Emilia Petrarca

Associate Digital Editor
New York

Emilia's voice is refreshing in the over covered world of popular culture. Her unique approach offers a perspective that can even intrigue those who are less interested in the topic. Her witty and insightful articles relay between the bigger picture and the fine details, to leave her readers with a new outlook as they revel in utter satisfaction.

This interview took place between Tate and Emilia at the Hungry Ghost cafe in Brooklyn

Editor: Lara Arbid

TVPS: How did you get to where you are today?

EP: In my sophomore year of college, I interned at Glamour magazine in their fashion closet. Starting in the fashion closet isn’t something I would necessarily recommend, but it gives you a perspective of how the machine of fashion works. The next internship I had was at a website called Lifestyle Mirror. It was my first writing internship and it was a really small place so they let me write stories. The summer after that, I interned at the Daily Beast, where I also got to write. But the internships that really got me where I am today were at The Cut and Man Repeller, where I landed after graduating. I learned a lot about how 2 different types of organizations are run. Man Repeller was a super small operation at the time, which was amazing because I would have an idea and they would say go for it.

For instance, they let me go to fashion week, which was great. But one of the first big things that I did was when Cathy Horyn, my idol, left the New York Times I wrote something about why we need Cathy Horyn’s criticism in the industry, and she liked my tweet and it was like my entire world exploded. It was the first time where I realized you can put something out into the world and people see it. It was a scary thing but also an addictive and exciting thing. At the end of the summer, I reached out to Garance Doré who is a blogger. I was her personal assistant, so again it was all hands on deck. It was different from Man Repeller because it was more about about visuals. She had such a strong visual identity, whereas Man Repeller had a very strong voice and mission. I learned so much in a completely different way, but I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I had actually applied to Condé Nast multiple times in the past so my resume was in their resume bank, so they were the ones who reached out to me when they had a position open up.

They were looking for another assistant position and I didn’t want to do that as I was trying to move in a different direction, so I told them that. Then they mentioned that they had an opening at W, so of course, I asked to interview for that. I got along really well with the editor who interviewed me, and it was clear that it was the perfect fit.

When I first started, I learned so much because I was doing so many different things, like social media for instance. Through that experience, I got to see firsthand what posts do well and what posts don't do well. I learned the ins and outs of sharing content which ended up becoming a valuable tool for my writing. I was given this amazing opportunity of a lot more responsibility and freedom because it was and still is such a small team. I got to interview celebrities and figured out that I also really liked interviewing musicians as well.

What’s one of your favorite interviews?

Lil Yachty, it was right before he became this internet sensation. He fell from the sky, and we thought we should do something with him. It was a hard interview because he didn't give me anything, he was just a tired and hungry teenager. I had to pull something out of it and it ended up being really fun, and I love him.

How did you manage that?

You end up figuring out, why is this person acting the way that they’re acting. It becomes about their behavior a little bit more than what they're telling you word for word. When you have an interview like that, you sometimes walk away, and you think, “Oh my God, this person didn't tell me anything.” At one point though he said, "I want to be mainstream." I was like, nobody says that. That was like one of the 10 things that he told me, but it was a story in itself. I love W because it’s all about taking risks and pushing the envelope. On the site, we’re translating W's visual and fashion identity into about 20 articles a day. It's definitely a challenge, but we have a lot of freedom for interpretation.

Can you give an overview of your role?

What I've learned over the years is that I have to plan ahead. I need at least 1 or 2 stories a day, which is a lot of content. One of those can come from a news item that happens that day. I have a TweetDeck open at all times, and I’m obsessive about Instagram. In that sense I'm constantly checking what's happening, see if there is any news that I need to respond to. I also spend a good amount of my day digging for people who I would want to reach out to. I immediately start reaching out to them because I know that if I reach out to them today, they'll get back to me by midweek and then I'll have to set something up for the following week. I learned that it takes a long time to make a piece happen.

How do you find these people?

There are a couple of ways that I find people. First, people pitch me stuff. I get a ton of emails everyday, from music PR people, or modeling agencies, being like so and so's daughter or son is going into modeling, do you want to interview them? And the answer is always yes.

I also read a ton a day, and you find little nuggets in things. I'm not reading a profile on The Rock and saying I need to interview The Rock. I'm looking at the profile and seeing that they may have mentioned he has a daughter, so I’ll say we need to interview The Rock's daughter. You find little details, in pieces that are out there already.

What about pop culture interests you?

