Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and MECCA: Zara Wong is behind some of the biggest names in fashion and beauty.
If you’re a woman with a birthday, then you’ve probably heard the joke MECCA’s Head of Content Zara Wong is the ultimate multi-hyphenate. She’s the woman behind those glorious MECCA campaigns you see splashed on billboards (so you can blame her for that lunchtime impulse purchase). She’s also behind the mic on the popular podcast MECCA Talks, runs newsletter Screenshot This, and is one of my favourite people to follow on Instagram.
How does she find the time (or the energy, for that matter)? “I think I’m really curious”, she muses, “and get excited by anything I’m interested in or that’s new. And that’s a lot. I have a broad range of interests so I’m constantly reading, talking to people, and wanting to know more about something, no matter how popular or niche it might be! I really enjoy my job and all parts of it – from what can be seen from the outside, and also all the finagling behind the scenes. For my newsletter, I spend four to six hours on the weekend on it, and because I genuinely enjoy doing it, it doesn’t even feel that long.”
Taking the initiative is something Zara’s always done. Like many of us who came of age in the magazine era, a job at a glossy was her ultimate goal – and without any personal contacts to usher her through a side door, Zara rolled her sleeves up and cold emailed. Intern positions at WWD, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue US followed. And, having proven her fashion chops, so did jobs, with a role at Vogue Australia eventually bringing her back to our shores.
On our shoot with iconic Australian footwear brand Wittner, we talked to Zara about pinch-me moments and personal style, and we found out what International Women’s Day means to her…Zara wears Raven in Umber
You grew up in Papua New Guinea and you’ve said you were one of those kids that always wanted to grow up and so you never really followed teen trends. Does this mean you didn’t go through that awful 13-year-old fashion disaster phase the rest of us did?
Because I grew up in Papua New Guinea we just didn’t have as much access to what lots of people would have got. My mother and grandmother love fashion so they probably helped steer me wisely sartorially! I grew up watching Style with Elsa Klensch with my mum on CNN, and Turner Classic Movies channel later on, which I probably didn’t realise but did influence me at the time – it certainly helped encourage my love of fashion history too, and to know how trends originated, but also to think about what look is a flash-in-a-pan, what’s timeless yet of-the-moment (because I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily a classic dresser, I still like to have fun!). And, I’m a Capricorn so I’m at heart ‘boring and sensible’ – when I was a teenager I was probably career and style-wise 13 going on 35. The details may have changed, but the silhouettes are similar.
You’re head of content at MECCA which is not a title that even existed 15 years ago. Can you tell me about your entry into fashion, and how the industry has changed?
I always think about when I started as an intern in fashion magazines, ‘online editor’ – the person in charge of the website – was a new title and not even one that was highly coveted. So many jobs now – head of content included! – didn’t exist 10, 15 years ago. You never know what jobs will come up in the next 10 years or less. I think it’s being attuned to ebbs and flows in what’s happening, not just within the industry you work in or are interested in because there are impacts from a macroeconomic and broader level within what one is working in. But at the same time, although there’s all this change, there are some things that stay the same; people still want to be engaged, to be told a story or brought along a journey. Human behaviour is still constant; it’s just the mediums (or media, ha) are different.
As an official content queen, what content are you loving at the moment?
I started my newsletter to help with this! I needed to compile everything together. At the moment I love Amy Odell’s newsletter; she was previously a fashion writer at The Cut and I LOVED her reporting there. She is cutting, hilarious and on-the-money and her newsletter is one of the few I am genuinely excited to see in my inbox. A recent edition had her interview sales assistants who worked at Saks, and she asked them questions like, who is buying all the clothes? Why are the stores so empty? (The majority of the money is made from the type of clientele who have personal shoppers so they don’t even walk into the store.) What is it like with so many drops of fashion? (Gone are just the four seasons; they are getting stock daily and the inventory team in stores are working around the clock.) For podcasts, I regularly listen to Shameless, MECCA Talks (obviously!), The Great Women Artists (I have a girl crush on Katy Hessel), Exponent and Another Podcast.
You really hustled your way into your career – you didn’t have any personal connections to give you a foot in the door, so you cold emailed and interned and reached out. Who were the women who inspired you at that time, who were your career idols?
Anyone who wrote back to me! You’d get so many straight out rejections or more often, people ignoring you. She’d have no memory of this, but I remember Ilona Hamer was a fashion assistant at Vogue, and while they weren’t taking interns at the time, she wrote out a list of other places to contact. I’m very loyal so I remember who did help me out and write back, and have really been integral in my career (Katrina Israel at Harper’s Bazaar at the time who I interned with; she’s now at Vogue Australia, Jennifer Weil who is the European Beauty Editor at WWD, Georgie Abay who I worked with at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and Kate Blythe, chief marketing officer at MECCA).
The great thing about where I’ve worked is that you all have similar interests or ways of looking at things – at Vogue, for example, we would get excited with the new, whether it’s an artist, designer or musician. If there’s a new way to tell a story, that’s what got us interested. I speak to a small handful of people still from my previous jobs – they had worked with me, or were in PR as you liaise so much with externals – and we don’t even reminisce that much but our texts are asking each other’s thoughts on something that’s happened in the fashion, art or music world regularly.
Let’s talk style because I love yours. Is there a formula or a rule that you follow, or how do you approach putting outfits together?
I always stick to similar silhouettes and styles. I’ve found that what suits me best are either pants that are wide-legged or slim-fitting, and jackets have to be boxy or if fitted they need to hit my hips. Shoes are flats or low heels. Skirt lengths are short or if they’re long, need a slit. I think I dress in a ‘classic’ way but with playful elements, like feathers or sequins, a bold earring or necklace – anything too precious, dainty, frilly or girly doesn’t work on me.Zara wears Raven in Nude
What’s your go-to outfit?
Christopher Esber silk bias-cut pants, a black skivvy or a white T-shirt and a vintage black Chanel jacket from the 80s. I don’t really go for new new trend stuff, so these are all pieces from the past few years!
You’re shooting for Wittner today so can you tell me what your favourite shoe of the day has been?
The mid-brown Raven heel with a single strap – it goes with everything!
Having worked with so many incredible fashion houses, what do you think defines Australian style, and how do brands like Wittner personify it?
The shoes are honestly so comfortable. In the end, wearability is so important and that’s what Wittner personifies to me; what’s the point if you can’t wear it, and if you don’t reach for it time and time again?
We’re celebrating International Women’s Day so I’d love to know what the day means to you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in many workplaces where it’s been predominantly women, and so in my 20s I really saw women ‘doing it all’ – big careers, full social lives and families. IWD is also about celebrating and thinking about women who are in your lives but aren’t getting a big media story about them as well – it’s remembering to celebrate them every day.
You’ve worked with some of the most incredible people and brands – can you tell me about a career highlight or a pinch-me moment that stands out?
Interviewing Dries Van Noten in his HQ in Antwerp – and having lunch with him and his womenswear design team. Getting a DM from a major celebrity after my interview with her was published – she said it was her favourite write-up ever and really felt seen and acknowledged as a person. Going to some amazing shows – Alber Elbaz’s last one at Lanvin, the 2018 beach one at Chanel that ended up being one of Karl Lagerfeld’s last, Rio for Louis Vuitton, chatting to Alice Waters and eating her food at a Cartier thought leadership event. And now at MECCA, we have had some amazing campaigns happen – and then you see something you concepted and worked on, on a massive billboard! Not much can beat that.
Finally, you’ve perfected the art of working your way up through the ranks, so what is your advice to anyone with a big career goal?
Be nice, work hard, show initiative and be proactive.