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2011 March 8

The Assistant Files, Vol. 1: Sergio Kletnoy, Marie Claire

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Sergio Kletnoy Sergio Kletnoy
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(NEW YORK) They're the gatekeepers, sanity-restorers and overall organizers for some of the most important fashion figures around. What's the story with these amazing assistants, who are often as formidable as their bosses? So every Tuesday, The Daily will be chatting up a different assistant extraordinaire each Tuesday for stylish (and sometimes absurd) tales from the trenches. For the debut dose, meet Sergio Kletnoy, 33, the professional significant other of dynamo Marie Claire editrix Joanna Coles. 

You became Joanna's assistant in 2007. What were you doing before?
I was in music for about 10 years, doing international marketing at Motown, Sony, Arista and Virgin Records. Then I worked on the World Music Awards for five years, producing the show in Monte Carlo. And then I saw The Devil Wears Prada.

How did Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep’s thinly-veiled Anna Wintour character, inspire your career switch?
I like challenges. I'm all about finding a place most people think would be hard to work at, and to make it easy.

How do people react when they hear about your job?
They immediately assume it’s just like The Devil Wears Prada. Every single day I get asked about it. Sometimes I lie, just to see people’s reactions. I’ll embellish to mess with their heads, and tell them that I have to do things 10 times worse than what happened in the movie. They always buy it because the fashion industry is such a crazy world.

How did you score the gig?
I went on interviews at three different magazines, one of which was Vanity Fair. It took me forever to get here—I think I interviewed six times. I talked to human resources, the managing editor, the executive editor, with Joanna, then Joanna's old assistant. It was harder to get in here than the White House! I just clicked with Joanna. The first interview with her was about an hour long, and we touched on every topic you can imagine. I had no fashion experience prior to this, and she drilled me in every way imaginable.

What was Joanna looking for in a new assistant?
She wanted Lloyd from Entourage; she kept repeating that in the interview. I’ve never seen the show in my life, so I had no idea what she was talking about. But the show never appealed to me in any way, so I didn’t feel like I needed to do any research on this Lloyd guy.

What was your first day like?
I was trained by Joanna's former assistant, who worked in the beauty department at Marie Claire. She was basically telling me all the things Joanna doesn’t like: Don't play loud music, you need to always be at your desk, she likes things this way or that way, don’t do it your way. We’re two very different people. The first day, I put on loud music at my desk and the old assistant kept telling me to turn it down. I did, and then an hour later the old assistant stepped away for a moment and I turned the volume up. Joanna came out of her office and was like, “Oh my God, this is exactly what we needed in this office! A little liveliness!” So it’s not exactly as the old assistant described. I’ve made my own life here.

How else have you shaken things up at Marie Claire?
My opinions, which my boss probably doesn’t want to hear most of the time. I have a lot of them. Everyone knows when I have something to say.  

What's the dynamic between you and Joanna?
I know what she's thinking before she even says it. I am the guard dog—everyone on the outside has to get through me in order to get to her.

Have you become more fashion savvy since you’ve been here?
No, I’ve always loved clothes. I basically lived at Barneys before I started here. I spent all my money on sneakers, jeans and t-shirts. I don’t look like the average editor-in-chief’s assistant.

Has your style ever come into question with Joanna?
The first two months I worked here, I looked like a dork in a sweater. I didn’t want to look like I came out of a rock ‘n’ roll video. My tattoos were completely covered with long sleeves, and I didn't wear any baseball caps. Then Joanna saw me coming from the gym in my normal gear. She was like, “What are you doing? What is this getup?” I told her that’s how I look outside of work. Joanna said I should look this way every single day. I think she enjoys that I don’t look like every other assistant.

Is there anything she doesn’t like about your look?
Joanna really hates my tattoos. She thinks I shouldn’t be putting ink on or in my body. But it’s not really a maternal thing. She doesn’t treat me like her kids. I wish she did!

Why?
Because she has the smartest, most amazing kids I’ve ever met. Their days are filled with everything from hockey to piano lessons to language classes. She encourages her kids to do more than they should, and to go above the average. I wish my parents pushed me to do all of these extracurriculars when I was a kid. I wish I knew how to speak another language or play the guitar.

What’s an average day like?
I get in around 9 or 9:30, and Joanna gets in right after me. One of the first things I do is go through a ton of blogs and sites. Whatever's in the news, I want to be the first to know. When I give Joanna her latte, I’ll update her on the pop culture of the day. Whether Joanna knows it or not, she’ll say she does. I’ll see her Googling it 20 minutes later. It’s pretty funny! Then we go over her schedule and discuss what meetings she has and what she wants to cancel, along with phone calls to return and who she needs to see in the office or the building. It’s everything from helping her find an outfit in the fashion closet for an event to getting all the executives in for the meeting. Expenses, traveling—you can throw anything at me, and I’ll get it done. My day is done around 7 or 7:30.

What about lunch?
Joanna loves the Hearst cafeteria, and the daily chef’s special is her favorite. If she’s ever late for the lunch special, which is only available from about 12 to 1 p.m., or they run out, it just ruins her day. She's not a picky eater, though. But it’s all about the tea. All day long, Joanna makes this symbol for tea [like a referee’s 'timeout' hand signal] through the glass of her office. In the mornings, she likes green tea, and afternoons are about English breakfast with milk. She drinks five or six cups a day, and now she’s gotten me completely hooked and totally off coffee. 

Does your job continue when you leave the office?
No, Joanna is actually really good about not bothering me outside of work. But I do get an occasional email about what to prepare for the next day.

