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An interview with Mickey Boardman

Sep. 9, 2017
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When I got the opportunity to speak on a WGSN Future Panel, I immediately looked up the names of the people who would also be on the panel. This is where I learned of Mickey Boardman. I was confused at how I had never before known about such a cool person who also happened to work for one of my favorite magazines. After days of scrolling through his Instagram, admiring his fun outfits and photos from cover shoots, I met him.

Mickey Boardman is the editorial director and photo editor of Paper Magazine. But Mickey is a lot more than that. A few things I learned after our conversation were: he only buys cruelty free clothing, so no leather shoes or handbags; he did a brief stint at Parsons studying fashion design; one of his loyal Instagram followers happens to be Paris Hilton; and he has met celebrities like Kirsten Dunst and Kim Kardashian.

Being a writer and editor, I look up to Mickey. His career is exciting: whether he is figuring out what stories Paper will write for print or hiring photographers and organizing shoots, he always seems to be doing something creative and fun. But he is a lot more than his career. He is a role model to young people who are unapologetically themselves. Being 18, I know very little about what I will be like when I am older, but if I am anything like Mickey, I definitely won’t be disappointed.

When you were a teenager, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?

I didn’t really. I mean, I never felt I was ambitious, and I never had a clear vision of what I wanted to do. I did have a very clear idea of how I wanted to live, in the sense that I would just visualize myself—and I don’t know why—driving in a convertible almost like in a Ralph Lauren ad. Which was strange, but that’s what it was. I’m a Libra, and I don’t know if that is why, but I have a very kind of buffet approach to life: I like to do lots of different things; I don’t like to do all one thing. I like to eat a meal of side dishes instead of a main course.

I grew up in Hannibal Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and nobody that I knew had parents who did anything creative. The most creative was a teacher and not even an art teacher. A lot of the moms were stay-at-home moms—I’m fifty, so this was in the ‘70s. The dads worked in an office, and my dad worked as a pharmacist. That was one of the more exotic jobs. My neighbor’s dad was the manager of A&P. So: all perfectly nice, respectable jobs, but nothing creative, nothing close to the job that I do.

Looking back, I was addicted to magazines. I was so excited when People Magazine would arrive in the mail every Tuesday. I was excited to get the TV Guide, read the articles and see what would be on the new TV season. I remember going to Dominics, the supermarket, and they had a magazine section. You know how magazine sections are in supermarkets—they aren’t that great—but, still, I felt like it was so exotic and glamorous. For some reason, it never occurred to me that you could have a job like this or you could work in television. I guess on some level I knew you could, but I couldn’t relate to it. That is why I think it is so important for kids to be exposed to all different types of people, whether it be scientists or creative people or businesspeople. Until you are exposed to it, how can you know what you want to be? How could I have known I wanted to work for a magazine if I had no idea what it really was?

I kind of randomly meandered and ended up being a Spanish major in college because I had taken Spanish my entire life. I wanted to go to Spain for a year-abroad trip, but then I finished and realized I didn’t want to be a Spanish teacher. I lived in Spain during my junior year and decided I loved fashion. So I moved to New York to go to Parsons to study fashion design. I had never taken a drawing class, never done an art class, so it’s amazing I even got in. But pretty quickly I learned I would be a terrible fashion designer: I can’t sew on a button now, even though I did three and a half years barely scrapping by. I failed a class my senior year, so I never graduated, but I was an intern at Paper at the same time. Now that I’ve met you—and even before that, actually—[I realize that] you can just start a magazine. And in a way, I wouldn’t have known that—and in a way, also, I guess maybe you didn’t know. Not knowing it makes you able to do it. Everything worked out great for me. I always think it’s a little weird if someone knows exactly what they want to do. Especially if they haven’t really done it yet or even tried it.

I saw this musical, Come From Away, about all these planes having to land on September 11th. And there was a woman in it—it’s a true story—who would make her parents drive her to the airport when she was ten to see the planes take off. She knew she wanted to be a pilot. There were things that I was obsessed with at ten that should have been implications of what I wanted to do. I didn’t have that: “Get me to a magazine!”

