In contrast to Zac Posen’s jovial, animated demeanor, Jay Fielden, in his sleek black suit and wavy burnt orange hair, stylishly unstyled, manages to strike that elusive balance of being simultaneously wild and controlled, authoritative yet casual. I was immediately struck by his extremely distinct and very arresting presence. He has that look that says he knows something and is at least slightly humored by it. He is poised and self-assured yet also exudes a natural eagerness. Without demanding, Fielden demands respect, but is was duly reciprocated.
In his early teens in San Antonio, Texas, Fielden discovered his passion in writing and reading. His early loves included Salinger and Cheever, both of whom wrote for The New Yorker, so at 14 he subscribed. “I won’t pretend I was reading The New Yorker at 14, it was way too much for me to handle, but I at least I was buying it and carrying it around with me.”
From the beginning Fielden was fascinated by the intersection of impressive writing and impressive style, embodied by writers such as Bellow, Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
“I was interested in how those things could coexist; one wouldn’t necessarily make you take the other less seriously, which I feel like is something that goes on today, but it wasn’t the case back then,” he said.
Fielden attended five different colleges, but finally ended up graduating from Boston University and then landed a job at The New Yorker as a typist, remaining at the magazine for 10 years. At that time, fashion was still not an obvious professional trajectory.
“I did not study women’s fashion in high school or college,” he said. “I didn’t think about Christian Dior or Coco Chanel or Bill Blass, but I was interested in men’s clothes specifically the clothes I was wearing.”
It was at The New Yorker that Fielden became truly comfortable with an approach to ideas and writing that was serious and at the same time fun and distinct.
“That’s when I woke up as a journalist, in the sense that I liked almost anything as long as it was interesting,” he said. “You never know where the story will be that will reveal the deepest thing about the way we all live or what it means to be us. The New Yorker taught me you have to be willing to look.”
Then reality hit: After 10 years Fielden, was married and making $30,000 a year, and decided that wasn’t a way to build a life. His next career stop was arts editor at Vogue, where he stayed for six years, followed by a four year stint at Men’s Vogue. He then moved to Town and Country, where he has held the title of Editor and Chief for the past four years. Fielden views this as a sensible career path.
“I think Town and Country is part Vogue, part New Yorker,” he said. “At The New Yorker I learned about writing and entertaining people with your voice. About turning anything, no matter how boring it may be, into something you have to urgently tell someone. Vogue was about the visual power a magazine can exercise. I hope Town and Country can live up to both those standards.”
Fielden’s creative and editorial inspiration lies in great literature; it informs his passions.
“There’s a Spretzzatura quality to great English academics or writers,” he said. “They can get up on their hind legs and mesmerize you with what it is they are talking about in a way that has such depth and breadth.”
So who makes it to the top of Fielden’s list of favorite writers? Admitting the difficulty in picking a favorite, he nonetheless admitted that he always returns to Saul Bellow.
“He was an amazing writer, who had such an urgent voice. When you’re reading him it’s like he’s sitting right next to you talking in your ear.”
Given Fielden’s passion for literary excellence and his career in fashion writing, I had to ask is it just about the clothes or is there more to the essence of the fashion industry?
“Oh man, it’s about so many things,” he shook his head, making it clear this wasn’t just a PR-approved response. “I mean, fashion is such a weird rich tapestry of life on earth right now. People who think it’s just about choosing what to wear and spending too much money are missing the point. It’s a theater where things are being revealed about human nature and personality and desire and taste.”
On days off, when Fielden is not immersed in Lagerfeld or Dior, he spends time with his kids and attempts to stay in bed until noon, something he admits is rarely a successful endeavor. It’s difficult to sleep when you have unlimited interests.
As Fielden explains, “I can get so immersed in something, and then that’s all I think about except for my job and my children, and then suddenly another things comes up. I move very quickly from one thing to the next. That’s the nature of the job, as they say, I’m a professional dilatant. I’m supposed to know a little about a lot and that’s the rhythm of it, but I can sometimes run around like my hair is on fire.” So that’s why it’s burnt orange…
Contact Michaela Elias at melias23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.