Move Over, Tim Gunn

CW's fashion reality series Stylista is the perfect replacement for those obsessed with Project RunwayElle magazine's creative director, Joe Zee -- who acts as mentor as contestants fight and claw their way toward an internship at the magazine -- takes us behind the scenes



In the new CW
reality show Stylista, young men and
women compete for an internship at Elle
magazine. But to get there they must win the
favor of Elle fashion director Anne Slowey, who you
would think had seen the film The Devil Wears
one too many times.

In their first
challenge they are asked to prepare a breakfast they think
she might like, only to be met with criticism, like
“I only eat almonds if they have been soaked
overnight” and “I only drink my coffee iced
and through a straw.” But if she is playing the
part of Meryl Streep, then Elle’s creative
director, Joe Zee, is Stanley Tucci. Benevolent but
stern, Zee gives helpful criticism to guide the
protogés on their way and counteracts the more dour
Slowey. Interns must style looks, lay out magazine
pages, and find hot spots to write about. But the real
drama happens when they get home to their shared apartment.

Zee takes us
behind the scenes and shares his experience of making the
latest fashion reality show. people who don’t know how magazines work, what
is your job as creative director?
Joe Zee: Well, Anne's in charge of all the work
and finding the stories and breaking the fashion stories and
really profiling people and really covering people for
the magazine. I’m in charge of everything you
see. So, really, all the visuals: everything from the
cover subject, how that cover’s presented, what
she’s wearing, the photography, the art
direction. Also the point of view of fashion: Who is
this Elle girl? How are we going to represent
her by using the fashion available and the fashion on the

How did you end up at Elle? I had known Roberta Myers, the editor in
chief here, for a while. She was actually one of
the people I had interviewed with for a job back at
Seventeen when she was the managing editor and
I was a kid at school. We’ve always stayed in touch.
I just love what this brand is about and what it could be.
For me, it’s this huge sleeping giant that
could just be opened up a bit. We’ve been
really working on that in the past two years. 

I know the cover looks so different. Yeah, we redesigned the cover last September.
This September issue marked the one-year anniversary
of our redesign. It’s been fantastic, you know,
knock on wood. It’s a bad economy and bad for
publishing. But for us, we’ve been doing really
well this year. Our newsstand [sales are] up;
we’ve had three or four issues that beat
Vogue, which is absolutely amazing. 

And now you’re on a TV show. How did that happen? I give them a lot of credit here. Elle
knew from the beginning how to champion a brand. They
knew that way back when -- magazines can’t
exist as magazines alone. In order for the brand to
reach more people you have to do it in different ways. And
they understood the power of different mediums,
whether it be TV or Internet. So they were the first
people to take a risk and a chance on something called
Project Runway. And that idea for Runway
was shopped around every magazine, and people
wouldn’t touch it with a six-foot pole. It was
reality, it was cheesy. And fashion as an industry
sits in a bubble. They think it’s not
chic. And these guys sat back and said "That’s not
true. We can make it chic." Carol Smith, the
publisher, and Robert really sat down and said
"Let’s just do it." And they took a chance. And
Stylista is another risk that they are taking
again. The wheels for that show were already in semi-motion
before [I came on]. And when I got here Robbie said,
"Will you come with me to a meeting with the producers
about the show?"

Were you excited? Or reluctant? I don’t know if I was excited or
reluctant. I’m a huge pop culture junkie. I
grew up on television, and I watch close to 60 hours of TV a
week anyway, so I was excited about the process. When I was
doing it I was so fascinated with every aspect of the
show. I was more interested in what was going on
behind the scenes as well as in front. 

I’ve seen two episodes, and you come off really
reserved, highbrow, and smart, not bitchy.
Well, that’s good. I think when I went
into doing this, I had a good friend of mine who gave
me advice and said, "Whatever you do, just always be
yourself. Don’t be someone you’re not." And
she said that to me over and over again. And
it’s true. I watch all these other shows and
wonder if that's really them, or are they playing a
character? In a way, people play up to the cameras.
All I was called upon was for my expertise. So I
have no reason to be other than myself.

Tags: television