While everyone else is off to the south for vacation, I might be hanging here in Paris. It’s not a terrible idea; the city is getting quiet—and without many tourists, it feels like I have the city all to myself. It’s a rare treat. That’s some consolation, anyway, since my plans to come back to NYC this month have been shelved for the time being.
I could pop down to the south, but I’m hesitant to jump on a plane, or spend hours on a train right now, where social distancing is nil. It’s not out of the question, but our numbers are trending up in France: 1000+ daily cases.* These increases are localized for now: in big cities and areas popular with vacationers. The southeast, near Spain, is especially concerning, but that’s the risk of opening borders. You can’t lock down forever. While the official word is things are still considered under control, we’ve been warned that if the trend continues, “another lockdown is not out of the question.” Perhaps that’s just a threat to shake some sense into people. But hey, it’d be boon for you, dear readers, because I could be back to daily blogging!
While the Parisians are Away, This Cat is Not Playing
But the bigger reason any extended August vacation looks less likely: I’m working like a madwoman—minimum 12-hour days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the work returning my way, and I have amazing clients. What work do you do besides writing, Lisa? you’re wondering. Well, besides writing coaching, my background is in creative direction and branding. These days, I focus on branding and marketing for small businesses, mostly woman-owned—creating their logos, messaging, and strategies. But I spent most of my career in magazine publishing. In the early days, I worked on the editorial side (designing the magazine pages) for fashion brands like Allure and Mademoiselle (Condé Nast) with design legend Lucy Sisman. (If that name rings a bell, it’s because she’s in the acknowledgements of my book).
Condé Nast, Lisa? Is it really like The Devil Wears Prada? Oh yes, my friends, it is. I was indeed one of those frantic “clackers” (from the film adaptation of the book: one who frantically clacks around the halls of Runway magazine in high heels). For those who don’t know, The Devil Wears Prada is supposedly the fictionalized version of the author’s turn as Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue. And boy, did it hit home—especially the film, which unlike most adaptations, was better than the book, in my opinion. But—mon dieu!—I was nauseated for the first 40 minutes, watching that all-too-familiar morning ritual at Runway play out.
“Gird your loins!” Stanley Tucci’s character, Nigel, warns the team as Miranda Priestly arrives in the building, sending everyone scrambling to their places. This was real, kids. I lived it. Except, I was the Nigel who would cry out “she’s here!” after our boss would call me to say her car was pulling up to the building—her way of saying that things had better be “tiggity boo” when she got in. Invariably, we could never find her assistant, who was some famous photographer’s nephew, I think, and fairly useless except for his connections. At one point, after a grueling photo shoot with a supermodel who called me a “stupid cow,” I finally broke down. “The only thing glamorous about fashion magazines—” I proclaimed, sobbing to my colleagues in the art department”—is reading them!”
I switched to the “business” side of magazines after that—sales and marketing—creating all the brand communications: sales materials, client event signage, consumer in-store promotions. And I loved it, loved the variety of work, the problem solving. I was good at it, too. The last position I held in that world was as Executive Creative Director for six magazine titles, including People, at the now defunct Time Inc. I was crazy about that job, but after major shifts in the company, decided to take a package when the opportunity presented itself. If you’ve read my book, you already know about that.
Turning the Page: Not Always Easy but Necessary
Do I have any regrets about leaving my big, fat job? Honestly, I’m not certain I’d still have that job even if I had opted to stay back in 2014. If I didn’t take the package then, I might have later on, when many of my colleagues took theirs. At the end of the day, it’s about the people you work with. I do miss that office comradery, the collaboration, the buzz of activity. And I won’t lie; I miss the money—more accurately, I miss not having to worry about money. But all the incredible experiences that have come my way would not have happened had I chosen the safer route, and stayed. And being a digital nomad for the last eight years has put me in a good position for where we are now, Covid-ly speaking. I can work from home, anywhere in the world, and I’m already used to making my own way.
I do look back fondly on those days working in the old magazine industry of big budgets and even bigger egos—an industry profoundly altered by the digital world and social media. Those crazy times made me who I am today, and bosses like Lucy—now a dear friend— taught me that nothing is impossible. You weren’t allowed to say “can’t be done.” You figured it out; you found a way. Like Devil’s Andy Sachs and those “impossible to get” advance read copies of the Harry Potter book, you clacked your heels down that hallway and you made it happen.
