Marjon Carlos on leaving Vogue and keeping it real in the fashion industry
Though social media makes it seem like we know the people we most admire, the age-old tenet of not judging a book by its cover still holds true. This became immediately evident upon meeting Marjon Carlos, ex-Senior Fashion Writer at Vogue, at her charming Greenpoint abode. My fear of experiencing The Devil Wears Prada-Brooklyn Edition subsided the second I heard Kendrick Lamar’s new album reeling in the background. Despite her tenure at the Holy Grail of fashion publications, Marjon is astonishingly chill, welcoming, and down-to-earth. The admittedly “non fashion purist” is sporting a fresh face- with the exception of a plum lip-, an all-white ensemble, and enviably cool Maryam Nassir Zadeh lucite mules. Surrounded by all the greats –from her expansive library of Edith Wharton, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, etc to the Donna Summer album above her bed- her writing is largely colored by music, cultural studies, and female trailblazers. Mixing her sartorial expertise with a Masters degree in African American and Gender Studies from Columbia, Marjon is a muse of beauty, brains and blackness. Her vast portfolio includes features for Elle, Huffington Post, Refinery 29 and Vogue, but across the board, the lighthearted tone of her writing breaks the reputed pretention of the industry. Whether highlighting the importance of Beyonce’s Lemonade, or discussing the confluence of street and tradition at Lagos Fashion Week, her articles read like a gossip sesh with your token intellectual friend. She tells it like it is, twerks in couture post the Met Gala, and wants to use her voice to make a difference. For a blossoming writer, girl of color, or fashion enthusiast, Marjon’s trajectory reaffirms the power of old-school ladder climbing in a sea of Insta-stars.
Rhianna: Describe your trajectory and how you got here:
Marjon: My trajectory is pretty non linear. I was a definite nerd growing up, but really loved fashion. When I graduated from college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had this vague idea of becoming a fashion journalist. I interned in PR, and worked in retail…but they didn’t really lead me anywhere. I was always into academia, and after living in New York I decided I wanted to study race and culture. I went back to get my Masters at Columbia, and studied African American studies. My professor said ‘you should be a cultural critic, I feel like that’s your fit.’… I wanted to make money. I wanted to make an imprint. I worked at Saks, Net-A-Porter, and Moda’Operandi. Still it wasn’t enough. I was writing more, and then I interviewed Solange for Lurve Mag and we got into each other’s orbit that way. She was starting Saint Heron, and asked me to be her Arts & Culture editor. It was totally grassroots; we were a little girl group of 5. It was really cool to launch a website and cultural movement though. People started becoming receptive to my work. When you’re a writer it’s really lonely, and you don’t know if people actually like your shit…if they’re digging it or not. And that was the first time when I realized that people liked my stuff, and I wanted more of that sensation; so I freelanced more. I started submitting everywhere – writing for Elle, Fader, Refinery 29 and then I met Chioma [Nnandi], which led me to writing for Vogue. I was freelancing for like a year and they had an opportunity as Senior Fashion Writer and I was like let’s get it. I mean I had to apply first (laughing) – and then I got it, and I was there for nearly two years.
“When you’re a writer it’s really lonely, and you don’t know if people actually like your shit…if they’re digging it or not. And that was the first time when I realized that people liked my stuff, and I wanted more of that sensation; so I freelanced more.”
RJ: How does your background in Gender and Africana Studies color your work?
MC: It definitely informs the people I write about. I’m not a fashion purist. The way I approach my job was not ‘the appointment of such and such at this house means such and such’ that’s very trade and I never had that perspective. I’m more interested in how this cultural heroine influences the runways, or the way her style does, and how she came to that style. I’m more interested in people’s stories than chasing industry trends. I think that has a lot to do with my degrees, and seeing how cultural, racial, and gender implications inform fashion. Now the industry is receptive to that, more of an open diverse pool of people we’re talking about, which is fantastic! Feminism is obviously at the forefront this season. When I graduated, we didn’t talk about feminism in polite company, which is kind of funny. It’s interesting to see Dior selling feminist tees for $600.
RJ: Your first major position was as the Founding Arts & Culture editor for Solange’s creative collective Saint Heron. How do music, art, and culture inform your writing?
MC: I really love music. I didn’t realize how much I loved arts and culture and music until I started working for Vogue. There wasn’t anyone I couldn’t talk to, Rihanna, Migos… Their artistry is very different than a fashion nerd. They’re creating their own identity, how they’re going to dress it, and how it informs the music. I worked with a lot of rappers, and I’d be like ‘What was the first thing you bought when you got some money?’ I remember when Gucci Mane came in to Vogue. He brought a whole crew and his girlfriend. She told us this really charming story about how she put him onto online shopping and how she knows the DHL woman who comes to their house every single day. It was so cute because you don’t think of a gangster rapper thinking, ‘oh I really hope I get my Net-a-Porter package today…we really gotta coordinate with her.’
RJ: And just like them, you hustled your ass off to the top. How was it being Senior Fashion Writer at Vogue?
