Authors: Kirstie Clements
In today’s environment, there is so much more working against the journalist who is trying to do a good job. Many cosmetic and fashion companies are attempting to eliminate the journalist entirely anyway, by offering what they call “master interviews” with the talent, be it a perfume “nose,” celebrity face or makeup artist. These Q and A’s have been prepared by the PR department, who devise all the questions themselves with the sole purpose of delivering the company message. To me, this is the antithesis of what a creative publishing title stands for, but the pressure was certainly there—the implication from the client being that if they allow you to print it first, it’s somehow an “exclusive.”
I put a ban on master interviews under my editorship. Your reader deserves better than that. The day you accept a master interview and a “hand out” shot from the client, which is normally an “exclusive” behind-the-scenes photograph from the advertising shoot, I think you may as well shut up shop, but unfortunately this is the way the industry is heading. Email interviews are also questionable, as you can’t be sure who the person at the other end answering them is. We learned this the hard way when we were offered an exclusive opportunity to send some questions to the actress Elizabeth Taylor. We received her replies
and took it in good faith that she had answered them, but a reader spotted a quote he had read before and called
. It was a marvelous chance for them to put the words “
” and “Elizabeth Taylor” together to get a ratings boost, especially when Ms. Taylor herself telephoned and left a message on their answering machine saying she had indeed answered our questions personally. That was a gift for
. They even broadcast her words on the radio to promote the show. Despite the fact that they dragged my writer and me through the mire with their sanctimonious outrage, I was thrilled to the core to find an apology from Ms. Taylor on my phone.
Elizabeth Taylor. It made my year.
A highlight of the Penang trip was meeting Deborah Thomas, who was the then deputy of
, a major women’s magazine read throughout Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. She and I decided to make a shopping stopover in Bangkok on the way home, bonded over dinner at The Peninsula Hotel, and have been wonderful friends ever since. Deborah has had a long and stellar career at Australian Consolidated Press, and has edited numerous magazines in that stable over the years, including
Cleo, Elle, Mode
The Australian Women’s Weekly
. She is a total pro.
Being the beauty editor at
meant I was constantly meeting and working with the world’s top models. When Claudia Schiffer was at the height of her fame, she came to Sydney on a promotional tour for Revlon. My great friend Janet Muggivan, who has been the PR for Revlon for forever, was in charge of taking care of Claudia for the duration of her stay. I called Janet to ask what Claudia looked like in the
flesh. “Oh, you know,” she said monotone. “Tall. Perfect skin. Baby face. Masses of blonde hair. Body of a goddess. Your basic nightmare.”
There was an ultra-VIP function for Claudia later that week, and loads of us were transferred over to Fort Denison in Sydney Harbor where a type of giant bamboo hut had been erected. I think a balmy tropical evening was anticipated but—as is usual when you plan a summer party—there were ferocious winds and lashing rain. The water taxis on the journey over were lurching from side to side on the waves that had been whipped up by the weather. You practically needed storm gear.
The “hut” was packed to capacity and some clever event planner had placed candelabras everywhere, the live flames licking not very far from the straw roof. I had to be saved by firemen from a burning apartment building once in my early twenties, and ever since then I have had a morbid habit of obsessively checking fire exits. I know where the fire exit is in every hotel I stay in. I’m also quite claustrophobic. I always evaluate the exits in fashion shows, and if it doesn’t look like there are enough I leave, because there’s no way in hell that crowd is going to leave their handbags, stay calm and go in single file. When it comes to the fashion set, panic is always the new black.
Claudia finally arrived. This we knew because although you couldn’t see her in the crush of bodies, her entrance was heralded by a regal blast of trumpets and everybody going crazy. It was about then I started hyperventilating and thinking: “We’re all going to die, die, die.”
I recall maneuvering myself in the direction of a plastic exit flap, a position that would allow me to squeeze out before everyone else and step onto the wall of the fort. From there, it would be a daring jump into the chill water, after which I could take my chances swimming to shore with the sharks. “Fire & Ice baby, it’s Revlon heritage,” Janet said drily when I recounted my panic attack to her later.
As a rule though, planning a quick and painless getaway from a celebrity launch is crucial. The last time I felt terror like that was several years ago when I was trapped in the Dolce & Gabbana boutique in Milan when Victoria Beckham was the star guest. I don’t want to spend my last moments on earth being crushed to death by overdressed fashionistas taking photos on their iPhones.
There were many noteworthy editorial successes during the years Nancy was editor. Annita Keating, wife of the then prime minister of Australia Paul Keating, agreed to appear in a six-page spread in the magazine, and was also game enough for a glamorous makeover. In what we now refer to as “The Great Hair Straightening Incident of 1993,” Mrs. Keating’s trademark long curls were blow-dried straight. The resultant photographs were chic and elegant and created a storm of controversy in the press, probably due to the fact that no one had ever seen an Australian first lady look quite so fabulous. Mrs. Keating came into the fashion office to select and try on clothes, and everybody was terribly nervous at the idea of fitting the wife of the prime minister, but she was very receptive and friendly.
has never covered a first lady since then.
