Joe Zee Takes The Academy

Like I’ve said before, attending the Academy of Art University comes with some perks. Last spring I wrote a piece for you about when the Missoni family and Suzi Menkes spoke at our Spring Symposium (here). This semester, on the first week of class my Magazine Production teacher told us about a special guest coming to the school to speak only to Journalism students. Here’s what happened:


I walked into the second story classroom at the Polk Street campus. Some students were sitting close to the makeshift stage with hardbound notebooks on their laps while others were huddled in a group gossiping. My friend and I took a seat somewhere in the middle. Hearing hushed voices behind us, we turned to greet our guest, Joe Zee who is the longtime Elle Creative Director and Recent Editor of Yahoo Style. He was surrounded by an entourage of warm, smiling and impeccably dressed people. Teachers approached him and thanked him for coming to which he thanked them for inviting him. A fellow student approached him saying she had interned at Elle and he suddenly remembered her and struck up a conversation about how her schooling was going.

He sat down on the short stage and began talking to the 30 students with their eyes and ears glued to him. He started with the basics, his start. He talked about being a kid in Toronto and having a locker filled with fashion magazines, He admitted that he would ditch class to sit there and read them. He decided to move to New York City. While in school, he took an internship at Sportswear International. He would walk down the city streets with a rolling rack and one other intern while returning items to showrooms. He said he was happy everyday just knowing he was there. The first bit of advice he gave us? “Say yes to everything!”

“I had a Plan A: I was going to work in magazines. No Plan B. Thank God Plan A worked out!”

He admitted that not everyone believed in his goals. One friend even told him “You’re not a woman, white or privileged” as reasoning behind giving up. But Joe refused. When he was a semester away from graduating FIT, he met a representative from Conde Nast at a job fair. She gave him her card and wrote to her, she sent back “I’ll keep you in mind.”

After graduating, he was up for a job at Women’s Wear Daily. They gave him a test shoot and after the model not showing and a light exploding in a puddle, he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t get the job. He thought about quitting and moving home to Toronto, but before he did he got the call he’d been waiting for. He got a call from Conde Nast asking if he wanted to work for his Idol Polly Mellen at her new magazine; Allure. Three years later he moved to W Magazine and then eventually received his job as Creative Director at Elle.

Finally, he reached his current occupation which has caused some controversy in the industry; his move to Yahoo Style. At the beginning of this year he got a phone call from Yahoo telling him that if he took the job as Editor, he could do whatever he wanted and have access to Yahoos major resources (example: 800 million Yahoo users).

“Printed magazines were hard for me. I get all my news online and being a pop culture guy, I like to get things out fast.”


He opened the floor for my fellow students to ask questions and here are his answers:

Would you go somewhere like Maxim like Kate Lanphear from Times Magazine?

“I’m a pop culture guy, I love those things. If you love fashion for fashion you are in a bubble. I would love to do a food magazine. You just have to love the topic and come from a passionate point of interest.”

How do you manage everything?

“I don’t sleep. No, I’m just good at multitasking. I eat for all of fashion (laughs).”

What was your most exciting project?

“Everything. I don’t know. I think television shows are so interesting because I can touch people through a bigger media.”

Whats your opinion on young magazines and blogs?

“I think it’s great! It used to be that you had only one job. Now your celebrated for having multiple things to do!”

How do you do something without selling out?

“You know you. In media you are catering to other people. If not, just write in your diary and close it.”

What’s helped you find your voice?

“I’m just me. I don’t over think it. It just comes out in one fell swoop.”

Can you speak about your vision for Yahoo?

“Accessible and attainable. Kid on the street and couture. Bieber next to Karl. We wanted a site with beautiful pictures. We wanted a magazine emotion.”

What’s your favorite film?

“… My boyfriend thinks I’m going to pick…”

Boyfriend says from the back of the room “Titanic!”

“They are too young for Titanic, so The Notebook!”

Do you think bloggers need to pay their dues?

“Reach is reach. If they reach as many people as Glamour, then they deserve that front row seat”

My favorite soundbites:

“You have to go in knowing what you want to do. If you stay in your lane, people will understand your message.”

“Don’t worry about what other people are doing. You can’t hold yourself up to what other people are doing. You can only hold yourself up to you.”

Last but not least…

“Print isn’t dead. It’s just changing its hair color.”