GirlBoss Series: Camille Charriere and Monica Ainley

EVENT DIARY

GirlBoss Series: Camille Charriere and Monica Ainley

Women in fashion that aren't afraid to use their voice.
london-fashion-week-street-style-monica-ainley-camille-charriere
Image: Twentyish Brunette

Last week, I wrote an article crying out for the ‘truths’ that our idols, influencers and favourite personalities claim to represent, especially in fashion.

A few days later, in an audience with Camille Charriere and Monica Ainley, I’m surprised my head didn’t fall off my shoulders having nodded so much in agreement with their opinionated yet informed answers on tough fashion issues. I also threw it back (still speaking about my head) so much in laughter, mixed with the bottomless Cointreau cocktails, I probably would have lost all recollection of the event had I not hit record as soon as I sat on my chair.

After reading these long and detailed event notes, I’m sure you’ll be joining me in the uber long que for the ‘Fashion – No Filter’ podcast hosted by Camille and Monica. It has no definitive release date, but we’re told it’s coming in mere weeks. Something to look forward to other than Christmas.

THE BEGINNING

Where did it all start for both of you?

CC: I moved to London to be with a boy, who is now an ex. And decided to switch from a career in finance to fashion and ended up working for Net-a-Porter. I’ve since left to work on my blog full-time.

MA: Out of journalism school, I was hired by Avenue 32, which had just launched and I became  the fashion features person there. Then, I was hired by Joseph and helped launch their social media. And like Camille, I worked at Net-a-Porter, at a different time to her but we had been friends before then.

CC: …through the ex! He was very useful.

MA: We have a lot to thank him for. But anyway, I went freelance about a year ago now and it’s been the best decision of my life. And now we’re working together.

WORK SCHEDULES

How does it all get done?

CC: I work a lot and I don’t stop. It’s difficult for people to imagine, but I think only the people that are around me most often realise how much I juggle. You have to be very self-motivated, nobody is there to get me up in the morning or to push me in certain directions. But, I do tend to call my job ‘fun-employed’  because I get to do a lot of things that are really fun that most people won’t consider traditional work. I mean, that’s the fun part but theres a lot of work behind the scenes, which is a lot more than people can imagine.

You’re essentially building a brand about yourself, so you’re constantly having to put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable and risk oriented. People tell me that I’ve had a lot of luck in life and I think there’s an element of truth in that but I also think that I’ve been willing to take more risks that other people.

And when I’ve not found myself happy in situations that I was doing well and comfortable within, I’ve been willing to leave that behind and pursue something that’s more interesting for me. In the few situations in which I’ve found myself unhappy, I vowed ‘never again’. There’s no point me having this as a job when I’m doing things I really dislike.

Does that scare you?

CC: Leaving a career, in law and finance was very hard, because my family didn’t think it was a very good idea. Then going from fashion to blogging, which within the industry is not regarded as the best thing you can do. For a long time blogging was considered the pit.

You have to have some balls to put everything out there. I get up early everyday, work weekends and my life overspills into my job. You’re never not working and you’re never completely working.

PASSION

What keeps you going?

MA: We thrive slightly on the challenges of risk taking and the results are often very rewarding. It’s not that I think that I have bigger and better ideas to anyone that writes pieces and tries to get them published. But there’s something I really cherish about having an open dialogue with the world.

Social media plays into that. I’m always very excited by grammar, sentence structure, the complete mode of communication and how, as a writer, you can choose what your mode of communication is. In fashion, I like the idea of opening up a dialogue.

I was very involved in the digitalisation of Joseph, which operates in a very traditional way. Translating a brand with such a strong identity into editorial content on a website and creating a social image was a big call – they’re very careful with the brand. It was a challenge thinking about how to protect that, yet make it open to the masses whilst maintaining the quiet identity of the label.

If you want to leave a great company, we both left Net-a-Porter, you have to have a certain fire inside of you. It’s about breaking free and achieving your own goal. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious but channelling it in the appropriate way is rewarding and propels you forward.

CC: What I find the most rewarding is when I’m invited to a dinner, or to a show – they’re inviting me for me and not the company I represent. It’s one of the most rewarding things about the job that people like you for you, not just because you’re a contact at a magazine or a brand.

MA: The flip side of that is when you go out every early on in your journey and you’re like “It’s just me”. Something about that requires a lot of strength.

