Katie Baron is a true fashion polymath – as well as being a writer with two best-selling books for LKP under her immaculately fashioned belt, she is a content director, brand strategist and futurist with extensive experience within the fashion, retail and design industries. We caught up with her to find out more about her fascinating career…
When did you first realise that you were destined for a career in fashion?
Probably, although I didn’t know it then, when I was a kid and wanted to watch endless pop videos. My entire second book Fashion + Music: Fashion Creatives Shaping Pop Culture can be traced back to that fascination to an extent. There was also a birthday party (I must have been around six) when I got oil on what was then my favourite pair of canvas shoes and I was so distressed that I refused to go on any of the rides. That’s quite an embarrassing admission but I guess it shows an early obsession with appearance.
Were there any people who gave you a helping hand or were a real inspiration at the start of your career?
Alison Edmond, the stylist and creative director who was my boss throughout the bulk of my time as an editor at Harper’s Bazaar, and Faye McLeod, with whom I worked at Liberty (she’s now the visual image director for Louis Vuitton and Dior). I worked with both in my twenties and both were immensely supportive of me, including in situations where it may have been detrimental to their own plans, and inspiring beyond belief. Both taught me to ignore the rules or what others would consider ‘best practice’ and be bold with your creative and intellectual instincts. We also had a lot of fun. There’s not much better than having fun at the same time as feeling as though you’re pushing new ground, whether that’s in a magazine, inside a brand, writing a book, helping someone else build a business…
More recently, Frances Corner, Head of the London College of Fashion, is someone else I find incredibly inspiring. She’s handling huge responsibility in a field (education) that’s currently subject to vast changes but she continues to be able to see new opportunities and register remarkable talent, and all while remaining amazingly calm.
What’s the best bit about what do you now? And what are the most challenging aspects?
I’m very lucky because my ‘day job’ in trends forecasting and innovation isn’t fully fashion-oriented so I’m able to keep immersed myself in fashion in some places and remain an observer in others, something which I think has been extremely useful to my career. I love fashion but I’m no slave to it. I also ‘play’ several different roles - I’m a journalist, an industry analyst, a brand strategist, a copywriter, and a curator of sorts. Sometimes I’m even a broadcaster. It can be hard work mentally switching roles but it also keeps my perspective fresh and forces me to be more rigorous with myself than I otherwise might be.
The most challenging aspect is that the fashion industry can still be strangely hierarchical, which is limiting for a space that also has the capacity to be intensely liberating.
Is it better to specialise or diversify? Is there a danger that if you diversify too much, you won’t be seen as an expert in any one area?
See above! At times going diverse can be difficult because it can make you seem less expert, which is a reason to have at least one space in which you have an extremely in-depth knowledge or ‘sensibility’. However, we’re in a time when boundaries have never been more blurred and diversifying is often key to connecting the dots in a way that people that specialise in a niche space struggle. It’s horses for courses really – some people need to manoeuvre through multiple areas to create something substantial, others dig deep in one area. I wouldn’t want to definitively suggest that anyone jump either way without knowing more about them.
What’s your strategy for managing your time when you’re working on multiple projects? I’m a massive fan of externalising what I’m working with visual tools to help me retain my sanity. For me, it’s a very literal but effective version of removing and compartmentalising some of the things that are weighing heavily on my mind. I use multiple lists, sometimes even including having lots of foam boards (all for different projects) all filled with tons of post-it notes that I shift around as things change and/or get done. Not only does it assuage panic but it also helps me see connections with projects that may appear quite disparate at surface level.
How do you know when to say no?
When your internal antenna starts flashing. Lots of projects start great and become difficult but it’s important to feel as if they’re giving you life of some sort at the beginning (the key buzz) if it’s going to work.
Is it OK to work for free? If so, when?
Yes, sometimes. Someone brilliant (a film editor) once said to me “if you have nothing on and it sounds great then do it. To not do something on principal because there’s no money is nonsensical if you consider the potential legs”. But do see above for my thinking on saying no! If there’s no buzz, or a whiff of being exploited then don’t do it.
What’s the best way to stop yourself getting stale or burning out?
To get better at trusting your instincts regarding what you take on and what you let pass you by. But I think it’s also important to not take every project at surface level, and particularly not to get caught up in the notion that commerciality is inherently opposed to creativity. The best people I know don’t really see those divisions, and that’s why they’re able to bring things once considered entirely niche and avant-garde to a wider, more populist audience – which is when real game-changing activity happens in the arts. The choreographer Ryan Heffington is one of those people. As much as possible simply surround yourself with projects and people that inspire you, regardless of whether it appears to be going anywhere.
Social media provides a great platform to promote yourself, what (in your opinion) is the most effective way to stand out online?
To telegraph your uniqueness authentically, to have an opinion, and a sense of humour...
Are there any fashion heroes who you haven’t managed to meet yet?
Jean-Paul Gaultier is still top of my list. Oh, and Karl Lagerfeld.
What look are you channeling right now?
Right now I’m revelling in a return to high-waisted trousers (the first time in around 9 months), specifically grey marl and with a very wide-legged, 40’s style silhouette – a kind of feminised version of Armani’s designs for The Untouchables but with a slouchy grey sweatshirt). On the flip side I’ve also just bought a pair of buggy-inappropriate gold mules that are almost so bad taste they’re amazing…
If you won the Euromillions on Friday, what would you do with the money?
I’d pay off my mortgage and do a trolley dash through Celine.
All images are taken from Fashion + Music. Find out more about Katie here.