Former democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on the cover of Out, September 2019
Hillary Clinton on the cover of Teen Vogue, November 2017, a year after her loss to Donald Trump.
Teen Vogue Under Picardi, May 2017.
Teen Vogue's first digital cover, May 2018
This interview is in two parts. The first includes a conversation from January, where the biggest problem on both of our minds was the 2020 election. The second half of the interview was conducted in May, when any previous priorities had been subordinated to the pandemic, and everything known quickly became an unknown. Rabble Rouser made the decision to include both parts.
Picardi, 29, is the former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue and Out Magazine. He also founded Them, Condè Nast’s first LGBTQ+ focused publication. At Teen Vogue he increased readership from 2 million to 12 million over the span of three years (2015-2018) turning its focus from teen dating advice and DIY face mask recipes to how to be engaged in politics and social activism.
When we have our first conversation in January, I am investigating who, in fashion circles, is supporting who for president, and I come across Picardi’s name. The discussion revolves around fashion media’s responsibility, or lack thereof, when it comes to endorsing candidates and speaking out politically. To the both of us, and to many, the 2020 election and the race for the democratic nomination was one of the biggest concerns in America.
ON BEING POLITICALLY ACTIVE:
“As we've heard since the '60s, "the personal is political." It is important for all of us to raise our voices about political matters because so much of what can be considered "a matter of politics" for a specific class of person—say, educated, cis, heterosexual, white folks—is a matter of equality for others. I raise my voice not just to be in service of the broader queer community, but also for anyone whose rights are being trampled on in a society which is growing increasingly unjust by the day.
I chose to endorse Elizabeth Warren for President for so many reasons—her antitrust policies which I believe will break up the tech giants like Facebook and Google; her wealth tax which will address income inequality by way of investing in public education, childcare, and student loan forgiveness; her climate change plan, which is the only among the current candidates to include ocean and marine wildlife conservation efforts. I felt it was a good use of my platform to get more people involved in the primary and to be able to talk to people about what's motivating me at the polls.”
ON PRESSURE IN FASHION CIRCLES TO THINK OR TO VOTE A CERTAIN WAY:
"I think the pressure fashion exerts is to be apolitical. Fashion likes to say that they champion causes (climate change, women's rights, LGBTQ+ equality), but they often do so in ways that lack substance (casting someone in a campaign or putting a slogan on a t-shirt is not the same as activism), depth (partnering with a non-profit beyond slapping their logo on a 'brand collaboration'), or long-term commitments (does this brand make a stand on this same issue time and time again, or did they do it once during one specific fashion show and abandoned it the following season?).
Fashion is wary of genuine critics, of people who push for inclusion beyond the tall and thin, and of people who speak their mind. I've always found fashion likes to keep things "optimistic," and thus, avoids politics for fear of alienating a "broader" consumer base. In this age of capitalism, why stand for something and risk conflict when you could just stand for nothing and collect a profit?”
ON PUBLICATIONS PUBLICLY ENDORSING CANDIDATES:
“I don't think it's necessary for publications to endorse, but they certainly can if they so feel compelled. An endorsement from a publication is really just the editorial team saying this is who they (or their majority) agrees is the best candidate, and why—it's not meant to be an edict on their readers to follow suit. For publications that cover politics or claim to be a champion of certain causes, I think it can make a lot of sense to enter the fray.”
ON WHAT WE’RE BEING TOO SILENT ABOUT:
"There's been precious little talk of the myriad ways in which Trump has rolled back protections of our land and our waters, and how many formerly preserved and Native lands are now open for drilling and private development. With climate change looking more and more deadly by the day, this is one of the cruelest evils and atrocities this President has committed."
The last time we talked I was asking about the fashion media’s role in the 2020 election and the endorsement of candidates - thinking this was the biggest obstacle on the horizon. Obviously, things have changed dramatically now.
Q: How can fashion media recover from this when the future looks quite bleak? The uncertainty about how fashion weeks will progress, the folding of department stores, how do you think they can adapt to the changing landscape?
A: “I think the press will have a hugely important role to play in educating consumers about the evolving state of the industry and consumerism more broadly. I remember during The Great Recession [2007-2009] when there was a lot of journalism about “value dressing,” “investment pieces,” and “re-wearing.” . Shoppers seemed to rejoice. Those figures set a good example of acknowledging how fashion has to adapt to suit the times.”
“We got away from that in recent years as consumerism was on an uptick—this was always fascinating to behold, because this trend came at a time when social consciousness seemed to be on the rise. Somehow, “self-care” was conflated with “shopping” and that led to brand names, logos, and borrowed outfits once again stealing the show. Now that budgets will be tightened and optics will be an issue, I wonder if we’ll return to something similar to a 2009 state of mind.”
Q: As a New Yorker and with the ominous fate of NYFW and the cancellation of other events such as the Met Gala that bring press and revenue to the city, how do you think this will impact the fashion industry as a whole in NYC? Will it allow for new talent, new ways around things? Out with the old in with the new type of scenario?
A: “On the contrary, I am very concerned about our newer designers and the viability of their business models. Many of the “too-big-to-fail” brands will be more or less “fine,” but the smaller labels may evaporate as the going gets tougher. I’m grateful that the CFDA has their relief fund in full swing, already raising millions of dollars. Of course, many of these designers will require a much more proactive investment and mentorship if they’re going to make it through the next year or so.”
Q: Many journalists have been furloughed or fired how do you think they can best move forward, where to find hope? Do you know anyone who is using the chaos to create something new?
A: “I think the place to find hope is that maybe—just maybe—we will see a longstanding commitment to decentralizing the Fashion system. With companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google all indicating that remote work will be viable across the board in the years to come, I wonder if Fashion (particularly Fashion Media) will follow suit. If that’s the case, I think there will be better opportunities for people who can’t afford to live in expensive cities like New York or London, but who still want to develop clips or learn the ropes.”
“I think your generation will also be similar to mine, in a way. I entered college in 2009, and once we all graduated, those of us who couldn’t land one of the precious few media jobs available had to move home with our parents for a while or pick up a job in food service or retail while we hustled on the weekends and at night to develop our portfolios for writing. There is absolutely no shame in that. In fact, there’s a whole lot you can learn about the industry just by selling clothes or beauty products–trust me!”
Q: Flowing from our last conversation, how, in your opinion will the pandemic impact 2020? What do you think media (fashion and beyond) are doing right to still discuss the election/voting? What are they doing wrong/should be doing?
A:“I have no real way to say how this pandemic will impact the election. There’s a very valid concern that Trump will continue to abuse his power and will try to delay voting in November. His son-in-law has sort of indicated that this is on the table. This pandemic has illustrated the crisis of democracy in America, particularly in exposing the intrinsic elitism and racism of our healthcare system and government programs.
"Common sense would say any disaster of this scale would spell doom for the sitting President, particularly one who spent time golfing while the death toll neared 100,000 in his country. Of course, 2016 showed us that common sense means nothing, especially when Russia is still interfering with our election and our technology giants like Facebook have sided with a hyper-conservative press.”
Q: I know before you told me you were endorsing Warren; how did you find the transition moving on from that movement into Biden becoming the candidate?
“I feel disappointed that the most diverse field of Presidential candidates in history narrowed down to this moment. But it’s crucial that we all go and get out the vote come November, and then we don’t take our feet off the pedal in terms of protest and aggravation so we can guarantee change.”
A: Do you think it’s the end of fashion as we know it?
“It depends on how you know Fashion, I guess.”