a review of Saint Laurent’s Spring-Summer 2016 Mens’ collection (Think Venice Beach! Think Santa Cruz flea markets!), and then also a very personal story on performance anxiety. The latter was definitely quite raw, but I hope being honest about such setbacks is helpful to others, and it puts my own goals into perspective.
In your opinion how was Leandra able to maintain good relationships with people in the industry?
I think Leandra has been able to maintain such good, meaningful relationships with a host of industry people because she is so candid. Sure, Leandra has a vitality and quirkiness to her that draws people, but what you do not necessarily realize at first glance is her business acumen. She is also a very serious businesswoman with good ideas, ambitious goals, and a work ethic to execute both. And I think her work ethic has gained the respect of editors, etc., just as much, if not more, than her style.
How is Man Repeller able to stick to one clear vision?
The great thing about Man Repeller is that its development has been quite transparent. The stages of its growth -- from one woman posting once a day, to many employees and further-reaching content – means that the site has seen many faces. Successes, relative failures, they all go into a more synthesized MR vision. So while content spans fashion, beauty, love, fitness, literature, I think the MR attitude (one of independence and vitality), is what allows for cohesiveness.
Still, balancing the MR attitude with broadening subject matter is definitely a continuous editorial consideration.
What are the qualities of being a good intern?
I am sure this changes depending on the internship! But, I would say flexibility, curiosity, determination, and humility are pretty good qualities to have as an intern. You’re there to learn, and sometimes that entails doing tasks you’re less than enthused about or testing skills that you may not feel as confident about.
My motto is “assume nothing!” It is best not to get ahead of oneself.
Was your writing influenced by your time at MR?
My writing was certainly influenced by my time at MR. Generally, I would say the MR voice is different from my “regular” writing voice if that makes sense. This, I think, has a lot to do with the pace of the internet, as mentioned. Often Leandra or Amelia would request that I cut the first couple hundred words of my pieces and start with one of the sentences I wrote in a middle paragraph. There’s really no space to set the scene for many, many words. Plus, readers lose attention, and the goal is to deliver an opinion or information as efficiently as possible.
I am not really sure whether or not I have “my” writing style down yet, so I had a lot of fun trying to write to the MR voice and also trying to find my own voice within a larger one.
Who are your role models in the industry?
Wow, I’ve got so many! For fashion writing/criticism, which is ultimately what I’d like to do, I deeply respect Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times. Friedman approaches fashion intelligently, politically, contextually, which I appreciate. I also really respect Cathy Horyn, now-contributor to The Cut, and then Nicole Phelps of Vogue Runway, formerly Style.Com.
In terms of fashion entrepreneurs, of course, Leandra Medine, and also Emily Weiss. I suppose Weiss is really more in the beauty industry, but she got her start in fashion, and it has been informative to watch her develop in various ways since her Vogue days.
I love the minds of Rei Kawakubo, Demna Gvasalia, Lynn Yaeger. I could go on! But at the end of the day, it’s really the fashion critics that I assume the sort of pinnacle of ‘role modeldom.’
What do you like about the fashion industry today?
I find its instability sort of amusing, actually. Designers leaving houses after a few seasons, etc. This isn’t to say that any of these trends of exile and exhaustion are good, per se, but I think the discourse surrounding all of it actually sheds light on how the uncertainty within the industry mirrors that in cultural, social, political spheres. It adds a realness to an industry that is largely regarded as fantastical.
Is there room for new blogs in such an overpopulated field?
I think there is always room for a new point of view, a new entry point! There is very little room, however, for replicates of an existing idea. I think it’s a matter of loyalty and of originality. Occupying a niche is necessary to success, otherwise, it’s very easy to read pre-existing blogs, if that makes sense.
What effect is the digital world having on the fashion industry?
I’m no expert, but my understanding is that it’s causing an insatiable hunger for the new. This may also manifest somewhat indirectly when consumers become sick of a product before it even becomes purchasable. If a shoe, say, is circulating Instagram, the web, etc., from the moment it has been live streamed, very often its desirability withers within that six-month waiting period. So while the frequency and familiarity of the digital world make fashion accessible, I think it simultaneously depletes the desirability of a product.
It seems that a lot of kids our age are moving towards media/ideas/news that can be consumed in a 15-second slot. Where does strong journalism fit into that equation? Is there still room it?
This is a really interesting issue. I think this is a hurdle that isn’t entirely linear, and perhaps it’s too premature to try to come to any conclusions just yet. I think we are in the era of trial and error; testing out the utilities of various platforms. So, for now, it’s a matter of supplementing long form content, so to speak, with shorter blips of content (such as Instagram posts, Snapchat videos), in order to form a more cohesive experience. I don’t think an entirely synthesized approach to “good journalism” on a platform that allows for little content run-time, has been totally discovered yet.
Is it important to have your own aesthetic?
