Let’s Vogue

fiona-golfarFiona Golfar, journalist and editor at large on Vogue magazine talks to Elena Bowes about how her background as a school dropout and nomadic makeup artist helped her stand out when starting at the fashion glossy. Twenty years ago she got her first break when a filmmaker friend suggested she photographed an actress called Andie MacDowell, in a film called Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Fiona Golfar, editor-at-large of British Vogue, has had an unconventional career path as a writer. She left school at 15, travelled the world as a makeup artist and despite the fact she barely knew how to turn on a computer, Vogue Editor Alexandra Shulman hired her as contributing editor.

Golfar believes her lack of a formal education helped her to approach stories differently. She is also endlessly curious about people. “The best education I got was from my parents. They both had the ability to walk into a room and engage people. Like them, I love to connect, it’s just my nature. Everything is an idea to me. And that’s what I think you have to do as a journalist. You have to make connections and see an opportunity in everything.”

But at first her big break wasn’t easy for Golfar. “I was confronted with a million Oxbridge women who wanted to put their cigarettes out on me. But I knew that Alex’s strength as the editor of the magazine was thinking outside the norm. She had faith in me, so I just dived in.”

An early break came when a friend called her at the office. He said, ‘I’m making a movie and I’ve got Andie MacDowell in it. You might want to photograph her.’ The movie turned out to be Four Weddings and a Funeral. Golfar smiles. “That was when I realised my work outside Vogue could help me with my work in it. I had another string to my bow. For example, I had been doing the makeup on Boy George so I knew who the up and coming young cool tribe were – I had a window on that world. I had a friend who lived in a squat who wanted to be a photographer. Turned out he was Mario Testino.”

And even though Golfar hadn’t gone through a formal education like many of the magazine’s staff, she had her own distinct writing style. She remembers an editor telling her: ‘Don’t worry about structure, you have a voice. If you have a voice, you can be a writer.’ Having not been to college that was a huge encouragement.

One of the toughest parts of writing an article, Golfar says, is the beginning. “The opening paragraph is key. It’s when you hook someone.” Her friend Nigella Lawson gave her a tip: ‘Stop thinking of other people, just write like you’re telling me.’ “That took my fear away,’ Golfar admits.

And which article is Golfar most proud of writing? Well, she has a few, but the first one that came to mind was a story she wrote about her mother. “I had a complicated relationship with her. I wrote a piece about beauty, and I wrote about my mum. It put things to right. And you can do that with writing. I got to talk about the time she died, and I there’s a kind of beauty in that.”

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