MC: Surreal. Like you, I grew up reading Vogue and thinking, this is what I want to do with my life. And then you’re sitting there and you’re like, oh wow, I really do get to work with Sally Singer and Mark Holgate. Vogue was like getting my PhD. The shit was hardcore. Incredible though, because I got to work with my heros. There wasn’t anyone I couldn’t talk to. That’s the beauty of working with such a legacy brand. But I felt a responsibility to underscore women of color and kind of change that conversation. It’s a demanding job, but you see how much you’re capable of. I came out of it with an incredible bank of knowledge. At Vogueyou’re always thinking about the whole picture. Not just the content, you think about social, visual, and engagement…the long-term potential, or if this one story could go viral. That’s how I approach consulting now.
“I’m not a fashion purist. The way I approach my job was not ‘the appointment of such and such at this house means such and such’ that’s very trade and I never had that perspective. I’m more interested in how this cultural heroine influences the runways, or the way her style does, and how she came to that style. I’m more interested in people’s stories than chasing industry trends.”
RJ: Many people say “print is dead”. Has the dominance of digital influenced your work at all?
MC: I learned a niche skill set when I worked at Vogue because you had to be able to write really quickly and really well. In print it’s a more meditative process, but online you gotta just crank it out. That definitely influenced my writing, I learned how to write quickly, and sharply. You have to realize that not everything’s going to be a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of literature. I have a lot of respect for print; I don’t think it’s going to die out. People love the tangibility, the credibility. You can do so much more with print.
RJ: On that note, how has the popularity of Instagram and visual culture changed the nature of a fashion story? Has your focus, or inspiration shifted at all?
MC: Instagram is such a huge research tool. I use it as an opportunity to find new people to cover, new trends, and designers. I followed 5 Rihanna fan clubs because that was my beat, and they would have the photos as soon as she left the building from 5 minutes ago. So you’d be like- oh that’s a story. Selena Gomez posted a selfie with The Weeknd- oh that’s a story. And the worlds you’re opened up to? That’s whats up. People say that social media cuts us off, but I don’t think it does. I’ve made friends off social media. You follow people’s work, and then you see them out and introduce yourself. People need to relax. Social media isn’t an impediment to communication.
“Vogue was like getting my PhD. The shit was hardcore. Incredible though, because I got to work with my heros. There wasn’t anyone I couldn’t talk to. That’s the beauty of working with such a legacy brand. But I felt a responsibility to underscore women of color and kind of change that conversation.”
RJ: There’s a real vibrancy, personality and charm in your writing style. How did you develop your voice as a Fashion Writer? How do you want your articles to resonate?
MC: My mom taught me how to write. She always encouraged my writing. The best way to write is to read. You learn how to approach the subject differently; it doesn’t have to be so stiff. I don’t know where my voice is right now, its still in flux after writing for Vogue. I definitely had to write for Vogue. Now I get to ask myself…’what does it mean to write, in general?’ So that’s interesting. I might see some new evolution or growth. I want to use my voice to make a difference.
RJ: This past season runways were their most diverse to date, the political climate is heightening social awareness, and millennial culture is noticeably driving trends. What excites you about the industry now in comparison to when you started your career?
MC: There’s an uptick in inclusivity, which I think is wonderful. It’s exciting to broaden who we consider to be trendsetters, and who we consider to be influencers. Like Slick Woods, and Hari Nef – it’s about time. I just hope it doesn’t become a one-time SEO, click bait situation. I want to see some real change take place. I want it to feel as organic as possible. Changing the game, and gender non-conformity. Watching fashion people mitigate that is fascinating because they don’t know what to do. It’s gonna be revolutionary.
“Now I get to ask myself…’what does it mean to write, in general?’ So that’s interesting. I might see some new evolution or growth. I want to use my voice to make a difference. “
RJ: What inspires you? What are you loving right now?
MC: I’m inspired by young women like Rowan Blanchard and Yara Shahidi who are really with it at such a young age. They rely on each other in a way that I don’t think older women knew; they don’t see each other as competition, which is really beautiful. I’m also inspired by global fashion. I went to Nigeria recently, and am looking forward to discovering more artisan traditions. I’m inspired by politicians like Maxine Waters, and Sally Yates. I’m like ‘You better get it girl;’ see if we can finally take down the man. I’m curious to see what Shayne Oliver is going to do at Helmut Lang. I’m a little oversaturated by fashion right now, frankly.
RJ: You left Vogue and you’re a free bird again. What’s next?
MC: I want to consult more with brands. I want to do more talks, panels, dinner series. I want to get more on camera. I had a few opportunities to get on camera with Vogue, and I really enjoyed that medium. I want to be more of a talking head. I want be more of a voice- that sounds so cheesy- but I want to help change the world.
RJ: Words of wisdom for the next gen of aspiring writers?
MC: Always be reading. Every writer has an editor. Don’t let people read your stuff until its finished. Definitely come to writing when you’re happy. If you come to it depressed, you’ll just want to shoot yourself.
See what else Marjon’s up to at marjoncarlos.com.