It was a few months later in 1993 that Nancy came to my desk with some photographs that had been sent to her by photographer Grant Good, who had spotted a beautiful seventeen-year-old Aboriginal girl at the Dreamworld theme park called Elaine George. It was immediately arranged that the pair should fly down to shoot a cover for the September issue. While it did happen to coincide with the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, it was not a cynical exercise for publicity. Elaine was a true beauty and had been
genuinely “discovered,” Hollywood-style. The cover was a huge success, although we did receive some backlash that she did not look “Aboriginal” enough. The fact is that Elaine is quite light-skinned and the cover lighting was blown out, but apparently she received criticism from her elders for the same reason.
was very prepared to champion and mentor Elaine’s burgeoning career, but she was a shy, self-effacing girl who did not like the attention or the limelight. Nancy and I were getting her dressed one day for an on-stage appearance to publicize her cover. The dress we had chosen was a sort of Grecian-inspired dress of crushed silk, but we noticed that Elaine seemed uncomfortable. Nancy asked her if she didn’t like the dress. Elaine replied that she liked it very much, it was just that her mother had told her never to wear something that looked wrinkled and unironed. She was so sweet. Elaine, and her agent, sensibly decided that modeling was not the career for her, but she set a stellar precedent for Indigenous models. The next time we featured an Aboriginal model on the cover was Samantha Harris in June 2010.
Sam is another quiet, unassuming girl, and I think one of the most beautiful models this country has ever produced. Happily, her issue sold like crazy too. Australian readers are very supportive of the local girls. Sam was wearing a bright-yellow, cut-away Pucci gown on her cover, and I later received a handwritten note from the designer Peter Dundas, who wrote: “Thank you for the amazing cover. You really, really get who the Pucci girl is!” How wonderful that the Pucci girl is also proudly Aboriginal.
In 1994, Nancy invited director Baz Luhrmann and his creative partners, production designer Catherine Martin and graphic designer Bill Marron, to be the first ever guest editors of
The team had recently won great acclaim with the film
, and the idea of engaging them to produce a magazine was visionary.
The issue featured a stunning series of old-Hollywood-style black-and-white portraits of Nicole Kidman channeling various famous actresses, shot by Rocky Schenk in LA, and a
magazine–inspired portfolio of Kylie Minogue, based on
A Star Is Born
and shot by photography great Bert Stern (who shot the famous “Last Sitting” with Marilyn Monroe). There was also a camp, fifties pin-up-style shoot called “Calendar Girls,” shot by Grant Matthews, featuring Australian actress Tara Morice, musician Deni Hines and the incomparable personality Magda Szubanski, among others. My job was to interview them all and then write cheesy extended captions, a task I relished.
Beauty was to change my life in another way, not just on a career level. In 1992 I was flown to Paris, again by Shiseido, to attend and cover the launch of a new fragrance by Serge Lutens: Féminité du bois (still one of my favorite scents). After business was finished I arranged to stay on for a couple of days with a model friend, a crazy Texan called Deanna. Models are very good friends to have. Being dazzlingly beautiful, they are invited everywhere, get into every cool club and get all the best tables. They also attract men who like models (bad) and other men who are really nice but too intimidated to talk to them, so they talk to the model’s girlfriends—like me—instead (good). Beautiful people improve life enormously.
Deanna was, as might be expected, hanging out with the band Guns N’ Roses, who were touring. Thus I ended up backstage watching them perform at a giant stadium on the outskirts of Paris, along with some leather-clad supermodels. After the show, I found myself in a nightclub trying in vain to think of something to say to a very
bored Slash, the guitarist, when it suddenly struck me as all too hard, and best left to the models who may have even cared about what he said in reply.
The following night I was having dinner at a bistro with Charla Carter,
’s Paris-based editor, a chic, crazy Californian who has become a very dear friend and long-time colleague. She suggested we go for a drink at Le Casbah, the then hottest nightclub in Paris, so we walked the few blocks to the club behind la Bastille and ordered champagne.
Around midnight, Charla and her husband excused themselves and left. By this time I had been joined by some crazy friends from Sydney, one being a six-foot-four Lebanese drag queen, who was in all her full-blown, full-length finery, and we were having a ball. I was due to fly home to Australia the next morning, however, so made a move to leave at around 2 a.m. I marched up to a tall, dark and exotic-looking doorman called Mourad and asked him to call me a taxi. He decided I needed another champagne instead. He and I then went on a whirlwind, super-VIP tour of every top club in Paris, ending up at Folies Pigalle sitting in a booth with Michael Hutchence at 6 a.m.
Despite the huge night, I made it onto my flight that morning, and when I arrived back in Sydney I discovered a very romantic message on my answering machine in French. Mourad wanted to fly me back so we could summer together in Marrakech.
I knew who would enjoy that story. I rushed into Judith’s office and told her. “Judith, an extremely sexy man I’ve known for six hours wants to fly me to Marrakech!”
“You have to wear jewel-colored silk pajamas, say ruby or emerald, and paint your nails dark red!” she said dramatically. “And your luggage
needs to have striped lining!’ It was a typically
suggestion, one that completely bypassed the rational and leaped straight to the exciting.