The Assistant Files, Vol. 57: Gillian Sagansky, W’s Stefano Tonchi

by Dena Silver

At the intersection of boundary-pushing fashion and the hautest of the art scene is W, the coffee table-scaled glossy helmed by its ever-stylish EIC, Stefano Tonchi. While he might be the most self-sufficient editor on this side of the Atlantic, he still relies on assistant Gillian Sagansky to keep him on the mark. When she’s not discussing retrospectives and runway shows with her boss, you can find this native New Yorker writing or perhaps DJing. Take a peek inside her world.

Where’d you get your start?
I grew up in the city and I went to Spence; it’s an all-girls school with really small classes. Then I went to NYU, where I studied art and philosophy. Before I knew I wanted to be in art, I was really into film, and I wanted to be a director. I did tons of film internships at places like Lionsgate and Warner Bros., and I worked with Martin Scorsese. Then I had an internship at AR New York, the creative agency started by the former creative director at W, Alex Gonzalez.

What did you do at AR?
I spent all my time going through the archives looking at past issues of magazines. I found that I was more interested in that than the marketing component, and I realized I should pursue journalism. So I started freelance writing.

How did you end up landing this gig at W?
I found out about the job from HR. They thought it would be a good fit for me, so I went in for a preliminary interview. Then I met with the managing editor and Stefano’s former assistant. Finally I met Stefano. We totally vibed and really hit it off. Our interests clicked and everything; we’re both extremely interested in art. I felt like I belonged at W.

Do you still pursue freelance writing gigs?
What I love about this job is that it definitely encourages assistants to make it what they want. We’re not just subject to what one would think of as assistant duties. Plus, Stefano completely encourages me in every area of my life, in and out of work.

What are your daily duties?
There are things that need to get done, like making appointments, booking travel, and day-to-day scheduling, but it goes so far beyond that. I also get to work on the magazine’s website and social media, and I write, all of which he really encourages.

Stefano is exceptionally stylish. Do you ever have to pull clothes for him?
No, he’s actually one of the most self-sufficient people I’ve ever met. He takes care of his own personal stuff; he doesn’t really have me deal with that. Although I have to say, it’s really fun watching him come in in the morning. I look forward to it because he’s always dressed to the nines.

Has your own wardrobe changed since you started working at W?
I definitely think twice when I’m getting ready in the morning. Now, I’ll reach for heels instead of flats.

Do you ever have pick up lunch for Stefano?
No, he does that all by himself! He usually has tons of meetings and he’s booked back-to-back every day, so he’s either out at a restaurant or he runs across the street to grab a sandwich, which is definitely his food of choice.

Does he eat his sandwich at his desk?
He’s very European about it, so he doesn’t sit in front of his computer and eat. Lunch is a completely separate thing from the rest of the day.

Where’s his go-to spot for a lunch meeting?
The Lambs Club, for sure. Although everything is going to change when we move downtown in a month. I’m sure we’re going to have to brainstorm some new spots for him to visit.

What else are you doing to prepare for the big move?
The biggest thing I have to worry about is the art. It’s not like you can just pack up neon letters and shove them in a box. But Stefano doesn’t know if the art he has now will work in his office in the new building. He’s going to have someone come and research new pieces of art.

How does Stefano take his coffee?
Once again, he’s very European in every aspect of his life. He’s an espresso man, for sure.

Do you work closely with any other editors’ assistants?
Edward Enninful’s assistant and Karla Martinez’s assistant. Another thing I love about this job is that I get to know the editors, includinDiane Solway, Jane Larkworthy, Regan Solmo, and the incredible web team, Christina Caldwell and Sarah LeonIt’s been awesome getting to know them and starting to develop relationships with the people whose columns I’ve been reading forever.

Do you ever get to hang out in the beauty closet?
Yes, when the beauty editor Katie Becker lets me. It’s definitely a perk to working here. While I keep my beauty regimen super minimal, if I reach for anything it’s always Chantecaille. Their products are so light and fresh and they make me smell like I slept in a rose garden!

What your least favorite part of your job?
Expenses are not fun, but I do them at an hour when no one is in the office. I blast techno music and type everything into that system. It’s the only way to do it.

Have you ever been starstruck on the job?
I studied art in college and it’s one of the primary reasons I was driven to this job. So this might sound geeky, but meeting all these people from museums has been the coolest part. I met with Lisa Small, the curator of the Brooklyn Museum, to work on a Christian Louboutin event we’re hosting. It’s a museum I’ve been going to since I was six, and now I’m working with the curator. It’s truly awesome.

Has your knowledge of art grown since you started working here?
Definitely. W covers artists that you don’t necessarily see in museums, or at least before their huge retrospectives happen. Actually, Stefano asks for my advice on art. He likes to hear my opinion and suggestions.

Do you ever get to tag along on a trip with Stefano?
Not yet, but our first trip is in December for Art Basel, which is really exciting. Then I’m going to L.A. with him in January for W’s Golden Globes festivities.

Do you find that you have more or less work when he’s traveling?
Honestly, I can’t stress enough how self-sufficient this man is! When he’s away, I very rarely hear from him. Of course I put together an itinerary for him. But he often just sets up meetings on his own and doesn’t even tell me about them!

How does he juggle all the art and fashion events he must get invited to?
It’s a total balance. For every Louis Vuitton dinner, he goes to MoMA PS1 for a dinner. For every runway show, he sees he goes to Mickalene Thomas’ new gallery opening.

When you’re not working, how do you stay busy?
I’m an artist and a DJ, and Stefano is incredibly supportive of it all. It’s gotten to the extent that when we have visitors come in, he’ll be like “Did you know my assistant’s a DJ?”

Does he ever stop by your DJ gigs?
I think they might start a little bit too late for him.

Do you make mixes for him to listen to?
No, but maybe on his next trip I’ll slip one into his iPad!

How often do you get to write for W?
Honestly, they’re really receptive to pitches, so whenever I have an idea that’s in line with the brand, I’ll pitch it to them. I have a bunch of stories coming up about fashion collaborations. But deep house music is my everything. I pitched a story about Art Department, two of my favorite DJs, to the features editor and he was like “This is awesome. Let’s do this.”

Amazing! So, where would you like to be in five years?
I want to be an editor and a writer, writing about things I care about, either fashion or art. Really, I’d like to do anything interesting, as long as it’s a publication that I believe in.

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