Kouture Breaks Barriers on Luxury Fashion Publications: Interview with EIC, Jennifer Smith Tapp

For those of you who may not know our agency was originally founded by myself and another fabulous partner named, Jennifer Smith Tapp. After a few years together, Jenn was given the illustrious opportunity to helm one of the hottest new fashion, beauty, and style publications out of Atlanta targeting affluent women of color named Kouture and for those of us that have dreams of a fast paced career in the editorial world this was the ultimate reality. We parted ways, but Jenn will always remain close to my heart as an inspirational woman who followed her heart and with every issue that’s published her readers get to see her how truly talented she is as a writer, mother, and friend. We sat down with Jenn, EIC of Kouture, to chat about pr, fashion week, and her hometown.

VG: How did you get started in the fashion media world?

JST: I got started the old-fashioned way;  lots and lots of writing for free (or low pay) for a few years to build up my clips before I moved into editorial. Many people balk at having to write for little to no compensation, but it did help me to find my voice and develop a point of view about fashion and style, which is critically important if you want to have a career in this industry, especially if you plan to move to the top of the masthead.

VG: Tell us a bit about Kouture. How’s it different from other publications out there?

JST: Kouture is a luxury fashion, beauty and shopping magazine for African-American women. The fact that Kouture’s target audience is African-American women immediately sets it apart from all of the other magazines on the newsstands. There are other lifestyle magazines for African-American women, like Essence, but there are not other high-end, more cutting-edge fashion magazines that are exclusively for women of color.

VG: Walk us through the day-to-day life of an editor in chief.

JST: My day-to-day life basically involves some degree of obsessing over every word and image on every page of the magazine. We are a start-up magazine, so there is a lot of foundation building, trying to see which processes work and which don’t so we can move forward in the most efficient way. I spend a lot of time reading and answering emails from editors and writers answering their questions about the direction of their articles. I also field pitches from PR reps to try to see if their clients are a good fit for our magazine. On any given day, I could be looking through model portfolios to cast photo shoots for a couple of hours and then spend another few hours reading through submissions for potential writers and editors for the magazine. It really does vary from day-to-day. I work closely with the publisher on many aspects of the magazine, and even something like the exact font of the copy on the cover can be a major decision.

VG: Favorite part of the job?

JST: My absolute favorite part of the job is getting the hard copy of the book in my hands. Like I mentioned, I can get bogged down in the details, so it is gratifying to see the completed magazine and be proud of how hard everyone has worked to put it together.  Of course, going to Fashion Week is a perk of the job whose fabulousness can’t even begin to explained.

VG: Least favorite part?

JST: I would say that my least favorite part of the job is the fact that we are a new magazine with a limited cash flow, so we have to try to find the best talent within the budget that we have. The publisher and I have a specific vision for what we want the book to look like, and we often have to come back down from the clouds and work within our means.  It’s difficult, but not impossible.

VG: What gets you through the day in those “I just want to give up moments?”

JST: What I always keep in mind is the fact that we are on the right track to become a successful magazine, even in a time when the magazine industry is in a state of flux. There are kinks and bumps along the road to be worked out, but that is the case with every business, whether it is a start-up or established. There is a void in the market for this type of magazine, and I believe in the future of Kouture, even in those one step forward, 3 steps back moments.

VG: Your last meal. What would it be?

JST: Hmmm. That would most likely be a mash-up of dishes from a few of my favorite restaurants in Chicago: the chopped salad from Tucci Benuch, roasted garlic from Bistro 110 and the chocolate ganache cake from Fiddlehead Café, with some Malbec. Or, since it was my last meal, maybe I would just rather have Marcus Samuelsson surprise me with something.

VG: Top Chef Masters people. The finale last night made my mouth water!

VG: How much do you like dealing with fashion publicists/pr firms? I mean really.

JST: I actually love dealing with fashion PR. Fashion editorial and fashion PR have a symbiotic relationship and one does not exist without the other. What I don’t like is when  editors and writers have to hound PR people to get the photos and info that they request to meet deadline. I think that if the designers that are being repped by some of these PR people knew how lax the quality of contact is with press they would not be very happy.

VG: What would you automatically push the delete and block button from a publicist email?

JST: The thing that would make me immediately hit the delete button is a poorly written release. I am constantly amazed at the instances of dreadful spelling and grammar in a supposedly professionally written press release. That truly makes my eyes bleed and I would never punish our editors by passing it along to them. Automatic delete.

VG: So true! Its so crazy how many people think they can just get into the world of pr by fluke or that fact that they think its such a glamorous life. Do your homework future prs!

VG: What kinds of stories do you look for in Kouture?

JST: Everything that we aim to publish for Kouture has to be something that represents our target reader: affluent, sophisticated and intelligent. The best features for us are those which shows us what’s new, now and next in the fashion and beauty industries: whether it is a designer who uses sustainable fabrics, a beautiful bespoke suit or a great mass-market collection, we want to present all of the facets of the fashion and beauty world in a way that our readers can relate to. The one thing that I always think about when closing each issue is the opening scene in “Funny Face” when the editor says that a magazine can’t just lie around-it has to have a purpose for being. Kouture may look gorgeous on a coffee table, but if there isn’t info on the pages that a reader can actually use, then we haven’t done our job.

VG: How do fashion prs make their pitch stand out?

JST: I respond best to pitches that are well-written, are in line with the editorial tone and vision of our magazine and contain all of the relevant info: who, what, when, where, why and how. I also love lookbooks or amazing photos. I only pass along the pitches that contain all of the above to our editors. My advice to PR reps is to make sure that you have properly researched the magazine that you are pitching to. Sending me pitches of a new collection of rock t-shirts when our target reader is a woman who wears Carolina Herrera and runs her own company is a waste of everyone’s time.

VG: Favorite part about Chicago? How’s the fashion?

JST: My favorite thing about Chicago is that it is a vibrant city once it thaws out from winter. Everything that one would expect in a real city is here. Regarding fashion in Chicago, there is a utilitarian aspect to what people wear here, because it is either 0 degrees or it’s 85. Plus, I think that because it is a Midwestern city, there isn’t a lot of inclination to be adventurous with fashion. But you do see people who have fun with fashion and think a little left of center when it comes to getting dressed. There are some fabulous retailers here who stock some of the most forward-thinking labels on the scene-Dries van Noten, Rick Owens and Thakoon can all be found here. Chicago is also home base to some talented designers, like Lara Miller, Borris Powell and Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, all of whom are some of my favorites.

VG: What inside info can you tell us about the next issue of Kouture?

JST: The next issue of Kouture will be the Fall Fashion Issue and which will have everything you need to know about the F/W 2010 collections. We were at the fall shows in February and we will bring readers the best of what we saw as well as the inside scoop on emerging designers and brand new collections. It will be our biggest issue to date and we can’t wait for everyone to see it!

Thanks so much to Jennifer Smith Tapp for this great look at the inside world of one of fashion’s best new publications. We commend all that you have done to push the envelope! Check out Kouture at facebook.com/kouturemagazine and kouturemagazine.com.

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About vanguardpr

The Vanguard is a full-service public relations and branding agency representing cutting edge fashion, beauty, and lifestyle accounts. We sp
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