Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What Up? Sally Singer

I'm in love with Sally Singer. And not for all the reasons you may think. No, it's not the high-powered title she wields uptown or even because, like me, she is a former club kid from Northern California who attended beauty school and spent years waiting tables. But because she's cool as shit. "All of us girls look to see what Sally is wearing." I am told by one Vogue staffer. "She has great personal style and has sort of become the authority on what's new and happening."

Officially she is Vogue's "Fashion News and Features Director," credited for recognizing and dictating trends. Privately she is the mother of three who cherishes her home at the Chelsea Hotel and is a movie buff whose schedule, unfortunately, doesn't allow her to get to the theater as often as she'd like. I got to sit down with Sally and enjoyed picking her brain about everything from actresses replacing models to her thoughts on such "It Girls" as Agyness Deyn and Sasha Pivovarova.

Not knowing Sally personally I assumed her road to the top was one paved with Ivy League schools and phone calls to the "powers that be." Though she did attend Yale, Sally's success can be attributed to hard work and innate talent.

She is down to earth, real and most of all beautiful. I love Sally Singer!

What Up Sally?

JD Ferguson: So Sally, on my way here to meet with you I realized I know nothing about you personally. Where are you from?
Sally Singer: Northern California.
JD: Really? I'm from St. Helena, where in Cali?
SS: Oakland.
JD: So did you always want to be in fashion?
SS: I always wanted to be in fashion in the sense of wearing fashion but I never thought I would have the opportunity to work in fashion.
JD: Were you someone who grew up looking at fashion magazines?
SS: Um, I grew up obsessed with fashion magazines in the way that you can be when they are your only conduit to the idea of a glamorous world. But I really loved magazines in general.
JD: Like which ones?
SS: NME (New Music Express), Interview, The Village Voice...
JD: So where did you go to school?
SS: For college, first I went... well my family moved to Orange County which exposed me to the 70's LA- Punk-New Wave scene and I spent all my time trying to leave Orange County by any means possible... city buses, you name it.
JD: Where would you go?
SS: Everywhere. The Whiskey Bar, Starwood, Madame Wongs, Odyssey on Thursday nights. That was New Wave gay night...
JD: No way!!
SS: [laughs] Yeah, actually I was just talking to Rick Owens about it the other day, he used to go.
JD: Small world.
SS: But it took him like three hours to get there and I was sorta there every week.
JD: So you were like a total club kid?
SS: Totally, and then I dropped out of high school, took my GED and ended back up at Berkeley but living in San Fran.
JD: So going to school at Berkeley?
SS: Yeah, but living in the Tenderloin. But then I dropped out of Berkeley to go to beauty school.
JD: Really? I went to beauty school.
SS: Yes, I studied the color wheel and the California curl but then realized I was no good. I think you have to be a genius to do hair well and I'm not into doing things I can't do well.
JD: So then what?
SS: Dropped out, went back. Went to graduate school at Yale studying American History and American Studies. At Berkeley I was in the History Department focusing on the Reconstruction Era.
JD: Which is?
SS: The period after the Civil War.
JD: And you were in to that?
SS: Yes, it was sort of my role in my graduating class at Yale.
JD: Okay, so from Berkeley to Yale.
SS: Yeah, but I took a year off between the two and worked for an antique dealer.
JD: And then when did fashion hit you?
SS: Not for a really long time later. I was at Yale, I was kind of a frustrated "Afro-Americanist" which is what you would say if you were in academics at that time.
JD: Which is?
SS: Someone who studies Black History or issues of race with theory and current debates.
JD: Wow, not at all the path I thought you would have taken.
SS: But then I became very theoretically minded and found I was too involved in academics and I decided to leave.
JD: How come?
SS: Well, I sort of lost the political meaning to doing graduate work and studying history and writing about certain eras and stuff. I became obsessed with the precious debates that were going on at that time and felt I was limited in scope... post-structuralism and post-critical theory... Anyways, I came to New York and worked on the launch of a travel magazine and then I was a book editor for five years.
JD: So was that like a whirlwind time?
SS: Well, in addition to being an editor I waitressed as well.
JD: Really, where?
SS: The Bottom Line.
JD: Really? THE Bottom Line?
SS: Yeah, I specifically chose it because I knew from my many years as a cocktail waitress that you essentially had to work at whatever club had acts like Tower of Power and The Radiators on its bill. You didn't wanna work where the cool kids were because they can't drink or tip and you didn't want to work heavy metal ever cuz they are just... well, have no idea there is such a thing as tipping. I knew it was best to work somewhere where there were people who had waitressed themselves.
JD: I never would've thought we'd have so much in common. Both club kids from California who attended beauty school and both waited tables. Don't you think there's like a long lasting bond that forms with people who wait tables together, for some reason? I'm still friends with a lot of my waiter friends from years ago.
SS: I'm super close with all those people from that time, some are my closest friends today.
JD: Who was at The Bottom Line at that time?
SS: Oh it was great, like Bruce Springsteen would be there, U2 would be in the audience.
JD: So were you dreaming about fashion at this time? Like was Vogue even on your radar?
SS: Well, I was always in to fashion. I used to make my own clothes but I would not have known how one was at Vogue. I was a club kid who had grown up in the middle of nowhere, the person who knew every masthead and photographer and had integrated that knowledge in to her own style, but I had not honed or thought about how that would or could "work" for me. It was sort of just who I was, not based on the idea that I could get into fashion. I was just a happy-minded book editor/waitress who knew how to bring in a wad [cash].
JD: Wow, I always assumed you grew up having family connections at the top or something, and yours was just one of those cliched Vogue stories you hear about the girl whose mom puts in a call to Anna or something.
