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Saturday, 24 March 2012

An Evening with Fiona McIntosh

Photo C/O Sarah from Sequin This

Founder of Grazia, former editor of ELLE and Company magazine and now a consultant creative director for luxury e-tailer My Wardrobe - is there anything Fiona McIntosh can't do?! 

Before Fiona shared her pearls of wisdom with the eager crowd, sipping wine on the second floor of designer store Harvey Nichols in Manchester, she modestly admitted to being shocked at the turnout. "I'm quite amazed by how many people have turned up! I was thinking there would probably be about four!" she laughed. 

But she shouldn't be surprised, after all, thanks to her and EMAP's brainstorming, the magazine industry is a better and more advanced place. Before Grazia, there was no other magazine like it. Sure you had your "monster monthlies"  as Fiona dubs them but waiting four weeks for your latest fashion gossip or style hit seemed to be falling behind in the reader's want for immediacy and speed. And that's what Fiona admitted was the driving force behind bringing Grazia to the UK by questioning: 'Is there a way of presenting this material faster?' Thankfully the answer was yes and in February 2005, Grazia was born. 

One of the magazine's biggest successes is its link with fashion retailers which at first Fiona admitted, they "underestimated." 

"We were more interested particularly in the news features and being able to present that much more quickly" and thought fashion "would be quite a nice thing to have on the side."

"But what we noticed and what we felt particularly with fashion was if you could match the pace at which the retailers are putting out their collections, which was getting faster and faster - if you could have a magazine that matched: 'this is in the shop now, get it before it goes - if you have Grazia'...we felt was going to be an attractive thing" Fiona recalled. And an attractive thing it was, with retailers getting back to Grazia commenting how customers had come in specifically searching for an item they'd seen featured in the magazine. 

Grazia was the perfect mix of fun and fashion teamed with hard hitting news features including the London street riots which sat side by side of the news of a new shade of J Brand jeans. Fiona revealed how the Monday morning conference of asking one another "'What are we talking about this week?'" or "'What is interesting us?'" filtered what went into the magazine. She labelled the contrast "news and shoes" which she pinpointed as the common Grazia thread, no matter which country the magazine was published. 

Fiona admitted feeling a sense of exhilaration editing a fast, weekly fashion magazine after paving a career editing publications such as the Evening Standard's magazine, the Daily Mirror, Company magazine and ELLE magazine. Having moved over from Australia aged 22 because of the ease of work, Fiona has most certainly made her mark in the Journalism industry in the UK but remarked how she didn't have much interest in fashion before launching Grazia. "It sounds a bit ridiculous actually" she commented. 

"I didn't have any fashion background but I think it's about knowing what your generation and women hopefully want, and it's packaging that information in the best possible way."

While Fiona has dabbled her hand in other publication titles, she today remains close to the Grazia brand as a consultant for Mondadori, the Italian publishers for Grazia. Now in 20 countries worldwide, she remarked on the "different cultural nuances" she has experienced. "French Grazia is perhaps the 'chic-est' and most fashion-obsessed of all the Grazias" whilst Australisn Grazia is more focused on "body issues, diet, health and looking good." Russian Grazia on the other hand rejects all things "grim", instead pleading for a cocktail of Botox and bling. 

Her other job today lies in fashion retail, something new to Fiona's ever-expanding portfolio. She was approached by online retailer My Wardrobe last year to work on the re-branding of their website. Wanting to big up their profile and make it clear who exactly their audience were, Fiona spent time working with the team re-branding the site and making it represent its new mission - "everyday luxury" through consistent imagery and words. "What we started with was the photography. Everyday luxury suggested it's the kind of things that you wear everyday. It's not something you keep in plastic at the back of your wardrobe" which suited their working women demographic of 24-45. They did this with the increasingly popular street style photography which had the advantage of being cheap and easy to do, only needing a London location, a model and an in-house photographer. 

In keeping the brand British, My Wardrobe and Fiona ensured that any Americanisms were banned from being used. Her current experience at My Wardrobe has been what Fiona coined an "eye-opener." 

"Looking at the resources they had, which were quite tight" was in stark contrast to "the spoilt world of magazines, where you don't get away with a fashion shoot for under £50,000."

Working "with this really young, enthusiastic team who did things on a shoe-string, but did them really well makes you realise - you don't have to spend a fortune to get some really good photography" she argued. 

While Fiona's career progress may appear a dream come true, she too started how most journalists do these days, as an intern which she described as an "invaluable experience." She condemned the exploitation of interns but also admitted how they need to appreciate "that they are lucky to get in the door" and to use the opportunity "to shine."

"It's the ones who are willing to do anything, obviously within reason. They're not too grand to fetch and carry, they're not too grand to photocopy, they ask if there's anything else they can do, they work really hard and they've very pleasant to be around. And obviously they're good at what they do."

The future of internships is currently under questioning in government which Fiona commented "would be a terrible shame" if it were to be scrapped as "companies will not be able to afford to give graduates a chance."

When asked to recall the best business advice she'd ever been given, Fiona's answer was immediate: "Use your own instincts."

"It's very easy to get distracted, especially when things aren't going well and to panic and think that somebody else knows better than you do" she continued. 

The proof is in the pudding when Fiona took that exact advice by launching Grazia over five years ago which she described as her career highlight: "it almost killed me, but it was the most exhilarating time too."  

Thanks to Fiona McIntosh, the Fashion Network and Harvey Nichols Manchester for putting on the event and to get tickets for future Fashion Network events, click here


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