Deborah Needleman: ”If you’re open, inspiration is everywhere”

Fashion, spectacular images, famous names, brands and exclusive collections, locations from all over the world and elements of interior design. All these make up the story of T Magazine, The New York Times Style Magazine, led by journalist and passionate writer Deborah Needleman.

 

In one of the famous New York skyscrapers is the editorial offices of one of the most elegant fashion magazines, culture and style, in the United States. I went to one of the upper floors of the NY Times building with 52 floors and here I was, after a few minutes, in the office of the editor-in-chief of T Magazine, DEBORAH NEEDLEMAN. She greeted me with a smile, apologizing for the limited time she has available. And it’s no wonder considering the meetings, interviews and other events she is taking part. I must confess that I felt really good, knowing that she made time for a journalist from Romania, who she never interacted live before, but only through her assistant, via e-mail. What happened next? She told me about her sources of inspiration, how are chosen articles themes and photo shootings, about the relationship with international stars and the interaction with famous designers in the world of fashion and art.

Deborah Needleman and Corina Stoicescu NYC

Deborah Needleman and me (Corina Stoicescu) @ T Magazine in NYC

” <The Devil Wears Prada>, it’s a pretty realistic story.”

 

How do you start your usual daily schedule?

It begins as late as possible. (laughing). I wake up at 7 o’clock to feed the children, my daughter Lily (14 years old) and son Nate (12 years old). I take them to school and then try to exercise before work. But this morning I made my husband (note: Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor in chief of Slate Group) wake up, feed them, take them to school and I stayed in bed and read “The New Yorker” instead of exercising. So it just depends. And then it’s pretty crazy once I’m at the office. I usually have a series of meetings and lots of layouts to look at, stories to read, and just magazine planning and other things we do here. It gets crazy once I get to work and then I put it all behind me as soon as I go home.

How much reality is in the story ”The Devil Wears Prada”?

Some things are kind of true. No one is secretly walking into the entry hall of my apartment, but I too get “the monthly book”. Usually my assistant Jenny makes it, because it helps me read the magazine better and see how the articles relate to each other. There are moments all the time when life seems like ”The Devil Wears Prada”, only nicer! (laughing) It was a pretty realistic movie.

Do you frequently accept invitations to events?

If I go out one night, I like to stay home the next night. There’s always some event or dinner and I just try to go to the most important ones because I have children and a husband and I would rather be home with them. So, three nights a week I go out. Last night I co-hosted a book party at my friend Jonathan Adler’s design store.

Deborah Waldorf Astoria NYC

 “We find the best person for each story. The profile of Miuccia Prada was done by a Scottish novelist and literary critic.”

What inspires you and how do you find ideas for the articles?

Travelling is the best thing. There’s nothing better than getting out of the office, but more importantly it’s other people that inspire me. It’s their creativity and what they make or think about that I find interesting. Most of the ideas for articles come from the editors of the magazine. I try to hire interesting people and generally speaking, every time you talk to people you can find something out. I had lunch today with a colleague from Burberry and by the end of lunch he was giving me lessons about life and how to manage everything. I feel if you’re open, inspiration is everywhere.

Do you have a big team?

No. It’s a small team of editors, art directors, and photo editors. We’re about 20 people. All the text and pictures are done by freelancers. So we’re just the people who put the magazine together. We find the best photographers and writers for each story. For example, we did a wonderful piece on the designer Miuccia Prada (her grandfather created the famous brand) and I think it was the best story I’ve ever read about her. Miuccia is hard to write about, she is very private but we had a Scottish novelist and literary critic who wrote the piece and he got at her personality and motivations in a really interesting way.

How are the story meetings going on?

I’m very good of being bossy and decisive. (laughing). I find that smaller meetings are better. If you bring everyone into a meeting, people are nervous to say their ideas or they are performing for each other, so I think meetings of 3 to 6 people are the best. Then the deputy editor, the top story editors, the top photo editor, art director and I decide which ideas are most interesting and we say, “let’s try this”. The magazine has to be beautiful. It’s not only the idea, it’s also how it is executed. We think about the pictures for a story, who the writer is going to be or how the layout is going to look. It’s also very important to consider what the readers might wish for and give them more than that.

Which cover do you consider the most beautiful?

The most beautiful cover was with the one we made with the Irish actresse Saoirse Ronan and the interview was named, “The power of simplicity”. The pictures seemed utterly timeless.

the power of simplicity

Saoirse Ronan

Which articles are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of the fashion we’ve done since I’ve been here. We’ve done wonderful stories about the lives of artists. We are lucky to do stories like the one of Lee Radziwell, which was my first cover at T Magazine. She hadn’t given an interview in 20 years. She’s incredibly beautiful, witty and intelligent. That was a very special cover to me. And I’m always attached to the issue we just finished.

tru-eleg-OK

Lee Radziwell

Do you have any celebrity friends?

