Constance White is a fashion and beauty industry veteran, from editing Essence to writing for The New York Times to working for eBay. (Photo: Constance White)
Fashion and beauty writer-consultant Constance White’s resume is as varied as it is impressive. That’s because she didn’t take the conventional route when making her choices. Read on to see how the New York-based journalist has navigated the shifting landscape of fashion and beauty media.
I grew up between England, Jamaica, and Miami, but I don’t like to talk about that. Since I was a child, I did have an early love of reading. To this day, it’s one of my favorite things to do. But it wasn’t until college — I went to schools in Miami and New York — that I thought I could parlay this into a career. I landed on journalism, but my real interest then was music. I thought I’d be a music journalist, like the ones at Rolling Stone. As I was graduating, I had my eye on a job at Billboard. I was into pop and reggae — there’s that Jamaica background.
Then I went through this funny, serendipitous situation. I applied for a job there and I also applied for a job at Women’s Wear Daily, and it was Women’s Wear that called me first. I got the job. If it hadn’t happened the way it did, I would probably still be covering late-night concerts at this point of my career. It’s one of those forks in the road that makes you wonder what would have happened if you’d taken a different turn. I’m a big believer in having a five-year plan, but then you also have to be flexible and ready for change.
At Women’s Wear, I was assigned the fur beat — there was actually a fur beat! This was the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and it was a very good time to be covering fur. Fur was extremely popular with designers but was increasingly unpopular politically. You had the rise of protests, with people going on the street and throwing paint and blood at consumers wearing fur. PETA really started pressuring designers and editors like Anna Wintour to not feature fur. It put me in the white-hot center of what was going on in fashion, but it was also important beyond fashion. It really honed my journalistic skills because there were times when we’d do a story about fur and then it would be covered by the local news station or even ABC and CNN.
At Women’s Wear, you were given a lot of responsibility. The atmosphere was survival of the fittest. You go to the deep end of the pool and you either sink or swim. I loved it. After fur, I was promoted to the designer beat. I was covering designer sportswear and it was really a great entrée into everything that was happening. You had to be schooled in any designer important to the runway or the business trends that were happening. I did interviews with Donna Karan and Carolina Herrera, and there were the up-and-coming designers then like Marc Jacobs.
Back then there was much more focus on clothes. Today, there’s so much multitasking at the fashion shows. You have to take a photo of the clothes, or Instagram the celebrity sitting there, or you’re running backstage perhaps to see what the makeup artist is doing. It’s very difficult. That makes the focus less about what’s happening on the runway— and maybe that goes along with the fact that you can go home later and catch it online. But I don’t think there are any real substitutes for being there and drinking in the moment.
One of the things that Women’s Wear really emphasized at the time was the idea of the designer being very powerful and the auteur who created everything. This was the overarching lens through everything, including beauty, which was eye-opening for me. Beauty was and still is important and integral to fashion. I would say today perhaps even more so, if you think of what fragrance has done for so many designer brands. So much of the runway is creating the allure for the woman or the man who buys into it — the world that the designer has created. But when they are at the store, they buy the fragrance for $150 versus a top for $1,500. That makes beauty an incredibly important engine for fashion, in addition to standing on its own.
I moved to Elle and then to The New York Times — this was ’94. It was truly an incredible moment to be doing fashion at The New York Times. Amy Spindler was there. She was just one of the best fashion writers ever. My beat was the column that covered fashion news. At that time, it was called “Patterns.” We had a lot of privileges, because we were free from influence; we could really put the reader first and foremost and deliver an unbiased product, however attainable or unattainable that is. One of the most memorable shows I attended for the Times was for Helmut Lang. He really set the direction for minimalism. It was a sea change in fashion and besides that, it seemed to me to be a perfect show. The way it was put together and the vision he brought forth was incredible.
I also wrote quite a bit of beauty when I was at The New York Times. Back then, if I was reviewing a show, we might talk about what the beauty look was as well. Today the two have become more delineated. When Allure came along, it was very exciting and disruptive to acknowledge beauty as its own separate beat. But online has really shown how beauty is separate. Online beauty is so powerful and it’s about women being able to own and talk about beauty.
I left The New York Times to work with Tina Brown at Talk. It was a tough decision, because the Times was my dream job, but I never imagined myself to be a lifer. She was probably one of the leading journalists at the time. She had the idea, very early on, that a publication should be on many different platforms.
After that I did Full Front Frontal Fashion and then went to eBay. As you can see, I love the idea of different platforms. I’m fascinated with the Internet. But I also love print, because I’m an avid reader and print really allows you to experience visuals in a different way than a screen does.
I actually was very, very hesitant to join eBay. I took a long time to decide. I consulted all my close friends: “Really, should I do this?” And it ended up being one of the most fantastic experiences I ever had. It was a great challenge. It wasn’t just a content site but a retailer as well.
Janelle Monáe on the May 2013 cover of Essence, edited by Constance White. (Photo: Essence)
I also worked as the editor in chief of Essence. I gave Janelle Monáe her first big cover. It was a gorgeous beauty shot.
Now, I’m working on several projects that are fashion and beauty related, and I also write for Ozy, which is a general muse site. While it really does incredible stories about politics, business, and sports, it also does fashion. I did a story on Ralph Rucci when he closed his business and I did a story on the rise of the eyebrow. Ozy is very visual, so it lends itself to fashion and beauty naturally.
I guess the takeaway from my career is that I’ve learned to not box myself in. Sure, you may be hesitant with something that’s not familiar and maybe not the way you imagined your career might go, but consider it. Consider it seriously. Things are changing super fast right now in our business of media, fashion, and beauty. You might be right on top of that change if you’re open and flexible.