Interview with Nilgin Yusuf

Nilgin Yusuf is Director of Media and Programmes at the London College of Fashion. She oversees a number of courses, including the Post Graduate Certificate in Fashion and Lifestyle Journalism, which she began 7 years ago. She continues to work as a freelance journalist for publications including for the Saturday Times and recently completed an MA in Fashion History and Culture entitled Undressing the Criminal Icon, 1959 - 1969 and is currently working on a book that deconstructs the glamour of the criminal image.

Nilgin graduated with a first class BA in Fashion Communication & Promotion from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 1988. After winning the Vogue New Talent and Guardian Fashion Writing competitions, she went directly to Elle as their Fashion Writer. Since then she has spent the last twenty years writing about fashion for national magazines and newspapers, notably as Fashion Writer at the Daily Telegraph and Fashion Editor at the Sunday Times.

How would you describe your job title?

I've got a number of roles and titles - the first is course director of the Post Graduate Certificate in Fashion and Lifestyle Journalism, which I under see, manage, and work on at the London College primarily. I am also the Director of Programmes and Media, where I oversee 5 other MA courses, including MA Fashion Curation, MA Fashion and Film, and MA Fashion Photography.

How did you get into fashion journalism? Was there a clear pathway via resources, books or insiders tips?

I got into journalism through degrees and courses. Originally, I was hoping to be a fashion designer and did a degree in fashion design, during which I transferred to journalism, so all in all I did 3 years in design and 3 years of fashion communication and promotion. I got a job within 2 weeks of graduating at Elle as a writer, where the editor of Elle created a job for me. Getting on to the right course and being subjected to the right kind of industry experience is the best pathway, combined with skills and a talent in your subject area.

How is your working life structured - do you have one main employer?

The University of the Arts London is my main employer but I also write pieces as a freelance journalist. Any other writing I do is technically as an employee of the publisher, the magazine or newspaper.

What takes up the majority of your time on a day-to-day basis?

It varies - sometimes I'll be teaching and working with students, working with course directors. When you're involved with the recruitment of new students, time is taken up interviewing and there is always admin and course development to do, as a course director. The dominant, fixed structure is teaching, and everything else fits around it and varies all the time.

When did you decide what you wanted from your career, and how did you go about achieving your goal?

I decided I wanted to work in fashion at 14, and have since found that people have very one dimensional ideas of what 'fashion' is - my course is geared towards people who want to write but graduates will often go on to work in PR or marketing, become stylists or buyers, there are so many different avenues.

I started by studying fashion design. I was always writing, but never thought I had what it took to build a career solely in fashion journalism. The design course gave me a really good insight into fashion - the history and cycle s of the industry. But my sketchbooks were filled with words - my main way of communication - so my tutor told me to transfer courses.

This put me somewhere where I flourished and found my niche. It was partly luck, partly good guidance from a tutor, but what I would have created as a designer would never have matched what I've done in journalism. By my mid 20s I was fashion editor at the Sunday Times. You can only plan so far, but serendipity, fate - don't know what you call it - will you start off doing one thing before you find what you really want or ought to be doing.

What gave you the winning factor in the Vogue New Talent and Guardian Fashion Writing competitions?

Very few people entered the competitions  - I don't know if more do now, but when I applied I assumed that thousands of people would enter. People could be put off by the name, but I gave it a try, and Vogue said the reason I won is because I had an original voice.

I can't remember if the Guardian gave any specific feedback, but my piece was properly researched, competent journalism, something that sounded like it should be in the Guardian, so they must have liked that.

Competitions are really good things to do and have on your CV, making people register your name before you even get into the industry - I got sent to the Japan shows because I won. I spent a lot of time on my entries, a solid week on each, writing and re-writing to make sure I did the best I could.

What sort of people do you work with - who do you, rely on and who relies on you?

At LCF, I rely on the administrators who fill out all applications and help out with the interviewing process. They're part of a big network of support, including my Dean and other associates. Everybody is interlinked within the College. We all rely on each other to keep LCF running.

How did you setting up your course at LCF?

I was asked to write it by a faculty at the College. They decided they wanted it, as there are so many people who can't commit to a full-time course, so they asked me to do set up a short course.

What advice would you have given yourself during your BA at Central Saint Martins?

I've always loved writing; it's at the core of what I do, so I would advise myself to get straight into it rather than trying to become a designer.

I'm currently working on a book, but have always been very much in the moment; never strategised a career. There is less writing and more managing in an editing position, as that's the obvious progression route in magazines. I remember somebody saying to me "Change jobs every 2 years". I could've been more strategic - an Elle editor told me I could follow her but I wanted to be a writer.

I'm now doing more of a management job at LCF, which is not a regret, but if I look back, I was very successful very young and I worried about burning out, so I just made sure I enjoyed everything I did.

If you won the lottery, would you stop working?

No! I'm not saying I would necessarily continue work at LCF, but I would continue to write. I would like to have more influence [at LCF], but then I also pine for more time.

I'm trying to write a book at the moment, and due to my workload at LCF the deadline has been pushed forward, so if I won the lottery I would make writing my priority, it is my primary passion.