I'm one of those Kim Kardashian apologists; I will go to bat for her. I think that the reason I'm obsessed with social media and pop culture is that you feel like you know these people. It fascinates me how close we can get to the people who make culture. For example, Diane Keaton started an Instagram account recently, and I died. It was too authentically weird, so you know it’s her and no one else. I love popular culture because it brings so many people together. I sort of have this rule that if I can talk to my cousins about it, then it's something. That just means the whole world wants to talk about it, and I'm much more interested in stories like that.

Do you have a dream interview?

It's hard because interviews are pegged to current events, so it changes a lot. I want to interview Diane Keaton. I think my dream interview would be Kendall Jenner though, just because nobody knows her. She's never done an interview that I thought gave you a sense of who she actually is. I don't want to waste my dream interview chip on someone who wouldn't be insane.

What makes a pitch stand out?

If it’s an exclusive, or someone who hasn't been written about a lot, then that's something I'll always jump on. Since W is so specific, I appreciate when people understand who our audience is and what we write about. One of the best things I learned about pitching stories is, do your research and know who you're pitching to, because even if it's the best pitch in the entire world, people will know that you didn't do your homework if it's not the right fit. Good PR people and good freelance writers know what you want and what you need.

How would you describe the company culture at W?

W is part of Condé Nast, so it's in the World Trade Center in this big fancy spaceship. Everyone is really well dressed and beautiful. W is really small and I love it because of that. It’s a friendly space; I feel so grateful that I can go over to the fashion closet and say, "Hey, do you know who this rapper is named Lil Uzi Vert? He has a Marilyn Manson chain, and I want to do something with that.” And they’ll say, “That's crazy, no.” but they're not mean.

It’s also a very serious place because our brand has good taste, and is specific about what they allow. We don't just do everything. That's been interesting for me because I'm so obsessed with pop culture and mainstream stuff where I want to write about everything. For instance, something will be trending, and everybody wants to read about it, then the people on my team will say, “No, that's not what we do.” I’ll be bummed about it for a second, but every time that happens I'm grateful because that's just who we are.

During this uncertain time for publications, do you think that’s what's keeping W afloat?

Totally, it sets the publication apart from everyone else. It's a luxury magazine. It's bigger than most, more expensive than most, and it might have a smaller audience than most, but that’s like any luxury product. Not everybody can have a Hermes Birkin bag, but everybody wants one. I think that's W's vibe. We do our best to adapt to the world that we're in right now, but we still feel strongly about maintaining our voice and who we are. That strong identity will carry us through the weird time that publishing is in right now.

When you first started college, did you have any idea of where you thought you wanted to be?

Yeah, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. It was one of those situations where it was like, I'm good at this, and I'm also not good at anything else. My interest in fashion has always been there. At the end of the day, I can't fight it; I love clothing. When I went to the McQueen exhibit at the Met, I felt something emotional. It’s so artistic and beautiful, and fuck anyone who tries to tell me that it's not. Every once in awhile I’ll think I should be writing about politics, then I realize I’m bad at that and someone better than me can do that, and they will. I need to focus on what I'm good at.

You mentioned a couple of internships being really rewarding for you. Do you have a stance on unpaid internships?

If you can get a paid internship, do a paid internship. In the world that we live in, that's pretty hard to find. Internships help on your resume, as in people respond to you when they see a name. It also helps you understand the industry better when you see the inside of so many different offices because they vary so much. It helps you figure out what you want. If you can do them, do them. If you can't do them, there's still a way to make your mark- you just have to know what people want. If doing an unpaid internship is going to break your back, put you in debt or something crazy like that, I wouldn't do it; there's got to be a better way. But if you can do it, do it.

People today are consuming journalism in very small tidbits. Do you think that as this space is shrinking, there will still be room for strong journalism?

Totally. The New Yorker is still the finest, most successful publication. People want to seem smart, and they want to associate themselves with magazines like The New Yorker because it’s amazing. I always remind myself that The New Yorker and The New York Times still pull the highest numbers. I also think people want to read long form fashion journalism; it’s just about the way that you present it. For instance, the Paris Hilton story that I did could've been a Q&A. It could have been so many iterations, but I wanted it to be 3,000 words on Paris Hilton and to present it as such. I learned at that moment if you package something like an intellectual magazine on the internet, people will click on it, and they will read it from start to finish because it's presented as something that they need to consume, and that's important to culture.

How do you present a long form article in such a way that it garners that type of attention?

Just taking the time yourself, I very rarely write that many words on anything. But I just said, we're going there. It's also a person's life, so in that sense, I don't think I could have done it in fewer words.

I like to give readers catnip along the way; I did 2 or 3 slide shows that were embedded within the piece and were supportive of the argument that I was making in writing. The W homepage is all Paris Hilton right now if you blow it up in a way that shows people visually how important it is and how far it spans, then that helps. We did every iteration, photo, video, writing, as a packaged deal. When you present something as a packaged deal, it looks like a cover story, and that's what people like because it makes it about the reader. I think most cover stories, you'll be able to find yourself in them, or it's interesting to you for some reason.

