Merle Ginsberg is an established fixture in the Fashion World, and to our honor agreed to an exclusive interview with Kandy Kiss. She’s worked with all the biggest names in the industry, has her hand in a bit of everything and is the authority on all things Fashionista. She’s currently settled into her position as the Senior Style editor at The Hollywood reporter, but has been involved with Marie Claire, MTV, W magazine and more in the past.
I grew up in New Jersey and upstate New York, attended Cornell and NYU graduate school for a masters in literature. I wanted to be a college professor – but it just didn’t work out that way! I met someone who told me if I would write reviews for Backstage, they couldn’t pay me but they’d get me theater tickets every night of the week. That was it – I was in. Then when I saw my first byline, that was really IT. I’d always wanted to write – even as a kid – but it was poetry, poetic prose, plays, stuff like that – but I never thought I’d get paid for it. Journalism was a way to always write and (hopefully) always get paid. My first paying journalism job was at a downtown weekly called The Soho News – there, I wrote a going out guide and stories on music and fashion. When that paper folded, I became a stringer for MTV Music News, while I also wrote music reviews for The Village Voice. I was amazed the all-male rock critic world let me pull this off! From there, I applied for the job of Random Notes editor/writer at Rolling Stone – no female had ever held that title. To my GREAT surprise, I got the job! I wrote Random Notes (and interviewed Van Halen, The Cure, Madonna, The Police, Eurythmics, etc) plus some Rolling Stone cover stories (Bruce Springsteen) and it was all pretty amazing. Then I moved to L.A. to live with someone at the end of the 80’s and switched my career to film – because in Hollywood, you write about Hollywood.
I worked as a staff movie news writer for E! Entertainment, while freelancing for People Magazine, US magazine, Life Magazine, the LA Times and LA Herald. In 1992, I was hired as the West Coast editor of W Magazine and Women’s Wear Daily – I booked covers, wrote many actor and actress profiles, and fell deep into the heart of the fashion world. In 1994, I moved back to NY for W and was named Entertainment Director. Some of the people I booked and profiled include Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Madonna, Wynona Ryder, Kate Hudson, Hugh Grant, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Meryl Streep, and on and on. After 1997, I became bicoastal for W and WWD, running the West Coast bureau and also working out of NY. While at Fairchild publications, I also wrote for and booked Jane Magazine, Details and Los Angeles Magazine.
Returning full time to LA in 2003, I left W and wrote the book “Confessions of an Heiress” with Paris Hilton. It became a bestseller and we did a few follow up books. I also freelanced, till 2008, for Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, In Style, T New York Times, London Times Magazine, Elle Decor, Cosmopolitan, etc etc. I also wrote for the websites The Daily Beast and Fashion Week Daily’s The Daily.
In 2008, I created the blog “Fashion Rules” with L’Agence designer and MMA agency founder Margaret Maldonado. From 2008 to 2010, I wrote this blog and also starred in two reality shows:
Rupaul’s Drag Race on Logo (a judge for two seasons) and Bravo’s Launch My Line – the second show was a design competition and I came in number two.
In 2010, I was hired in October to be a Senior Writer for The Hollywood Reporter and the revamped THR.com by Janice Min. Last year, I was promoted to Senior Style Writer. This is my first full time job at a magazine where I get to cover fashion and beauty – and their relationship to Hollywood – exclusively. I also appear on CNN, E! Entertainment, Good Morning America, The Doctors and Access Hollywood as a Hollywood fashion expert.
What inspired your writing career? How did you discover your beat as a Chief Fashion Editor and Fashion Editor?
I think I answered the second part above, but I’ll go into it a bit more. What inspired my writing career was READING: reading all kinds of novels as a kid (by DH Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Colette, Anais Nin, Virginia Wolf, EM Forster, Henry James, Edith Wharton, anything by JD Salinger) and reading every magazine I could get my hands on. I remember reading Mademoiselle as a teen and thinking, “I could do that.” I guess I was right. Writers are people who always seem to live in their heads – that would be me. The wheels are always spinning. Sometimes too much. And always too fast. The other thing about writers is – they are people who cannot NOT WRITE. That would be me too. I write lists, notes, poems – it’s always words, words, words.
Give us the gossip, being that you are the Fashion Editor at Hollywood Reporter, who would you say is thebest dressed celebrity and the worst dressed celebrity?