One of the things was, when I started as an intern at Paper, I had also applied to be an intern at [the] photographer Francesco Scavullo’s studio. And he shot all the covers for Cosmopolitan for 20 years by this point. I just knew his name and thought it would be so glamorous and fun, knowing nothing about photography. I didn’t get that internship, and they were even a little confused about why I applied. If I had gotten that, I would probably be a photographer or somehow be involved with photography. I mean, I am a photo editor, so I am involved in photography.

But because Paper loved me, I would go to school and at school they thought I was a total freak. At the time—this has totally changed now, and I think Parsons is great—at the time, they were very much about stamping out your individuality. It was all about training you to work on 7th Avenue. To them, Michael Kors was as adventurous as you should get. And I love Michael Kors, I think he’s great, but there are some people who are like Comme Des Garcons and some people who are like Michael Kors. So I was very editorial, thinking it was not really about the clothes, but about some funny concept, like the Supremes go to Shanghai. Or I did this one collection just in illustrations called Jackie Hoe, which was a Jackie Onassis hip-hop collection. I thought it was totally hilarious and funny, but crickets chirped when I presented. I mean some kids thought it was great, and once in awhile I had a teacher who thought I was fun. But generally, the teachers were not into it.

But then I would go to do my internship at Paper and they loved that I dressed crazy. They loved and encouraged who I was. So it was such a nice treat to go there and do that. I always say if Paper had been a plumbing supplies store, I would end up being a plumber because they were so welcoming and I felt at home there. That’s kind of how I ended up doing what I do, not because I felt it was my destiny—although it ended up fitting in with everything I wanted, in the sense that I am working with tons of interesting people. It is very buffet-style, you do a little bit of this and then move onto something new. Travel. Famous people. Fashion. Creativity.

You work with a lot of celebrities. Did you or do you ever get star struck?

Well, yes. Not over the people you would expect, necessarily. For a long time, being from Hanover Park, I had never seen a famous person really until I came to New York. Also, I have a very different idea of who a famous person is. Very often we will do a shoot with someone like Cameron Dallas, who is hugely famous, especially when we first shot him. He was huge on social media. Whereas to me, the people I saw on TV or movie stars or models I saw in magazines, those to me are so famous. I’ve never seen the big movies like Star Wars or any of the Twilight movies. So I can meet Robert Pattinson and not get worked up, I would be totally calm.

But even so, when I started going to cover shoots, I was so shy around famous people. I was hesitant about asking for what we needed. But at a certain point, I realized that I was here representing Paper, doing a job. And that’s the thing, it’s great to work with famous people. I remember, once, we were shooting Kirsten Dunst, and her boyfriend at the time Jake Gyllenhaal—who I had a big crush on—came to the shoot. I thought Kirsten Dunst was great and talented, so we really wanted her to have this certain dress on, and they were so nice. And often celebrities are nice who you meet and who you work with, I find, and I hope you find the same. So I went over and said, “Hello,” and they said, “Oh hello, I’m Kirsten, we’ve met before. It’s so nice to see you again.” And I always remember when I meet movie stars so I knew I hadn’t met her, but I didn’t say anything.

The way it works is regular people want to be treated like celebrities and celebrities want to be treated like regular people. That’s absolutely true, and I’m happy to do that. Also, I made the decision that either you are going to be able to go over and talk to any person at any time and ask for anything or you are never really going to realize your potential. So that day and now, no matter who the celebrity is, I am able to say like, “Hey, this is what we would love to do, we want it to be a success for everyone,” and I can do that.

