Veteran fashion writer Amina Akhtar has had stints at Vogue, ELLE, and was the founding editor of The Cut. Now she’s embarked on a new career as the author of her first book, Fashion Victim, about a serial killer fashion editor, which she insists is not based on any experience in her 15 years in publishing. She called The Daily from her new home in Arizona to fill us in on her viciously funny tome.
How would you describe the book?
When I initially started pursuing it, I thought it would be, kind of, Devil Wears Prada meets American Psycho, and then there were more Heathers references and Single White Female, so it’s all of these movies I feel like we all grew up with that really just spoke to me.
How long has it been in the works for?
Originally, I had this idea, no joke, in 2009, and I remember I was talking to the Fug Girls — Heather and Jessica — about wouldn’t it be great to write a book where the serial killer is in fashion, and then nobody suspects her because she’s a fashion girl. Then I never did anything with it because we get so busy and have so many deadlines, and I never thought of myself as the type of person to write a book. I went to journalism school, I didn’t do English Lit. But then I ran into the Fug Girls again a few years later and I told them I wanted to write a book and they said, “The one where you kill everyone?” I started writing in 2014. The difference between books and doing digital is there’s no instant gratification.
What were the challenges?
I’m so used to writing these short, quick bursts in digital, so that’s definitely something I’m trying to overcome. It’s a different way of thinking about writing. All of the details are sometimes cut because of length, and now it’s not detailed enough — I needed to put more in — so that was interesting.
How much of this was based on your experience in publishing?
Did I ever kill anybody? No! Have I had food thrown at my head and been put on horrible diets? Sure. Absolutely. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever worked with anyone as terrible as the people that I wrote about.
Will your former peers find themselves in your book?
No — absolutely not. I wanted it to really be different characters so it wouldn’t come off as a weird tell-all because it’s absolutely not.
How similar are you to the character Anya? Obviously not on killing spree…
I want to say I’m not Anya, but at the same time I find her to be a really easy character to live into and to write. I love horror movies. I love crime shows. I love all of that, so for me, I really wanted a dark, scary character because I feel like there’s nothing scarier than other people, but I also wanted her to be someone — even though she’s crazy and killing people — you weirdly get what she’s thinking and can relate to it, which is slightly disturbing. I wanted that feeling of, “Holy shit – why do I like this character? She’s awful.”
How hard was it for you to sell the book?
First, I got options for a show pretty quickly — surprised the heck out of me. While I was writing it I could envision it on the screen, but I always thought, well that stuff doesn’t happen to me; it happens to other people. It took a lot longer to sell as a book because she is such a, I don’t want to say difficult character, but she’s different. To flip that around, when I signed with Crooked Lane, it was a perfect match. My editor just totally, fully got it, and that’s really what I wanted. I wanted someone who understood what I was doing and didn’t try to soften her too much because I felt like that would take away.
What’s it like to be on the other side?
It’s a little weird because I’m used to doing the interviews. I really hope people pick up the book because it’s going to be funny. Obviously, I am happy to promote it in any way because I want people to read it, and my goal is they read it, and they have a good time reading it, and that’s really the ultimate for me.
Do you have any crazy stories from working in fashion?
I think no more than anyone else. I started at Vogue in 1999. There’s decades of stuff! The people that I’ve worked with, I’m really lucky to have worked with them. People in fashion often get a bad rep, and maybe my book will make people laugh at those ideas, but everyone works so hard, and I don’t think people, aside from fashion, understand how much work goes into every single thing just to get a story, to get a spread out. It’s so much work.
What do you think of the state of the magazine industry right now?
There are some amazing things that have changed. Obviously it’s completely different from when I started. Even from ten years ago — it’s totally different. One of the things I think is fantastic is there’s more writers and editors of color, there’s more gender non-conforming editors and writers, which I think is fantastic, but what I think is terrifying, and if I were still in the industry I would be finding a way out because there’s no job security. There’s no more career track that’s happening, and I find that to be so sad. When I started, I thought I would be doing this forever, and then it turns out, I know a lot of other editors who are my age who were basically aged out. You’re too expensive to hire, and this and that, so I wish and I hope that the changes that come kind of remedy that because I feel like there are so many talented editors and writers right now that I would love to keep hearing their voices.
What are you up to these days?
I’m writing. I write literally every day which is so refreshing because when I was doing a day to day job, you come home and you’re so tired, and you don’t want to write. You’re just drained, so it’s really nice now that I can focus and work on more stories and see where it takes me and cross my fingers and hope people like what I’m writing.
Congratulations on your book!
Thank you! I deliberately tried to make it hilarious because it’s so dark and kind of creepy, so you kind of need humor to roll with it.