Ha! That’s not gossip – that’s fact! Cate Blanchett, bar none, best dressed. The woman is flawless – and so imaginative, she IS an artist and she dresses like an artist. Not only that – she’s a sweetheart, remarkably funny, and more gorgeous than in photos. Others I always enjoy seeing: Rooney Mara, lately Kate Mara and Lizzy Kaplan, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, and AWESOMENESS INCARNATE: Marion Cotillard. The WORST? Lena Dunham is almost too easy – she’s kinda punk rock. I think Julie Bowen and Sophia Vergara always look like complete cheeseballs – SO TACKY. They both look like they grew up outside of Miami. Modern Tacky. No originality at all.
What’s the biggest challenge in being the Chief Fashion Editor at Hollywood Reporter?
My title is actually Senior Style Writer of THR Magazine and THR.com.
Our biggest challenge is – being a weekly! We go for Vanity Fair style quality EVERY DAMN WEEK! And I write one to two stories every week! I move VERY fast – then spend the weekends drained. But the excitement level is high, and I’m never bored. Who has time???
How does one get your attention for a fashion feature?
Firstly, pay attention to what we do. We don’t run stories on new designers, accessory collections, etc. We’re all about HOLLYWOOD and what people where in our town. Wherever Hollywood intersects with style is where our interests lie. But we always want to be new, creative and most importantly FIRST.
Could you describe your personal style?
I always say “European.” I’d call it a hybrid of Boho, Euro, ballerina, gypsy, the 1920’s, Bloomsbury – maybe Bloomsbury is the best word. There’s a little punk rock and 60’s rocker chick in there, too – that’s the L.A. side of me.
Where do you find the inspiration for your personal style?
Literature, mostly. But I take everything I see and incorporate it – I look at everything: magazines, web, other people, art, places. Mostly though it all comes from MOOD. Whatever I’m wearing is an emotional picture of how I’m feeling. I’m pretty transparent in that way. I don’t think clothes should be costumes – I think fashion is about taking off the mask – though most people see it as the opposite.
Every girl has their favorite “go-to” pieces tucked away in their close. What are your “go-to” pieces?
My short cropped YSL motorcycle jacket – I think it’s like 12 years old, at least. I live in it. Any Rick Owens leather jackets. And I wear all of my Dries van Noten often. My Valentino rock stud pumps always make me happy – and they’re comfortable! And anything with fringe. And I probably own about 20 black skirts – maybe more: lace, pencil, flared, chiffon, pleated, long, short, mid – I probably wear black skirts 60 percent of the time.
Since we’re all transitioning into fall, what do you think are going to be the big “hits” in fashion this season?
We can already see that plaid is the big thing. I’m wearing plaid chiffon dresses and blouses by my friend Randee St. Nicholas, the great rock photographer who started her own clothing line a few years ago. Even Prince wears her clothes! I am LOVING the sneaker look – all these chicks in cool fem clothes and then sneakers – love! Leather anything – I love Lanvin’s leather pleated dress for fall. Black and white still rules, and it always looks clean and cool and chic and art deco. The full flared skirt is also so pretty with a body suit or crop top or t shirt. And pastels: pale pink, sky blue.
My plaid pieces by RSN Boheme – Randee St. Nicholas. They’re plaid but they’re delicate and femmy and pretty. I hate lumberjack plaid. And any and all leather jackets. I have a white Sandro motorcycle jacket I haven’t worn yet. And I LIVE in all of my Maria Cornejo clothes – I dropped a ton on her pre fall and fall collection. Worth every penny. She’s one of my all time faves.
Do you have a guilty pleasure that you splurge on when you shop? If so, what is it and why?
I buy very expensive makeup by Clea de Peau and Nars, and I love weird rare perfumes by Killian and Frederic Malle and Byredo. I wear only SAMA couture eyewear and have tons. And I do buy a lot of Cornejo and Dries.
What fashion rules do you abide by when putting an outfit together?
I believe fashion is identity. Go to the deepest levels of YOU- ness and dress like that. Fuck what anyone thinks. I’m serious. I might dress for men on dates – if they’re that important to me – but I really DO dress for me, that isn’t just lip service. The best rule is: NO RULES. Break all the rules!
Where do you find the inspiration for your personal style?
Literature, as I said. But the street – I love looking at creative women who are original and put odd things together. I like fresh original mixes of pieces. But MOOD dictates all.