'Imagination will take you everywhere'
That day I shall never forget. The letter came swiftly through the letterbox in a posh cream envelope. The dog barked. Mum yelled up to me. A little knot formed in my stomach as I rushed down the stairs. I’d already got my bank statement, it must be the usual boring letter from the dentist, my school, or the library. Or could it be…. no it couldn’t possibly be that. I’d entered the Vogue Talent Contest 2013 in March, after several years of wanting to enter yet not being able to find the time; school, exams and revision kept on getting in the way. But this year was different. Despite being in my final year of Sixth Form, about to sit my A-Levels, I made sure I had enough time to write the three articles required for the entry. So instead of revising language devices I put them into practise; yes, I felt bad that I’d sacrificed a lot of revision time but I kept telling myself that this competition would hopefully help kick-start my career. Months dribbled by as I awaited with baited breath when the postman delivered our letters, but each time I searched through the pile I was filled with disappointment. This letter was different. This letter was the one.
My heart skipped a beat as I turned the letter over in my hand and was presented with the address of Vogue House. I ripped the letter open with an animalistic force, adrenaline pumping through my veins, hands clammy and eyes filled with hunger. I read the first line; ‘I am delighted to let you know that you have been shortlisted for the Vogue Talent Contest’, then promptly burst into tears. I know, I know, a bit pathetic, but I had been waiting for this moment for a long time. The reason for my outburst is simple; recognition. Recently I had begun to wonder whether I was good enough to become a journalist, this letter gave me a new-found confidence; I had been recognised for my writing abilities by the editors of Vogue. The letter was signed by Alexandra Shulman, the Editor in Chief of British Vogue, my heart almost burst with pride.
The Vogue Talent Contest was launched in 1951; it’s one of the most prestigious writing awards for young writers, winners have gone on to become successful authors, playwrights and members of Vogue’s staff (Charlotte Sinclair and Harriet Quick have both previously won the competition and have worked for the magazine). The shortlisted finalists were all invited to attend a lunch at Vogue House to meet the senior editors of Vogue, as well as contributing editor, Laura Bailey. I was beside myself with excitement and immediately set off to conduct research on all of the editors who would be present at the lunch and also the history of Vogue. I came across many interesting facts; Vogue’s centenary is in 2016, it was launched in 1916 due to the threat that World War One had over transatlantic shipping, meaning American Vogue wouldn’t be available in Britain.
Soon enough there was only a week to go until the big day and having picked up various tit-bits of information I felt prepared for the lunch. However there was one vital aspect of the gathering I had completely forgotten about: what was I to wear? I was entering the mecca of all things fashion so I had to look the part. Images of me as Anne Hathaway pre-transformation in The Devil Wears Prada flashed before my eyes. But after an emergency shopping trip to Oxford and a panic buy on ASOS two days before, I finally decided on a sheer white blouse with lace daisy embroidery, black cigarette pants, a nude blazer and plum coloured loafers – talk about last minute! Now I was poised and ready to go.
The sun made a rare appearance over London as I made my way to Hanover Square – a good omen I thought as I looked up at the imposing façade of Vogue House. I strode through the revolving doors and was immediately met with a gaggle of nervous laughter – all of the finalists had arrived and were perched on the leather sofas in the foyer – I was the last to arrive. Francis Bentley (Managing editor) was already handing around name tags, I took mine with a shaky hand; nerves already consuming me. I sat down next to a friendly girl from Singapore who had undertaken an eight-hour flight just to get to the lunch; my journey from Oxfordshire seemed minute in comparison. The other contestants were all really lovely – we chatted for a few minutes before being called up to ‘meet and greet’ all of the editors. Alexandra Shulman stood at the entrance of the room shaking each of our hands. The first thing I noticed was the beautiful Erdem skirt she was wearing – it was adorned with a bright floral print – his trademark. We were all offered a glass of champagne while we talked to various members of the Vogue team, I chatted to Frances Bentley about the importance of work experience and then Emily Sheffield (Deputy editor) about her route into the industry. I spied Laura Bailey at the other side of the room talking to another contestant – she’s even more beautiful in person and her blonde hair is so long!
We were then showed into a white panelled room where lunch was served – the table was immaculately laid out and there was even a seating plan, but after every course the judges moved along two seats so that they could chat to as many contestants as possible. Black and white photographs from the archives lined the walls; I felt their eyes watching me, the weight of this legendary magazine heavy on my shoulders. I was firstly sat in-between Sarah Harris (Fashion features director), who was wearing a white boiler suit, and Violet Henderson (Commissioning editor), who were both absolutely lovely, I asked them what their jobs consisted of and how they got to Vogue. Harris told me that she studied Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion, which differed from most of the other editors who mostly studied English at university, she also said that last week she interviewed Tom Ford, who said that women get better with age! For the next course I was sat in between Nicola Moulton (Beauty and health director) and Emily Sheffield. Moulton and I discussed our love of scent (her favourite is Chanel No. 19) and she explained how she accidentally fell into being a beauty writer as she wanted to diversify from fashion, she said writing about health and beauty combines her love of English, fashion and a bit of science too. Moulton also said that what’s so interesting about Vogue is that the readership is so wide – there isn’t a specific target reader – it ranges from a 14-year-old girl to a 70-year-old woman, therefore they have to make sure they create articles that will interest a variety of different people. She went on to give a good piece of journalistic advice; always make sure you have the reader in mind when you’re writing.
For the last course I was sat in-between Clare Murray (Chief-sub-editor) and Alexandra Shulman (Editor in chief). I chatted to Murray about Syria and my favourite novelist (Khaled Hosseini). With Shulman, we discussed our love of photography (we both like the fashion photographer, Tim Walker) and she told me that her son had also just finished his A-Levels and just seems to be partying all of the time now. When I commented on her young age at becoming Vogue editor (she was 34) she said that she’d already gained a lot of experience having previously been editor of GQ, she also admitted that there was a small degree of nepotism which helped give her a leg up in the industry (both of her parents were eminent journalists). However initially she didn’t want to be a journalist she wanted to work in the music industry, but after that didn’t quite work out she turned her hand at writing – and she didn’t look back! She also stressed that the subject you choose atuniversity doesn’t restrict your choices later in life – you can change your mind at any time.
After what seemed like hours the lunch drew to a close; it had been nerve-racking but ultimately enjoyable as the judges had been so friendly (not at all like the staff in The Devil wears Prada). I learnt a lot and have absorbed all of their advice – hopefully I’ve made some useful contacts as well. After the lunch we got a tour around the offices, including the Vanity Fair and House and Garden offices. But the best part was going to the basement to see the vast archive of Vogue publications – including foreign issues. After the issues of Vogue have been published they are then bound in a book which is then stored in huge vaults, which is then used by researchers and writers as a resource for the articles they create.
In summary this experience has been mind-blowing – I can’t believe I’ve met so many successful journalists. No matter who wins the competition, everyone is a winner because of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The competition required three articles; a cultural review, interview and a slightly longer article about a memory. I’ll publish mine shortly.