Austin native Amy Odell's new book is an honest, humorous look at fashion, celebrity, and our desire to fit in.
Amy Odell is charming and honest in her first book, a collection of witty essays about covering fashion and celebrities.
The world of fashion and celebrity is at once far removed and foreign, yet intimate and immediate. But seeing a star’s breakfast on her Instagram feed and shopping for culottes so we can be on-trend is a far cry from actually being a part of that universe. No one knows this better than Amy Odell, who left her native Austin after high school and fought her way into fashion journalism. She began as a party reporter for New York magazine before starting its highly regarded fashion blog, The Cut.
Now editor of cosmopolitan.com, Odell is releasing her first book, Tales From the Back Row: An Outsider’s View From Inside the Fashion Industry (Simon & Schuster, 2015), a comedic collection of essays full of everything from cringe-inducing celebrity run-ins and astute observations about social hierarchies to tips for working in fashion. (A recounting of her disastrous job interview at Vogue should be textbook reading for any future style reporter.) Odell, who appeared at South by Southwest in March as part of SXStyle, talked to Austin Way ahead of her book’s September release.
What drew you to fashion journalism? AMY ODELL: Growing up, I read every women’s magazine I could get my hands on. I was also obsessed with Barbara Walters, so at an early age I was really interested in media and journalism. I thought I knew a lot about fashion because I watched Project Runway. But when I started covering it in a really intense way, I realized I had no idea what the industry was like or what fashion really meant. I was drawn to it because my goal was always to work in women’s media and to create content for women.
In your Vogue job interview with Anna Wintour, you told her that one of your three goals was to write a book. Was this the book you had in mind? AO: This sounds really basic, but I love chick lit; I read so much of it, including a lot of essay-based chick lit by women like Chelsea Handler, who so kindly blurbed my book. I decided I wanted to write this book when I was working at The Cut. I thought this would be a good read.
Where did you get the thick skin needed to survive some of the situations you describe in the book? AO: I developed a really thick skin working in New York and in journalism. It was so hard in the beginning. I was so scared that I was never going to get a job at a magazine. I say in the book that I started doing freelance red-carpet reporting, which pays almost nothing. It’s such a skill and so hard to do well. You’re not really experienced, you have huge stars coming at you, and maybe you need to talk to eight of them in a night and get them to say something really funny or newsworthy. A lot of it is out of your control, and a lot of it is having [guts].
When you came to SXSW this spring, what changes struck you most about Austin? AO: I couldn’t believe how insane downtown was. It was just crazy to me how many people were here for South by Southwest. It’s changed so much since I grew up here, but I miss it. And the longer I don’t live here, the more I really, really miss it.
What do you miss the most? AO: I love that when you’re out in Austin and you order a margarita, you don’t have to discuss it with [the server]. Anywhere on the East Coast, whenever I order one, I usually turn to my husband and ask him, “Do you think I’m going to like it here?” And he’ll say, “No.” And it will be terrible; it’ll taste like lemonade. I also miss the weather. When you’re in Austin, you wonder what the seasons are like. Then you get to New York, and it’s snowing, and there’s ice on the sidewalk, and you’re like, “This is not actually that awesome.” Austin is so beautiful. BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., 512-472-5050