Eric Wilson Plays Nice

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(NEW YORK) What’s it take to lure an acid-penned New York Times reporter into the gossamer folds of InStyle? Ask front row scoop-slinger Eric Wilson, whose October defection to fashion’s mass-iest megabook was the biggest head scratcher of the season. Or was it?

So tell us: How did Ariel lure you over to InStyle?
It was a long conversation over many months until it became serious in September. He knew I had broader ambitions than being a reporter for the rest of my life, and he was looking to bring in more reported features. He wanted a person with longtime contacts in the industry.

And what are your day-to-day responsibilities as the mag’s first-ever fashion news director?
I’ll be doing designer features in print, developing some new web features, and starting a print column in March.

Can we expect to see you on video?
Probably. I enjoy it! I’d started doing video at The Times, very reluctantly, and it was actually kind of fun. So, yes, you’ll be seeing more of my face…and I’m sorry about that.

Does your new writing load seem light after your time in the trenches?
If the first four weeks on the job were any indication, I’ll be doing more writing at this job than I ever have in my life. There’s a craving for more content. My monthly column is a fully reported piece, and it’s been really freeing to write. I don’t have to remain out of the story as much as I did at The Times.

Should we expect your tone to change?
I know I have a reputation for snark. My pen can be a bit sharper than some readers might like. But I’ve always had a lot of respect for the designers, and I like to engage with the subject I’m writing about. What I’ll be doing is a little less pointed, sure. But I’ll still have some of my personal attitude. People will expect that.

Will you miss the snark?
No. It actually takes a toll on your psyche to be a provocateur all the time. I don’t regret anything I wrote, and criticism and honesty are important, but so is not always feeling like the bad cop. 

Are you excited about the swag?
I’m not a big swag fan. Over 17 years, my experience has been that the majority of gifts, while lovely, are almost never very useful. It’s a sweet gesture, though! I’ve eaten more chocolate since I’ve been at InStyle than I have in the last 10 years.

What’s Ariel like as a boss?
He’s very decisive, and his instincts are breathtakingly smart. He knows what the product is and what the reader wants.

How’s the InStyle office culture?
The environment is a little more my speed. The coworkers are younger, far more fashion-focused, and really work well together. There’s no drama. Not to say that anyone at InStyle is a pushover, but it’s definitely a place that prizes humanized behavior and decent people.

How does your actual InStyle office compare to your Times cube?
Let’s start with the view! At The Times I saw buses driving in circles at Port Authority. Now, I can see the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, and the façade of Saks Fifth Avenue. Going from a cubicle to an office is a big change. It’s nice to have space. 

Will you be writing reviews?
I don’t think we’ll be calling anything a review—it isn’t right for the [InStyle] reader.

Did you dislike the review writing part of your job at The Times?
At times, yes. Early on, I couldn’t function. I’d be up half the night drinking two pots of coffee just to get through four sentences about Tommy Hilfiger.

How do you feel about fashion criticism nowadays?
I don’t think it’s vastly different than it’s ever been, but you’re seeing more of it. There are more platforms for criticism. There are young writers coming up with points of view and five to 10 years worth of fashion experience.

Who are your favorite critics?
Besides Cathy Horyn, Bridget Foley. I can tell which reviews are hers, even though they’re unsigned. Suzy Menkes also has such a distinctive way of covering and reviewing a collection at the same time. I really liked Virginie Mouzat’s reviews, before she switched jobs. Alexander Fury is living up to his name, which is quite delightful to read.

Have you changed your look?
I’d say I’m trying to keep it together. I got myself a couple treats for the new job, like better-fitting, tailored shirts. You can wear the same thing 10 days in a row, and no one will say anything if it fits well.

How did designers feel about your job change?
I heard no criticism from designers whatsoever; they love this magazine. Carolina Herrera was very positive. Vera Wang and Francisco Costa were quite excited, and Riccardo Tisci sent some beautiful flowers, which I was very pleased about.

How about the naysayers?
The move raised some eyebrows, definitely. It’s the cliché that people who cover fashion aren’t serious. Of course, that isn’t true. Fashion is one of the more challenging beats. You’re often up against walls that are hard to get around to find the truth.

What did Cathy think of your move?
She’s very supportive. We got along very well for two colleagues inside a pressure cooker like [The Times]. We spent a lot of time in cars together, and we had a great time.

What’s your favorite Cathy-ism?
She said that covering the fashion industry is like peeling an onion that never ends.

What are your most beloved New York shows?
Marc Jacobs. His show drives the overall shape of the week, maybe because he has the budget to do things most designers can’t. Michael Kors has the best music and it’s always upbeat. You can’t help but get excited. I’d say the same about DvF.

What did you take away from your time at The Times?
Having an enormous amount of confidence in my abilities. Whether finding people to verify obituary details in the middle of the night on a Saturday, or writing a fashion review of the Academy Awards in 19 minutes, there was a sense of accomplishment.

Remind us: How’d you score your Times job?
I knew there was an opening while I was at WWD, and I met with several Times editors over the course of a year before I got the job. I interviewed with Enterprise and Sports editors, and with a particular Business editor who kept talking about Cathy Horyn as if her name was Carol. Maybe they were trying to figure out if I knew what I was talking about.

Times staffers often hop between beats. Any sections you might’ve written for?
Travel, culture, and dining. I love writing obituaries, too. You have the final word on someone’s life, and you have to explain it to a reader who might not know anything about them. And you have to get everything right! One Sunday I was in the office finishing a project, a comedian I’d never heard of died, and I had to write his obituary. I managed to pull it off.

What will we probably never see your byline on?
The least likely, though not impossible, would be something complicated, like national security or Third World politics. I’m just not that smart!

So, what’s your 10-year plan?
I haven’t formulated it yet! But I would’ve liked to finish a book, about anything, by that point. I’m really confident in the future of people reading things. I may be delusional.

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