Photo Credit: Leah Chernikoff
If you’re thinking of turning your passion for fashion into a career, our new series From Classroom to Catwalk is perfect for you! In this biweekly series, we find out how the fashion industry’s most powerful leaders got their start.
I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to kick off our interview series than Fashionista‘s Executive Editor Leah Chernikoff. Fashionista covers everything from fashion news and career advice – it’s a must-read for every, err, fashionista!
Here, Leah talks about her college style, her first day at her first job (covering Project Runway!), and making friends in the fashion industry.
College Fashion: Where did you go to college?
Leah Chernikoff: I went to Bowdoin College in Maine.
CF: What was your sense of style like in college? How would you say it’s changed?
LC: I don’t think that many people would categorize Bowdoin’s student body as stylish. Smart? Very. But fashionable? Not so much. Bowdoin’s pretty outdoorsy and preppy. So that meant there was a lot of L.L. Bean (the flagship store is 15 minutes away in Freeport), Patagonia (Patagucci? Almost every student seemed to have a few Patagonia fleeces), Vineyard Vines, Lily Pulitzer, you get the picture.
There was also, of course, the kid who didn’t wear shoes. Even in winter. I was trying to find my style throughout all of that. I went to public school in DC and wore tight jeans and hoop earrings, and then at Bowdoin I tried out ribbon belts because I felt like I was supposed to. By senior year I was doing a lot of modern dance and had a more flow-y hippie thing going on. Right now, my style has settled on something a bit French/tomboy-ish. I like APC and Isabel Marant and J. Crew boys’ Crew Cuts.
CF: Did you have any internships or jobs in college? What were they like?
LC: I didn’t know I wanted to go into journalism or fashion in college. I interned for Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi one summer and a nonprofit educational organization called Facing History and Ourselves another.
Interning on the Hill was exciting. I got to go to hearings and respond to constituent mail and ride the special Congressional subway. At Facing History, I really got immersed in the program—they believe that “education is the key to combating bigotry and nurturing democracy,” and they do a really good job of creating curriculum and programs for educators to back that up. I liked it so much I worked at their New York office out of college.
CF: How did you get your start working in the fashion industry?
LC: I was a reporter for the New York Daily Newsfor about three years. I worked in the features department, and my first day on the job was during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. I had to cover the Project Runway show. The reporter who was supposed to do the on-air recap got sick and I stood in. Luckily I was a big PR fan at the time and the rest is history. Fashion became one of my beats at the Daily News.
CF: What’s your favorite part of your job?
LC: Putting up great original content, getting a good scoop, working with fantastically funny and smart women.
CF: What’s your least favorite part of your job?
LC: The feeling of panic that comes with having to fill a site with 15-20 posts every single day, dealing with publicists who want to either change my content or restrict my access for whatever reason.
CF: What’s been a standout/favorite moment from your career?
LC: Covering the shows in Paris, learning to be a manager, making real friends in an industry I presumed would be full of scary, bitchy women. I was wrong about that.
CF: What’s a typical day like for you?
LC: I wake up at around 7:30, and half of my staff is online by 8. We start to sift through stories and pick up the most newsworthy items. In the afternoon, we focus on original content. I get the day scheduled by mid-morning and then it’s pretty smooth sailing. We respond to breaking stories as they happen and I’m often out for meetings, press previews, events, etc..
CF: What’s your favorite piece in your closet?
LC: Hmm… I don’t know if I have a favorite piece. I wear this little onyx spike on a gold chain every day—my boyfriend gave it to me for my last birthday. I finally caved last year and bought those Isabel Marant Dicker boots and I get why everyone likes them—they go with everything!
CF: What advice would you give to a College Fashion reader that wants your job?
LC: Read and write A LOT. When you’ve found the sites and publications you like to read most (and want to work for), learn their style, their voice, and pitch! That pitch should be completely original—explain why your story is worth telling now and explain how you’d go about reporting it. I get so many bland pitches every day.
Be curious—go to museums, watch TV, read books, read sites, read magazines, read the Timesand read the free newspaper that is passed out on the subway, listen to NPR, talk to your friends—good ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. And of course —hustle.
Don’t be discouraged. When I got my first media job in New York, the mag I was working for folded before it launched. I was there for two weeks. Five people started the day the mag shuttered. So for the next six months I networked and hustled and pitched like crazy—all while working another job to pay the bills—and finally I got hired at the Daily News.
Does Leah’s story inspire you? Are you interested in pursuing a career in fashion journalism? Which industry insiders would you want to hear from next? Let me know in the comments section!