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2011 July 12

The Assistant Files, Vol. 19: Lauren Tumas, InStyle's Ariel Foxman

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(NEW YORK) This week, The Daily gets even chicer (can you imagine that?!) with the awesome assistant to Ariel Foxman, InStyle’s impressively young managing editor and a true mag world mover-and-shaker. Lauren Tumas, 27, has worked under Foxman’s fiercely decisive and hardworking tutelage for over two years, and is currently at the crux of transitioning to an assistant editor gig at the publication. Despair not, darlings: Success stories in this industry do still occur! Oh, and Ariel is all about the chic as well. It’s basically his favorite word, Tumas tells us. Of course he is! ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

When did you catch the fashion journalism bug?
When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to all the big fashion magazines but they didn’t really read them—I was always the one that would go run and grab every copy. I had years’ worth of magazines in my basement, until I had to throw them out. I also created my own magazines and I wanted to be a designer. When I was eight years old, I found fabric and literally sewed a pair of shorts by hand—while wearing them! My mom got me sewing lessons, and I decided I didn’t want to sit behind a sewing machine every day of my life. My dad encouraged me to go into journalism because I always did well with writing in school. Soon after, I realized how much I really liked being the person that could hear people’s stories and I love telling stories.

How did you transition into your journalistic ambitions in college?  

I went to Illinois State University for two years and my major was apparel design.  I decided to transfer to Columbia College in Chicago because they had a great fine arts program. I got my B.A. in journalism, with an emphasis on magazines, and also took fashion electives. At Columbia College, I decided I wanted to be a fashion director at a magazine. But then I got more into writing, and decided I wanted to be a writer and editor. I pitched myself as a fashion trend reporter for a new online campus magazine, and was then given free reign to attend events and trunk shows in Chicago and interview local designers. I then interned and freelanced at a few regional Chicago magazines, like Chicago Social where I helped them launch their first bridal issue. I spent a year in Chicago after I graduated working at Family Time magazine for six months, which has a circulation of 40,000 in Indiana and Illinois suburbs—I got to oversee interns, write and edit. Then I worked for a local newspaper for the next six months, which had three different localized editions—I wrote restaurant reviews, plus there was hardcore reporting like police news, interviewing the FBI; it gave me great background in reporting and fact checking. So I knew I was going to move to New York after a year of staying in Chicago, so I quit my job and moved here.

Did you have something lined up in NYC upon making the move?
I didn’t have any contacts or connections; no insider family connections. I took an unpaid internship at Good Housekeeping. I figured that by just being in the Hearst building, I’d meet people and make contacts. After doing that for a couple months, I got a freelance job at InStyle.

And how did you find out about the freelance gig?
A friend of mine worked at Time Inc., and told me there was a fashion internship available. Even though I’d done six internships, I really wanted to get my foot in the door here; I would’ve done anything to work here. While interviewing with the fashion assistant, I asked to talk to her supervisor—she took me to the chief of reporters, who took one look at my resume and knew I wasn’t here for an internship. After three months here as a freelancer, I left for a six-month, fulltime freelance job at Vanity Fair, to help put together big research files and assist various editors there. I was actually sitting at my desk at Vanity Fair when I read on Gawker that Ariel was now at the helm of InStyle—I immediately thought, “Oh my God, does he have an assistant yet?”  I emailed the chief of reporters at InStyle, who I’d worked for during my freelance gig, with a list of all the reasons why I’d be perfect for the job of Ariel’s assistant. I interviewed with a few staffers here before scoring an interview with Ariel himself.

How was your interview with Ariel?
He was very serious. I noticed his porcelain skin, of course—everyone does! So many people that don’t know him can be intimidated but he is the nicest person. After the interview, I was told I got the job—I was pretty shocked because I was told there were a lot of people applying for it.

What were your first few weeks like being back at InStyle, as Ariel’s assistant?
Ariel had just been named editor in September 2008, and I started in the position less than two months later. Interns had been helping him out before I started, but there was still a lot of work waiting for me. I had this unique experience of being with someone as their assistant, while they kind of took over—I was Ariel’s first assistant here. It proved to be an invaluable opportunity; no one told me what the systems were, I had to discover that on my own. I really had to discover all that on my own.

What’s the daily grind like around here?
I make sure I’m here at least a half hour to an hour before Ariel, depending on the day. He is usually in by like 9 or 9:30 a.m. I get the office set up perfectly; Ariel wants his WWD plus all the newest magazines, and I’ll go through the mail before he arrives. He is obsessed with a reader mail—that’s probably his favorite thing about the job. So I make sure I schedule in enough time for Ariel to go through reader mail. We have a circulation of 10 million readers, so we get a lot of mail! No one believes this, but Ariel literally goes through every single letter we get…and we get hundreds of letters a day. Today I came in and there were 96 emails in the reader email inbox since yesterday. I make sure to clear out the mailbox, especially on Fridays, because otherwise it’d be over capacity every Monday. Ariel just loves to see what people have to say about the stories, the cover girls, who they want to see on the covers. I go through all of it and print everything out, and put it in a file. It’s the first thing Ariel wants to see when he comes in.