CC: It takes a long time, which comes with being patient and continually working. Keep going.

SOCIAL MEDIA

…and fashion

MA: Instagram has democratised fashion. Everybody can be part of the fashion conversation .

CC: Everyone has an opinion, can comment, take a picture, filter it, caption it and play a part in it. Fashion has always been the industry about storytelling. Obviously, clothing is the biggest selling point but the magazines, the photographers and the stylist were tasked with creating a story around it. So Instagram, allowed people to start telling their own stories around the brand.

People didn’t expect Instagram to take over in such a big way and fashion is the industry that kick started it very early to promote brands and make everything available to everybody. Editors who were invited to the shows were the first to start posting about industry events which were so secretive before. I will also push further and say it was the influencers that were using Instagram in a different way and have changed the way we consume fashion.

Instead of tagging their friends, which is what Facebook was like, they (influencers) tagged the brands they were wearing. They were creating mini stories around whatever they were doing – it’s marketing, oversharing and building a reputation which revolved around their lifestyle.

MA: It’s important to remember that 20 years ago, if you had exquisite taste and were sitting in the countryside somewhere – you had no chance of being discovered. There are few Editor jobs at Vogue, 3 stylist jobs, 5 writers jobs and good luck! The first hurdle would first be getting to London.

But now, you can get the biggest eyes in the industry to look at you if your Instagram feed is good enough. There’s an incredible girl called Lauren that started a moodboard style Instagram called @C_L_O, she’s 23, a student and completely unassuming. She’s been hired by fashion brands to do consulting completely based on her Instagram.

CC: The thing is, with Tumblr, we’re used to seeing the same thing over and over again. On our Instagram feed we’re used to that same repetition, things get re-grammed quite a lot. So it’s always the ones that have that unique eye and completely fresh perspective that get noticed. There’s this turrets like screen-grab syndrome when you can’t help yourself and are like ‘woah woah woah’.

BLOGGING

Top tips for getting started

CC: I feel that I started in the second generation of bloggers, definitely not the first. I’ve been doing it for 5 years – one Christmas I stumbled across one blog, was like “Ah, thats cool” and within 5 minutesI had a name, URL and started.

It was very difficult for me and I was a bit ashamed of it. I knew I wanted to do it but I was ashamed at how cringe it was. It was a mental battle that I still have up to now. I get quite weird about posting myself because I know what people can perceive it as. But at the same time, it’s a very powerful tool and like Monica said, it’s opens up a dialogue.

I started in this industry super late and blogging got me in through the backdoor. But in terms of what you should do to be successful, its simple – find your own voice. So many feeds on Instagram look the same, there are a few settings that it seems everyone is using. People see a formula that works and try to replicate it, but ultimately that won’t get you the respect or a bigger audience.

If I find myself looking at my feed and feeling bored – that’s a problem. I changed my feed from being very typical and ‘bloggery’, which in terms of generating traffic, works very well. But I changed my feed to something that I knew I would enjoy a lot more, like putting in art and making my captions more true to how I would say it. I injected my real personality in there as much as possible, which initially caused a drop in engagement.

Having a blog is where you express who you are to your audience, not you creating what you think they want to see from you. A bloggers job is to go out in the world, see things through their own eyes and report that back to their audience.

FASHION NO FILTER PODCAST

What is this all about?

CC: Because Instagram has opened so many people’s eyes, we have a lot more questions but fashion is still hiding away from the answering them. We like to think of ourselves as the inspectors of fashion, digging up the things that people don’t really want to speak about.

In terms of the question about bloggers and making money, I have never been ashamed to say which brands I’m working with. Transparency is the key. It’s like an actor you know, they work on blockbusters so that they can finance the indie stuff that they actually care about. It’s the same doing what I do.

I’m the opposite to a model, who is a chameleon and has to become the brand. Whereas when I work with a brand, I’m rather bringing them into my world.

MA: There’s something really special about the episode of our podcast where we speak about how bloggers make money because nobody ever speaks about figures publicly.

GIRLBOSS

What does being a GIRLBOSS mean to you?

MA: Working hard and being a nice person. It’s also about leadership, waking up and knowing where you need to go with your day – not just Soho House, but knowing where you need to go in terms of your long term goals and short term goals. There’s nobody else that’s going to make you do it, so you have to be motivated and want it so badly.

