Let me raise a hand and say that I am a big fan of Paula Reed– I love how she writes and how she sees fashion and I sense excitement and humility in what she does.
A few weeks ago I went to the Industry event, held upstairs in the Crystallized Swarovski boutique across from Liberty’s of London, where the spotlight was supposed to be on Paula: her past, her present and possibly her future, now that she has left the post of Style Director at Grazia for the exciting lights and a new challenges that the role of Fashion Director of Harvey Nichols entails. And Frances Card did a fabulous job interviewing Paula and making us all laugh in the process.
From the moment that Paula sat down in the chair on stage, the eyes of the audience were glued to her and it’s easy to see why-she is an attractive, self-assured woman with a great sense of humour and the manner that is all inclusive and not patronising.
Paula was born and raised in Northern Ireland, right at the time when the troubles and instability were ripe, yet her mother, who was a hairdresser, managed to create a wonderful vibe in her salon, that drew people in at good times, as well as bad. Paula has spent a lot of time in that salon and was exposed from early age to the ‘theuraputic properties of glamour’. Now, more than ever, she is convinced that ‘fashion is not empty, as it makes an amazing contribution to people’, in allowing one to dream, to create, to be inspired.
When her school education was finished, Paula came to Dublin, looking for a job in a city that was a true creative hub, with U2 playing pub gigs. Finding a job proved to be tricky, so being young and brave, as youngsters in general tend to be, Paula approached Lynn Franks. London was going through an interesting phase at the time, with London Fashion Week in its infancy, shows running late and everything completely disorganised, compared to how things are done now.
Jasper Conran, who was educated at Parsons and wanted to build an empire, possibly inspired by his father, head-hunted Paula, who says that she ‘had no clue’ at the time about the direction her professional path was taking her. And then Paula went to work for Rifat Ozbek ( he seems to be back at the scene now, after some time off from the fashion scene. He has been garnering praised after helping Robin Birley create the interiors of his new club Lou Lou’s ), where she did everything at the time, from marketing to PR. That experience allowed Paula to learn fast on the job and she sees ‘the circle of the industry and its transformative experience’, acknowledging that she truly knows first hand how much effort, drive, skill and determination it takes to be a fashion designer.
A change of direction followed, with Paula taking a job at a newspaper, starting at the Independent ( ‘it was so much fun for the two years that I was there and the most wonderful learning experience’ ), followed by the fashion job in Sunday Correspondent, which was full of ‘big-brained people’. Paula stayed there for six ‘amazing years’ with an ‘amazing and slightly terrifying boss’.
Paula also got married during that time and had three children and with this responsibility came the realisation that it is ‘tough to work for the newspaper, with its very male dominated environment’, so Paula battled with herself and made a dash for the ultimate place, Conde Nast, which as far as she is concerned to this day has a ‘better, more sympathetic atmosphere’.
One tends to think that working for a monthly glossy is a job made in heaven and while on many levels it is probably true, it is equally scary, according to Paula, because the result of your work ‘lasts forever and haunts you for a long time’. Paula likened a monthly magazine to ‘having a big handbag and having to fill it’. This comment really made me smile, because only a perfectionist will lament herself, having done her best and always thriving to be better at what one does-can it be why some people, regardless of their age, attract admiration for what they do and how they do it, while others cause you to frown and wish they weren’t on the scene at all?
InStyle is a major publication in the UK now but it was initially launched in the US and when it was decided to launch its UK sister magazine, American publishing team was nervous as to how their format, successful and established, will be introduced and positioned in the UK. Paula worked on the team and looking back says it was ‘ a hugely exciting and very expensive launch’, particularly as many magazines at the time were ‘Instylised’. It took about three long years of very, very hard work, according to Paula, to get it right, with the American team feeling particularly protective of the project. The magazine was worked on and put together during the day and at night-time is was proofed in the US, so changes and comments were on the desks and in the inboxes in the morning. You can take a template of any perfect product or magazine but in order for the new launch to have a chance of success you need to make appropriate adjustment s and create an identity that would be workable and that will resonate with the readership.
Paula was keen on being offered the job of the editor at InStyle but at the time that the job came up for grabs, it wasnt offered to Paula. At the same time her mother passed away and Paula’s life reached a milestone or a ‘real watershed’ was how Paula actually put it. Paula’s husband was an architech and when a job came up in NY city the family decided to relocate there. As fate would have it, Paula couldnt work in the US because of visa restrictions, so she ended up writing a column for Instyle, as well as a column for a US publication and to this day she thinks of that time fondly, saying ‘it was good for me’.
After a year and a half Paula returned back to the UK and came across Nicola Gill ( ‘a genius woman’, editor of the Saturday Times and Fiona Macintosh and what was born out of that creative cauldron was the now much loved and lauded weekly publication called….Grazia magazine.
Everything about that magazine was revolutionary at the time-the research, time frame-weekly, the cover, so not surprisingly, the start of the process was a rocky one but Paula and Grazia team were determined to make it ‘amazing’ and refused to hear anything against the magazine. It took about two years for the magazine to gain traction but it got there, powered by an insanely driven, creative team of like-minded people. To this day Paula says that that period of her professional life remains one of the most collaborative ones, adding that ‘of course it was a race, but importantly, not against each other’. Weekly magazines are grinding, in terms of expectations and commitment of the team, so while the magazine was built from the ground up, Paula’s marriage deteriorated and came to an end. Paula came through at the other end, inspired by her kids, her job and assisted by people like Grazia’s editor Jane Bruton, whose support Paula called ‘extraordinary’. She says that Jane has a wonderful vision and understanding of what’s truly popular and what is commercial, adding that her job & time at Grazia was ‘one of the best I have had’.
When I learnt about Paula’s leaving of Grazia to take up a post of the Fashion Director at Harvey Nichols, ‘not a strategic choice’ in Paula’s own words-I was surprised but then if you look at the trend-editorial team from Harper’s Bazaar now working for Net-A-Porter The Edit-you tend to pause and consider the big picture. Rules are changing and the evolution of things is taking interesting forms of expression. Fashion and retail are closely connected, the distance between media and retail is becoming blurrier and journalists certainly do a superb job of selling things to consumers, so why not work for a fashion brand or store? It’s refreshing to know that someone like Paula, a seasoned and experienced professional, isn’t afraid to have a go at anything new-and to be honest, an opportunity to try to shake things up at Harvey Nichols would be too good to miss. Taking this shopping bricks and mortar destination into digital age, while challenging and treading the path unknown, is certainly interesting, especially when stores are getting into an editorial space and turning into ‘one melting pot’. We have Selfridges, which just days ago launched the largest shopping space dedicated to denim, Harrods, a cathedral of style, but Harvey Nichols always stood apart, so ‘the challenge is to owe the space, redefine it and enhance everything that is unique about its concept’.
For now a lot of things remain secret and a lot of investment is required to put plans into action, but Harvey Nichols team has a vision strategy that is tangible-there is an exciting platform to be launch, Beauty Mart is already a huge success, there is a planned relaunch of online service and an exciting, multi-channel platform coming in September/October with different digital propositions with the aim of ‘wrapping an excitement of editorial around the shopping’. The first flag is in the ground and the rest, as they say is a journey. Paula puts the emphasis on the importance of the human interaction and the desire to be able to help with the shopping, offering amazing service with the ultra modern functionality.
All photos used in this article are by Fran Hale for Sam Atkinson Photography
Thank you to The Industry team and Rupsi Gill in particular