Wow, sounds like a deluge of mail to dive into! What else is on Ariel’s plate?
On a typical day, Ariel has lots of breakfast, lunches and dinners with celebrities, designers, and advertisers. What people don’t always realize either is, while lots of editor-in-chiefs are responsible for one issue a month, Ariel is the editor of the entire brand. That’s like 16 international issues, the website, our special issues—anything or anywhere where our name is going to be used. When he’s not having meetings about licensing, there are meetings about printing and how to make the paper quality better. There are a lot of circumstances where people need his approval on the brand. Ariel also must meet with our publisher, Connie Anne Phillips, often.  Also every day, Ariel has a meeting with the art department to go over the newest pages that have been designed, since he has a say in how every detail looks. He’s very hands-on.

What does he eat for breakfast normally?
Lots of egg whites and oatmeal. He is pretty healthy.

Where are Ariel’s lunch haunts?

He loves Minetta Tavern and Lamb’s Club. I make lots of reservations there, but I don’t know what he eats. I actually have become very good friends with head reservationists and PR people for restaurants while booking for Ariel.

What is one of Ariel’s pet peeves?
Definitely being addressed in emails or calls as “Ms. Ariel Foxman.” It happens all the time. Not with a designer or someone in the industry, but with random people—even people contacting him for jobs and addressing him as “Ms.” Someone applied for a fact checking position and did that in the cover letter. We couldn’t believe that! You’d think the first thing someone would do when applying for a job is to do a Google search.

How about a guilty pleasure?
Ariel is pretty healthy and disciplined, but he looks forward to a great cappuccino during fashion week when he’s in Europe. And when someone sends macarons, Ariel can appreciate a really good macaron.

What else have you done beyond assisting responsibilities?
Ariel has always been an amazing mentor to me, and I even told him during my interview that I want to be an editor-in-chief one day. As busy as Ariel his, he has always taken the time to sit me down and teach me things. Six months into my time, he had enough confidence in me to give me a front-of-book section, “Feedback,” which is the reader mail page. It meant a lot because Ariel told me it was the first section he got to edit when he assisted the editor-in-chief at Details. I’ll go through the reader mail with Ariel and he’ll recommend which letters to feature. I get to write and edit the “At The Cover Shoot” page on what goes on behind the scenes, and I also do the “Her 10 Best Ever!” where we look back on a celebrity’s best looks. So I’m probably the only person who gets to watch and hear Ariel edit my work—he’ll tell me his feedback and explain everything to me. It’s one of the most amazing parts of my position. Also, a few months into the job, Ariel sat me down next to him in his office and showed me how to write cover lines. I don’t know anyone else in a job like this who has gotten to do that. It’s amazing to see his thinking behind each decision. He will also ask me my opinion on cover designs; the fact that he takes a minute to ask me means a lot.

Can you divulge any juicy cover line pointers?
You’d have to ask Ariel on that one—those are InStyle secrets!

Do you often work directly with interns?
Someone always needs to be at my desk, so if I need to go somewhere I have an intern sit in my place. I’ll have other interns that help and go run and grab his breakfast and coffee. I was recently promoted to assistant editor at InStyle, so I am definitely getting a lot of intern help as I transition to that new role while still assisting Ariel. Right now, we’re still interviewing; a final decision hasn’t been reached on who is replacing me yet.

Congrats! What will your new title entail?
It’s in editorial, and it’s technically in the features department. Ariel and I have always talked about what I want to do next, and every six months or so we’ll sit down and discuss how I’m doing and what my goals are. He knew I wanted to transition to an editorial role, but creating or finding the right position takes some time. I’ll be working on big packages and the service-y features we do for the readers, which have lots of components. I’m really excited to be able to stay at InStyle; it’s such a well-oiled machine. People that have interned or worked here and have since moved on always comment on that. Everyone meets their deadlines and works hard to get things done—they do their jobs and do them well. I think Ariel has the highest standards for everybody. He’s always pushing the staff to think about how we can revamp a particular page, or make the magazine better as a whole.

How has Ariel’s mentorship inspired you to help other aspiring EICs?
Ariel is very involved in the publishing world. He judges the Summer Publishing Course at NYU, and he teaches classes at Time Inc. University, where other editors and people at the company attend. Ariel is also on the ASME board, so I’ve actually been on their junior board—ASME next—and just recently they chose me as president. We just met the new ASME interns last week. For Ed2010, I mentor an intern. As busy as Ariel is, if he can take the time to mentor others, it makes me want to do the same. Anyone that goes to the effort of reaching out to me deserves a response.

What’s some of the best advice Ariel has given you?
Ariel has taught me that when you want something, you have to ask for it—and then you have to ask for it a second time.

Since you’re a mentor now as well, what words of wisdom do you dole out?

 Besides always writing everything down, I try to never, ever tell Ariel “no.” Whether he needs me to find this item or locate that person, I go to great lengths to make it happen. Sometimes Ariel’s creative ideas can be challenging, but I try to go the extra mile, make five extra calls, stay on hold a half-hour to get Ariel the answer he wants. A couple weeks ago, Ralph Lauren’s daughter, Dylan, was having a wedding upstate. Ariel knew she was concerned about the rain that weekend, and he wanted to send her white rain boots. There were none in Dylan’s size available in the entire city from the brand we wanted, so in a 24-hour span, I found a pair out of state and made sure we got them in time.

