17 Aug Creative Women: Roxanne Robinson on being nice, bad taste and brilliant collaboration
Roxanne Robinson, the fashion editor of Sunday Times Fashion Weekly, believes in being nice, the benefits of bad taste in small doses and brilliant collaboration. After completing fashion design at Elizabeth Galloway, she packed her life into a car and moved to Joburg with a pot plant and blog to showcase her love of fashion. Little did she know how instrumental her online curations would be in paving the way towards her current job. For the past two and half years, she has been responsible from the get-go in spearheading a creative team to produce weekly editorials for one of the nation’s most well-known weekend publications. Under her guidance, the fashion supplement has created over a 100 editorials and is the result of her dedication and passion towards inspiring new ways of thinking about South African fashion.
The most creative people often come from small towns. Growing up in Somerset West, what were some of the things you were exposed to that began to inform your eye?
If I am entirely honest, I’m not sure I realised my ‘eye’ until a lot later in life – as a child, I wanted to be on stage performing. I dressed bizarrely as a kid and was very tomboyish as a teen. In high school I had three close friends, Elisa, Aimee and Beans. We would have sleepovers at Beans’ house and watch Fashion TV all night (I loved it, because we didn’t have DStv at home). Beans’ dad was a pilot and would bring her UK Vogue from each trip, which we would pore over. I think without me noticing, these little things got me curious about the wild and wonderful world of fashion houses and magazines. We had a Paper Weight in Somerset Mall where you could buy back issues of the coolest mags for dirt cheap. I fell in love with the fun editorials in Teen Vogue, the cool kids in Dazed and Confused, the model diaries in RUSSH and the unforgettable covers of i-D and I knew that was where my passion was.
You’ve accomplished a lot at a relatively young age and have what many would call a dream job. Can you tell us about your career journey? How did you come to be fashion editor of The Sunday Times Fashion Weekly?
I studied fashion design at Elizabeth Galloway in Stellenbosch, where I met designer Anmari Honiball. One night at a gig we had a brilliant idea for when we graduated: leave the Cape and move to Johannesburg. So we did. I drove up with my dad, a car full of my things and a pot plant on my lap. I had no job lined up and no friends waiting for me in the city. I spent three months unemployed, applying for internships and working on my blog, Lucy Can’t Dance, at the time. Another friend from college, Lezanne Viviers (now creative director of Leopard Frock), moved up to Joburg and started an internship with then fashion designer, Tiaan Nagel. She showed him my blog, he liked it and offered me a job doing little online things for his design studio. Tiaan and I joke about how bizarre that was, but I know now that that little stint was my foot in the door. I finally got an internship at Cleo magazine and learnt heaps from then fashion editor, Carla Uys. Six months later I got a job at Condé Nast as the Joburg fashion assistant for GQ and Glamour (my close friend, Robyn, was interning in the Cape Town office and had put my name forward). A year and a half later I got a phone call from Tiaan about a fashion supplement being added to the Sunday Times, I applied for the fashion editor position, and now, almost two and a half years later, that’s where I am.
Being the fashion editor right from the start of the weekly fashion supplement, what does it feel like to build something from its very beginning? What was the steepest learning curve?
Being a part of anything from the beginning is wildly exciting and scary at the same time. You have a blank canvas to work with, but you also have to turn that canvas into something people recognise and revere. In the beginning I felt like I had gone from riding a bike with training wheels to riding in the big kids league. I felt like I had so much to prove to people and to myself and I had so much to learn. I also had to grow up a lot to be taken seriously.
Besides not being as glamorous a job as it seems, what are the common misconceptions people have about fashion and style, in your opinion?
I think on a surface level, people often assume that what we do as fashion editors and stylists is shop and play and drink champagne, but it’s a lot of relationship building, admin, planning and an insane amount of driving around, packing boxes and checking invoices. It’s also extremely tough to stick it out and make it to a point where you are respected. Being in it now, I have masses of respect for fashion directors like Chris Viljoen and Sharon Becker, who have been in the game for so long.
As the editor, you have an immense amount of responsibility in ensuring that your team is able to produce weekly editorials. Can you tell us a bit about your process? What informs your creative decisions and where do you find constant inspiration?
