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Ellie in Paris: Life at British Vogue

There is no other way to say this. Ellie Pithers is living the dream. She tunes in via Zoom and admits that she hasn’t done one of these calls in a long time, let alone a full interview. Ellie is used to being on the opposite side, the one asking questions. There was a lot at stake.

Naturally, I quickly checked her Instagram the night before our call. He knew that she had read English at Cambridge and was a contributing editor to British Vogue. However, nothing could have prepared me for the precise moment when I realized that all the movies I had seen about fashion were true. Sleek pixie cut? Yes. Celine bag (note the missing accent on the e)? Also yes: Ellie has embraced the Slimane era. Has she moved to Paris? Yes!

It’s like the hit Netflix series Emily in Paris It is based on your life. A few nervous laughs betray an inner shyness when I make the comparison, admitting that he couldn’t get through the first ten minutes of the show. “Let’s just say you won’t be catching me in a lime green tweed blazer anytime soon.”

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This is not to say that it is a cliché of the industry that he has been a part of since he was sixteen years old. British Vogue’s revival, under editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, came to fruition with Ellie hard at work behind the scenes. She explains that Vogue’s coveted September 2019 issue, edited by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was a project run by Enninful with her support. “I contacted her team weekly for eight months. It was top secret and there were a lot of code words.” Ellie struck up an unlikely friendship with the late master photographer, Peter Lindbergh, on one of her last projects before his death. “Every time she got a text from Peter, she would take it twice. It was a privilege to work with an industry legend.”

The recurring theme in the fifteen cover stories was ‘Forces for Change’, a passable sound bite that risked bordering on performative activism. However, the issue was published the fall before George Floyd was tragically killed, before protests swept across the United States and Europe, when the statue of Edward Colston still stood tall in Bristol. The day had not yet come for Britain to reckon with his troubled history of racism. “Activism is an overused word,” explains Ellie, “but at the time, it wasn’t something everyone was talking about.”

With acts of performative activism flooding our social networks, consumers have become adept at discerning when brands do more than meet mandatory CSR quotas. The success of the issue reflected the magazine’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. It was received with fanfare far beyond Vogue’s usual jurisdiction and reportedly sold out within weeks. Ellie notes that the response was “a testament to the power Vogue still has in today’s media landscape.”

“Activism is an overused word, but at the time it wasn’t something everyone was talking about.”

Soon after, the world descended into the unknown. The industries of influence built on the luxury and privilege that were once attained began to decline. While celebrity renditions of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ did not bode well for audiences, the fashion response was mixed. When the outside world is peppered with lockdowns and clouded with uncertainty, what version of society should the industry show?

Ellie looks back at a cover story highlighting essential workers in Britain and says that was the issue she was most proud of. “The reaction was incredible. Friends of mine who had never bought Vogue before were eager to buy it. The issue felt like a really important acknowledgment of what all those people had done during the pandemic.” As the magazine’s digital director during this period, Ellie continued to post a series of first-person interviews with doctors online, explaining the situation in hospitals. “It was some of the most trafficked pieces on the website, and people really engaged with it.” Gone are the days when fashion magazines stayed neatly within the realm of trend forecasting and fashion show reviews. Ellie’s work at British Vogue is proof of that.

danika cupcake

Before her jobs at The Telegraph and Vogue, Ellie was hired by a publication much closer to Cambridge: The Tab. “I met these guys the year before who installed it and saw a gap in the market for something that felt younger and fresher.” She was sought out at Spoons and joined them at the dawn of Internet journalism. “It was pretty frowned upon outside of Cambridge. When I brought it up for my interview in The Telegraph, I got funny looks.”

Throughout her career, Ellie cites different figures who were there at the right time to guide her. Interestingly, she describes each job as a certain form of ‘education’. In The Telegraph, she recalls learning to type very quickly under the guidance of Lisa Armstrong. At British Vogue, she credits Enninful for teaching her about images, Sarah Harris for showing her the tricks of luxury, and former editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman for nurturing her writing.

“Seeing someone revitalize a magazine doesn’t happen very often and it was very interesting to be there”

I really want to ask you about Shulman’s departure from Vogue and the media frenzy that followed. He responds cautiously not because he has something libelous to say but because he has deep respect for both editors. “I think the media really enjoyed telling an Old Vogue vs. New Vogue story.” She praises Shulman as a “seasoned journalist [who] would sit down and edit my copy with me.” Enninful, on the other hand, is more “visual”. Given his experience as fashion director for iD and W Magazine, this is hardly surprising. “Seeing someone revitalize a magazine doesn’t happen very often and it was very interesting to be there.”

It was late October of last year when we spoke and Murray Edwards (or New Hall, as Ellie remembers it) was in the news. Last Michaelmas, the university’s plans to host family planning seminars were met with fervent criticism. Ellie chimes in, lending her support to talks about fertility in the context of sex education, although she admits it was “funny to have a conversation at an all-girls college, since the onus is on women alone when fertility affects men too.” ”

The attachment he has to his alma mater comes to the fore when we talk about his time at Cambridge. She remembers collecting Fitzbillies Chelsea Buns for the Lacrosse team, having coffee at Benet’s on King’s Parade, attending her first May dance. “I felt very lucky to be there, so naturally I put pressure on myself to optimize my time. I was so worried about meeting a deadline, scoring a goal in lax, writing a good article for the Tab.” She has learned, ten years later, to remain open to chance opportunities. Perhaps this was what motivated her passage through the Channel with her boyfriend. “It was something we always talked about, so we decided to take the plunge.” This is life.

I write this, months later, having picked up an old copy of Vogue. I prepare my bath, pour myself a glass of pineapple juice and start reading. On page 165, I come across an article about increasing reselling. Eloquently written, well analyzed and with a touch of British wit. I look at the title and notice a familiar name. At the center of the glossy pages of Vogue, Britain’s leading fashion magazine, was Ellie’s name printed in bold. When, at the beginning of our conversation, she mentioned Suzy Menkes, Vanessa Friedman, Kate Phelan as fashion figures she admired, I wonder if she realized that her name has now joined her ranks.

Now do you believe me when I say she’s living the dream?

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