Paul Tierney has the career every aspiring fashion journalist dreams of. With over 25 years’ of experience under his belt, Paul has been there, seen that trend come and go and probably worn the t-shirt. With his name regularly appearing in commissions for the world’s leading publications, from French Vogue to The Independent, Paul is also editor at large of bi-annual style magazine, Ponystep. Between writing a column for Grazia Middle East, and acting as a consultant to Conde Nast UK, when looking for an expert to interview, unsurprisingly Paul was top of my list. Currently working as a visiting lecturer at London College of Fashion, inspiring the minds of tomorrow, Paul was more than happy to share his story with me.
So Paul, how long have you been working in the fashion industry?
I started writing professionally in about 1987, so over 25 years – which makes me feel really old.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on?
Most of the work I’ve undertaken as a freelance journalist has been straight commissions, so interviews and features for newspapers or for fashion and music magazines. But I’ve also researched books and TV programmes and have recently started work on two books of my own – both biographies of important female fashion photographers of the 1940s: Toni Frissell and Louise Dahl-Wolfe. I’ve also done trend forecasting, worked in fashion PR, and a fair amount of lecturing at various universities. I teach on the BA and MA Fashion Journalism degrees at UCA, and conduct short courses at London College of Fashion. My main project at the moment is Ponystep magazine, a bi-annual fashion title of which I’m associate editor.
What do you think are the most important skills required to do your job?
Patience. Journalism is something you only become good at with time, and commissions are very slow to come in when you first start out. Accuracy is also paramount. But, more than this, you need to have the drive to communicate and share your point of view. You need to feel excited about discovering something and then sharing it with an audience.
What’s the hardest thing about working in the fashion industry?
That it’s massively overpopulated. And that fashion people are, for the most part, shallow and judgmental idiots.
Good answer! You lecture aspiring fashion journalists in London and Dubai. When students come to the first session, what’s the first thing you teach them?
Read. Then read some more. And be yourself. Most of them try to ape the style of other writers, which will never get them anywhere. I also encourage them to do a bit of self-analysis. I set them a brief entitled ‘How Do I Look?’ that forces them to examine their own appearance. It’s the most difficult thing they will write for me, but honesty and the power of observation are very important qualities for a writer.
What do you hope your students gain from your lessons?
Hopefully, a bit of self-confidence in their own abilities. By the end of my courses they should be able to recognise their strong points and will have rid themselves of clichés. I also give weekly one-on-one tutorials where I critique their work and show them how to improve it.
How do you challenge your students?
By setting lots of demanding briefs which I expect to be done overnight! The workload is sometimes too much for some of them, but nothing is compulsory. I just remind students that it would be churlish to attend a journalism course and not expect to do any writing.
Thanks Paul, we’ll let you get back to your writing!
If you dream of following in Paul’s footsteps, why not take a look at the fashion journalism courses at London College of Fashion. If these don’t get you jumping for joy, don’t worry, there are plenty of journalism courses out there to get your creative juices flowing.