Marjon Carlos, Sr. Fashion Writer, Vogue.com
Most writers dream of landing a coveted position at the epicenter of fashion journalism—Vogue. Lucky for us, we got to chat with the magazine’s Senior Fashion Writer and all around beautiful human, Marjon Carlos. From her Texas upbringing to her unconventional path to success, Marjon shows us you can do it all—while still remaining painfully humble and infinitely cool. Don’t believe us? Check out her interview below or stalk her on Instagram. Either way, you just might find the inspiration you’ve been looking for.
Let's kick this off right. What was the last album you listened to start to finish?
No skipping of tracks? That’s a hard one. Because my day has such an emotional ebb and flow, I haven’t fallen upon a new album that really hits on all my proverbial pressure points. But if I am zoning out in my house, I turn on the classics that never fail: Bob Marley’s Legend, Fiona Apple’s Tidal, Aaliyah’s Aaliyah, and Sade’s Love Deluxe. They just run right through and are deeply nostalgic.
Does music influence your writing?
Music definitely influences my writing. I need a particular mix to get my creativity going—uplifting, inspiring, and ultimately, pretty lit. So I am all about Rihanna's ANTI, Frank Ocean's Blonde, and Tame Impala's Currents. Rihanna is kind of my patron saint. I like to listen to confident people when I'm working, hoping some of that bravado will rub off on me. The girl has plenty of it. Frank speaks to my inner emo—I feel a lot of feels with him playing in the background. I always notice how emotional my work will read when he’s on. Tame Impala brings those boho vibes to help quell my nerves around deadlines or writer's block. You can't help but feel happy bouncing along to those psychedelic guitars.
But in that same breath, I am just generally inspired when writing about musicians. Because culture is so visual these days—from albums to Instagram—musicians are taking fashion seriously as a part of their artistry. It’s exciting to watch these two worlds collide and see how they often provoke new trends. Especially hip hop: the new, young rappers coming up are wildly provocative and chancy with their looks. They get it.
Speaking of music, you have a photo on your 'gram with Gucci Mane (sorry, had to). TELL US EVERYTHING.
The Gucci Mane stories I worked on for the site hold such a special place in my heart! I really feel so proud of how each one turned out, and that our Creative Director, Sally Singer saw the real cultural significance in them. We initially worked on a story with Gucci in August about his style evolution and weight loss, which felt so fresh. People were surprised, but Gucci’s genuine interest in fashion really is so on par with the energy of our site. The article was a hit, so then I thought, “Let's have him come in and do a review of the Gucci Spring 2017 show!” It was such a simple idea, very meta, but a natural fit. He came in, filmed it in Anna’s office, and just dazzled us all. I’ll never forget that—as a Southern rap fan it means a lot, but also I love opening up the Vogue world, and that’s what this project did beautifully.
Tell us about growing up in Texas and your journey to NYC.
Growing up in Texas was funny: I was raised in the ‘burbs with no real access to the fashion world, per se, but from a very early age I always had a very real passion for culture. I gobbled up magazines, television, movies, books, politics, and clothes. My siblings and I always stuck out in that way. We were always interested in far off worlds and trends: we were wearing our hair in Afros and vintage shopping; I was reading Sassy and feminist theory. Stuff that kids in North Dallas did not do in the late ‘90s, but our parents encouraged our varying tastes and interests—especially my writing. I went to Brown University where I concentrated in Gender Studies but funnily enough, I hung out with the film majors and lived with Rhode Island School of Design students. They opened up my eyes to new forms and expressions of media. My fascination with fashion only grew, and after college, I moved to New York to intern with Zac Posen in their PR department.
Can you talk to us about how your career path? Did you always know you wanted to write?
It’s interesting, because my path to writing is non-linear and unorthodox, which I really appreciate now. Fashion and writing have been such major, almost competing forces in my life. I wrote and read so much as a child, was on the high school newspaper staff, and had my column while at Brown. But I also was fascinated with fashion and had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of it at a certain point. The thing is, I didn’t quite know how to merge these two interests—that would take me some time. After Zac Posen, I worked in fashion retail at possibly every store and kind of had that hapless coming-of-age moment in New York that a lot of today’s liberal arts majors have. “Frances Ha” and I had a lot in common (laughs). So I decided to go back to graduate school and get my Master’s degree in African American Studies at Columbia University.
There I met my mentor, the late Dr. Manning Marable. He was the person who told me I should be a writer—he always encouraged and supported my voice, which is exactly what you need at 25. I didn’t heed his words immediately, though. I graduated from Columbia and began working as a personal shopper at Net-A-Porter, Moda Operandi, and finally Saks.com. Those opportunities were so formative because I really began to understand the luxury market, what trends hit and missed, and how much the internet was going to play a factor in the future of fashion. I also began contributing to Huffington Post, forging relationships within the fashion industry that I really admired, and then landing some pretty big print interviews. My interview with Solange for Lurve Magazine had a ripple effect: I was then asked to come on board as the Arts & Culture Editor at Saint Heron. The opportunity was eye-opening because not only did I learn quickly how a publication is produced and run, but that my words carried weight.
After Saint Heron, I decided to make a go of it with freelancing. So I was contributing everywhere: ELLE, Jezebel, Refinery29, The Fader, and eventually Vogue.com. I was finally figuring out a way to combine my writing with my fascination with fashion and culture, and it kind of took off from there.
Can you describe a typical day at Vogue?
