The fashion industry is nothing if not filled with creative people exploring and practising their craft in a multitude of ways, from photography and styling to curation and journalism. One accomplished woman is the epitome of balancing passion and working across various fields, pursuing a freelance career across disciplines. Alex Fullerton, previously Fashion Director at Stylist and now Fashion Director-at-Large at Glamour, has had a varied and exciting career in the industry, from styling and writing to fashion direction and becoming a published author.
Describing her work life as a ‘portfolio career’ Alex has experienced working both as a freelancer within media, and roles within brands. We caught up with the journalist, author, stylist and fashion director, to find out how the stigma surrounding value and pricing structures when freelancing is dissipating, why it’s liberating to set your own schedule and how Alex entered the industry at age 16. Read on to find out what exactly a fashion director does (it’s alot).
How would you describe your job?
Well I have a portfolio career. My job encompasses styling, whether that is my editorial role, which is Fashion Director At Large at Glamour Magazine, or for commercial brands. I also write -I’m now an author, I wrote a book. I write features, and then I also spend some of the time doing talks, whether that’s with brands or whether that’s with places like the Fashion and Textiles Museum. I also do some personal styling for individual clients as well.
With so many areas of specialism, but I assume you don’t really have a standard day! What do you do, day to day?
It’s totally different day to day! So, I could be prepping for a shoot or I could be writing a feature.
On my Instagram and blog I focus on shoes, so I could be maybe doing interview with somebody about shoes or discovering a new brand. I could be up and about on press days, seeing new product. Anything from working from my dining room table to being in the designer’s studio or being at a fashion show. Different times of a year, different things happen.
What is your top pro and con of working in this freelance way, determining your own schedule?
I think the top pro is the freedom that allows you to choose your own path. It’s liberating to be in control of what your output is, what your creative output is. Top con would probably have to be filing up all your receipts!
Could you tell us a bit more about your career journey?
I completed my first work experience, when I was 16 in a PR agency. I knew I wanted to work in fashion, and at the time, I thought I wanted to work in PR. After my A Levels, I started a three year degree course in Fashion Promotion at London College of Fashion. Part of that course, was completing work experience. I learnt so much on my placement at Arena Magazine, that I decided I didn’t want to go back and finish my degree. From that point I began assisting freelance stylists, completing a day a week at Arena and from that, became Fashion Co-ordinator at Glamour. After two and a half years there, assisting the Fashion Director, I left to become freelance to pursue my own work.
As a freelancer, I worked with Telegraph Magazine, Lula, I worked on the launch of Russian Glamour! Throughout my career I went on and off magazines, working as a freelancer on different projects. This led me to join Stylist as their Fashion Director. I spent 7 and a half years there, before leaving last August, because I had a book deal. Then I wrote my book and went freelance in August 2017!
Can you tell us a bit more about what a Fashion Director does?
A Fashion Director is responsible for every output of fashion content from media brand. Whether that is one of the writers referencing designer label (is it the right designer label, is it appropriate for the readership, is it relevant?) through to directing concept for shoots, cover shoots, commissioning freelancers and managing teams producing content.
You are brand ambassador for all international fashion weeks, and spend time meeting advertising clients and explaining what’s your editorial vision is. You need to have very clear vision of what fashion pages within that title are going to be! A Fashion Director is likely to have a team to manage, so you will be kind of responsible in HR way for bringing on and mentoring the careers of the team around you. You are directing, well, everything!
Whether you’re pre-university, a student, or post-graduate, what can someone do to take the first steps in becoming a Fashion Director?
Complete as much experience as you possibly can! Contact all of the brands and places that inspire you and resonate with you, to see if you could do work experience with them. You could potentially go to an individual stylist, if there is somebody who you are really inspired by, and see if they can offer anything.
If you don’t do something that is seen as a direct career path to fashion direction, don’t worry, because my first work experience was in PR! When I got my first magazine work experience, she said that I probably wouldn’t have got it if I didn’t have that PR experience. Any kind of general experience is good experience - it will give you transferrable skills, and even if it’s not a direct route, don’t dismiss it!
At the moment the media landscape is changing hugely with digital becoming really significant, and a zine culture expanding rapidly. Where do you think we’re heading and how can someone incorporate this change into their approach?
The key thing is being selectable in your approach. If you’re someone new to the industry, you need to be aware that there are people who have completed different roles in the industry that have a huge amount to bring to a role. Those people similarly, need to be aware that potentially younger generations are the ones who are consuming and they’re the future of who’s going to be consuming magazine and media brands.
It’s about being flexible and more traditional media working with new media to define what the future is going to be. It’s a really exciting time - there are more independent magazines then ever before. Glamour is a bi-annual print edition and we’ve seen it be cherished and loved. We must be versatile and learn from everybody in the industry that you come across, to future proof yourself for any incarnation of media that we may see in the future. Be open to learning and be able to take on a potential new angle and new role!
What do you look for when hiring a graduate to work alongside you?
It’s really about attitude. As someone who didn’t complete a degree, I have a huge respect for people who can it down and get through a degree, coming away with their certification at the end. Experience is something that I do look for, you need to have a kind of a visual language and a visual understanding. I think that there is that research element and understanding of the history of design. People need to know what the basic things that make up clothing are, and certain styles are as well, so knowledge and experience combined.
It’s all about you as a person, so maybe the university system doesn’t suit your skill set, or maybe all of the research and spending 3 or 4 years completing a degree really does help you. It’s all about how you work as an individual, and acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. I have spoken to lots of people who aren’t quite sure of what they want to do, and what they want their future to look like. University gives them a chance to get experience and to spend time working out what that future could look like.
As a freelancer, one of the hardest things is determining your value and pricing structures. How do you overcome that obstacle and gain advice on charging?
The stigma about talking about money is slowly breaking down. If you’re looking to become a stylist / assistant, I advise chatting to other people in the industry - agents will have a very good grasp of the going rates - as well as your peers and potential employers. It’s a tricky line to not price yourself out of work but still have value.
And lastly, what is your favourite thing about your job?
My favourite thing about my job is when the vision I’m having in my head, which starts 6 months prior, when I see a dress or a show or a trend coming after the show, starts the idea and analysis in my head for a shoot, and then I plan the shoot, think about the shoot, find a photographer, work on the concept, and then I’m on set and everything has come together 6 months later. That’s a magical moment, and it’s probably one of the best moments of my job.
Want to hear more from Alex on styling? After years of working with the most exciting names and labels, Alex released a book - check it out here!
Words and Interview by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins