Deskside: Julie Anne Quay
Founder, V-Files. New York
Welcome to Desksides, The Coveteur's brand-spanking-new series in which we sit down with leaders in various creative fields and figure out how they got there. We guess we could've also named this, "how the hell do I get your cool job," accompanied with a "help me I'm poor" GIF from Bridesmaids, but then realized going the mononymous route was a little more succinct.
This time around, we talked to Julie Anne Quay of VFILES—the former executive editor of V Magazine who went on to found the social-media-cum-fashion-archive-hub (and who happens to moonlight as a SoulCycle instructor on the side). Here, she talks to us about fashion nerds, Tumblr, supermodels, her seven years under Steven Meisel and then some.
ON HOW IT ALL STARTED WITH ESPRIT (NO, REALLY):
"Honestly, the two things that have prepared me most for what I’m doing now is interning and [being] a store girl for Esprit, which was launching in Australia when I was there. Australia is 210 years behind everyone else. I had so much contact with customers, and then I did marketing and PR. The way that Esprit handled their marketing, approach to customer service, merchandising and everything is something I really fall back on a lot at VFILES."
ON KNOWING THE RULES BEFORE YOU BREAK THEM (EVEN AT CONDÉ NAST):
"When we talk about Vogue and Condé Nast—and I’ve been lucky enough to work at various Condé Nast companies—that’s an institution: I think that you can’t play by the rules if you don’t know them first. I learnt lots of rules there that were very helpful, but always being able to see around the rules I think is very, very important."
ON WHAT SHE LEARNED FROM STEVEN MEISEL & RICHARD AVEDON:
"The biggest learning curve of my life was really with Steven Meisel, where I was for seven years. I think that what really became clear there is the fact that fashion really is about the team. I remember what impressed on me the first day was that every project he worked on, he had to have his team. It’s just like [in] sports. The stylist, his hair and makeup, his model, his assistants... you know, the caterer. Everyone is part of the team. The vision of Steven is pretty much where I learned everything.
I spent some time with Richard Avedon, and that was the icing on the cake. It was when he was much older; he was in a different phase of his career but he still approached it very much the way he did at the beginning. He had lunch with everyone and it was a much more gentile situation. Richard Avedon worked in a different manner, which was his and his alone."
"Fashion academics. These are both kids and adults—Tumblr kids, well, they’re just the same as the woman who is the head of FIT Museum, Valerie Steele."
ON WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN IF NAOMI CAMPBELL HAD HAD INSTAGRAM IN THE '90S:
"I think that the Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Naomi [Campbell] time, that whole era is never going to come back. If that was right now, Naomi would have multiple million followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. She would be doing a shoot and those pictures would be on Instagram before they would be retouched in the studio. What made that time so great was that you didn’t see everything. You knew they were doing this shoot, you knew they were out partying and you knew they were in these great music videos and campaigns, but you didn’t see everything 24/7. It was kind of this mysterious, aspirational lifestyle that you coveted. Now with models, you see everything. You know what they are doing, when they get up, when they got booked, what they got booked for.
I think being a model is a very different thing, and at VFILES we're casting our entire show from our platform, so its much easier now to be a model. You know, it used to always be, 'Wow dude, she’s a model. There’s a new kid at my school and she’s model! Shit, wow she must be really, really pretty'. Anyone can be a model now. The definition of beauty has become so multi-faceted. I think that Kate Moss is kind of the last one [supermodel]. I hate to say it, but Kate and Gisele."
ON TUMBLR & THE EMERGENCE OF THE FASHION NERD:
"[From Meisel, I learned] the technical things: what makes a good model, what’s good light, what’s a good location, what makes a good production. What makes a great image? The most important thing about Steven (and I always feels bad because he is so private), but the most important thing is that he is really all about his people; the people who collaborate and work with him on set and make those images and make these dreams and vision [become real]... fashion nerds, basically."
I use the word fashion academics. These are both kids and adults—Tumblr kids, well, they’re just the same as the woman who is the head of FIT Museum, Valerie Steele. Exactly the same. They have this great passion for fashion academics."
ON LANDING HER POSITION AT V MAGAZINE WHILE IN CUSTOMS:
"I was working for Japanese Vogue and I ran into Stephen Gan at the airport. Literally, that’s how it happened. We were in customs, and he was just like, 'What are you doing?' And I was like, 'I'm here for Japanese Vogue.' He was there for some big client project. We were talking, and we were like, 'We should do something together!' And we did. I came down and saw him at V Magazine and that’s how that happened."
ON THE ORIGINS OF VFILES:
"First of all, I want to say the VFILES is not a digital extension of V. It shouldn’t be thought of as that. I actually had left V in the end of 2008, early 2009, before I started VFILES. I had a couple of movies in development and had been spending time on those. Stephen [Gan] called me back and was like, 'What are you doing? Come down and see what’s going on.' This was a big time in fashion, when bloggers were getting a lot more attention, there was Tumblr and there was this whole kind of rush in fashion to see how stuff happened online. [Magazines] were getting left behind. This was the beginning of that.
When VFILES started, it was a digital archive. A lot of times when you do fashion shoots, you say, 'I want this to look like this, I want to do a tartan or a plaid story, and I like this. Let me bring references. I like the lighting like this.' The original idea for VFILES is that you would be able to have an archive and get all of these images in one place; get that dialogue together, share with other users and say, 'Hey I'm looking at this, what do you think?'"
ON GOING FROM PRINT TO DIGITAL:
"V has always been an amazing magazine and it will always be, I think, the best magazine in fashion. You know, V and Italian Vogue really take fashion photography to the next level. They’re brave and they’re not scared to [go against] convention of what a fashion image looks like. But I was looking at things, talking to people and realizing that I wasn’t really into magazines anymore and that other people weren’t either. The energy of the Internet was really powerful: there were communities growing on the Internet that needed to be paid attention to; and I wanted to be able to bring the tangibility and the power of print magazines and print teams to online.
Our relationship with V was that I approached them and said, we want to start this fashion conversation in our community, but we need images to talk about. So, we did a launch partnership with them and we have the archive of V, V MAN and Visionare on VFILES. We tagged every fashion image with the people who made it and I think that’s really important. That’s the foundation of VFILES. The image is really about the team, the community who create fashion and make it happen. The V in VFILES stands for virtual files, because all of the images and everything that we do is in a virtual situation, so we don’t print anything. At the same time, we have a lot of respect for print, so if you see the print images in VFILES, you'll see they're not JPEGS or PDFs, they're full shots. They are final images from the full magazine."
"People think that fashion people are obnoxious, rude, and as we say in Australia, 'up themselves.' But I don't think that’s really true."
ON VFILES AS A SOCIAL PLATFORM:
"Social media not like at a niche magazine. If you look at Facebook, for example they have billions of users. A niche amongst a billion is maybe 200 million right?
There needed to be, but there was no one place where you could go on a social media platform just to talk about fashion. The whole philosophy of VFILES is you can go cruise the images, and the conversation you start there, what you post, can become your own personal brand. You can upload your own content,you can kind of [become] a brand within VFILES. Everyone was like, 'You idiot, this is crazy! How can you try to become Facebook?' and all this stuff. I’m not trying to do that, that’s not the kind of company we are. We're fashion people and we want to talk amongst ourselves, build our community and do great things together. We're not being elitist or exclusive, but if you love fashion, you want to talk about fashion, or be apart of fashion, come here. That’s the whole message."
ON WHAT AN AVERAGE DAY LOOKS LIKE (LIKE WHEN RIHANNA'S CASUALLY DOWNSTAIRS):
"I have a job that I do on the side, where I’m an instructor at Soul Cycle, so that’s my paying job [laughs]. I start everyday there, and then I get back home and I’m on the phone for a couple of hours. Then I’m downtown here [at the VFILES offices] for the rest of the day. We are very team orientated, we all sit together and just bang things off one thing after another. Then, I go home and hang out with my family maybe go out to dinner, go to bed and then do it all over again!
It’s really fun when we find out that, 'Oh my god Rihanna is downstairs, she’s in the store!' We love that. The things that stand out the most to me are moments like when we did the VFILES Fashion Show the first time and we pulled it off. The next day in the office, it was kind of like, 'Wow, so that just happened!'"
ON WHAT SHE LOOKS FOR IN HER TEAM:
"The most underrated qualities that you can’t put on a resume and that you only see when you meet people, are basic common sense and enthusiasm. They are so simple and those are the two most important things to me. Well, there’s actually one more, which is energy. If you have those things, you can literally do anything. I don’t want to sound like this really esoteric psychopath, but everyone carries around their own aura and when someone sits down, you can see what energy they are giving off and that is everything to me. It’s those things, energy, enthusiasm and common sense. And of course a great smile really really helps.
Then it’s just being able to listen and being willing to listen. But not listen [to others] so much that you lose faith in yourself. You listen, you take that on board, pending the goals that you have, but you don’t throw your vision away just because you’re talking to someone who is supposed to know more than you and they’re like, 'Oh, that’s really ridiculous.' If I had listened to a lot of the things I heard in the beginning then VFILEs wouldn’t be here."
ON MISCONCEPTIONS OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY (WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU, CARRIE BRADSHAW):
"First of all, people think that fashion people are obnoxious, rude, and as we say in Australia, 'up themselves.' But I don't think that’s really true. Most people who work in the fashion trenches are very down-to-earth and really quiet, simple and passionate about what they’re doing. I think with what’s happening in fashion right now, there are two tiers. There really is the traditional tier, which is I want to say—and I don’t want to be derogatory—but the PR girl thing, the old kind of image of fashion PR and the image of the fashion editor... like Sex & The City. There’s that kind of character, and then there’s the up-and-coming, more powerful fashion people who are very internet savvy and way more confident with bigger futures. Those are the two that I really see, two distinct groups."
ON WHAT'S NEXT FOR VFILES:
"We're about to launch VFILES 2.0, which we have been working on for a while. It’s just a much more integrated social media platform. What we are really focused on is being able to be a global marketplace for fashion talent. So for you'll be able to go to VFILEs and find photographers and models for projects. If you’re a model and you want to meet a photographer, look for a photographer on VFILES. Look for hairstylists, makeup artists. If you’re a designer, put your stuff on VFILES so you can sell it in the VFILES shop. We also have a TV program in development, which is really great. The number one thing is just to keep up the momentum. We are renovating our store, which is going to be exciting as well. We opened the store because people were trying to rent it as a store—our office is on the ground floor—so the store has always been like, let's get some furniture and put it in the store. We are really excited; we are working with Rafael de Cárdenas and the store that’s coming is going to be amazing."
ON THE FUTURE OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE (AND HOW VFILES IS LEADING THE PACK):
"I think there’s three languages in the world that are spoken by everybody: sport, fashion and music. I see them all coming together to be under fashion. And you know, there are different angles on it: if you go to a sporting event, what they wear, the music that’s playing, that moment is a fashion moment. I think that you have luxury street wear becoming a category right now and it never was before. You have CHANEL making backpacks, Balenciaga backpacks, sneakers, high-tops, fanny packs. You have athleisure... everything is becoming one and I think that that fashion and social media are going to be one in the same. Our goal at VFILES it to turn it all upside down. We want you to be your own brand at VFILES, to achieve your own goals, your own dreams; to provide the community and a platform to work with and to grow. I think that’s what fashion is. Fashion needs to have more energy and that’s what we want to bring. I’m excited that on VFILES, over 90% of our users are under 34, and more than 60% are under 24. We represent the next generation and we are so proud and excited to bring that to the forefront."