Brandon Tan always knew he wanted to work in fashion. Though the definition of an exact “dream job” escaped him, it wasn’t long before he tried every avenue he could, picking up skills and preferences along the way that helped to shape and define how he wanted to spend his days. Now, almost a year after graduating from NYU, Tan is the Associate Digital Editor at V Magazine, a leading fashion publication with everyone from Winona Ryder to Lady Gaga gracing its front cover since 1999. Tan may have found his niche for now, but that’s not to say that the writer is done pursuing new avenues of creativity; on the contrary, he’s always seeking out what’s next.
This interview took place over the phone between Brandon Tan and Emma Banks in New York
Photography Harshvardhan Shah
EB: Was fashion something you were always interested in pursuing?
BT: Yes. Fashion has always, always, always been this inherent passion of mine. Inexplicably, I can't explain where it came from. I think it has to do with watching people who I respect – who were voices for the queer community – with their fashion choices and seeing how self-expression could be so visible. There really is no other form of media to me that is representative of someone so directly. It’s that first impression of who you are.
But I didn't know what avenue I wanted to pursue within the industry. I had initially intended on fashion PR and wanted to go to NYU. And then luckily due to that, I was able to have internships alongside classes.
Did you start out in PR internships and go from there? What was the timeline?
I took an internship every semester since maybe my second semester of freshman year at NYU. My first one was at a PR firm and it was definitely a learning experience. Although, I couldn’t form any sort of career decision from it because it was too early on. From there, I decided to follow along with the same PR route but instead pursue in-house PR rather than agency PR. I went to Alexander Wang and that experience was amazing. I met incredible people. The team that I worked with, I'm still friends with now and they're all dispersed throughout the industry. But from there I realized that I wanted to try something else.
I don't think I was satisfied because what I love about fashion is the part of expression and creativity. On the PR side, you're more publicizing someone else's work and creativity, and I wanted to pursue the side that was creating. So it made sense to go into editorial, which is basically the other side of PR. From there, I went to Paper Magazine as a digital editorial intern. Initially, I thought that that internship was going to be in fashion editorial which consists of being on set and styling and that sort of thing. Since it turned out to be writing, my first day I was thinking, “Whoa, okay, this is not what I had imagined.”
But I caught on, started pitching, and from there would be assigned pieces. It became a lot more comfortable and I was enjoying that side of things. It was very serendipitous because again, I never intended on pursuing writing at all, in terms of a career. I hadn't studied it in school; I was studying media communications. So it was cool to see my work coming out in Paper.
After that, I applied to intern at Milk, which was somewhere that I had wanted to be for so long. I remember I would look at the studios when I was running samples around for Alexander Wang. Just the energy I felt there... I was so obsessed with it. Milk calls itself a creative hub and I couldn't put it better myself.
I got the internship and that experience was amazing. I was writing a lot more, I had a lot more responsibility, and I think that was when I started to take things more seriously. I was just so invested in it – the team was so small and there was a lot of trust. I kind of had to mature.
Afterward, I was still loving writing, but I realized that maybe I was starting to lose sight of my original pursuit of fashion. An opportunity came up at Vogue to be a fashion assistant and I thought, what better opportunity to get myself more involved in fashion than at Vogue.
I was in my last semester of college and I was only in class part-time, so I had enough days off where I could also work at Vogue part-time. Careerwise, it was informative and I loved being sucked into the whole fashion thing. But at the same time, my role, the tasks – they weren't really what I wanted to be involved in within the industry.
I stuck it out. I enjoyed it. I think my original plan was to try to move around within the company. But that proved a little difficult because, you know, it is such a big company and there are so many people that are doing their thing there.
I got an opportunity at V Magazine, and here I am! But that’s how it happened; there was never really a path. It has just been, this came up and then that came up, and I decided based on what I enjoyed doing. I think that's the way to do it.
So what’s your role now?
At the moment I am the associate digital editor at V Magazine – what I do ranges, because we’re fairly print focused. It’s our bread and butter. But that said, I'm trying to develop more of a protocol to digital content creation. So that's anything from coming up with creative concepts for a shoot, to the creative direction for a project.
And then from there, it’s casting the talent, booking the crew, finding a space, and figuring out call times. All of that stuff is not so traditional for a digital editor, but it’s something that I've enjoyed. But on the daily, it's a lot of assigning articles, sending out content emails, editing pitches or accepting pitches. I'm editing submissions and writing pieces myself. I’m also coordinating with publicists between music and fashion, which are the two focal points at V, attending events, and doing social media as well. It’s a lot.
Definitely. What's your favorite part of the job?
That’s tough because there are so many different parts. Something that I've really enjoyed that I didn't expect to be doing is the creative direction for our digital shoots. Just having a say in that is so fun – you get to see your vision come to life and have a platform.
What’s been the most fulfilling or surprising part of your career?
I’m sorry I’m sappy, but growing up watching people that I’ve respected and now to be around so many of those people – who are unapologetically themselves and strong and successful - it’s amazing. I have to pinch myself because I never imagined being in that same space, having a seat at that same table, you know what I mean? So to now have it all happening is absolutely surreal. It's crazy.
It's also surprising to realize how normal it is too. Growing up, I looked up to these people so much, but then once you’re sitting in the same conference room as them, it's just another person and it's just another conversation. It’s not for the better or worse, but it’s interesting to have that perspective of looking in and then being on the inside of it all.
Do you have an idea of what a dream job would be for you?
That's been hard for me, especially lately. I graduated from college in May, and so I'm getting that question a lot and it's weird because I don't know how to answer it. Growing up I had this vision for myself of being involved in fashion, but there wasn't any sort of concrete role that I had in mind.
I've been telling myself to just go with the flow. I think that's easiest. Instead of worrying about where you’ll end up, just see where it all takes you. Once you reach a goal, there's always going to be another one. At least within the creative industries, people are so insatiable. It can be impossible to find that answer.
What advice would you give someone who looks up to you?
The opportunities: take advantage of anything that's there. Just take that internship. Maybe it's not 100% what you're interested in, but you won't know until you take it. So many people will end up doing nothing just because the stuff that has come up isn't what they want to be doing. I spent two internships pursuing PR and it's not what I ended up doing, but at the same time if I hadn't done them, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now. You never know who you'll meet along the way.