What’s one of Ariel’s most mentor-worthy qualities?
He is incredibly decisive. He might be one of the most decisive people I’ve ever met. He never pauses; whether it’s the smallest detail or something so complex, I’ve never met someone who doesn’t hesitate for a moment. He isn’t wishy-washy about anything. Ariel knows exactly what he wants, and he never changes his mind. Everybody respects him so much for that; it really makes him a great leader.

What would you be shocked to see on Ariel’s to-do list?
A sporting event, probably!

What’s fashion week like in the InStyle realm?
I’d volunteered to work fashion week before, shortly before I started working here; usually students from design schools, that get to stuff gift bags and monitor where people sit. I’d done that once, so I could get to see the show. My first fashion week working for Ariel, I was in charge of organizing his schedule, allotting how to fit 10 events in one night—45 minutes here, half an hour there, just running all over town. The second time around, Ariel gave me the amazing opportunity to report for InStyle’s website, and to ask questions to use in the magazine, too. I did that while balancing everything for Ariel. I’d be backstage, checking my Blackberry to make sure Ariel was making all of his appointments on time; then I’d turn on the mike and interview the designer and all the celebrities backstage. I carry his itineraries with me wherever I go during fashion week—we do them daily, since venues and times can change so last minute, and they’re pretty thorough.

What’s one of the most surprising things about the gig?
People might imagine Ariel to be entitled, but he’s definitely not. In the economic times we went through, it was really interesting to see how Ariel managed and lead the magazine during a time when a lot of publications were closing. We’re conscious of price points featured and are always keeping the reader in mind. Even when its Ariel’s travel costs for work, he keeps the company’s best interests in mind. There’s the assumption that being an editor-in-chief involves so much excess, and it’s not like that around here.

What else surprises you about Ariel?
He’ll sing in his office, something like Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.

Does he have a good voice?
Ha! He does; he can carry a tune. I think he’s so funny, and I get to see the sillier side of Ariel in my job.

How has your style changed since working here?
Well, I’m around Ariel all the time, and he has the most impeccable, incredible taste. Ever! I cringe when I think about the stuff I would’ve bought or worn when I first started here. You can compliment someone in the elevator here about their nail polish or lipstick, and they’ll tell you what brand and shade it is. I have a finer appreciation for things and a better eye for detail after being around Ariel. His favorite word is “chic,” and he’s redefined the way I understand that word. Now, everything needs to be chic, whether I’m ordering flowers or buying a gift for someone—Ariel lives by the word chic.

Does Ariel ever talk about Cargo?
He does! I know it was like his baby, and he put a lot of time and energy into it since he was  there from the very beginning and basically created it. It was a really exciting time for Ariel, and I know he learned a lot from the experience. Someone who used to work at Cargo gave  Ariel a bunch of reader letters years after the magazine folded. The letters were all about how much readers loved the magazine, and how sad they were when it ended. I know it meant a lot to Ariel.

What does Ariel read?
GQ, New York, Monocle, and all our competitive set. Considering how busy Ariel is, I don’t know how he’s so on top of everything!

What else does he keep tabs on, besides most of the newsstand?
Before a restaurant opens, he knows about it; seemingly every celebrity beauty contract is on his radar. I don’t think Ariel sleeps a lot, though I don’t know for sure! He seems to sit in bed on his iPad, because I’ll receive emails very late at night or early in the morning that say “Sent from my iPad” at the bottom. Even when he’s sick or not in the office, it never stops for him.

Quality time with the iPad in bed! How else does Ariel embrace technology?
He’s really into Twitter; he loves the reader feedback element. When we did the “Rub and Smell” issue recently, there were a ton of readers tweeting about it. People go nuts in the Twittersphere—when a new issue comes out, there’s instantaneous feedback. I think that’s really gratifying for Ariel.

Who is the InStyle reader, in your words?
She is my best-dressed friend—someone with their own personal sense of style that likes to mix both high and low price points. People always say that they read InStyle, so do their daughters—and their mothers! There’s truly something for everyone in the magazine.

What’s on your career bucket list?
I’m really excited to be able to devote more time to writing and editing in my new position. I was considering business school for a bit, but honestly I feel like I’ve gotten a business education working here and with Ariel—I feel like I can be successful in whatever I do after this, because of the business-minded skills Ariel has implemented in me here. We joke around here that it’s like being at a finance magazine, except we’re all in heels. It’s my dream to write an InStyle cover story in the next few years—that would just be amazing. Right now, Kate Middleton would be a really interesting subject. So would Michelle Obama. But as I told Ariel the first time I met him, my biggest dream is to be editor-in-chief.

You’re angling to be editor-in-chief of InStyle eventually?
Well, I don’t know how long Ariel plans to be here! We’ll see. But that’s the ultimate dream for everyone who wants to work in magazines, right?

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