The few times it’s been challenging recently, for personal issues, have been Zayn from One Direction because I’m a huge fangirl of his, and that was a situation where there were a lot of outside complications with the shoot. The shoot was almost canceled at the last minute, and our creative director took me aside and said, “We have to make sure we get everything we need and that you need to stay in control.” And I did, and it was fine. Or for example, often with photographers, being a photo editor, or designers that I’m obsessed with like Donatella Versace and Karl Lagerfeld. I’m such a big fan of theirs, and they are so old school. And every time I see them, let alone talk to them, I can’t believe they are real. Another weird time was when we shot Duran Duran, and so many people in the office were so excited because they had been fans when they were kids or teenagers. I love Duran Duran, but to me it was just another shoot that we had to get done. Simon Lebonne’s wife was a huge supermodel, and she stopped by the shoot and I totally freaked out because I didn’t expect her to come. Simon Lebonne even said, “Are you okay?” So I told him how I was a huge fan of his wife. He couldn’t believe it, and he told me to tell her because she would be so excited. And she was so nice.

I think it helps in the long run for us, if we are fans, because obviously it makes us care more or want to do a good job or have an insight into how things should be done. Really, the mission from the old days at Paper was that we weren’t where we send someone who went to the Columbia School of Journalism to interview this person, we want someone who is their biggest fan, someone who has seen all of their movies or has read all of their books, who really is an expert in it. That why—as opposed to someone who knows proper grammar and how to construct a paragraph, but who is a die hard fan.

This is a little thing that happened to me last year, but Brie Larson followed me on Instagram and I was watching TV in my friend’s apartment and I started screaming. And she didn’t know what happened, but it was a very shocking moment in my life. But you will always remember those things. And it’s something like that that is incredible. That is a bonus of doing what we do, because so much of what we do is harder, and it’s hard to make money and it’s a lot of stress and there are a lot of deadlines. But when we get to work with fun people and we get to be followed on Instagram by Brie Larson, that’s really wonderful.

Has social media changed or affected your career?

One hundred percent. You know, I sort of fought social media in the sense that I was a latecomer to Facebook. So before Facebook, the first thing like social media was this thing called Friendster, and it was basically like Facebook. You could friend people, and I would often become friends with people I didn’t know who were cute boys or girls with style. You would write testimonials on their page. And then it kind of crashed and burned. Then Myspace came out, and I didn’t do it. Then Facebook came along, and for some reason I didn’t dive right in.

But eventually I was visiting my parents for Christmas, and this was when I used to go home for just two days because it’s a lot. Although now I love going home to visit, at the time being alone in Tampa, Florida, with my parents was a lot. This particular trip I went for about a week, and on day 3 I hit the wall and said, I guess I will sign up for Facebook. I had nothing else to do to amuse myself. I actually became addicted to it pretty quickly. And then same with Twitter.

The thing is, at Paper, there has always been somebody who liked for us to be on top of those things. So we were the first magazine I knew of that had a website—before there was NetScape or Google. It was so different, and I didn’t really appreciate how great it was at the time. I always was kind of hesitant about email. But once I dived in—I think I have a perfect personality for social media because I have a short attention span, I’m a little bit of a stalker, in the sense that I like to go on someone’s Instagram page and see who they follow and who follows them. Also because it’s as if I worked in Hollywood in the silent movie era and then sound came in and then TV. The way I used to do everything at work has completely changed by social media and the internet. We used to do everything by phone. If we wanted to see a photographer, we would have to call them or call their agent. Whereas now, if I want to check out your magazine, I can just go on your Instagram page and I can see everything. It just makes things so much more immediate and so much more easy.

Of course, there are still complications, don’t get me wrong. And there are people who are not on Instagram and are not on Facebook. You know, Facebook to me, I could easily live without it, except it’s almost too big to fail—too big to live without, on some level. I mean, I tell myself the reason I stay is because the thing that Facebook has been amazing for, for me, has been reconnecting with people I went to high school with or grew up with. Because without it I wouldn’t keep in touch with them.

I think Twitter is amazing, and it was fading, but I think the political situation has really given it a kick in the ass. That is really where I get tons of my news. I mean, I look at the New York Times everyday on my phone, which makes me feel like a millennial! But I also look at Twitter because there are some people who are political and some people who are involved in politics like Cory Booker. There are a lot of journalists, like Katrina Vanden Heuvel from the Nation. But then there are people who are amazing and super political, like Carol Radziwill from Real Housewives of New York City. All of these crazy, fun people who just get so worked up over politics. I love seeing their ideas and what people retweet.

