Beauty Editor Millie Kershaw chats with Hearst Magazines aficionado and former Cosmopolitan Editor Louise Court about all things fashion journalism
One of the stars of the show at the inaugural Women in Media Conference in Manchester last month, it is fair to say that Louise Court is at the top of her game—a true ‘wonder woman’ in media. Having left her position as Editor-in-Chief at Cosmopolitan to become Director of Editorial Strategy and Content at Hearst Magazine’s UK Office in 2015, she works with the heavyweights in the fashion magazine ring: Elle, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar (and of course Cosmo) to name but a few.
After her engaging keynote speech on her life and work with many prestigious publications, I wanted to delve further into how Court climbed the rungs of the career ladder. Fashion journalism is a highly covetable and extremely competitive route to go down; I ask if she has any advice to students wishing to emulate her success.
Speaking of her beginnings in the industry, Court’s interest in journalism began at an early age. It is perhaps straightforward to trace where she caught her bug for writing; with both her dad and brother being journalists, the media sector was a truly family affair. Straight from school, Louise enrolled in a year-long National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) course, a well-respected accreditation for training journalists.
Qualification in hand, Court went on to work in local papers, which was where she could put her training into practice. A journalist’s need for unrelenting drive and proactivity is evident in her early experience: “I used to be responsible for a set number of pages and if you didn’t go out and find the stories they would literally have been empty.” Simple as that, really. Court quickly learnt that journalists also need to be resilient and appreciative of the unpredictability of the job, as “some people will be happy to talk to you about anything and everything, and others will shut the door in your face.”
Making the move from local to national publications, Louise describes her time at big news operations as “really exciting”. While thrilling to be covering stories that are making the front pages, Louise also acknowledges the sacrifice a journalist must make in terms of their own time. “On a newspaper,” she explains, “if a big story breaks that you have to cover, you have no control of it.”
In light of this high-octane and exhilarating atmosphere in the daily newspaper industry, I asked Louise why she decided to make the move from bustling Fleet Street to the world of magazines. “I moved when I knew I wanted to have kids. My dad was a journalist and missed lots of bits of my childhood that I knew I wanted to be there for.” While she continued to work full-time as a mum, it seems the key benefit of magazines is the down-tempo style of journalism and more predictable office hours when working towards a monthly publication.
It was in 2006 that Court was appointed the lucrative position of Editor-in-Chief at the ultimate women’s magazine Cosmopolitan. The Editor-in-Chief is perceived by many as the pinnacle of glamour, significantly aided by the formidable reputation of US Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Devil Wears Prada-style scenarios. I wanted to find out more about the most glamorous aspects of the top job.
“The most glamorous is sitting on the front rows and seeing next season’s new trends,” Court replies, “Or, looking at the fashion rails of endless clothes, shoes and jewellery when you do a celebrity cover shoot.” Quite understandable, as Cosmo’s impressive archives include the finest of cover-worthy stars: Queens of pop Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, as well as Hollywood royalty Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. If you flick back a few decades, style icons such as Joan Collins, Debbie Harry and Boy George have also graced the front page.
Despite all the glitz, glamour and a drool-worthy shoe cupboard, Court says that Cosmo is not merely a shopping manual. Her time at the magazine also showcased a number of inspirational projects. “I loved doing a lot of the campaigns on Cosmopolitan,” Louise says, and the long list is very impressive. As well as championing mental health such as fighting for better treatment for eating disorders, Cosmopolitan has not shied away from the political stage either. Cosmo has enabled their readers to challenge politicians about issues such as student debt, affordable housing and job opportunities for young people.
With Louise at the helm, Cosmo have also tackled some of the most sensitive social issues head-on, including rape, domestic violence, cancer and honour killings—the latter culminating in a National Day of Memory for the victims of honour killings in the UK. But, taking both the serious and sartorial aspects of the publication into account, Court declares “Cosmo will always be a magazine that encourages and supports young women to achieve their dreams.”
Louise really does present the incredible opportunities and the memorable and rewarding moments of working in journalism. I was therefore keen to ask for her opinion on the job prospects for today’s students in this highly competitive business. Does Court think the journalism industry has become more elitist? Is it harder for today’s students to get their foot in the door? “I think journalism has always been pretty tough. It is a brilliant career but does require dedication. The challenges today are that it is an industry going through so much change and it is tough getting that first full-time job. If it is what you really want to do you just have to keep on going.”
You inevitably need to motivated and resilient to land your first job in journalism. Despite some perceived difficulties, Court contends that young people today have certain things to their advantage when it comes to breaking into journalism. “I think one of the bonuses today is the fact that you can self-publish through blogs, your own websites, and smart use of social media. You can make a name for yourself and have lots of great stuff to show any would-be employers. Research is a lot easier too, again thanks to the Internet. Networking is crucial and social media is very valuable to get in front of people you have never met.”
So the future looks bright for the fashion journalists of the future. All it takes is enough drive, proactivity and a good use of the mighty tool that is the Internet that we millennials have at our disposal. Give it a few seasons, and we could all be settling into our reserved seats on that enviable front row…
“What’s in my makeup bag?” Louise’s beauty picks
· Laura Mercier Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation
· Clinique High Impact Lip Colour in Ready to Wear
· Benefit “Gimme Brow” eyebrow mascara