BuzzFeed Fashion’s “How I Made It in Fashion” series takes an in-depth look at the careers of fashion’s most successful players. Ahead, Paper magazine’s editorial director Mickey Boardman talks dropping out of school, celebrity horror stories, and more.
I remember being in the grocery store in Hanover Park, Illinois, seeing Vogue. I thought, What is a legitimate excuse for a 10-year-old boy to buy a Vogue? I also recall once when my mom was sick, I said, “Oh, I’m just going to get some magazines for mom because she’s sick.” I didn’t plot to get involved in fashion. I kind of always just visualized a lifestyle that would involve lots of travel and interesting people.
I have a B.A. in Spanish. I lived in Madrid for a while but I decided I wanted to study fashion design, so I moved to New York and came to Parsons. Shortly after starting, I realized I was terrible at sewing — but I liked dressing people up. I did these collections like “the Supremes go to Shanghai,” which was all black models in gold lamé; I did a “Jackie Ho” collection, which was like a hip-hop Jackie Onassis. And no one cared — two teachers ever in my time there thought I was fabulous, and the rest thought I was insane. There was some contest we all had to enter, and I did Las Vegas showgirls on swings, and they basically had no clothes on — they were wearing body stockings with glitter and headdresses… What was I thinking? I did three and a half years of a BFA in fashion design and then failed a class my senior year and didn’t finish.
[While attending Parsons] I worked at Paper as an intern. They loved me, loved that I dressed like a freak and thought I was fabulous and — I was flourishing at the magazine. By the point I failed my first class, I had already written my first piece for the magazine.
The managing editor asked me to interview Vanessa Paradis. Kim Hastreiter, the co-founder of Paper, always said, “If you can talk, you can write.” But I was too much of a wuss. I couldn’t do it, and I still regret it. And a month later they needed someone to interview Rupert Everett. I met him at the pool at the Peninsula Hotel; he was in a mesh tank top and we talked about jockstraps and other dirty gay things. It was a teeny little quarter- or half-page newsy thing, and they paid me $35. I thought that was great!
The person who had hired me at Paper who was the office manager, Kim and David’s assistant, the party photographer, all these things [at once] — she quit, so they asked me to answer the phones while they figured out what to do. I was the star intern, and I just felt at home. I was so happy that the [attributes] other places thought made me bad, [at Paper] they thought made me good. And the positive reinforcement made me work even harder. When I stopped answering the phones I was very sad, because there you’re at the heart of everything — if you’re a gossipy type like myself, it’s [great]. And despite being a real sloppy mess, I ran a tight ship at the front desk. My desk was immaculate, and I would scrub it every night.
Then I took over as photo editor. I didn’t know anything about photography, but I loved magazines and I knew what Paper was about, and I would look at art books, and if I liked them, show them to Kim. Between answering phones I’d call Terry Richardson and say, “Can you shoot Portishead next week for $50?”
Some of these kids, they want to style the cover the minute they get here. I was just thrilled to get there. Someone who wants to get the job done that always shines, so that’s the first hurdle to getting ahead — you’re there to help, whatever your job is.
We started this online forum called Echo. It was before the internet even. We would go on and talk about clubs or art and all kinds of different [things]. It was our job to go on every day, and we’d post and people would respond. I’d go on in the fashion section and I’d do makeovers, like, “I want to give a makeover today to the Pope and it’s going to be 1960s flight attendant.” [Paper’s editors] said, “These are so funny, we want to give you a joke fashion advice column.” I’m not great with deadlines, so they said, “We’re going to give you the questions and you have to sit down at your computer and you can’t get up until you’re done.” They wanted it to be spontaneous.
In terms of cover stories, we’ve had some fun ones, we’ve had some horrible ones. The three celebrities we shot for Paper who I thought were going to be crazy but weren’t were Lindsay Lohan (March 2008), Prince (June 1999), and Mariah Carey (December 2009). They were all super-easy and fabulous. Lindsay was five minutes early! And same with Mariah. With Mariah, I wanted her to drink only out of a gold goblet, but none of that happened. She was a little nutty, though — all she wanted to do was be on all fours with the boobs out and the butt out. If you have Mariah, you’re going to get Mariah.
