Rachel Kanarowski – at just 30, editor of a major glossy magazine

Rachel Kanarowski

Rachel Kanarowski has the kind of job that must make her the absolute envy of her peers. At only 30, she is the editor-in-chief of the Czech version of InStyle, a major international women’s magazine. At the magazine’s offices, we discussed shopping in Prague and the Czech take on style. But first Kanarowski described the unlikely sounding way in which the opportunity to enter the business arose, and how she made the most of that chance.

Rachel Kanarowski
After graduating in political science in her native US, she came to the Czech Republic in 2003 as an au pair, simply wanting to taste another culture…

“I realised after living with a Czech family that I was still a tourist after that time. I really enjoyed living in Europe and I decided to move to Prague, because I had been living in the Czech countryside.

“I moved to Prague and I taught English, like every American did at that time. It got me by, and it allowed me to stay in Europe longer. But it wasn’t what I’d studied, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.”

“So I started telling everyone, hey, look, if I can’t find something else to do that I really love and I see will move me forward in my life, then I’m going to move back to America.

“The ex-pat community in Prague is very small, and when somebody says that they’re going to leave, everyone comes up with all sorts of opportunities that you never heard about before.

“There was a man living upstairs in the building that I was in, and he said, my wife is going to be working for a fashion magazine – you should meet her.

“So I met the wife, and we bonded over a shared love of fashion. She started to look at the way I was shopping, and what I was choosing and mixing together, clothing-wise. She said, you should come and be the fashion editor that we’re starting.

“And I started trying to style. She said, find a photographer, style some photo shoots, and see what happens…”

Sorry to interrupt you, but what magazine are you talking about? What was the title?

“The magazine is a German magazine called Joy…So I started styling some photo shoots with a friend of mine who happened to be my flatmate, who was getting into photography.

“I just started going to the stores, and asking if we could borrow some clothes. We were calling the modelling agencies, and Prague has a lot of models. We would put together these photo shoots during the week, in between our English lessons.”

That sounds like the Czech dream, as opposed to the American dream. And it also sounds like something that’s more likely to have happened in the early ‘90s than in the 2000s.

“Do you think so? I know there was a lot of opportunity here in the early ‘90s. I unfortunately was still too young to experience that. I was in high school.

“I hear about the good old days in Prague, but I think there is still great opportunity in the Czech Republic, and I would assume in a lot of the central and eastern European countries.

“Because they’re very hungry for any outside perspectives, when it comes to fashion. So if you really work hard, I think you can make something for yourself.”

To digress for a second, do you have any Slavic blood in you, because your surname sounds Slavic?

“My father’s family is Polish and Hungarian. Although I’ve heard the Hungarian name, which is Gavalik, is actually Slovak.

“So I do have some eastern European blood, but no-one in my family ever spoke any foreign language to me when I was living in America.”

Two years ago the Czech version of InStyle went on sale. Were you the editor-in-chief from the beginning? And how have you found working at the magazine?

“Yes, I was the editor-in-chief from the beginning of the project. It was really exciting, because after Joy I went on to work at different launches in the Czech Republic, including Marie Claire, and I was always only in the fashion department – working on some planning, but really not working on the total look and feel of the magazine.

“The job opportunity at InStyle really gave me the chance to get a deeper understanding of what it takes to build a magazine, and it’s been a really incredible experience.

“Any magazine launch is an incredibly difficult time, and for the first year, year and a half I didn’t sleep very much. The days were easily 12- or 14-hour days.

“It gets easier with every month. And the feedback that we get from our readers, and the happiness and enjoyment that we see that they’re getting from the magazine that we’re giving them every month really makes all the difference.

“You feel wonderful about all the long hours you put in at the beginning of the project, and all the long hours that the team continues to put in to making a fashion magazine…It’s so difficult, but it gets easier every month.”

As well as being a fashion editor and a fashion writer, you’re a fashion consumer. How do you find shopping here in Prague?

“Well, it’s very different from shopping in Paris or in London or New York, and I would be lying if I told you that I don’t do most of my shopping abroad.

“There’s less selection here, but it’s constantly improving. More and more stores are opening in Prague. The prices are generally higher than they are in other countries, but that’s getting better too.

“Because with the internet and with e-shopping, we can spend our money through Net-a-Porter and have clothing from the designer brands sent here to us. So the prices in Prague are forced to be more competitive than they used to be.”

Is there great speed now between when some garment first appears on the catwalk and when it’s on the high street, and on the high street here?

“It’s the same worldwide. We have H&M here, we have Zara here – they’re two of the most companies at copying what’s on the runway right away. That’s no different in Prague – you’re getting the same products that are in other H&Ms and other Zaras, all around the world.

“But we have fantastic Czech designers here as well. We have the designer Klára Nademlýnská – she’s really wonderful. I wish she had distribution in other countries. But definitely, whenever people are in Prague they should visit her boutique.”

How well dressed are Czech people, and not just your readers? When you walk down the street, say in the city centre, how well do you think people are dressed?

“People from the Czech Republic seem to be less swayed by the trends, and dress more conservatively. There’s a Czech version of elegance, which is easily visible on the street.

“Some foreigners will come here and say, wow, people here are so well dressed. Because they tend to wear nice blazers, maybe a bit of jewellery, a nice blouse.

“I miss seeing people taking more fashion risks. But that’s changing also. The bloggers, and blogging, has not been big in the Czech Republic until recently. The fashion bloggers are so stylish.

“I’m really curious to see what kind of change they can make in the Czech perception of what fashion is, and what’s stylish, and what’s cool, and how they want to dress.”

Do you think perhaps Czechs are maybe lacking in confidence a bit, and maybe a little bit less likely to take fashion risks than, say, your compatriots?

“I think there are a lot of people, all around the world, who are concerned about looking silly…I can’t comment fairly on how confident anyone is, because I don’t know them personally.

“But people in Prague tend to be less interested in standing out. Sporty fashion labels are some of the most popular. You will see people dressed very casually in a lot of settings.

“And can you fault somebody for wanting to be comfortable? I mean, the people who are dressing ultra-fashionably, the people who are on the most famous daily ‘what he was wearing’, ‘what she was wearing’ websites, they may not be the most comfortable people in those shoes or those clothes!”

In that case we could all just wear pyjamas though. And slippers.

“That’s true, that’s true. That’s what fashion is about. If we were all wearing pyjamas and slippers, there wouldn’t be a big reason to read fashion magazines.

“I really love the opportunity that fashion gives to express yourself, and…that doesn’t have anything to do with comfort!”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on November 29, 2010.