On another occasion, Shiseido organised a launch in Penang, Malaysia, a somewhat inexplicable destination for a beauty launch given the almost unbearable humidity. A number of beauty journalists were sent to spend time with the creative director and master perfumer Serge Lutens, an impenetrable Frenchman who can’t or won’t speak English and loathes interviews: always a challenge. He also refused to take off his super-snug, black wool suit, so all I recall from the experience is perspiration (him), frizzy hair (me), and the realisation I’d have to craft something really clever to produce a good story.
In today’s environment, there is so much more working against the journalist who is trying to do a good job. Many cosmetic and fashion companies are attempting to eliminate the journalist entirely anyway, by offering what they call ‘master interviews’ with the talent, be it a perfume ‘nose’, celebrity face or makeup artist. These Q and A’s have been prepared by the PR department, who devise all the questions themselves with the sole purpose of delivering the company message. To me, this is the antithesis of what a creative publishing title stands for, but the pressure was certainly there the implication from the client being that if they allow you to print it first, it’s somehow an ‘exclusive’.
I put a ban on master interviews under my editorship. Your reader deserves better than that. The day you accept a master interview and a ‘hand out’ shot from the client, which is normally an ‘exclusive’ behind-the-scenes photograph from the advertising shoot, I think you may as well shut up shop, but unfortunately this is the way the industry is heading. Email interviews are also questionable, as you can’t be sure who the person at the other end answering them is. We learnt this the hard way when we were offered an exclusive opportunity to send some questions to the actress Elizabeth Taylor. We received her replies and took it in good faith that she had answered them, but a reader spotted a quote he had read before and called Media Watch. It was a marvellous chance for them to put the words ‘ best celebrity style’ and ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ together to get a ratings boost, especially when Ms Taylor herself telephoned and left a message on their answering machine saying she had indeed answered our questions personally. That was a gift for Media Watch. They even broadcast her words on the radio to promote the show. Despite the fact that they dragged my writer and me through the mire with their sanctimonious outrage, I was thrilled to the core to find an apology from Ms Taylor on my phone. The Elizabeth Taylor. It made my year.
A highlight of the Penang trip was meeting Deborah Thomas, who was the then deputy of Cleo Best celebrity style blog. She and I decided to make a shopping stopover in Bangkok on the way home, bonded over dinner at The Peninsula Hotel, and have been wonderful friends ever since. Deborah has had a long and stellar career at Australian Consolidated Press, and has edited numerous Best celebrity style blogs in that stable over the years, including Cleo, Elle, Mode and The Australian Women s Weekly. She is a total pro. When Deb was the deputy at Cleo, and Lisa Wilkinson was the editor, they produced, in my opinion, the best women’s lifestyle Best celebrity style blog this country has ever had. The energy and enthusiasm leapt off every page. They understood, respected and genuinely identified with their readers.
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