Austin native takes fun, frank look at New York fashion scene


“There are two kinds of people in this world: those who wear leather pants and those who do not.”

Amy Odell, an Austin native and now editor of Cosmopolitan.com, appeals to both sides of that fashion divide in her debut book, “Tales from the Back Row: An Outsider’s View from Inside the Fashion Industry.” It’s a wry look at the fashion industry, based on Odell’s experiences as a party reporter and fashion blogger in New York. Odell will talk about her memoir Saturday at the Texas Book Festival.

“Tales” is divided into chapters that focus on the major players in the New York fashion scene, including designers, editors, celebrities and trendsetters. As a reporter and blogger, Odell says, she was able to experience this often crazy world without being a part of it.

“I’m not part of the in-crowd,” she writes. “If I were, I don’t think I’d be able to write about it any differently than the pages of Vogue (not real talk), which serves primarily as a purveyor of the illusion of fashion, rather than a decoder of it.”

Odell’s “real talk” approach balances a frank look at the industry with an acknowledgement of the allure of that world.

“This industry runs itself in such a way as to make consumers, particularly women, feel bad about themselves — for being too poor, too fat, too unattractive, too tasteless, too conventional,” she writes. “I am not immune to this. It’s part of what drew me to this business in the first place. The fashion industry, in many ways, is a study in how deeply we long to stand out in order to fit in.”

But the book is much more about humor than exposé, and Odell has no problem laughing at herself, whether she’s describing getting tipsy on margaritas with Chelsea Handler before going wedding dress shopping; awkwardly eating ravioli with Richard Gere; asking Jay Z “What do you smell like?” at a fragrance launch party; and her stress over interviewing for a job with fashion journalism’s doyenne, Vogue’s Anna Wintour.

Her tales are juicy but never mean-spirited or salacious. And throughout, she examines what fashion means to those who love it, and why it is important.

“You can look at fashion as clothes by the absurd, for the even more absurd (and absurdity should be mocked or, at the very least, questioned),” she writes. “But you can also look at the ways these clothes — made by dedicated, passionate, and yes, sometimes slightly crazy people — can make you feel like your best self, whether you’re going to the mall, Fashion Week, or your own wedding.”

As the founding blogger for the Cut and an online editor (she worked at BuzzFeed before moving to Cosmopolitan.com), Odell and her career path illuminate the changes in the journalism industry as more readers move to multimedia platforms.

“It’s hard on the Internet,” Odell says recently by phone. “You’re constantly working to bring readers into the experience you’re offering them. The challenge is to find a way to bring the audience in and keep them coming back.”

At Cosmopolitan.com, Odell and her staff focus on millennial readers, offering stories on everything from sex to politics to beauty to pop culture and more. That variety is intentional, Odell says, and the site aims to establish a conversational, smart, fun voice that will appeal to their readers.

“A young woman is interested in everything,” she says.

Writing a book had long been a goal for Odell, but despite her experience as a writer and editor, the process was challenging.

“It’s so much more difficult than anything I’ve ever done. It took a really long time … I think it was maybe four years or more” from the genesis of the idea through publication, Odell says.

“Books are interesting,” she says. “When you’re working on a website, you get instant gratification. With books, it’s very different.”

Odell, who grew up in Austin and graduated from Westlake High School, says she’s excited to get back to Texas. “Just being there, just driving around and being out of the city, where it’s sunny and green and warm,” she says.

And at the book festival, she’ll no doubt have some more tales to tell.



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