By Jamé Jackson
Eric Wilson’s journalism career is only surpassed by his charming demeanor and positive nature. The industry heavyweight is currently InStyle‘s Fashion News Director. Needless to say, he’s the epitome of #CareerGoals. Below, the celebrity and style guru dishes on his secret to staying strong in the journalism game.
Can you tell us a little about your career history?
I dove into journalism headfirst as soon as I came to New York City in 1990 to attend NYU. I interned at Interview magazine, an art book publisher, and New York Newsday through my college years and remained at Newsday after graduation, writing about anything they asked me to (crime, politics, fashion) until they closed the New York City edition. From there, I took a brief detour into financial newsletters (they were hiring) until I could convince Women’s Wear Daily to hire me as a beat reporter. That’s where I learned the nuts and bolts of the fashion industry, how to interview a designer, how to write for a magazine in the glory days of W, and how not to be too big for my britches. Then the New York Times called one day, and I had the amazing good fortune to join the Styles desk for nine years, which was just long enough to start missing magazines when the opportunity arose three years ago to join InStyle in a broader role.
Were you always interested in fashion? How did you figure out what you wanted to do career-wise?
To some degree I was always curious about fashion, especially about designers. Growing up in West Virginia, pre-Internet, I was obsessed with magazines and kept ridiculously large collections of homoerotic advertisements from Versace and Calvin Klein, and then Abercrombie & Fitch… you get where this is heading, I’m sure. I had to get out of West Virginia. And oddly I had more of an interest in newspapers, as my grandfather published a small county paper there and inspired me to be a reporter. It just so happened that the two interests came together very seamlessly for me.
Did you ever intern? How important is interning in the fashion industry?
I started interning when I was in high school. I spent two summers writing for the local newspapers about anything they asked, and then, once at college in New York, I chose a different job each year to experience different types of the industry. One semester, I tried a public relations company, and lasted about four hours before I walked out. Another year I worked at Saks selling Armani jeans. But Interview was the best, because I was able to observe so many outstanding people up close — Karl Lagerfeld, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber. Just stopping by their offices to pick up prints or clothes was an electric feeling for a kid, and I learned so many things that are still useful today.
For those who may not know, what exactly does your role as a Fashion News Director consist of? What are some of the best parts of your job?
My main responsibilities are organizing and executing the designer profiles and features in the magazine, covering fashion news online, and writing a monthly column that illuminates the inner workings of the industry for a general audience. Of course, I also find myself doing unexpected things, like orchestrating a party, making a video with a model in the back of a cab, or interviewing a designer on stage.
You’ve been at InStyle for a little over 3 years. How have you seen the brand change and evolve since first joining?
Of course! We introduced a major new design with our March issue that really elevated the experience of reading the magazine from visuals to words to graphics, and now with a new editor, Laura Brown, we’re going to be turning up the fun factor to full volume. Your ears will be ringing, if mine are any indication.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role and in the current state of publishing?
I’ve always felt the most successful magazines, like fashion, reflect their times, both in terms of subject and tone. Unfortunately, the times ain’t great. But participating in the evolution and adaptation of media throughout so many trials brought on by the economy and the digital revolution has made me appreciate that the most important part of my role is to report the news, and make my voice heard. That requires a willingness to experiment in various forms of communicating, and finding the ones that will be most effective not only today, but also in the next decade, is something we’re all still figuring out.
What’s your favorite published piece to date? Why?
For InStyle, I have most enjoyed the features that explain an unexpected element of the fashion world that could only happen in this moment — the rise of airport style paparazzi pictures, for instance, or the phenomenon of a four-year-old designer named Mayhem who was hired by J.Crew, or the strange red carpet trend of bare midriffs. They always tend to get the most reaction out of readers as well!
Do you have any advice for someone trying to break into the industry?
Maintain a positive outlook, no matter what kind of adversity you face. I know it’s not easy. But one thing I do when something is causing me concern, whether it’s the frustration of dealing with a difficult publicist or the existential threats to our industry, is to give myself exactly 15 minutes to throw a little pity party. And then I move on and refuse to think about it for the rest of the day.
Is there specific advice you have for someone wanting to be a Fashion News Director for a brand?
Start with being a reporter, a blogger, a writer — it’s all the same thing these days. Get to know the subject and form a network of people you can trust, and who can help open doors.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t get caught up in titles. Mine didn’t exist at InStyle before I came here, and I’m not sure anyone really knows what it means. It’s not like I tell the news what to do. Just keep your focus on what is important to you — and hopefully that is the work of journalism, rather than a position on a masthead.
Jamé Jackson is a freelance writer in New York City. She loves all things fashion, beauty, and #GirlBoss related. She can be seen spreading her magic on Instagram @Theblondemisfit and her website, Theblondemisfit.com.
Photo: Sarah Balch/InStyle