Prince was going to come clothed, all hair and makeup ready, [have the shoot] done in an hour and then leave. I get to the shoot’s location minutes before he’s going to arrive and they were filming a shampoo commercial. The studio’s filled with German people yelling and screaming, and [this commercial] was supposed to be done but it wasn’t. So Prince rolls up in his stretch limo and I’m having a nervous breakdown. I said, “I’m so sorry, we’re not ready.” And he said, “Well, should I just drive around the block for half an hour?” So he does, he comes back and the Germans are still yelling and screaming. I said, “Can you come back tomorrow at the same time?” and he said, “I can come back tomorrow at the same time, but promise that you’re going to be ready.” I promised, and we were, and it was easy breezy. That cover was one of our biggest sellers ever.
Others were not fun. Marisa Tomei was not fun. Nicki Minaj was not fun. The Nicki thing turned out fine in the end, but it was two weeks of hideous torture and [her] walking off shoots. We had hired a photographer who’d shot her before. She liked the pictures, so we got him to shoot her again for the cover a year or two later. The first day of the shoot, she was locked in a room with her hair and makeup team, people whom she picked — she made them put [all her hair/makeup] on, then take it off. She would not let anyone from our team, stylists or photographers, talk to her. She came out and it was a mess. The photographer took some shots and she said, “Let me see.” He [showed her] five frames and she walked off — it was insanity. I had to sign up for AOL Instant Messenger so I could talk to her later, and she hung up on me on AIM. It was a super headache. We were going to do another shoot and then she had to cancel the day before. In the end everything was set up, but she wouldn’t use the stylist that we had. [Eventually] we got it, and the pictures looked great.
Ben Stiller was also pretty horrible. We were supposed to shoot him on a Thursday, his team called late Wednesday night saying they couldn’t do it and they’d let us know about rescheduling. So they call Monday afternoon and say they can do it tomorrow. I was scrambling for a studio and I found one — it was basically somebody’s apartment that had a studio in it. And he was just not having it. At one point he said to his publicist, “Can you call Mickey and say the air conditioning’s not cold enough?” And I’m like, “I heard him because he was standing right next to me.”
I’ve had this job for 20 years. The feeling I have of fitting in here is still so strong. My friends from Vogue have car services and fly business class, and I’m jealous, though I’m happy for them. But Paper has been generous with me. I’ve never actively pursued leaving. I’m very shy about pitching myself. I like people to call me up and say, “I want to do this — can you do it?” A few people have asked me over the years, but I feel like there are rewards [here at Paper] that are deeper and more meaningful than the rewards of moving around.
There are a few things that would tempt me, though. One is if I ever got over New York. I kind of have this fantasy to be called by Vogue Poland or Marie Claire Romania. If Vogue India called me and said, “We want you to take over — you can do whatever you want,” I’d do sort of the fashion school things and go crazy. It would last for a year and then they’d pull the plug because it would be too wild, but it would become a weird cult collectors’ thing. And I’d always have a relationship to Paper — it would have to be a Steven Gan/Harper’s Bazaar kind of moment.
My first fashion show, I had a standing ticket to Todd Oldham in 1992. I was kind of petrified they wouldn’t let me in, even though I had the ticket in my hand. Christy Turlington was in the show. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is so glamorous, it’s all fabulous.” It wasn’t the hysteria that fashion week is now.
I’ve really had a reaction against street style, I have to say. Since I’m such a Pollyanna, it’s funny for me to not like something. I like Bill Cunningham, when he’s out on the street and he’s shooting normal people who are putting their looks together. But if you’re borrowing an outfit to go to a fashion show, it’s not street style to me. I think people have really revolted against it all. If you’re outside an important show in Paris, it’s just such mayhem — people are handing out free magazines and showing up to get photographed, which kind of cheapens the whole thing.
When I first started working at Paper, I had a very signature look, but it was crazier. I had plaid pants and cheap ladies’ polyester vintage, big necklaces and a bag. I’m very housewife — I love a big bag and big jewelry. As I got older and my waistline expanded, my style changed. One day Lacoste sent me this navy blue shirt; I loved it, and so I started buying them and segued off polyester shirts. I was never a Comme des Garçons type. Now I like a flat-front pant and a simple shirt — a simple shape that you can relate to. People assume we’re always dressed like Sex and the City, but I think everyone develops a uniform as they get older, especially fashion people. Though at the end of the day, I still love Stella McCartney bags.
—As told to Amy Odell