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NEW YORK, United States — Currently the creative digital director of American Vogue, Sally Singer has a long history of working in magazines. She began her career at the London Review of Books and British Vogue. After moving to New York City, Singer joined American Vogue in 1999, initially as fashion news director, then as fashion features director.
In 2010, she went to T: The New York Times Style Magazine and spent two years as editor-in-chief, before returning to the Condé Nast title at which she has spent a majority of her career. Two years later, Singer was appointed as American Vogue’s digital creative director and is tasked with harnessing the full potential of Vogue.com, having overseen the launch of Voguerunway.com.
BoF: What attracted you to work in fashion media?
SS: I was always interested in fashion. I was certainly obsessed with it as a child, but I never thought I was going to work at a fashion magazine. In fact, it never occurred to me that I could work in fashion professionally. When I was young, I sewed my own clothes and based my ideas on what I saw in Vogue magazine, making my own personal interpretation of brands like Calvin Klein.
I learned a lot from my mother, who always emphasised that every garment had to be as good on the inside as on the outside. I learned about technical terms like dirndl skirt and gore. The thing is you don’t really know what something is — or appreciate what a good one is — until you’ve tried to make it yourself.
I was also a huge club kid. That was a very important part of my life, to be able to go out and hear music, to go to clubs and create personas at night. I do think that a lot of people who are successful in fashion come out of that inventive world of nightlife. Everything magical happens after nine at night.
BoF: How did you develop your early career in fashion publishing? And how did those experiences lead to Vogue?
SS: When I lived in San Francisco, I worked for a woman who was an antique dealer and had a store called “La Vie Du Soleil” and I was a salesperson there. During that year I also worked at a very over the top Jewish delicatessen. Those were my first jobs after college.
Then I went to graduate school. When I left, my first job was at a travel magazine start-up called “Travel Holiday,” which was later bought by the Reader’s Digest Association. [The title was later sold to Hachette Filipacchi Media US and ultimately closed in 2003].
I learned a huge amount about publishing when the magazine’s relaunch took place. I learned about how covers were picked, which fonts to use, the way you do a listicle, how to approach an infographic, how to edit — there was so much talent in such a strange little magazine. But the reality is that I was a waitress for most nights in New York. I actually earned money as a waitress for years.
I later got a job and worked at a literary magazine called the London Review of Books. By this point I really wanted a job at Condé Nast and was very fortunate to be hired by Alexandra Schulman at British Vogue, who had the imagination to think that someone like me could work on her magazine. She also had the courage to let me do a lot of style pieces, even though I had been hired as a commissioning editor for features.
BoF: After 11 years at Vogue in an editorial leadership role, why did you transition to digital? What opportunity did you see?
SS: I left Vogue around 2010 and joined The New York Times, where I became editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. That was a huge project in itself and it was also the first time I worked on digital content, where I had to think about what works in digital and what works in print. Later on, when I returned to American Vogue, Anna [Wintour] said to me: “The website is what you should do next. You should work on something purely digital.”
At that time, I realised Vogue.com was a beautiful and faithful representation of the print magazine, but it was a terrible website in terms of UX, UI and any sort of digital capabilities. So I set out to work on it. It also led to the birth of our Instagram account and today we’re almost at 65 million followers across all our accounts, including Vogue Runway and Vogue Beauty. There are stories that are great in print, others are better suited online, and then there are some ideas that can run across all of Vogue. It’s a lot of content, and a lot of negotiation.
I don’t have any social media accounts myself. A lot of people think that if they have a big following on Twitter or Instagram, then they’re digital and that defines them — it’s as if being your own brand is the point of being online. That’s not true for me. I may work in digital, but my life is offline. It allows me to work more clinically. My role is focused on growing Vogue’s presence digitally and creating a [digital] foundation for the brand as it moves forward.