My friends are my real friends. Kanye West whom I never met invited me to lunch this week though. And we’re about to make a cover with Beyonce. I’m going to interview her before an audience. You can have professional relationships that are sincere, but I think it’s important to realize and make the distinction that these are only professional relationships. It’s pretty rare for it to be more than that.

“Fashion shows sometimes offer spectacular creations that change the way you want to dress and how you want to live worth every moment.”

Nicole Phelps Dirk Standen Deborah Needleman

What do you appreciate most at fashion events?

Even if it takes a lot of time and it’s exhausting to be at events like Fashion Week in Paris, London, Milan, and New York when you see a great show it’s so worth it. When you see somebody put out a collection that changes the way you think about fashion and changes the way you want to dress and the fact that these designers can create this desire in you is exhilarating. It’s a privilege to be around creative people. They can be complicated and often crazy, but they are doing things that are really imaginative and alter how you see and that’s terribly exciting.

What gets you to the top in a big and important city like New York?

I think what’s most important is to do everything with passion. I have had a strange career path. I’ve always done what I thought would make me happy rather than propel me on some path. I was a photographer, then I was a photo editor at a magazine, then I became interested in gardens and I started studying writing and studying about gardens. Then I was insanely lucky when I had the idea for a decorating magazine, Domino, and I presented it to Condé Nast, a big magazine company. Even though I didn’t have any experience as an editor, they gave me a chance. Success is largely about luck, but I think it’s also about doing what you love, being open to opportunity and of course hard work.

Domino and The perfectly imperfect home design books

Deborah is the author of ”Domino: The Book of Decorating” and ”The Perfectly Imperfect Home”

What does luxury mean to you?

That’s such a good question! Because I’m putting together right now, for December, an International Luxury conference for the New York Times. I think luxury is any experience that one values. So I think it’s different for other people. It could be a very expensive thing, but for me time is a luxury. I think there are the small things that make you happy. For me having a vegetable garden is a luxury. But it’s also beautiful clothes. I love fashion and as I got older I’ve learned to appreciate the quality.

How would you describe your home?

Never finished. Never perfect. But totally designed around how I live and how I want to feel. It’s rather calm and sparse with soft, faded colors –mostly ivory and grey with some dusty rose and green. My life is crazy, frenetic, busy, so I like my home to feel quiet. But interesting! Not boring quiet!

How can you achieve a luxury home design with a small budget?

If your budget is small you need to not be afraid of simplicity and you need to be a little creative. If you mix one or two really good things with well designed less expensive pieces, they will elevate the look of the room. Paint is like makeup for furniture. It hides what you don’t like and accentuates what you think looks good. Too much brown furniture, which is for furniture a curse on a room! And lighting is crucial to creating a nice atmosphere. The soft romantic lightning that comes from a lamp, completely transforms your home.

Do you have any favorite fashion and interior designers?

I appreciate the work of so many designers, even if they’re not right for me. For interiors, I love the work of our design editor Tom Delavan. I would love to hire the Italian design studio Dimore. For fashion, I love Dries van Noten, Celine, Stella McCartney, Jason Wu, Marni and the list goes on and on.

”Different things look good in different places!” 

 

Considering you’re a regular at fashion events what do you think are the most important elements of a chic wardrobe?

Good white button down shirts and good fitting black pants. And a comfortable heel! In Paris I always pack a black and white palette, and for Milan I pack a mix of brown and earth tones and patterned things. Different things look good in different places!

How do you see women in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s?

We all dress younger than people used to and that is nice, but a woman must respect her age! I saw an old lady this weekend in fishnet stockings and silver heels and thought that clothes ought to come with labels that say things like, ‘Do not use this product if you’re over 30!’ Like a warning label on food. A chic woman is not trying to be someone else. The older a woman, the more mystery she should have.

You look young and stylish. What beauty secrets can you share with us?

You are too kind! I wish my beauty secrets were that I exercise and eat well, but I do neither. I’m obsessed with the woman who does my eyebrows, from Fekkai, called Manana Dzhanimanova. And I have my favorite facialist, who is very expensive. You can have a facelift for the cost of these facials. Her name is Dangene and she’s inside a private club, Core Club. But if you want to pay her a million dollars you can go there too. (laughing). Anyway, I think doing things you love and not worrying too much about little things or wasting time feeling guilty is essential to happiness, and at a certain age, without being happy, it’s hard to look good.

NY Times building

The New York Times Building

New York Times Building yellow cab

Photo credit: BFA, capsuleshow.com, Corina Stoicescu.

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