Do you think print can help digital and vice versa?

Yes. I'm always talking to people who are older than me about W. They’ve treasured the magazine for so long. Having the print magazine and having legends like Edward Enninful, and the photographers that we have access to, that helps us with our brand identity. People know, even if they're reading something about the Kardashians but on the website, it's coming from a higher place.

More people are becoming interested in fashion and know and have an understanding of who people like Azzedine Alaia are, does that have an affect your role?

It’s great; it means that more people know what I'm talking about. I think we're still doing what we're doing in a sense that we're talking about Vetements before anyone knew what Vetements was or cared to. So our approach hasn’t changed, it’s just that more people are responding to it. Also, instead of writing about something just once, it has many different waves. For instance, you write about it when it hits New York and then again when it hits the smaller cities.

Do you write about trends in a different way as they evolve and as your audience is expanding?

Definitely. First, the editors who go to Paris write about it, so for this case, Vetements. We read it and are like, “Oh there’s this thing called Vetements.” So when it comes to New York, then we cover it. Then fast forward a few months, and it hits stores, and Kylie Jenner wears it, and suddenly the world knows about. At that point, we’ll cover it again but in a different way because people are asking to know more about it, and how can they wear it. People then gain interest, and by the end of it you're asking, is it dead? What’s next? That's just the cycle of fashion, birth to death.

But now it’s fun to wear things ironically, so maybe trends have a longer life than before. Like people are saying that the 2000’s are back, and I’m like we just did that, what does that even mean? And now it’s such a mainstream thing.

You see people in Juicy Couture……….

And now it’s at Urban Outfitters.. but I kind of want it.… it’s like we want to be a little trashy right now. This is all to say that fashion and popular culture, it’s our lives and what we want, and it’s emblematic of so much more than just a piece of clothing, and that’s my favorite thing to write about. Are the 2000’s back? Why? Why is Kylie Jenner wearing Vetements and Juicy? That to me, the collision of all the things that I am interested in, and that other people are interested in, it presents itself in a way that could be much more than the fashion world.

Who are your favorite writers?

So many! Caity Weaver’s profiles at GQ are iconic. Everyone at The Cut is really smart, and I think what they do with the news is hilarious. Plus, thank god they now have Cathy Horyn. I read Molly Young’s work in college and just wanted her life. Jia Tolentino at The New Yorker has the best takes. Doreen St. Felix is going places, fast. I'm also into menswear, so I read all the menswear reviews. I love Matthew Schneier at The Times, and Jon Caramanica is the top dog of music journalism.

You’ve written so many amazing articles, and you're in a really great spot right now, but what do you think is one of your biggest challenges?

I'm trying to be a better writer. I think it's wild being young and writing on the internet because you're learning in public and that's really scary. I'm definitely cognizant of that. When I read my own stuff, I’ll think it could be much better, but it’s reassuring that I’m able to see that. I have so much to learn when it comes to writing, and having good editors helps a lot. I feel just slowing down and focusing and putting effort into one single thing is my biggest challenge.

Since you’ve grown so much while you’ve been at W, is it challenging to differentiate your voice from W’s brand?

Being a good writer means adapting to your publication. It's about taking your voice and then making it work with the voice of who you’re writing for. I've definitely adapted my voice for W; I don't even know if that music thing would've happened if I'd been elsewhere. I'm curious to see what other beats I have in me, and I think that the right publication can bring that out of you.

Do you consider yourself a personal brand?

Yes, I lean into that fully. I'm active on social media because I like it, but I'm also very aware of what I'm putting out there. When you spend all day on social media, you understand what it means to have a profile and what that says about you. It helps you know who you are and what you're about.

I've learned in the past 2 years where I wouldn't be a good fit. After I had graduated college, I wanted to work everywhere, but now I know there are very few places that would be a good fit for me and that I would be a good fit for. It's important to find places where your voice matches and your brand matches their brand.

Does defining your personal brand help you realize what publications you’d match with and which ones wouldn’t?

Definitely. Having your brand and seeing it allows you to compare it to other people and know where you fit in. It’s not about what you can and can't do because you can do whatever you want and you can change your brand very easily. But I think of it like puzzle pieces; it helps you figure out where you truly fit.

Do you believe that having a personal brand is vital to success within the fashion industry?

I don't think it's vital. I think if it's not you, don't force it. There are definitely ways to get around it, but I don't know how people do their jobs without it. People who don't have accounts that are public facing, they still have accounts. They're checking Instagram; they're checking Twitter, they're still on it. So I think that’s important or you get left behind. But regarding making your profile, it's not necessary.

