I came across Emma Specter's work through GARAGE and I grew so attached to her dry, self-deprecating humor, witty references, and playful commentary, I just had to reach out to her for an interview. I mean, who else could write articles titled "Accidental Style Icon: Ashley Tisdale, Queen of Early-2000s Capitalist Excess" (a smart and surprisingly earnest ode to the noughties Disney actress that somehow manages to seamlessly incorporate My Year of Rest and Relaxation as well as Little Women) or "Trend Forecasting: Wearing Sunglasses on the Back of Your Neck Like Guy Fieri" (a particularly grim addition to her Trend Forecasting series which predicts what regrettable fashion choices will soon have a moment). Even her more typical celebrity news pieces have a certain panache; take, for example, "Justin Bieber's Sweatpants Are, Quite Simply, Art" or "How Many People Does It Take To Carry Lady Gaga's Hot-Pink Train?"
At the time of this interview, Emma was working as Assistant Editor at GARAGE (so most of my questions were based on that), but she has since started working for an obscure fashion magazine called Vogue, where she continues to tackle everything from the 00s fashion/tech resurgence to how to get more politically involved in the 2020 election with the same zeal and gusto as before, if not more, bringing an inspiriting take to the publication.
But her self-described "fun and deranged" voice is at its peak on her Twitter, a glittering gem in the dismal environment of discourse on Twitter. She actually credits Twitter for her job at GARAGE. It's easy to see why, with quips like "my therapist and i were wearing the same red lipstick tonight.....femme4femme" and "you think you're gonna embarrass me for being corny? on the internet where i once had a blogspot? think again babe" (that one stung a bit, as I actually still maintain a blogspot blog).
Even though she was sick in bed and probably in the midst of writing genius tweets along with a thousand other projects, Emma kindly talked with me over the phone back in July. I think that her humor and eloquence really shine through in the interview below.
What is your educational background?
I grew up in New York, and then I went to Kenyon college in Ohio. I studied creative writing and I helped run the school blog with my friend Kate. We really liked the pace of blogging and finding fun stuff to say about student life and I spent a lot more time on that than my schoolwork. That was my first real experience with websites and daily writing.
How did you start working for Garage?
My former editor Rachel Tashjian-- she's at GQ now --we followed each other on Twitter and she thought I was funny I guess. She sent me a message saying that the assistant editor was leaving. I came in and interviewed and got the job. So it was thanks to Twitter, really.
What does your day-to-day schedule look like at Garage?
It changes every day. We just got an amazing new features editor named Laia Garcia-Furtado. Before she got there, I was kinda running the site by myself, so I did a lot of daily writing and a lot of news posts. I wake up and look around for things that might make a good post, and then send it to my editor and then I'll write it. I work at our office in DUMBO, and I spend about half the day working on breaking news pieces and half the day on longer features and editing.
What's the most challenging part about your job?
Making sure that we stay relevant and that we're putting out good content. When you don't have a ton of time for a story, you still want it to hit home. Balancing the care and attention of a longer story with the needs of working for a website is really hard.
What's the most rewarding part?
I think working with so many amazing writers and editors. I love my whole team. I get to work with so many really talented writers and build my editing skills. I think the most rewarding part is just seeing a story that I've written or helped edit get out there, and seeing people on Twitter or Instagram connect with it or repost it saying something about it made them think in a new way.
What work are you most proud of?
I'm really proud of any long-form piece where I get to examine why we think the way we do about fashion and art. I had a piece I was really proud of about boob art, and how Urban Outfitters and a lot of homeware design incorporates anatomy. I was really interested in that as a sociological trend almost, and what it says about feminism and how we see women and who gets represented in these design movements. So anything like that, that I get to take my time on, I'm really proud of.
How would you describe Garage readers?
Really smart and really motivated to do something challenging and interesting. People on the internet are so smart and have so many websites at their disposal, so you really want to make sure you're breaking through.
How would you describe your voice as a writer?
Kinda fun and deranged, I would say. I love writing weird stories. I'm very lucky to work at a place that empowers me to make my voice heard and I feel like I can add to the conversation sounding the way I want to sound. That's such a big privilege and I wish that for any writer.
Your job sounds pretty time intensive-- how do you make time for yourself?
Since I spend so much time online for work, and then also socially, I think a big part of it is making sure I spend some time to read actual, physical books and checking out of the Twitter discourse. And of course boring stuff like exercise that I don't really want to do but that makes me feel better.
What are your favorite books?
I'll just tell you my recent favorites because the list would be too crazy. I really loved Severance by Ling Ma and I just read Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett. Trisha Low wrote this book called Socialist Realism that is really cool.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It sounds so corny, but just trust that there's gonna be a place after high school where people actually value your view on the world and what you bring to the table. And just keep writing and keep putting things that you find interesting out into the world via the internet because that's how I got my job. There are people that think like you out in the world, you just have to find them.
What draws you to fashion and art? Have you always wanted to write about those subjects?
I never thought I'd be writing about fashion and art. I wrote general interest and news stuff for
a website based in LA for a year and that was fun and exciting. But I really like how fashion and art is a smaller scope that forces you to examine everything through that lens. Like I love looking at politics and history through the lens of fashion and art. It tells us so much about the way we live and the things we value. I think there's so many amazing young artists and designers who are challenging our view of what the world can and should look like. I think it's such a cool prism through which to view the world.
Who are some of your favorite artists and designers?
I love Tschabalala Self. I've always loved John Currin. Designer-wise, I love Telfar Clemens. I love the Chromat team, what they do is so cool. I do a lot of vintage shopping, and there's this store called Room Shop Vintage in Philadelphia that I really like. They do their own tie dye and all this really cool stuff. I love Nina Z in Hudson New York, where my dad lives.
What's your best vintage find?
I have this jumpsuit that looks like an impressionist painting that I really love. I wore it yesterday.
If you were to create a 3 song playlist to your life, what songs would you include and why?
"All Flowers in Time Bend Toward the Sun" by Jeff Buckley and Elizabeth Frazer because it makes me cry, "Banga" by Patti Smith because it makes me happy, and "You're So Cool" by Hans Zimmer because it makes me run fast.
What skill do you think is most important for a young journalist to develop?
Resilience! This can be a really hard industry, so you have to be able to roll with the punches.