Lisa Smosarski launched Stylist in 2009 and has been at the helm ever since. She talks to Lucy Robinson about the importance of championing women, her experience interviewing the Clintons and her love of Press Gang.
What made you want to work in journalism?
I was very influenced by a children’s TV show called Press Gang which was about these kids making a student paper. There was something about the pace, the decision making and the drama of it that seemed incredibly exciting – the reality isn’t too dissimilar, which is ironic because it’s an extremely naïve reason to get into the industry.
And women’s magazines specifically?
I studied journalism at the London College of Printing and assumed that I’d end up at a newspaper. I saw a job advert for a junior writer role at Bliss magazine and thought it would be a good way to get interview experience, so I applied. Somehow I ended up getting the job on the same day that I handed in my dissertation. I was then able to explore different roles within Emap – which is now Bauer – and work on titles such as Smash Hits and More!. I fell into it that way.
Was it a risk leaving More! to join Stylist?
On paper it was a risk, but it never felt like that. I loved the idea of creating something from scratch and being able to shape something new. It’s always hard leaving things behind, but I was keen to try something different.
What does being editor-in-chief entail?
It’s really diverse. Some of it’s creative, some of it’s more strategy based – at the moment I’m launching a podcast so I’m spending a lot of time on that. I’m lucky that I get to meet a lot of inspiring and empowered women who are on these amazing missions to think “how can we be a part of that?”
“You can be part of the problem or part of the solution”
What’s one key thing you’ve learned as editor?
When I started as a journalist, I got lost in writing to please an editor since they’re the ones who tell you if you’ve done a good job. As an editor, I’ve learned that it’s important to understand the audience because ultimately that’s who you’re writing for.
Stylist launched in 2009, when feminism was still a taboo. What was launch day like?
It was so good. I put my personal email address in the magazine so people could give me feedback. I remember being in a breakfast meeting and getting to my desk at 9.30am and having 350 unread emails from women saying how much they’d been waiting for a magazine like Stylist. It was such an affirming moment because our instinct had told us that people wanted a title that celebrated women and we were right.
Is the wider media landscape changing in terms of how it treats women?
I think it’s becoming less acceptable to be intrusive. That’s not only thinking about the responsibility of publishers, media companies and editors, but also of consumers. You have a choice. You can be part of the problem or the solution.
“you will get rejected, but there’s always a yes somewhere”
How do you remain at the forefront of the conversation surrounding feminism?
It’s about putting in the time to listen to our readers and evolve accordingly. For instance, when we started, we did some covers that showcased how being busy was a badge of honour. Looking back, that’s really archaic and having a work-life balance is more important these days.
What’s been the best moment for you as a journalist?
The Hillary and Chelsea Clinton guest edit in 2019 was such a whirlwind experience – the shoot was only confirmed two days before it happened, so we all had to rush on a flight to New York. There was a UN Conference on at the same time so every hotel was booked, we couldn’t find a studio, and we ended up in a hotel bar setting up a photoshoot. Time was precious but they took the time to talk to us about what they wanted going into the issue and they were really interesting people.
And the worst?
It wasn’t at Stylist, but I interviewed a Hollywood actor and my editor wanted me to ask a tricky question. When I did, he responded badly to it and I froze. I didn’t say anything for so long that he had to break the silence by saying “I like your jumper.” When I left, I realised that I hadn’t recorded the interview, so I had to run back to the office and write it from memory.
What advice do you have for young women wanting to get into journalism?
I’m a big believer in passion, enthusiasm and chasing what you want. You can’t wait for the world to come to you, you have to go out and get it. I went to a job interview just for the experience and I ended up getting a career on the back of it. Just know that you will get rejected, and that’s fine because there’s always a yes somewhere.