Nowadays, I work in my jammies and my designer heels are tucked away in my closet in New York. Instead of my view of New York’s East River from the 28th floor of the Time Life Building, where we watched Sully land his plane in the river, I have a view of a typical Paris street, and watch pigeons land on the balcony across the way. Did I imagine this would be my life when I was starting out, clacking down the halls of Condé Nast, a size-0 bundle of nerves? No, never. But I am here now, thanks to every decision I made (and even some I didn’t). Was it destiny? I don’t know, but it’s certainly more glamorous than working at those fashion magazines. Even in my jammies.
*Sources: Worldometers.info; Local.fr
As 8/2/20 there are 76,154 active Covid-19 cases in France (pop. 65M) vs. Germany (8,636 active cases; pop. 84M).
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Very interesting Lisa how life changes !!!
I am glad you are still creating you would be a great asset to a business talent needs creative branding. Reading this blog brings back so many memories of my life in the fashion business in my younger years. I wonder if you have thought about writing another book you are a good writer !!! No Preasure !!!
Enjoy your short sojourn the people of Paris will be back ……..
Thank you, Pamela. Yes, always working on new book ideas. What did you do in fashion?
Good to hear that !! Re Book.
I worked as a runway and photographic model in Montreal .
Hi Lisa, I’m halfway through your audiobook on Audible.com. It’s the most rewarding book I’ve listened to in recent memory. I’m taking it very slowly as I don’t want it to end! I am also catching up on all your posts and videos, bit by bit. I loved this post as I was wondering where you worked – I used to work, as an Associate Editor, for Good Housekeeping in the days of John Mack Carter (in the GH Institute). Nothing like your experience!
I’m studying French in the Mem-Rise app. I visited years ago. I adore your book – especially your narration. You’ve spoiled me for other audio books!
I look forward to more living vicariously through your remarkable observations/writings.
Oh, wow, thank you so much for this comment. It’s like an author’s dream! I did have voiceover experience, so it helped a lot. Carter worked on GH, LHJ, and McCall’s in his career. It’s so weird to imaging a man editing a woman’s magazine these days. I was at LHJ in the ’90s, under Myrna Blyth, who is still a friend. I was Creative Director then Marketing Director. I loved that job, too. I also worked with Myrna on the launch of More at that time, then came back to work on it in the mid-2000s. That was a great magazine. Too intelligent for today’s world.
That’s wonderful that you’re still friends with Myrna Blyth. I still keep in touch with my boss at GH. Those were golden days for publishing. My mom was a senior editor at HarperCollins. Hearing you reminisce about Carter, etc., is such a blast from the past!
Lisa, thanks for your perspective. I enjoy hearing about your transition to entreprenuer and digital nomad. I think about the same things although I will be tied to my corporate role for a few more years at least. I love to think about working on my own (from Paris, of course), but it still seems out of reach. I’m getting closer though and trying to think of myself as more consultative or “gig” ready. It’s a paradign shift for sure. I would welcome more blog on the experience for you! Stay healthy – take good care. Gretchen
Very interesting post, Lisa. I miss all of those wonderful Conde-Nast magazines I grew up reading, and found your “inside” reporting fascinating. Your life in Paris thereafter certainly isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. 😊
You are living my dream!! Just need to figure a similar transformation for me and my business world.
PS. I wonder if you have ideas about how to get visibility of a niche fragrance and rise above the noise ? (www.ineke.com)
That is what I do, yes. Feel free to email me via this link, and we can talk about your needs/budget, and ways I can help. https://lisaanselmo.com/contact
Reading all this makes me wonder if possibly our paths might have crossed at some point.
I was the chief media planner/buyer for NBC Entertainment for nearly 20 years and worked closely with several of the magazines you talk about here, doing special promotions that were generated by the amount of ad spend within their pages.
So sad that print media essentially no longer exists as an advertising vehicle for the networks, especially the monthly titles, due to long closing dates and vastly diminished audiences.
I think I would hate to have my job now, although I loved it when I had it. I thought it was the best job in the world back then.
It’s possible. Feel free to send me an email via this link: https://lisaanselmo.com/contact