My kids laugh when I tell them I used to edit a high-fashion magazine called Wanted. Surely not their dad, notorious for his slovenly jeans and ratty Old Khaki polo shirts?
Well, it’s true. I think it’s fair to say that of this magazine’s short list of editors, I am far and away the scruffiest of the lot. The current incumbent exhibits a kind of style not seen since founding editor Gary Cotterell. I’m a distant last.
But there’s something in this, of course, because I’m quite proud of some of the fashion editorials we published during my time at the magazine, and — if you’ll excuse an indulgence — I even received an email from Vivienne Westwood congratulating me on one of them. Fancy that!
Journalism legend and City Press editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya refers to himself as a “lowly newspaperman” and I think he means it. No editor can know everything, and surrounding yourself with experts in your newsroom is the only way to make a newspaper. Everything that Business Day gets right is because of my colleagues.
This is a way not only to work but also to live. The joy of the connected era is that expertise is merely a few clicks away. Concomitantly, it is equally easy to access fakes, frauds, and buffoons, but spotting the genius amid the gibberish is a skill for life that the digital natives of my kids’ generation seem to develop early on.
Having sifted the nonsense out, the next step is to find what you love among the experts. In matters of taste there is no right answer. For example, I’d rather check the time on my iPhone than wear one of those enormous timepieces, and I find prominent branding on any product rather offensive, especially in fashion. Excellence, in my view, ought to express itself through design, engineering, quality, and cultural relevance. Plastering a luxury brand name across a pair of sunglasses, a bag or a T-shirt does little more than tell the world that it was expensive — and that, to my admittedly rather austere tastes, is vulgar. It suggests that the owner was more attracted to the product because it makes them look wealthy than by the product’s actual intrinsic value, and how it reflects cultural or historical roots.
So, what to do? Well, I find experts who understand my taste in all areas of life, and I follow them, be they authors, designers, architects, drivers, sailors or, indeed, fashion types. I follow a horde of fashion directors on Instagram and I’m sure they’d all be most unimpressed with my latest polo shirts.
The final step in this theory of remaining adjacent to the kind of excellence that appeals to you is to make your own expertise available to those who might be interested in it. There is little point being shy if you really know about something, no matter how obscure. After all, the internet is a big place and, at some point, somebody will ask where you got that lovely Victorian print of a hunting scene, floral jumpsuit, or wristwatch, or where that cottage was that they saw on Instagram. Whatever your thing might be, share it.
With me, of course, it’s cars. I have advised hundreds of people who have come my way to ask what kind of car they ought to be getting for their needs — usually family-friendly motoring at a certain budget. I usually implore them to consider a car, not an SUV, because they are better in every measurable way. The vast majority ignore me and buy some kind of sensible and bland crossover jelly mould that’s instantly forgettable and entirely resalable — and so probably make the right decision for their wallets.
But, once in a very rare while, a friend or an acquaintance really listens and goes out to get something they hadn’t had on their radar. There are fewer nicer feelings than when somebody does something on your advice and it makes them happy.
This, then, is how to edit your life. Just watch out for the snake-oil salespeople and paid-for influencers. For the rest, the world is your oyster, and for somebody out there you are a source of wisdom.
• Alexander Parker is editor-in-chief of Business Day, Business Live, and BDTV
• From the April edition of Wanted, 2023.