The importance of individual aesthetic really goes back to the previous question on finding success in an oversaturated market. Individuality – be that regarding aesthetic or ideas or whatever else – is mentioned frequently in its importance, but it’s also completely necessary for success. Again, replication doesn’t do much when readers become loyal to a blog or a figurehead who did the same thing prior. Unless, of course, you’re doing it better, but even then, that seems to be a byproduct of individuality!
What is the importance of maintaining an online presence?
I’m not sure, so this is that important, actually! Personally, I don’t pay it much mind. I still have no real use for Twitter, Linkedin is perplexing at best, and my Instagram account is private. Still, I think any of these platforms are a great jumping-off point, and they are incredibly important for some! If you’re visually-inclined (I’ve no real aesthetic to speak of, honestly), then Instagram can be a portfolio of sorts. It’s an instantly-redeeming way to connect with like-minded people.
For me, email has been the greatest utility of online presence. I love to reach out, via email, to those I admire within the industry. It’s a great way to reach out directly and get questions answers regarding career paths and job responsibilities.
Do you think there will be a digital backlash? Will people start needing more physical relationships?
It always helps to talk out ideas in the flesh! Body language, pauses in speech, all of these fuel our perceptions of another’ idea.
Also, what’s really fun is meeting fashion/internet friends, IRL! It’s a nice overlap.
What is your take on this generation?
Preceding generations take a rather fatalistic approach to depicting us, using odd paradoxes in which we are both lazy but also overqualified. I pay it little mind. Every generation has its brilliant minds and its ignorant minds. Generally speaking, though, I find people of my/our age to be inquisitive and open-minded – we have a lot of responsibility, and I think many of us are hardworking and recognize the weight of the future, be that climate change or social relations, or anything else.
Where are we headed?
Overpopulation and severe weather patterns! And probably Mars!
What is your biggest challenge right now?
How to refine and develop both my academic writing style and my personal writing style, without having one bleed into the other. I don’t want my English papers to sound like my personal essays or vice versa.
Oh, and earning and saving up money for the future. That’s a big one.
When did you know you wanted to go into fashion/writing/a creative field?
For as long as I can remember! I remember my first dream job was to be Ira Glass of This American Life. Before I really knew what he or the editors were weaving narratives about, I so admired the premise of the show. My parents always had it on, on our road trips to National Parks. From there, what I’ve allocated as “dream job” has changed – but only slightly. The impulse has always been to form a narrative, to tell a story, be that through words or clothes. Or both.
Did you start out knowing people in the fashion industry?
I wish! But no --- my parents are, for the most part, Patagonia-wearing scientists. Fashion is so odd to them, so I had to reach out elsewhere for mentors within the industry.
How did you find your aesthetic?
I’ve got a very sartorially-fickle heart! And I think this fickleness plays out in my writing, too. So my aesthetic is always just an odd mix of influences, which I suppose has worked out alright so far! Quirkiness seems to be an underlying trend, though.
Who or what influenced your aesthetic most?
The landscapes of my home state of California influence both my style and my writing. I find skate and surf style endlessly fascinating – its purpose and its simultaneous romanticism. And also, the California-centric writings of Mary Hunter Austin and Joan Didion have informed the way I think about prose in relation to identity.
Who are your favorite designers?
The Mulleavy Sisters of Rodarte for the same reasons I love Joan Didion: They, as Californians, allow the landscapes of the state influence their creative processes and finished product.
I also love Rei Kawakubo, Nicholas Ghesquiere, J.W. Anderson, Phoebe Philo. I could go on! Too many to choose!
Who are your favorite writers?
My favorite writers are Joan Didion, Hilton Als, William Finnegan, and Alice Gregory in terms of Nonfiction. Lydia Davis, Ernest Hemingway, and Willa Cather in terms of fiction.
Where do you want to be after you graduate college?
Ideally, I’ll be writing in New York after college! Be it regularly for a fashion publication, or freelance for a variety of places. I would like to try my hand at both fashion pieces, and even more generally at long-form pieces covering cultural or geographical significances. I am very fascinated about how places inform people.
How would you like to see the industry evolve and how will you be apart of that happening?
I would like to see the industry become less mindless in regards to its global impact on the environment. It’s relentlessly consumerist, and even so-called sustainable fashion measures remain merely other forms of production. If I become a fashion writer – preferably a fashion critic or a fashion news writer in a more general capacity – then I would like to explore or expose various efforts (or lack of effort) within the fashion industry regarding its consumption and waste. There seems to be a lot of vague terminology regarding “sustainability” being tossed around, and relatively little action.
What advice would you give to someone reading this interview thinking I want to be the next Emma Hager?
Ha! Well first off, I can assure you that you don’t want to be the next Emma Hager! She, well, me certainly has a lot of room for improvement. However, I can say that hard work and resourcefulness goes a long way. Contact those you admire, ask questions, put yourself out there. Learn everything you can! That’s key.