A typical day at Vogue starts early. I wake up and am immediately on Instagram or the wires looking for potential stories to pitch to Chioma Nnadi, our Fashion News Director. I love an unusual suspect, so I am looking all over for niche trends or style stars to write about. You never know where you’ll find inspiration, so my phone is filled with random screenshots! Then I head to the office around 9 and immediately begin working. That can mean me starting or finishing up copy, working on photo research with the Photo team, interviewing subjects, transcribing an interview, or sending emails to set up more interviews. When I am assigned to write copy for a video or a shoot we’re doing, I go out to the set to interview the talent, which is energizing. You’re thrown into the mix, and you’re able to connect with your subject, and you see how an initial idea grows into a huge production. Like our work at Afropunk, or traveling to Coachella to interview Joey Badass.
I also have pitch meetings with Chioma every week where I go over ideas, or we discuss trends, people, or events we can turn into bigger stories. I have a few press trips coming up, which I am also excited about. Getting from behind your computer always allows inspiration to spring forward. I really love my co-workers—the Vogue.com team is tightknit—so I’m often going out with them after work to grab dinner or drinks, or we’ll all meet up for an industry event. It’s great because we let loose, discuss ideas and relationship drama, and serve as each other’s sounding boards.
How did your life change when you started working there?
I think the great thing about working at Vogue.com is realizing what I’m really made of. We work hard here, so it’s incredible to look back and see the body of work I have developed in such a short amount of time. I’m also in contact with real heroes of mine on a daily basis--I’ve been able to interview people like Serena Williams and Ava Duvernay, work the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet, cover the Met Gala IRL. The opportunities are wide-ranging. I’m definitely more confident in my voice and the impact I can make with my writing, too. You never know how people will engage with your ideas, and it’s honestly so rewarding when a complete stranger will come up to you and say, “That piece you wrote made me feel this way.” I also think as a black woman working in the industry, I feel a huge responsibility to make impactful work, so I keep that in mind. I get emails all the time from young women who draw inspiration from my job, and that is a huge motivation for me when I feel disenchanted or tired.
With such a fast-paced job, how do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am still trying to figure this one out, to be honest! In New York, it’s so easy to go weeks without seeing those closest to you, which I hate. But I try to make sure I am meeting with my friends for an amazing, loud meal every week or we’ll go check out an art exhibit, concert, or I’ll invite them to an after-work event. It can also be as easy as grabbing a bottle of wine and just sitting around, solving all the problems of the world with your day ones. Family is also huge for me. I’m an aunt to two beautiful little nieces, so I like to spend time with them whenever I can. I call it “glaunting”: I go over to visit, throw on Rihanna and we dance, or I read to them, impart knowledge and funny pieces of advice. It helps me relax, and it’s fascinating to watch them grow.
Any advice to young writers trying to break into the industry?
Read everyone’s work--that is so key to figuring out how to develop a voice, a following, and a place for your stories. Master the pitch: to take a page from Don Draper, keep it simple but significant. Network, network, network. Your talent is obviously important and should constantly be nourished, but it’s also about the relationships you forge. And have an online portfolio where all your work can live. When an editor asks for clips, you’ll be prepared. Lastly, always be evolving: take the assignments that may appear challenging and push yourself past your comfort zone.
Are there any spots you love to vacation to get out of the grind of NYC? Where do you go to feel most serene?
I love going to Maine to relax with my family. My sister-in-law’s family owns a home on this small island off the coast of Portland and when I tell you it’s heaven…. The house is oceanfront, so when you wake up, you just hear the waves. We then head out to the beach all day, where we swim, tan, eat lobster, drink wine by the ocean after a long day of sunbathing, and then cook a feast for dinner. There’s barely any WiFi or cell service, so you check out. Everything moves slowly. It’s what I need when your hand is connected to a phone or computer all day.
Alternatively, what are your favorite spots in NYC? If you had one perfect day, where would you go?
Some of my favorite spots in New York include the couch at my dear friend Edie's vintage shop, Edith Machinist; the Jack Shainman Gallery; the bar at the Carlyle; the roof at the Met; the Columbia University steps; the McNally Jackson bookstore; Raouls (for a classic New York flow); the Conservatory Gardens uptown; and my brother and sister-in-law's house they just bought.
We love your style. Can you tell us what your personal style is inspired by?
Well thank you for saying so! I think my personal style is constantly evolving and it has its mood swings. But I think as I grow into my womanhood and become more comfortable with my body, I am much more judicious about what I put on it and how I want to express myself. Sorry if that sounds so utterly cheesy, but I’m 33, and as a woman, you turn a corner with your body and I feel really solid in it. So rather than trying every trend, I have determined what silhouettes and cuts and colors look best on my frame and with my skin tone. I’m also always looking at how other people put things together, how they layer, and my phone is filled with screenshots of inspiration. I am always obsessed with Malick Sidibe photos of post-colonial Malians. The chicness is unparalleled. A young Sade, the former empress of Iran, my mother, Diane Keaton in Manhattan, Lil’ Kim, North West, Rihanna, Henry Taylor’s paintings, Zadie Smith, Miles Davis and Cicely Tyson, Jamaica—these disparate people and places inform my approach to dress in some way. I’m obsessed with white shoes, PVC, pastels, satin slips, Shaft leather trenches, Adidas boy track pants, and Gucci loafers. It’s very random, but they all move me somehow.
Do you have an heirloom piece in your closet that you'll never get rid of?
I never want to get rid of my Louis Vuitton pochette. I’m telling you that chintzy thing is coming back! I also never take off my Alexander McQueen skull knuckle duster ring, save to shower. It will be passed down to my offspring.
Write a quick note to your 20-year-old self. Anything goes!
I think the 20-year-old version of myself didn’t know I had all the right weaponry to succeed. Those materials just needed to be honed. So I’d have to calmly tell my 20-year-old self to have a seat, and stress I have the right instincts so I should be following them. Read more and love freely. Study abroad in London, it would have done you some good. Keep writing and trust your voice. Stop straightening your hair—your curl pattern is amazing. That guy is not on your level and like Frank Ocean’s mother famously implored, be yourself.