But also, it has be rewarding because it’s what you do for yourself. It’s knowing that there will be some money jobs and other smaller things that you’ll do because you love it so much.

CC: There’s an element of girls being bitchy and mean to each other. In particular, the fashion desks have a very bad reputation for being not so nice. And girls in particular have a thing for criticising other women, everything from how they look, to how they dress, gaining weight, how they act. But being a GirlBoss promotes teaming up and not being afraid to share tips and contacts. I’ve always been really open with all my friends and we support each other as a whole. Men are much better at doing that.

MA: Working hard and being nice to people are not mutually exclusive to each other. A lot of people start their careers and are like “I’m a really hard worker, I’m motivated and nice isn’t really part of my repertoire.

CC: I have people in my entourage who, professionally, are sharks and you can’t criticise their careers. Yet the way they alienate people around them and go out of their way to make me, and others around me, feel bad – purely out of competitiveness and insecurity makes me want to spend no time with them.

It has taken me a long time and I’ve grown to realise this but I’m cutting off people who are so toxic, who instead of supporting you pull you down. The backhanded compliments like “Ah you’re doing so well for someone like you”, you’re like what is that supposed to mean – go away!

When you do something you love and look back on your achievements. You’ll be so proud of yourself that you won’t need validation from anyone. When people are great, they’re better together. When you put people in a room, that have different backgrounds and perspectives they create electricity. In fashion the houses that are doing the best, are the ones that are more open minded in general.

ROLE MODELS

Who inspires you?

MA: I’m obsessed with Michelle Obama. Whenever Michelle Obama opens her mouth and starts to speak, she is the most wonderful engager of people. She goes so far above and beyond what her job role is. She’s pretty much the best GIRLBOSS on the scene. I’m going to miss her.

CC: I look at the women around me and that’s who I look up to. Obviously I can name designers, like Stella. It’s weird that I admire someone who’s come from so much. I’ve read about so many people who’ve grown up super wealthy and they never do anything. Yet, she’s come from everything and pushed herself into a respected position. She stands for so much and it’s important to have people in fashion that stand for sustainable issues and fashion that’s kind to the planet.

My job is to promote clothes but I don’t want to promote a disposable mindset. I don’t believe in that at all, I believe in treasuring what we have. There is nothing more precious than our planet. Human beings want to enjoy the short time we have on the planet, so I doubt I could convince anyone to wear the same clothes all the time. Human beings love to express themselves, they’re artists and clothes are a part of that.

At the same time, we’ve gone so far down the line of fast fashion that people don’t understand that there’s something very wrong with buying a top for £10. You can’t make clothes for that price without squeezing the human side, the planet side. A lot of people have been criticising me on how much high end I wear, but the reason why I’ve done that is because I can’t spend my money in Zara – it’s very hard for me.

Maybe it’s the mentality of spending more money on something,that forces me to look after it more.  That is what the French women do. It’s the only country in Europe in which high street stores are a bit more expensive than everywhere else, because French women are convinced that if you spend more money on something it’s better quality.

FASHION AND STYLE

How has Paris influenced your sense of style?

CC: When I’m in France they say I’m very English and when I’m in England they say I’m very French, so I’m a bit of nothing. Although French women are incredibly stylish, they aren’t open to the world. The magazines have picked up on a few well-dressed French women like Jeanne Damas and Caroline Di Maigret and they never really showcase what style is for everyone else. They’ve picked all the cliche’s and ignored the real French women, whilst focusing on the ones that are perpetuating the old French ways.

VA: It’s a weird mirroring of what the world expects a French woman to be.

CC: And some of the cliche’s are true – in France, there is a uniform. My theory is, because there are no uniforms at school, which is crucial during the teenage years because teenagers don’t want to stand out, they all want to look exactly the same. So French people have created a type of social uniform.

I suffocated in France. If I wore a skirt that was considered too short in France, people would criticise me in the street. In England, that would never happen. In terms of French peoples tolerance to each other a lot has to be done.

MOVING FORWARD

How has your blog changed?

CC: It’s becoming less and less about fashion. I’ve noticed that people want to know as much as possible, so you start sharing what you’re eating, where you’re staying, holidays. At first the blog was my hobby but the second it became a full time job I obviously needed it to be a bit more. I love fashion but it’s not fulfilling enough, in my eyes. There are way more things around me that I’m potentially more interested in, like music, travel and art.

