Milena Lazazzera On How to Stand Out as a Freelance Journalist After the Pandemic
Watching the fashion industry struggling and "falling apart" with the biggest conglomerates like Condé Nast or Vice Media cutting their staff, we decided to interview a successful freelance fashion writer Milena Lazazzera. Milena is a jewelry and fashion Journalist contributing to The New York Times, Financial Times, Tatler, and Büro24/7.
Taking into consideration that after job layoffs most of the writers would need to try themselves in freelance and reevaluate their skills, F'OLTIQUE team asked Milena who is a professional in this field to give some noticeable advice on how to stand out as a freelance journalist, and what are the pros and cons of her path.
"I believe that in the short-term, the fashion industry will rewire itself towards more responsible business practices, that will be amplified in the long term." - Milena Lazazzera
How did you get into fashion? Please tell us a bit more about your career and its key moments?
Milena: After my degree in linguistics, I worked as an account manager at the advertising agency Scholz & Friends in Berlin. Among the projects I handled, I had to take care of the corporate communications of the agency itself that, at the time, was listed at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The agency handled the advertising of luxury goods companies such as Meissen porcelain and watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, which sparked my interest in the peculiarities of communications in the luxury goods business. I then studied for a master's degree from the French Grande Ecole ESCP Europe in Paris and then I joined the communications department of the LVMH Group in Paris and London, and after ten years I moved to the Richemont Group.
Has your PR experience influenced your current work?
Milena: Definitely yes, both in the way I research my articles and in managing the expectations of the Public Relations representatives I deal with.
My articles always include a business angle, and I believe that my experience inside companies guides me through the various layers that motivate certain business choices. I can informally get information from the people I have worked in the past, and I believe that it is when I get the tastier details that make a better story.
What are some advantages and disadvantages of being a freelance journalist?
Milena: Among the many advantages, there is the opportunity to work with various editors and learn from them, limitless opportunities to connect and write about stories outside your usual beat. Freedom to work wherever I am and whenever I can, is definitely a big draw. The only disadvantage is the insecurity of a regular paycheck.
What are some qualities one should have to work in fashion journalism?
Milena: A journalist needs to be curious and a good listener. To break into fashion journalism, one needs to have good eyes to spot details and find meaning beyond the glamour.
In your opinion, are fashion publications going to go fully digital in the nearest future?
Milena: I believe that the media outlets that will thrive will be those able to provide outstanding written and visual content that transcends immediate consumption.
I think that print media will mean quality.
You enjoy writing about jewelry. What are other subjects that you like writing about besides jewelry?
Milena: I love writing about jewelry because it is often linked to psychology and history. But there is deep meaning also in watches and fashion – which are topics I often write about too. I also love digging into unfamiliar subjects, as I did for my latest article for The New York Times about bridal fashion at the time of Covid-19.
How do you pick a subject for your articles?
It can start with something I have picked up in a conversation, or something I overheard, or by rationally questioning what is happening around me and why.
Then I start digging into it to see how readers can be interested.
You lived around the world, but you admire Russian culture and history a lot. Why?
Milena: I was given a Slavic name, and as soon as I learned how to read I researched my name and I started discovering my interest in Slavic languages and culture. While in high school, I started reading Bulgakov, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, then I started learning Russian and discovered Tolstoy, my favorite writer. I enjoy reading about Russian history, which is complicated and fascinating.
What are the magazines that you currently write for?
Milena: I mostly write for newspapers such as Financial Times and The New York Times, but I also contribute to Tatler in the United Kingdom.
How is the COVID-19 influencing your profession? What transformations will it go through?
Milena: From a journalistic perspective, the Covid-19 crisis has offered me the opportunity to reflect upon subjects from a different perspective and question consumers’ needs and shopping habits.
Sadly, advertising for luxury goods has been cut and probably many media outlets will not be able to operate with permanent staff and will probably rely even more on freelancers.
What is the future of the fashion industry in the post-COVID-19 period?
Milena: The slowdown produced by Covid-19 has prompted consumers to question their spending habits and companies to take stock of their overall impact on society. In an open letter, Giorgio Armani highlighted the dichotomy of consumerism and luxury – and I believe that the fashion industry is in the process of rewiring itself.
What digital technologies are influencing the fashion industry the most?
Milena: If social media have changed the relationship between consumers and brands, I believe that now data analytics and the digitalization of the supply chain will contribute to make fashion a more sustainable industry.
What advice would you like to give to those who are dreaming of becoming part of the fashion world?
Milena: A good place to start is an assessment of your strengths and how you think you can contribute to the industry. Someone can be good with numbers and can make a valuable contribution to the fashion industry by making sense of data, as someone interested in human rights can rewire the industry towards a more human dimension. There are many opportunities beyond designing and communications.
What future do you predict for independent fashion and jewelry brands? How should they build their communication to get noticed?
Milena: Today’s consumers are engaged and expect brands to be committed. I believe that more than focusing on sales, brands should define the values they stand for and build their communications around them. More than ever, I think, that consumers long for human connections and brands that operate like clubs bringing people together are probably going to win loyalty.
What are the top 10 emerging jewelry brands, in your opinion?
Milena: I like shakers like Carolina Bucci who promotes a relaxed but refined aesthetics, Anissa Kermiche whose creativity stretches beyond jewelry and includes decorative home objects.
Messika, Ara Vartanian, Feng J., Cindy Chao and Fabio Salini are certainly some to watch for their distinctive creative stance.
There is so much noise everywhere and the information that is not relevant. What is the best way to filter it?
Milena: It is essential to be critical of whatever we are served up for reading. Somehow, we tend to believe whatever is printed black on white, but we need to be critical. I always try to read about topics I am not naturally drawn to, and I always seek to read from people with opposite views from mine. It keeps me to be balanced.
Understanding the current worldwide emergency, what changes do you think may appear in the fashion industry, and where they could bring the whole system in the future?
Milena: I believe that in the short-term, the fashion industry will rewire itself towards more responsible business practices, that will be amplified in the long term.
Fashion companies will revise their supply chains to shorten them and reduce their dependency from far-flung corners of the world. This is already in place as many factories have now turned to commission local contractors to maintain the delivery times that have been disrupted by the COVID-19- related closures.
Today’s consumers are very engaged and expect brands and media to take a stance. I believe that the brands and media outlets that will thrive will be those that can provide education. Entertainment is no longer enough.
On the back of consumers’ engagement, sustainability will probably become a priority for brands that wish to have a meaningful relationship with their consumers.