Fashion Obsession: Interview with Fashionista's Leah Chernikoff

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If you think covering fashion is all clothes and makeup, you haven't met the latest generation of fashion writers like Leah Chernikoff, executive editor of Fashionista. Her range covers stories like why Galliano wasn't condemned by the fashion industry for his anti-semitic tirade, the best street style from Paris Fashion Week 2011, and Kate Moss drunkenly seducing a bear – for charity. Before she was at Fashionista, Leah was a features reporter at the New York Daily News. Her work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and NYMag.com. So she's also seen the transformation that upstart sites like Fashionista can have on the traditional fashion heavyweights like Vogue and Elle – and how they still influence the upstarts.

We checked in with Leah about everything from her all-time most popular posts and favorite fashion finds of the moment, to who and what influences her in the fashion world.

You’ve had a great career as a fashion/entertainment/culture writer, first starting at NY Daily News. How has the fashion world been changed by upstart sites like Fashionista? I think independent digital fashion sites and blogs like Fashionista have made fashion more accessible. They’ve brought the runways, once the domain of a select few editors, stylists, buyers and socialites, to the masses and broken them down. They’ve made that rarefied world real. Upstarts like Fashionista have made fashion faster, more immediate (for better or worse). The freedom of digital and the pace means we can cover stories as they happen. We’re also free because you’re independent - we’re not beholden to big advertisers the way glossy magazines are and our coverage is more honest as a result.

What's your favorite stuff to cover? What are you most passionate about? I love producing original reported out pieces like the story Hayley Phelan wrote recently about how personal style bloggers make money and how monetizing threatens the editorial integrity of their blogs. I also like bringing a little silly-ness. Fashion should never be taken too seriously. I loved when we put cats in the fall ad campaigns or put mustaches on the fashion industry’s power players for Movember.

What's something fashionistas and your readers would be surprised to learn about you? I’m very good at Boggle.

What are the biggest outside influences over your editorial choices? Who influences or inspires you? There are too many to name. Certainly WWD, fashion’s paper of record, informs the news we cover (I especially like Miles Socha’s scoops). As do all the fashion writers at the major papers - Cathy Horyn, Suzy Menkes, Hilary Alexander, Robin Givhan, etc. They’re the best of the best and I’m always interested in their insights. I’m also inspired by the fashion obsessives on the internet who meticulously follow and chronicle the industry on forums like The Fashion Spot and Fashin.

You're known for taking haute fashion and making it accessible. What do you look for when you are covering a new trend/designer? What kind of information do your readers find most valuable? I look for news-iness. I want to find the thing that will make that trend accessible. Readers like information when it’s informative, or service-y--when it gives them take-home advice, or when it’s shocking, or when it’s funny, or when it’s a little gossip-y.

What are your all-time most popular posts on Fashionista? We’ve broken a few stories that spread like wildfire over the Internet and then mainstream media. We were the first to report on 10-year-old French model Thylane Blondeau, who had posed provocatively in French Vogue, which caused a stir, as did a French lingerie line we uncovered designed for kids--that story went on to be featured on the big morning news shows (TODAY, GMA and was picked up in many major papers). We were the only outlet to get a quote from Joanna Coles, Marie Claire’s editor-in-chief, after a writer for the mag’s website wrote an incendiary rant against fat people. We also were the first to report that Lady Gaga’s perfume would smell like ‘blood and semen.’ We also cover designer collaborations extensively as they are increasingly popular and those posts do very well. Some of our sillier stories -- like the slide show of cats photoshopped into fall fashion ad campaigns was also a big hit.

What other fashion sites or writers do you enjoy? Who else is doing it right? The other sites I look to, the ones that keep me on my toes for news are New York Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut, Racked (New York and National), Jenna Sauer’s fashion coverage for Jezebel, and Susie Bubble. Who What Wear and Refinery29 are great for style and shopping. I mentioned it earlier, but the fashion writers from the major dailies (some of whom have left their posts) are the ones I respect and pay attention to the most: Cathy Horyn, Robin Givhan, Suzy Menkes, Miles Socha at WWD, Hilary Alexander, Booth Moore, etc.,

What part of NY Fashion Week do you always look forward to most and why? Sleeping when it’s all over? No seriously though, I love seeing Marc Jacobs - his shows are always so exciting - and all the classic big American designers - Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, etc., as well as the newer more indie designers. I also love taking in the preening and peacocking that goes on as street style photographers multiply with every season.

What are your favorite new fashion finds of the moment? Wearing boys clothes. The silhouettes are in and the price is right.

What's your fashion “guilty pleasure”? Whenever a cat sneaks its way into an editorial.

Fashionista is a SAY Media partner. Follow Leah on Twitter @leahchernikoff