Instagram, I live for it. Instagram to me has been such a great way of meeting people. I’ve met boyfriends or dates there. I’ve met close close friends. I just feel there is something, and maybe I’m totally deluding myself or I drank the Kool-Aid, but I just feel like you can really tell a lot about someone from their Instagram page. You can really see if you are compatible, in the sense that: are they an asshole? Are they posting their first-class airline boarding pass? I don’t need to see that you are in first class. Do they have a sense of humor? Especially Instagram stories, I love those.

I never got into Snapchat. And I know a lot of the kids like it. I have friends who are not on social media, and I feel like they really are left behind. I have such a huge presence—I have over 40 thousand followers on Instagram and 60 thousand on Twitter. And I’m perfectly proud to have that amount, but it’s also never enough. You get to 10 thousand and then you need to get to 20 thousand. You are only satisfied for a second, and then you need more. But I love it and I feel like you have to do it. Every time we shoot a fashion story, we think about models: more so about how many followers they have, less so about who is the coolest. We still think about who is the coolest, but it affects everything and every job. Whether it is things I personally get hired to do or things Paper gets hired to do, it’s really important and it’s changed everything.

Do you have any predictions for how the fashion industry will continue to change?

It’s such a crazy time filled with so much change. It’s hard to see on a certain level what will happen. I do think that it’s great that the whole “see now, buy now” thing is happening, even though some people hate it. It’s sort of caused people and companies to look at their business and decide what works for them. Whether you are Burberry or a small independent designer, I think that is what people need to do.

I think we are still in the early phases of that. I think, because of the crazy political situation, people are traumatized since the election. I don’t know if this time will be remembered as a golden age of fashion; I don’t think it will. I think it’s the same with magazines. So many magazines are changing so much, and young people read content on their phone. They see the headline and the picture and don’t even click on the article. Everything is changing so much, and so many magazines are run by old people who do it the old way. There are some people who do cool interesting things in the new way, like Paper (I hope), like Teen Vogue, like you. I think the ones who are doing it in the new way seem so new and the ones doing it in the old way seem so old.

I think the new look hasn’t really taken over, and that’s the same thing with fashion. Also because young people care about different things. They care about sustainability and political correctness—so many things the fashion world is not known for being great about. I think as young people infiltrate into the biz, big companies will realize that’s what they need to do. People get tired of the waste and expense, so things will change. But I’m not exactly sure what it will be. I’m excited to see. The way that there are new fashion shows every six months seems old, and department stores seem old—everything seems old, everything needs to be reinvented. I will be interested to see what happens.

What is your favorite accessory? Glasses?

Well, I need glasses. They, in a way, automatically become your accessory of choice that you make a statement with. I don’t mind looking crazy, so I do have a lot of crazy glasses. 

Generally anything sparkly or shiny or colorful I love. Although, weirdly, since the election—and it’s not because of the election—I’ve been wearing tons of black, and I never ever wore black. I mean, sometimes I wear all black, which is so weird. I was always a clown among vampires in the fashion world because I was all sparkles and color and everyone else was in all black, so I don’t know if I will work through that. But I love a big sparkly necklace or sparkly cardigan. Something shiny is my favorite color and just makes everything feel like a special occasion or glamorous.

I love accessories. I love bags. All the lady accessories. I’m not such a shoe freak. I mean, I like to wear comfortable shoes, and I’m cruelty-free, so I don’t wear any animal products. So that makes shoes a little challenging. I often end up with a high tech comfy sneaker, because they aren’t made of leather or suede. I am an accessory lover! Again, it’s my thing. I love side dishes.

Illustrations by Megan Schaller.

Adolescent is psyched to be able to bring this and other articles from the pages of Crybaby Zine to our readers. This piece was originally written for their Fame Issue—if you like it, check out their store to buy this or other issues!