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2012 February 11

Filipa Flies Solo!

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(NEW YORK) After 11 warm years under Anna Wintour’s wing, Vogue accessories chick Filipa Fino left the Condé nest in June to try and wing it on her own. Fino File—her online-only fashion magazine—brings her years of curatorial  savvy to the digital fold for the very first time. Watch your back, BryanBoy...

Fino File? Talk us through it…
I oversaw the accessories department at Vogue for eight years and was at Condé Nast for 11. Then, about two years ago, we launched Basically, it was a whole new challenge and no one really knew what digital was about. I oversaw the accessories for the website and the dynamics of the digital world fascinated me. People would stop me and tell me that the bag I suggested was amazing, and I’d ask them what issue it was in, and they’d say, ‘Oh, no. It was on!’ It was as if what we were doing at the magazine was becoming irrelevant, in a way. Today, in all reality, if we didn’t get a box of Vogues every month, my kids wouldn’t read it. Yet they can make their own digital fashion boards in five seconds.

How did you know you could pull it off?
I’m one of these stubborn people that have a business background. I went to business school and majored in finance and marketing. I hate not knowing how to do something. I would literally sit my kids down with my notebook and make them teach me.

Have you always been a big online shopper?
Absolutely! I’m obsessed with 1stdibs and eBay, even though I’m the least technical person you’ll ever meet. Then, of course, there’s the other thing that started happening along with the digital boom—bloggers. These young kids were suddenly being seated next to Anna, next to us. I’d think, ‘What are you, 24?’ They’re now included in the CFDA! There’s no control over information anymore. At Vogue, we prided ourselves on being first, but it became impossible. I started to wonder if I should save a shoe for a Grace [Coddington] shoot or be the first to post it on It was a constant battle. 

Did it hurt to get scooped by BryanBoy?
Well, you know…we came on a little late to the game. The website was a stepchild to the magazine for a long time, since the magazine is so powerful, but it makes more sense now to put the information on the web. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing: because a 25-year-old without experience in the Philippines with a dynamic personality has a reach that’s as strong as mine, if not stronger. The experience I had [at Vogue], and at all the magazines I’ve worked with, was fantastic, but I have to be smart and say, ‘Listen, Filipa. What you’ve been doing for so many years is changing and isn’t going to be there anymore.’ This blogger kid is in the same place that I am, but didn’t do all those things that I did. You wonder, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ I respect bloggers and enjoy their work, but the point of view and credibility is not there and a lot of their information is the same.

Do you have partners in your new venture?
Terry Tsiolis, who is a great photographer who’s shot for Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and French Vogue, heads my photo department. John Langston, who started off as my assistant, is our art director. There are a lot of great shopping websites, but the experience is all very catalogued and analytical. That doesn’t entice me. What entices me is the glamorous pages in Vogue, where you look at what the girl is wearing, shot at the hot new café where everyone is at...but that’s not shoppable. I want to bring the feeling of a magazine with a very edited point of view to the Web. That’s what these young kids lack. I’ve been going to shows since 1997. I’ve sat with these designers. I’ve helped start many of their careers. There’s so much information out there, but there’s no one presenting a filtered vision. 

Why not start a blog like everyone else?
I always wanted it to be a magazine. I wouldn’t know what to do with a blog. Even though I’m interested in blogs, I don’t understand them and I don’t relate to them. 

Even though blogs are a lot more popular?
Absolutely. But I’m a true believer in sticking to what you know best. There’s nobody doing what I’m doing on this type of format.

What’s the business plan? Affiliate sales?
It’s like the Wild West. There’s still unclaimed territory. People are still trying to see how you can capitalize on it. If you do affiliate sales, for example, you can create a readership with a lot of volume since you’re not restricted by geography. My goal is to expand internationally next year. 

Do brands such as Bottega do affiliate sales?
I don’t know. Most shopping models are affiliate sales. It’s just about setting it up!

Where did your taste level come from?
I come from an old Portuguese and Spanish family. I was born and raised in Spain. I lived in New York from seven to 12 when my father came over to open a Portuguese bank on Wall Street, which is how my American roots started. Then, I went to boarding school in Switzerland. If you ask me where home is, it’s still Europe. My parents divorced when I was seven. My grandmother would go to Paris once a season to do her shopping. She took me to my first Valentino fashion show. My mother also worked in fashion. She worked for Calvin Klein for a while and Andrew Rosen in New York, actually. My family was always in banking, but they were also owners of wool factories in Portugal. So I was brought up going to the factory and sewing pieces of cloth for my dolls. My grandmother is 87 years old, and she still asks me which colors are on the runway. My teenage fascination was Princess Caroline of Monaco. To this day, she’s my style icon. 

OK, Christmas with Anna: You mentioned shopping for her in your editor’s letter. What was that process like?
Everyone who oversees the accessories department is Anna’s shopper every time she needs a gift. It just becomes a part of your job. I actually enjoyed it.

How many gifts did she give a year?
Probably 50. Basically, she calls you in with list of people to buy for, by category. There are the teenagers, such as her nieces...When Bee was in college, I was looking for great school bags. 

What’s the best present she ever gave?
Personally, my favorite gift from Anna is always a print, but she doesn’t give those that often. Once, we hired a star chef to cook someone a private dinner. She likes her gifts wrapped by her assistants with her special paper.

Sounds intense! Were you living in fear?
Never. I really enjoyed doing it. She likes what she likes, but her daily bag is still L.L.Bean. One time, we found out that the inserts of her Hermès agenda had run out and searched the entire luxury market for replacements in every country. After a few frantic days, my brilliant intern figured out FiloFax made them! All we had to do was go to Staples!

Is that a sign of insanity?
I don’t think so. I’m like that, too. I think you’re misreading Anna.

Couldn’t someone have just asked her what kind of inserts she uses?
Sure, but she doesn’t always know. Plus, a lot of people are afraid to ask her. That’s the biggest mistake you can make if you work for Anna. You have to ask the question, or you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. She just wants it done. You mentioned fear, but I’ve never, ever been afraid of Anna. I was always open with her. 

How was it different than working with Linda Wells?
At times, it was much more challenging to work with Linda than Anna. Linda’s forte is content. She’s a great writer. I mean, I still read her editor’s letter. She gets it, and she’s witty, but her strength isn’t fashion. It was challenging to present things to Linda because she didn’t always know what she wanted. Anna knows what she wants. That’s much easier to work with. Anna’s decision-making is one of her biggest assets, even when you don’t agree with her. It’s funny: That one piece you’re not sure about, she always points out. She knows, always.

Have any of your former colleagues told you they wished they were doing what you’re doing?
A lot have, yes, in private.

You left not long after Sally Singer. Are you still in touch?
Of course! I love Sally. She’s one of the best editors around. At Vogue, she was the only voice that really brought a different point of view. When she left, I felt like we lost some of that controversy. I knew after she left that it was going to be something different. Now, it’s about couture. I feel like I’m back in the real world, but I would never be here without that experience.

Any advice for other editors feeling envious of Tavi?
What Tavi sees at 16 is not what she’s going to see when she has a rock star boyfriend or when she’s 25. She hasn’t lived, and she hasn’t lived through fashion. My advice is have the experience—assist, lug trunks for days. I’m old-school.

Magazines are about aspiration. The web is about democracy. Can you really merge the two?
It’s a fine line. It’s about remaining mystical and aspirational yet still connecting to the customer. Grace Coddington is fabulous at that.

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