Nine months into her new role as fashion director of Handbag.com, Belinda White chats to Laura Jackson about her fashion publishing career.
Talk us through your fashion CV.
After graduating from Central Saint Martins College in London, I landed my first job as a fashion assistant on the Daily Telegraph. I stayed there for nearly two years, working under fashion director Hilary Alexander, which was a full-on experience as she is a stickler for everything to be perfect. I went on to be an assistant at UK Vogue
for two years, assisting stylists Maddie Christie and then working with freelance stylist Cathy Kasterine, and worked on everything from styling catwalks to doing shoots for magazines such as The Face, ID and Italian Vogue.
My freelance work also included a job as contributing fashion editor at UK Glamour, where I stayed for four years, then last February the job came up on Handbag.com for a fashion director and so here I am.
How does Handbag.com stand out from other fashion websites?
It’s tough – when Handbag.com started nine years ago there wasn’t a lot of competition. But now you have the monthlies and the weeklies such as Look and Grazia with websites, so we have our work cut out. It is our job to make sure that everything goes up on the website straight away, and we remain reactive and make it hard for the magazines to compete with this.
We can see what is and isn’t working instantly by the number of click-throughs and live updates we get, which gives us something to react to. If something’s good, we do more of it, if it’s bad, we can get rid of it.
Do you think it is a good thing that there is no magazine attached to the website?
It has plus and minus points. Magazines have content and a strong readership which means it is much easier to produce the website and get people logging on. However, without a magazine you have so much more freedom. We can feature what we like, change it when we like and we are less slavish to advertisers.
What do you like about your new job?
I have always found that the fashion industry isn’t very family friendly, so I like not having to travel so much anymore. It is hard to freelance with two young children when you get a call that demands you board a plane the next day. Deadlines are one of the hardest challenges when working in print, so I love not having a print deadline. It is not that we don’t work hard, but if something isn’t finished by the end of the day, it can just go up the next day.
Which are your favourite shops?
I love Liberty. I always find something I like in there and it still manages to keep that gorgeous boutique feel. I also love Gap, which is very much my aesthetic; not too girlie, with simple, clean lines.
What has been your best fashion moment?
Probably when I joined Vogue. I was only 25 and I never imagined I would work somewhere like that. I was a working-class girl from Croydon and I would always buy and read Vogue – it just felt like another world to me. I got to work with top photographers and models in fantastic locations and the first time I styled a cover it was amazing knowing that it would be around forever. Of course the excitement wore off. It was hard work but a great learning curve. I remember sneaking into one of Alexander McQueen’s first Fashion Week shows with Hilary, where he showed robots spray painting a model, which was incredible.
Katharine Hepburn always did her own thing, and didn’t care what people thought, and I really admire that. She had her own ideas about fashion and stuck to them and she always looked effortlessly cool.
The daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, Katharine Hepburn grew up an athletic tomboy who was always taught to speak her mind. She began acting when she was a student but her unconventional behaviour – such as shunning make-up and insisting on wearing trousers on film sets – almost ruined her career before it started.
However, it was this disregard for popular opinion that helped Hepburn make her way to the top in Hollywood, particularly in terms of fashion, where she opted for men’s suiting, shirts and blazers over dresses, and swapped heels for loafers. Playing strong, independent women with minds of their own, Hepburn became a movie and fashion icon and holds the record for the most Best Actress Oscar wins – four – plus an Emmy for her 1976 role in Love Among the Ruins.