A man (Jacques Hyzagi), deeply angered by the supposed editorial blunders that affected a story (an interview with Rei Kawakubo, the Comme des Garcons designer/artist/genius disdainful of press) he was writing for Elle, has decided to blowtorch the monoliths of the New York media industry, which is to say the outlets that could probably pay him more than what I assume he got from the Observer, where this piece appears.
(I only mention this because, in his kicker, he describes himself as a “broke writer,” though he does mention elsewhere that he was able to fly to France for a story on his own dime—“thousands”—which makes him sound markedly less broke than virtually every non-trust-funded freelance writer I have ever known.)
In Elle on Earth (I know), a highly readable and seemingly unedited piece that gets increasingly bonkers by the paragraph, Hyzagi details how procuring an interview with the elusive designer and attempting to place it in a well-regarded magazine turned into what he says was an unpleasant, unprofessional experience working with Elle that ended, he says, with editor Anne Slowey attempting to sabotage him and Hyzagi sending an accusatory email with the entire company CC’d.
He begins with his switchblade sprung; his thesis is that the big names in media are unmitigated trash, as he makes clear in his first paragraph:
Time Warner, Conde Nast and Hearst don’t hire editors in chief anymore but editors able to understand the value of the marketing division to the newsroom and how they should be merged, which is code for content branding.
Who doesn’t want to read a good takedown of the way media companies have adapted (or tried) to the digital world by allowing sales divisions to encroach ever more powerfully on editorial freedom? I don’t know if his claim about those specific companies is true, but most editors I know feel this weight, and fear it.
But what we mostly get from Hyzagi, and why this piece is so bananas, is a first-person account that spares no mundane detail in exacting revenge on the people the writer is holding responsible for the poor handling of a once-in-a-lifetime story—the taking down of establishment media is a secondary or even tertiary concern. (The clearer secondary concern, or possibly the primary one, seems to be letting us all know that the writer has absolutely, under no uncertain terms, dated models.)
And so, while the piece provides fascinating insight into Kawakubo’s inner workings (he published some of the interview here) it reads like the kind of screed that lots of people in the industry think or even write, but never publish. (Imagine if Amy Pascal had leaked all her trash-talking emails on purpose.) There’s a strong top note of rejected-writer bitterness and bottom note of overall disdain for the establishment—he sounds mad that the first places he pitched did not want to publish this interview, and he audaciously calls New York “bores,” and the New Yorker “very Reader’s Digest meets GQ” and, again, Vanity Fair under Graydon Carter “a giant bore.”
He also dishes specifics: fixating on the point that Kawakubo has never been invited to Anna Wintour’s “insufferable annual ball at the Met”—which is absolutely strange, and a question I would like answered!—he brings it up to his Elle editor Robbie Myers, and says she responded that “everybody is sick and tired of fucking Anna Wintour.”
That’s not a quote, though—there are no quotes in this piece, which contributes both to its boggling stream-of-consciousness flow and the sense that what’s going on here is a piece of realist satire, rather than an unhinged ramble from an utterly self-important, pretentious but obviously very smart French male who was stung by the audacity of someone actually editing him. (Lord knows he didn’t get much of that stifling editorial oversight here.) Hyzagi is a former writer for Charlie Hebdo, after all, and he includes an entire paragraph about setting up a meeting with Myers and Elle editor Anne Slowey, including the banalities of shortening their conversation because she had to pick up her kids.
But the idea that Hyzagi is at least partly joking seemed pretty strongly suggested by the time we get around to this part:
I talked to Robbie and explained to her what had happened and that I couldn’t work with a power hungry flake. Ten minutes later Anne was calling me. I could tell I was on speakerphone. We decided that better than Paris, Tokyo should be the venue for the interview since Rei lives and works there. I told Anne that I see Rei as a Romantic from early 19th century, a time when painters started depicting fires, ruins, decay and painted people from the back in a rebuke to the sickening self righteousness of the Enlightenment and by extension as a Dada trying to destroy art.
Sounds wildly self-important, yes, but the bolded part was the direct inspiration for Jeremy Scott’s Fall 2016 collection for Moschino, and something tells me this writer would or does think Jeremy Scott is a hack (or, very probably, something much meaner). Is this writer a Dadaist trying to destroy the industry? Is he a Dadaist trying to destroy his career? Probably both—maybe neither. Who knows?
On either side, though, I feel some sympathy. Hyzagi’s main gripe is that he says Elle essentially rewrote his interview with assistance from Adrian Joffe, Kawakubo’s husband and Comme co-owner—every writer has had a piece they loved transformed into something they hated by an editor, whether to fit the house style or to include more or less detail or because it was cut for space (ahh! print!) or, simply, because the editor fucking sucked and couldn’t read and sent you 11 rounds on a two-edit piece because she was incompetent.
(Hyzagi says he received no edits from Anne Slowey, and accuses her of wanting to sabotage his piece from the beginning. I don’t know about either point, but it’s not a best practice to let a piece go to print without the writer having worked on the edit, or at the very least having seen it—nor is it ethical or journalistically sound to allow a subject to see or edit a piece before it runs, if Hyzegi’s accusations are true. It’s not El Chapo and Rolling Stone, but it’s still advertorial at best.)
Alternately, every woman editor has had to deal with that one man (it’s always a man) who is just a total nightmare to work with, who challenges every edit, who doesn’t respect your position or your authority, who believes his writing is god’s gift to the world and bitch you betta genuflect. I don’t know if this is that man—his descriptions of Myers and Slowey are not only cruel and vengeful but also have a tinge of chauvinist condescension—but I do know that he wrote this:
I never received your emails because you never sent them you liar, I told her—making sure to cc Hearst’s entire masthead.
If the writer actually did cc Hearst’s entire masthead, this piece is fine, because he had no bridge left to burn at that publishing empire, anyway. But for any writer who is interested in continuing to be employed by major media outlets, this is really the number one thing you do not do, lest you want an entire corporation talking about you for the rest of your career/making jokes about how you are an unreasonable wildling. Earlier, I sent this piece to my music-writing students (even though it’s not about music), almost purely to instruct them never to cc an entire goddamn company. And yet, the fact of that line is one of the reasons I both love and loathe this piece. What if it’s true?! It is fucking bonkers!
Again, though, who knows if Hyzagi is joking or not. He is so mean; he is so funny. The entirety of New York media seems, if Twitter is any indication, to be completely divided on it—whether this piece is terrible, or whether it rules. Either way, it perfectly rides the waves of delicious and abhorrent and fascinating and rude.
And in the end the joke’s totally on all of us, because now the writer has milked three features out of one interview—he published a Kawakubo piece in The Guardian, and of course there’s the piece in this month’s Elle (which, obviously, I’m racing to buy immediately since reading this piece, probably defeating his purpose OR playing into his genius devil mastermind troll about branded content) and, as he tells us at the end of the piece, he published another one in the British fashion magazine 10. Get them checks, Jacques Hyzagi.
Image from Comme des Garcons’s Fall 2014 collection via AP