Scroll To Top

Move Over, Tim Gunn

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 Prada 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 protoges 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 runway?

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.

Which brings me to my next question. How much is Anne Slowey really like this? I think definitely there is a heightened element of Anne. But Anne's hysterical and definitely eccentric. But at the same time there's also a satire part of Anne in that. I think her character is a little bit more of a cross between heightened reality and true reality.

I mean, do they come in and say "We really want Devil Wears Prada"? They have certainly been marketing her like that. I think the reality is that no one said to her, "You have to be Devil Wears Prada." Because number 1, she's never even seen the movie.

Does she not see movies? She doesn't. I don't think she sees blockbusters. The flip side is that people are using that as a marketing point of comparison. Fashion remains sort of mysterious and untouchable for so long. I would have to say Prada and Ugly Betty are the only real insight into what our industry is.

I think everyone expects it now. It's sort of this bitch-goddess mentality. Yeah, but you've worked with celebrities. You know. It's about entertaining. It's about television. It's fun to watch.

Why do you think there's this obsession with fashion and fashion publishing, specifically with Prada, Ugly Betty, The Rachel Zoe Project, Top Model, and Runway? I think because it's been elusive for so long. Literally I used to explain to people what I did for a living. They were fascinated by it. They really thought my days were involved flying to a fashion show, going to a photo shoot with Madonna, then having dinner with Gwyneth Paltrow. That hardly ever happens. I think this sort of is blowing the door open and giving people the opportunity to come into something that they would have no access to in the past. And be fascinated by it. I think that's why it's fascinating. Here's the chance. It's happening. You know, pull the curtain apart. And people are like, "Is that how it's done?" And I think people like that.

It seems to me, going by the show, you're the mentor. Anne's the tough one, you got to impress Anne. But Joe's maybe going to help you. Oh, really...

I don't know if they're trying to package you as the Tim Gunn or what. Do you come in and say 'Do this, do this' and help them? That kind of only happens initially. But they want us to have minimum contact with these contestants. Just so that their work can be organic. I thought they should be mentored through the process. Because even as assistants and editors in the magazine day to day, you want to help them be a bigger and better employee every day. So I'm actually very fascinated that you said that, because I think that should happen. I think they should be mentored a little bit.

Are these really the kind of tasks Elle interns would have? No, it's way more intense. I have to say there were times Anne and I were saying, "Wow. I don't think even an assistant or a junior editor would have to do this much." So I think it's actually a really good training ground for them.

This show is really all about what happens when you aren't there. When these girls and guys are fighting it out and having panic attacks and it's very dramatic, did you know what was going on in their personal lives? No, absolutely not. We came in there and we judged their work. At least I did. I mean, Anne had a little more to do, but I just judged their work. I mean, any of the outside part, I had no idea. Occasionally they would bring it up in the conference room, which was edited for content. You know, they would accuse someone of something, like "You didn't get your work done at night" or whatever. Those little parts, if they would actually bring them up, then I would be aware of [those things]. Other than that, no, we had no idea what was going on back home. So when I watched the rough episode for the first time I was like, "Oh, my God." Fashion folks are very alpha personalities, and you put them all in one place, something is going to explode.

There are obviously gay contestants on the show, and they're young, and it might actually help gay kids see that it's OK to go and want to do this. In this industry, that doesn't play into it. It's just about embracing yourself on all levels. You saw the first episode...yeah, there's a gay kid, but there's also a heavier girl. It's just about embracing yourself. That any level of confidence can take you there. And this is an industry where that is all celebrated on all levels.

Well, and all those kids thought that poor heavier girl was going to get knocked out, and she keeps getting complimented because she's got good style. And she's confident and she really tries. That says a lot about someone.

There is this moment where they line up all the interns, and you basically critique their outfits. Is this what you would do normally? I guarantee you I do not line up the staff in front of my office. I think it was a way to illustrate what it's about. First off, what you look [like] says a lot about you. And not that how you dress is a good reflection of whether you do a good job or not, but -- I sound superficial [with this] being said out loud -- but this is your industry. You have to have some sense of understanding what fashion is in this industry. How you look and appear and present yourself is going to be the biggest calling card of that. It's not the superficial level of "Oh, do you get it, are you wearing the right shoes?" But [instead] "Do you understand fashion?" I wouldn't hire an accountant and go out to dinner with him and have him not know how to split the check.

Stylista premieres tonight on the CW at 9/8 Central.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Corey Scholibo