Having worked on monthly glossies and a weekly title, I can honestly say that weekly deadlines are a whole different ball game. A lot of the time you feel like you’re under water and you just need a minute of air. We shoot almost every Thursday and sometimes Fridays too. We’ve done over 100 issues with over 100 editorials, so our machine is pretty well oiled now. I spend most of my time working with my team and my fantastic intern, Khomotso, on themes for the editorials, upfront content and our biannual glossy magazine, The Edit. We have big planning meetings every few months where we take an afternoon and set the issue themes for the next three to five months. Sometimes these change and sometimes they stay, sometimes we base editorials around themes and other times around events such as fashion week or dates such as spring. As far as inspiration, I look at a lot of magazines, I have a very creative pool of friends to draw from and Tiaan is brilliant, so I absorb as much as I can from him. A trip to the nursery or Braamfontein helps too.
You work closely with your editor Tiaan Nagel, can you tell us more about this creative relationship?
When Tiaan and I first started working so closely together, I wanted to prove myself and he wanted us to work together to make Fashion Weekly great. It took a little while to understand each other’s style of working and way of explaining things. Now we have such a brilliant way of working, our team often teases that we have our own bizarre language that only we understand. Tiaan has a very developed eye for design, one that is quite sophisticated and something I hope to have developed myself one day. We will be struggling to find a lighting or treatment reference and he’ll rattle off something like, “look at the fall campaign for this brand from this year shot by this photographer with these models” and it’s something from years ago that’s just perfect. It’s insane! If I look back at when I first started at FW and what my knowledge of the industry has become, it’s crazy how much I’ve learnt and grown, and I have Tiaan to thank for being a big part of that.
Some years ago you also launched a limited shoe collection with a close friend, and work with a team of photographers, make-up artists and models on a weekly basis. How do these collaborations add to your work and life?
The Robyn and Roxanne shoes was a project Robyn and I started because we both wanted a creative outlet and challenge. It was so much fun and a big learning curve. Mostly we learned how hectic it is to run a side business, no matter how small. On a very regular basis, I get to work with some of the most talented, brilliant creatives the industry has to offer, and it’s probably the part of my job that I enjoy most. Lucky for us, these people are genuinely nice human beings and so I’ve become close friends with a lot of them. Making beautiful fashion spreads becomes a collaboration that fuels our love for what we do. To me, a big part of doing good work is working with talented people who are also really nice people.
Tavi Gevinson still wears a backpack that you sent her from your graduate collection. Who are your other female or fashion heroes and why?
Diana Vreeland for being unlike any other fashion editor before and after her time and for saying the most brilliant things. Grace Coddington for gaining respect for being kind. Chris Viljoen for his fantastic style and for being someone I looked up to from when I was young. Who What Wear founders, Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power, for being brave and taking a big risk by starting something they believe in.
What do you love about creating images – what are you working towards when conceptualising a shot?
Every shoot is so different, with its own unique aim and vision, but at the end of the day what I really want to do is create images that inspire and excite our readers and editorials that show the clothing in the best way possible.
What are some of the mantras, objects, memories and self-realisations that continuously recur to you when thinking about fashion?
Mantra towards the daily grind: When the weeks are long and there aren’t enough hours in a day and I can’t find that perfect prop or shoe or earring, I constantly tell myself: ”It could be worse”. Towards fashion: “A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste – it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.” There are no rules when it comes to fashion, at least not to me. Who are you to say what someone can and can’t wear? So this quote from Diana Vreeland kind of sums up the attitude we should have towards what we think is bad fashion or bad taste. My magazine collection also continues to inspire me. No matter how old the issue, there’s always a reference to be found and an interview to re-read.
There seems to be a step in the right direction towards consumers educating themselves and being accountable for knowing where their clothes are coming from, and towards fashion houses producing consciously and sustainably. What else have you noticed changing about the industry?
As you’ve said, I think consumers are more aware of what’s going on behind the scenes. People want to know that people are being treated fairly while producing a product, and if jobs are being created at the same time, all the better. There’s also a much bigger focus on people being celebrated for their individual style and what they do as opposed to what their titles are or how they look. Readers and consumers want to see people they relate to in editorials, online, so in some ways, the job of a fashion editor has changed. People don’t look to magazines for fashion direction as much as they did in the past, they look online, on Instagram and at their friends on the street.
What’s the most exciting thing about fashion right now and in the near future?
That there is so much happening right now, locally. We have such a big pool of young designers like Rich Mnisi, Anmari Honiball and Thebe Magugu who are doing brilliant work that can hold its own on a global scale.
What kind of contribution would you like to make to your industry, and on a personal level?
I want to always celebrate local design and fashion, elevate young talent and change the way people see South African fashion. At the end of the day, as silly as it sounds, I would like to always be remembered and known for being a kind, warm person who people want on set.
Photographs of Roxanne by Tarryn Hatchett.