W magazine Senior Features and Fashion Editor Robert Haskell ’96 paved his own path up New York’s fast-paced fashion industry through a combination of writing skills, personal charm and business savvy.
In a Saybrook College Master’s Tea Friday, Haskell gave the lowdown on interviewing celebrities, climbing to the top of the fashion industry, and what goes on at fashion shows and parties. During the tea he spoke about his experience interviewing and profiling prominent Hollywood stars and trendsetters, including Katie Holmes, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Andy Roddick.
Haskell described his less traditional life at W.
“The men are gay, all the women wear great clothes, and there are a lot of benefits, perks and freebies associated with living this way,” he said.
At the tea, Haskell shared his true feelings about celebrities he has interviewed. He said that Uma Thurman is “grand,” Catherine Zeta-Jones is “very funny,” Cameron Diaz is “lovely,” but Jennifer Connelly ’91 is “boring.” He also said his interview with Katie Holmes was “puzzling, confounding, and poignant” because she was much more open than other celebrities.
When conducting these interviews, Haskell said he prefers to do little research beforehand so that celebrities can teach him about who they truly are.
“I like to create a comfortable interview because it encourages people to be more chatty, and you’re more likely to find interesting surprises that way,” he said.
After graduating from Yale, the former Morsel went into the finance industry, but experiencing the nightclub scene in New York changed what he wanted to do with his life, he said. Haskell began writing for Women’s Wear Daily in 1999 and he joined W magazine in 2002.
During his time at Yale, Haskell majored in history of art, served as a film critic for the Yale Daily News and sang with Redhot and Blue. Having attended a conservative all-boys high school in Boston, he said he did not develop an eye for fashion until he came to Yale. On campus, he first began noticing that some girls had jeans that fit better than others and that some purses seemed more meaningful. Soon, he could tell where a girl was from by where the cuff of her jeans fell on her shoe.
“W is a major place for the Ivy League,” he said, breaking down the stereotype of the less well educated fashion writer. “There are Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Brown alums on the board.”
Commenting on W’s scandal-causing June issue, which featured a 60-page photo shoot of “Bradjolina” playing house, he said that “flare-ups are sometimes what you want because it sells magazines.”
But Haskell said he is often bothered by the way fashion is intertwined with celebrity.
“It definitely has its benefits, but there are also those times where every fashion show starts 45 minutes late because Ashanti hasn’t arrived yet,” he said.
As part of the tea, Haskell gave advice on how to succeed in the fashion journalism industry, stressing the significance of polished English skills and encouraging students to be aggressive, bold and at times pushy.
“It’s amazing how so many people in the industry just can’t write well,” Haskell said. “Come in with great command of the English language, and it will serve you well.”
Students said they appreciated the substantial depth of Haskell’s advice.
“He definitely offered insight into the glamorous world of fashion and he made it sound both exciting and accessible,” Carrie Nyugen ’09 said. “He broke down the stereotype of a fashion editor by being so down to earth.”
But the focus of Haskell’s talk surprised some attendees.
“I thought he was going to talk more about the fashion industry and its impact on daily life rather than celebrities,” visiting scholar and architect Katherine Grace said.
Haskell is currently taking some time to explore his interest in science by attending graduate school at Columbia University. Haskell said for most professions doing the same work day after day can be mind-numbing, which is why his new focus on science now invigorates him.