The Assistant Files, Vol. 75: Paola Vasquez, StyleWatch’s Lisa Arbetter

by Kristen Heinzinger
lisa arbetter
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Lisa Arbetter’s assistant Paola Vasquez (Photography: Giorgio Niro)

Lisa Arbetter slipped on her editor-in-chief stilettos at StyleWatch a year ago, and immediately was on the lookout for a top-notch assistant. Meet Paola Vasquez, who after becoming the go-to intern to fill in as assistant to InStyle’Ariel Foxman, was ripe for the picking by the time Arbetter came calling. Now after almost a year as EA, Vasquez takes a moment to reflect!

Where were you before you joined StyleWatch?
I was at Marie Claire, assisting a freelance stylist, and I was also a freelance production assistant at [NBC’s] The Voice. Then I was an editorial intern at InStyle, and worked a lot with the editorial assistants, especially with Ariel [Foxman’s]. I was always the intern to fill in for her when she stepped out of the office or went out of town. That’s how my relationship with the editors developed. I got the hang of booking calendar invites and administrative things. While I was at InStyle I got promoted to fact checker, where I was for about 6 months. Even at that time I would help out Rebekkah Easley [Ariel’s current assistant] because she felt more comfortable with me there.

Who was the first assistant to ask you to fill in?
When you’re an editorial intern, it’s known that you’ll be sitting in for a lot of these assistants, especially Ariel’s. It’s a little scary sitting in for his assistant with his office right behind you! The first day that he needed someone to fill in, the usual intern wasn’t available, so I did it. When that intern left I was entrusted with sitting in for all the assistants, which is one of the best experiences you could take on. You actually get hands on experience that you can apply if you get a position at a magazine.

How did you get the gig?
Once Lisa was promoted, she looked around internally for an assistant and I was recommended to her. She had already interviewed me for an editorial assistant position at InStyle, and I always told Lisa that if she needed anything I would be around in hopes that eventually it would lead to an assistant position. Two months later, her assistant was promoted, and she got in touch with me!

How was the interview?
Since I already had an interview with her, it was totally informal. She said, “I already interviewed you before, I already like you, I heard great things about you and basically I want you to know what to expect if you get this job.” A week later, she offered me the position.

What was one of the most challenging interview questions?
This is a question I still find challenging: “Where do you see your self in X amount of years?” I’ve changed my mind so many times. My answer is probably completely different now from what I told her back then.

Do you remember what you told her?
Yes! She brought it up in our annual review. I told her I wanted to do styling gigs for the magazine. She asked me if I’m still interested in doing that, because we were exploring how I could develop more. I told her my interests evolved, and I want to do more entertainment news pieces. Lisa listens to everything you have to say. She’s sincere and wants to know what you want to do and what you enjoy the most.

What was your first day like?
It was about getting familiar with the magazine. Her schedule was light at first because she was devoting so much time to the redesign, so I had a chance to get adjusted. When Lisa and I first came on to StyleWatch, we were figuring out which aspects of the production we could bring from InStyle to StyleWatch to make the magazine more efficient. What we learned is that that brands are unique, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other.

What does an average day look like for you?
I like to be settled at 8:30 a.m., put her calendar on her table, turn her lights on…the simplest things. I go through her schedule, make sure that all the details are right and that she has enough time to get from one meeting to another. I’m looking at her calendar 75 percent of the day. I consider myself the middleman of the magazine!

In this year, what’s been the best part of your job?
Getting to see how things start as an idea and develop into something bigger. And working alongside Lisa—she is such a good mentor. She’ll tell you if something isn’t working, or how to develop and change or make something better overall for the magazine. The team is small and tight knit. Being part of a family here is really fulfilling.