Fashion is something you do along the way. I think you can’t just be known for having great style, you have to have more to you. I will say to people that are obsessed with their instal-image, life is not just about the way you look, it’s about your whole self.

The greatest thing about fashion that most people don’t know, is that when you sit in a room with designers, the really good ones, you won’t speak about fashion at all! The bad fashion dinners are the ones where people only speak about what they saw on the runway.

MA: The people that follow you want to follow you because they like you. Don’t emulate someone else’s style because you will be found you – eventually you won’t be able to keep up.

CC: I’m not an IT-girl or a celebrity, so I have a fear of disappearing. If I stop then it stops, which is quite stressful. But I also feel the need to self reflect and make sure I’m enjoying it too.

AUDIENCE Q&A

What is a creative consultant?

CC: It’s being asked by a brand to come up with concepts and ideas behind the scenes. It can be anything from social media strategy, how to build followings, creating content, editorial ideas.

MA: A lot of designers may hire a person that really suits their brand to advise them on things like social aesthetics. It can be for the brand instagram or even the website. It can be editing a collection and selecting what you like or don’t so much like.

CC: It’s being an ideas machine and knowing what you like and what you really don’t like. It’s bringing in your ideas and how you see fashion, adding value to something and speaking to someone who also has a point of view.

What are your thoughts about the Vogue Editors criticism on bloggers?

MA: I think that article was pushed through and filed at the end of fashion month, probably without Anna (Wintour) seeng it.

CC: That doesn’t excuse them.

MA: I’m not defending them.

CC: I think it stemmed from the Dolce and Gabbana show, when a very famous instagrammer was invited, he tweeted about it and his 14-year old fans ran to all the Editors asking if they’d seen him. But where they went really wrong was going for the bloggers. Manufactured content, paid to post images and people going to shows and changing 10 times a day may be killing authentic style – that is a story to write about. But to define that by saying that bloggers are the problem is completely wrong.

Bloggers are such a small part of the problem, especially as most of them don’t even get invited to shows. Instead of making the topic a far reaching thing, the fingers were pointed at the bloggers who are bothering the Editors because they’re steering money away from magazines.

Budgets are having to be cut as the situation with print is getting worse, yet bloggers seem to be getting bigger budgets. That is probably what is causing the issues from the editors perspective. I understand why it’s frustrating for the Editors but that shouldn’t have been the way to address it.

MA: The biggest irony is criticising people for dressing over the top is – “What industry do you think you work in? The military??”

Also, Anna Wintour is credited for putting celebrities on the front cover of Vogue in the 90’s, making US Vogue such a financial entity.

PEPPER YOUR TALK QUESTION

Having worked in the industry for a number of years, What would you say are your pain points?

CC: All the big decisions are being made by men in suits at the top. Even the Creative Directors are being sucked dry and don’t have a say in what is going on. But at the same time, it’s also just business and we need to not be so in our feelings – it’s what makes the world go round.

It’s very interesting to enter the business, thinking it’s going to be very creative but then you see what is really happening behind closed doors.

MA: I don’t like the cattiness. If you don’t like something, there is enough out there that you can go and look somewhere else. Keep scrolling – I hate that there are people like that.

CC: Fashion is difficult! People are very bitchy and think they are more important than they are. There are so many people gravitating towards the industry pretending like they’re working but they’re not! The ones that are actually working, shut up, stay behind the scenes and work.

It’s a tough industry in which you have to be around for a long time, pay your dues and people will respect you. That’s not a bad thing but it’s tough.

MA: That’s a good point. I think neither of us would trade our building block years of working for big companies, in which are kind of a cog. But, in saying that it’s still really valuable.

CC: …it’s only by being on the inside that you’ll truly know how it works!

MA: Totally, totally!

CC: And now, one of the hardest things about being your own boss is not having anyone to critique your work. To tell you if you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing – either a mentor or a manager. You’re on your own when you work for yourself.

And now that Monica and I have started working together, I feel so much happier. Working all by yourself for a long time can become so draining. That’s why people work as teams so the problem with blogging is that you’re asked to be a one-man-team and I think that’s impossible.

Book tickets for the next ones here: https://hoxtown.com/events/girlboss-series

Special thanks to @aimee_gaudi at @Thehoxtonhotel. Follow @camillecharriere and @monicaainley

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