What’s your biggest learning experience?

If you want to get paid, ask to get paid.

After an internship, it’s about saying let’s do this. As an intern, you become incredibly valuable to your employer; they cannot function without you. So at the end of it, they can either look for someone else and have to train that someone else, or not if you've proved yourself as invaluable. It’s always worth a shot to ask.

Also, there are endless lessons when it comes to interviewing people. I'm too nice a lot of the time; I'll say “Okay, I won't ask them about what said they didn’t want to comment on.” But you have to go back and tell them, “Well then I'm going to say that your client declined to comment” and then they'll say “Oh wait, we'll give you a quote!” You have to push back; you can be aggressive when it comes to PR people, you have to ask for what you want and what you need regarding an interview.

That must be a really fine line because you want to maintain a good relationship with them but at the same time, you need to get what you need to write that article.

Yes, and that's something that they don't teach you in college. Interacting with managers, PR people- that whole world has been something that I've had to figure out. I had a big learning experience when I wrote an article about someone, and they said that it had to come down. I hate confrontation and people not liking me, and I had to grow thick skin. You learn that the people that you interview are not your friends, you're doing your job and the PR people are doing their job. It feels like a fun human interaction where you're hanging out or spending the day with someone, and you get to know them, but at the end of the day, you’re there to ask the hard questions. I also learned from David Carr, always be upfront with people. Never flip the switch on someone and be nice and then go write something mean.

Does it make people more closed off if you’re so upfront while interviewing them?

No, because they know it’s an interview. It’s really helped me because I kept feeling icky about the things that I would write. Once I heard that quote from David Carr, I realized this is the way to avoid that. I mean, I've never gone up to someone and said, "Hi, I'm writing like, a takedown of you." It's more just being honest. I now try to start interviews saying “So my goal for this interview is to get to know you, introduce you to our readers, etc.” just setting up the scene for what the arc of the story is. They’ll know what you need, and they will do that for you.

Then sometimes I’ll say “People say this about you, do you agree or disagree?” That gives them a chance to defend themselves, and it makes you feel less icky in the process. It’s about having an honest, open conversation that they've agreed to, and they know what they're doing. It makes the whole thing feel more professional.

What do you like about working in the fashion industry in 2017, as opposed to a different era?

I've only been in it for a few years, but I feel like people who've been in the industry for awhile, they’re tired. They'll say, “It's fashion week again, I can't believe I have to go to Paris again.” Whereas I feel like in 2017, I am 25 and I'm still really excited about everything. Send me to Paris for 24 hours, I'll go! There's really nothing that, or I'm not at the point yet where I'm tired of it. I've always been running around like a crazy person, and so I'm down to keep that going.

How would you like to see this industry evolve?

I'm always shocked how publications can be blind. You just have to keep up, engage with Twitter, and with what people are saying and thinking. It’s so easy to get out of touch. Editors have to look at what young people want. I want to see older editors get on the same page as younger editors. I want to see younger editors step up and learn from the editors who’ve been in the industry for so long. They need to meet in the middle, and the generations will fuse. There are people who have been in this industry forever, and we have a lot to learn from them, and then there are young people coming up, who have new and crazy ideas. We need to all work together.

What is your take on this generation?

I wish I knew the answer to that question, everyone is asking it right now. What is journalism going to look like? What's the best way to go about it? I think the answer is that it's always changing and you just have to be ready to adapt and just go with it and not be afraid to change. Our generation wants to do a lot of different things and experiment. Everyone's figuring it out and I feel like the most successful people will be the people who are down to change, to listen to people who are older and younger than them, to be open-minded and flexible.

And where do you want to go?

It constantly changes. I think I know what I want and then I don't. But as of this very minute in time, I like writing features, and I want to go deeper into that. I want to do less of the little things, and more of the bigger things. Being able to spend time on things that you're excited about, is the greatest gift. I think when you're in your 20's it’s about creating a balance of big and little things. I'm okay with that for right now, but in the future, I would like to just do that one big thing.

For someone who looks up to you and your work, what advice would you give them?

If you're a young writer, just keep pitching, that's always the advice I give. No matter how old you are or what your experience is, if you have good ideas and you know where to send those ideas, and follow up with them, that’s a really good start. Follow up, follow up, follow up, and people will listen to you. Being on the other side, I’ve realized how much we need young writers, and people need so much content. If you're there, you're good and willing to do the job; then they'll take you because they need you.

So my advice is to know your worth, own it, and go for it because we live in a world where you can. You don't have to wait 10 years to be heard. You can be heard right now.