What have you learned from Lisa?
This is the first time she needed a full time assistant and this is the first time I’ve been a full time assistant, so I feel like we learn together. I can sense her frustrations, too. Like her first Fashion Week calendar was too busy because we were so eager for her to see everything and be at as many events as possible. So we learned how to minimize it, and when to say yes or no. I wouldn’t say she’s given me much criticism, but you can sense it when you work with someone so much.

How do you keep her on schedule?
I prefer to book her check-ins with other directors at the beginning of the day, so everyone is as fresh-minded as possible. I like to give the fashion team the morning to gather their things for the run throughs, so I schedule Lisa to see their stories in the afternoon. The heavier load, which includes a lot of run throughs—everything in the magazine is approved by Lisa—happens later. We also have a daily layout meeting with the art team, which I like to hold that at the end of the day.

Lisa Arbetter, Diane Von Furstenburg

Lisa Arbetter, Diane Von Furstenburg (BFA.com)

Does Lisa ever ask you for any advice?
She often shows me covers and we’ll play around with the text and the caption and the placement of the girls. I think our covers are going to stay with the multiple girls. It’s really fun and adds diversity.

How is she as a boss?
She has an open door policy. If I ever need to stop by for questions or about something I’m dealing with she greets me with open arms. She’s also an introvert, surprisingly. She always knows what to say in any situation, and has the right questions and the right answers. I guess when you’re at that level with so many years of experience you instinctively know how to navigate the switch between personal and work.

Does she have any pet peeves?
People who whistle.

What was her Fashion Week like?
Her first one as editor-in-chief was in September. It was jam-packed. She was probably in the office twice, including weekends. This year she wanted to go to fewer shows. The first time it was like, “I’m Lisa and I’m here! Welcome me to this world!” This time, it was more who do I have to see, what’s fun to see, who has the trendiest show? For both of us, it was a better experience.

What other events is she attending?
A lot of dinners and client meetings. She flies around the country to meet with clients; earlier in the year was a super busy time for her! Most upcoming events are local to the city, and she’s taking a vacation to Italy this summer.

How much do you contribute to the site?
Lisa asked the entire staff to contribute. I try to write once a day. It’s such a fulfilling experience to know that you can also contribute to other areas of the brand. I also get to write posts for our companion site, The Outfit. It’s not just a celebrity-based brand; we also cover street style, bloggers, influencers, and embrace diversity in the coverage. It’s a very positive part of the brand and we always look for a way to interpret that on print and online.

Do you find that you shop a lot more since working at StyleWatch?
I don’t! It’s different for me because I’m always looking for the buzz of the day. I’m exposed to all the trends at work, so once I get home I’m finally ready to look at other news!

Do you frequently shop the the fashion closet?
At the old building it was more accessible…we had a large giveaway table. But now that the fashion closet is so secluded, I only peek in to see if a run through is ready for Lisa. But they’ll greet you with open arms. Everything that you need is there.

Have you seen any celebs walking around the office?
I’ve seen Wendy Williams. At 1271 [the former office], I saw The Plain White Ts and DJ from Full House. We used to see Bill Clinton regularly—his office was in the building. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen have also been sighted!

Has there been someone on Lisa’s calendar who you were nervous to meet?
We had Danielle Brooks come in once and that was exciting. She’s a really big fan of the magazine and she’s so down to earth.

Who are some of the other style bloggers you like?
I’m obsessed with Olivia Palermo. Also this beauty blogger—her Instagram name is @foreverflawless—Gabi Fresh. And Nadia Aboulhosn, a plus size model. She’s known for being feisty.

Are you big on social media?
I try to be creative with Instagram posts. My boyfriend and I used to go out all the time and take photographs, and we created our own Instagram page for our photos. But now we have full-time jobs and that comes second. I know there will be a time in my life where I can elevate my Instagram feed and make it “bloggy” and colorful and beautiful.

Where do you see yourself next?
I want to stay as close to Lisa as possible. I feel so fortunate and comfortable working with her. I don’t know how many people can say they have that relationship with their superior. Overall, I want to stay within entertainment.

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