How about tending to Joanna’s personal to-do list?
She really takes care of that stuff herself, although I do babysit the kids occasionally. I’ve taken them to the movies, we’ve played soccer in the park, and I’ve hung out with them while she’s at fashion shows. I love hanging out with her kids. They make me feel like a 12-year-old.

Does Joanna ever have you do anything wacky as part of the gig?
No, and I wish she did! I wish every person in my life was as easy to deal with as Joanna. I always tell her to throw a belt at me or yell because a shoe isn’t the right color, just so I can have an intro for my book.

What’s one of the hardest parts of your job?
Definitely fashion week. I have to catch Joanna to do approvals for everything, and for seven days, it’s like pure hell. I'll run to Lincoln Center on a Saturday and have Joanna do edits in her car or at a café between shows. Then I’ll come back two hours later to pick it up. Everyone here needs the approval of the boss. Though Joanna has an open-door policy, sometimes I’m really intense about it. I’m known as a bulldog around here; I bark at people outside of the office and tell them to go away and come back in 15 minutes if Joanna is busy reading something.

Do you work on anything else besides duties for Joanna?
On top of my duties as Joanna’s assistant I do a lot of web content, so I schedule interviews, I cover photo shoots, I edit my own videos for the site. I juggle being Joanna’s right hand, and then I get my cherry on top by doing all this creative stuff that really gets me going.

Are there certain people that always get put through to Joanna on the phone?
She does, and I know who needs to be put through and who doesn’t. Her phone rings constantly with people like readers complaining about a dress they didn’t like on a certain page of the magazine. There are about 10 to 15 of those calls a day. Someone will call because they want to know where to buy a pair of earrings that Miley Cyrus is wearing. I tell them to look in the back page where the credits are! The Hearst operator constantly transfers everyone and their mother to me. We also get crazy letters from prison. I have one taped to my desk, in which a guy said he really liked seeing women’s breasts and asked us to please put more in the magazine.

How many snail mail letters do you receive?
Typically around 10 to 15 letters directed to Joanna per day. She looks through about 75 percent of reader letters every month.

What’s something a bit unexpected about Joanna?
She absolutely loves pop music. Her Blackberry’s ringtone is Taio Cruz, or whatever the hell his name is, “Break Yo’ Heart.” She’ll hear it ringing from outside her office and she’ll come running in. It’s the craziest thing to see the editor-in-chief of a magazine come into the office singing Coldplay or Amy Winehouse. Joanna came back from Milan recently, and all she was singing was Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep," dancing around to it. She really doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Joanna’s a tech junkie. How tech-literate are you? 
I’m a computer junkie and I have like four Macs at home. I edit on iMovie. But on the iPad, Joanna is a pro. I can’t even touch her. Sometimes I’ll be looking through the iPad for something for Joanna, and she’ll snatch it out of my hands because it takes me so long.

Has Joanna tried to do iPad tutorials to get you up to speed?
Oh, she tries, but I just walk away. I don’t have a bag, so to me it’s like a really big phone. A “murse” is never gonna happen. I’m a guy.

Are there any advantages to being a guy in a predominantly female office?
I don’t take anything personally. You could be the most politically incorrect person in the world and I will never let it bother me. It’s the greatest experience being one of the only guys—there are like four on the edit side—because I can get away with murder. It’s also so much easier working with women. I love it. In my four years here I’ve never seen any backstabbing or egos. By comparision, guys don’t know how to speak their minds.

Do you ever seek bro respite from all of the estrogen in the Marie Claire offices?
No way. It doesn’t get to me. Nothing gets to me!

What is the difference between musicians and magazine editors?  
I'm used to babysitting artists all day. I’ve worked with big personalities over the years, everyone from Michael Jackson, to Usher, to Kanye West. Every musician you can imagine. Joanna is just the easiest of them all.  

What’s it like having a British boss? Any cultural quirks or endearing English traits?
My dream was to work for someone like Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. I tell Joanna all the time how similar she is, and I’ve forced her to watch the show. She’d seen it before, but I’ve made her sit down when she’s home with the box set and watch the entire series. Joanna actually had the actress who plays Patsy, Joanna Lumley, come into the office while she was in a show on Broadway, because I’m so obsessed with her. Now, Joanna [Coles] quotes the show all the time.

Does Joanna have any nicknames for you?
She thinks of me as her gangster assistant. She’ll refer to me as “Sehhhhrgio,” and everyone in the office imitates that. Sometimes I don’t know if it’s Joanna calling me or someone else on the floor.

Is there an expiration date on your job?
I don’t think of this as just an assistant’s job. I’m not the type that fetches tea and sits at my desk typing away all day. Joanna allows me and every single person on this floor to push yourself. I’ve been with her this long because I enjoy working in this environment and with someone who allows me to do things. As long as I get my job done, and done well, I can do other things that get my juices flowing.

Do you think for the standard EIC’s assistant, there’s a timeframe on how long you should spend at the job?
Yes, definitely. A few years, maybe? I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but I’m not of how I want to get there. I definitely want to stay in fashion. I want to work for a fashion designer and learn that side of the business. Everything I’ve done in my life and every job I’ve taken has been because it seemed like a great experience. There’s never a plan with me!

What’s on your bucket list?
Meeting Madonna. I actually went to the Trump SoHo this weekend to do iPad interviews with Abbie Cornish and Bradley Cooper, who are on the cover of the upcoming couples issue. We did an “In The Bag” feature, and Abbie pulled out a Ricola cough drop that Madonna gave her yesterday while editing a movie they were in. I seriously just froze.

Did you ask her for the Ricola?
No. She offered it to me. I’m not a stalker! I want to meet Madonna. I don’t want her Ricola.
ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV




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