SS: No, I was the least connected person there was. I could not get a job at Conde Nast because I was seen as being too academic, too young, too serious. Even for Harper's. And not Bazaar but the political Harper's.
JD: Well let's talk about the current state of fashion. Is that a bore for you?
SS: Not at all.
JD: So where do you think fashion is today?
SS: I think it is in a real place of change and transition for all sorts of reasons. The definition of luxury is changing for the consumer and also for the newer generation of designers. I think we're at a time where the consumer has been better educated and more informed and excited by fashion.
JD: And why do you think that is?
SS: Access to information, but at the same time consumers are more skeptical about the value of the product.
JD: Values that are attached to any one thing?
SS: Well, now the consumer is more knowledgeable. They don't want to buy something from Italy and look at the label and see that it's made in Portugal, and they are now educated enough to know that if they buy a bag one year, they don't wanna see the same hardware the next.
JD: Okay, models. Do you think about that?
SS: I sorta have to.
JD: So what's happened to the supermodel that has been replaced by the actress?
SS: Well the supermodels made fashion seem exciting and fun and incredible and, in a way, trained a whole generation of actresses to not only wear fashion well, but also taught them how to work it. And then for all sorts of reasons, that are not particularly wrong, the public became more interested in how an actress wears a dress as opposed to how a model wears a dress. Because they know them better, they've watched their movies, they've watched them have children and go through relationships and they are true fans.
JD: And it seems the models change quicker, almost recycled and not "super" at all.
SS: I think models have become less "super" because clothes have become more detailed AND smaller. Models are "recycled" because there is a quicker demand for them to fit the changes that occur. In the day of the supermodel it was okay to put a twelve-ply cashmere sweater and a ball skirt on the runway and people thought "Wow, that is really FASHION...Ooh!" At the time, you needed a fabulous girl to style the clothes up and do something with them.
JD: And today?
SS: The clothes are really interesting and detailed and worked and the best clothes on the runway have a lot of innovation whether its fabric or execution. Today's designers don't want to look at the girls, they want to look at the clothes, as the clothes become more complicated the girls become more anonymous.
JD: So will we ever go back to models?
SS: I don't know how that's going to change, it helps when models have fun lives and great style off camera.
JD: Like say an Agyness Deyn?
SS: Yes, someone like Agyness brings a lot of excitement not only to London fashion week, but to the biz as well. You know, being out... new cut... new color. I wish more of them had that level of personal style and confidence that, let's face it, the English girls have. Its harder with the Eastern European and Brazilians. They have a harder time, the language etc...
JD: Are there any of those girls that stand out to you?
SS: Well take Sasha. She is a painter, she's always sketching backstage. You have a sense that there is an interesting, real person there as opposed to a face stomping down the runway. Interesting women with great style are better for fashion all around. Fashion is most convincing when it has a set of icons. No one personifies that more than Kate Moss. If fashion doesn't have its own celebrities it becomes second tier.
JD: Well we should probably get you to your kids.
SS: Yes, it's that time.
JD: How old are they?
SS: I have three boys. Malachy who is 8, Pascal is 6 and Oscar is 5.
JD: Your schedule must be crazy. Do you do events every night of the week?
SS: I do events stacked on a few nights a week. But I have a wonderful woman that helps with my kids, she's a teacher from Pace.
JD: So the weekends must be fun with the kids. Do you go to the country or something?
SS: We never go to the country. Even in England we tried, but it never worked. We would all get out there and just sorta be like, "Okay, what do we do?" My weekends are pretty kid-centric, as they are all active.
JD: So when and how do you get to unwind?
SS: I like the movies, though I don't get to go as much as I'd like.
JD: What kind of movies? Anything you wanna see out now?
SS: I tend to base my movie selection on directors as opposed to genre. And since having kids, I find I'm unable to sit through movies where kids are hurt or in trouble, which is interesting but I guess makes sense. I'd like to see this Joe Strummer documentary that's out this Saturday. It's suppose to be good.
JD: And where do you live?
SS: At the Chelsea Hotel.
JD: Really, what's that like?
SS: It's wonderful. It's really a community and it's everything a home should be. We've lived their since England back in '98. At one point we moved out to Brooklyn but we're sort of famously known as the family that moved there and then moved back.
JD: Well, thanks for meeting up with me, Sally, and because you are notoriously shy I'm going to tell you how beautiful I think you are.
SS: Oh... Thanks. [blushes]


BKinLA said...

She seems very cool. Great interview. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Sally Singer is MA-jor!
Two of my favorite people JD and Ms. Singer! What a combo!
I enjoyed the conversation between the two of you!
Love you Both!!-x

Texas said...

WOW! Sally Singer! Good going JD!

Anonymous said...

Interesting and (rare) interview.

I'm impressed.

Bryanboy said...

Sally's a former club kid?



I always look forward to her features in Vogue. She's really amazing.

Thanks JD for the interview. I literally shat my pants when I saw the headline.

Sally Singer is loveeee!

Modelizer said...

Great interview!

veritas said...

awesome interview jd!,i see sallys good at expressing herself,she seems really deep, i dig that....

Anonymous said...

I had no idea the women of Vogue were so intelligent...:)

Anonymous said...

i always had an interest in singers career path, thank you jd for enlightening me. as an art student in miami, i find that stories like sally's put me at ease in knowing i am on my path to greatness.

- davisorus@yahoo.com

RQ said...

I found your blog from Bryanboy.com and I love it.

CJ said...

I never knew how amazing Sally Singer is! I might actually read American Vogue now.

the bottom line? Genius!