GETTING NAKED WITH INTERVIEW - NINI KHATIBLOU
Fashion Editor & Stylist Nini Khatiblou has an infectious character, ten minutes in her presence and you'll be smiling - promise! I've been working with Nini for, like, for-EVER, since she was at Good Housekeeping and I would send her jeans to shoot for her pages. For a while, it was an email only conversation and then one day we met - whoop - and she literally rocked my world. She stands out in the fashion world with her exotic name and down-to-earth friendly personality. She is the girl you can have a normal conversation with, most probably WITH wine, and most probably end the evening dancing on a table somewhere. Recently, Jean Queen Donna Ida Thornton asked Nini to take part in Style Insider for DONNA IDA, so here you can read my interview with here HERE and see all the images from the feature shot by Kate Gorbunova. Nini's now moved to Phoenix magazine, much edgier than her previous role and she continues to be a fabulous freelance stylist with a great eye for detail. Bright, intriguing and deeper than you might think...shall we delve into the world of little Miss Nini Khatiblou? Come on then, let's go!
NAKEDPRGIRL: Where are you from originally? How did you come to be in London and what do you like about the city?
Nini Khatiblou: I'm actually Middle Eastern, born to Persian parents who moved to London in the late 70s. I was born in London and feel a happy mix of the two. I love everything about London - the endless list of things to do and see, the diversity, the energy. And if I ever feel homesick, I have an endless selection of amazing Persian restaurants I can pop into!
NAKEDPRGIRL: When did you decide you wanted to work in fashion journalism? What did you study?
Nini Khatiblou: It all happened very organically. When I was 16, my mum - who had an insane back copy collection of HELLO! magazines - suggested I write to them to see if I could get some kind of summer holiday job. These were the days before email so I wrote them a letter and the next thing I knew I was interning on their Features desk. I loved it - there was a real buzz in the office and I couldn't get over the fact that the staff were allowed to wear jeans and flip-flops to work! It felt very relaxed and casual but at the same very energetic and I knew instantly that I wanted to work for a magazine.
After that placement, I wrote to more magazines and eventually ended up in a Fashion cupboard. It always amazes me when I come into contact with precious interns who sigh every time you ask them to hang something up. Back then, there were no desks or chairs let alone any windows or natural light. We'd sit on the floor all day and write out endless dockets by hand - and we loved every second of it!
By the time I was 18, I had a few good work experience placements under my belt. I was then faced with the decision of where to study for my degree. Part of me wanted to pursue foreign languages (my other passion) but suddenly I had this fear that if I didn't study a Fashion degree, no one would take me seriously in the fashion world. My teachers pushed me to go down the more academic route and so I studied French and Spanish at UCL. In my second year, I signed up for an intensive evening class course at LCF - so one minute, I was reading French poetry and the next I'd leg it down Oxford Street in time for a 3 hour class on styling!
NAKEDPRGIRL: What was your big break?
Nini Khatiblou: Once I graduated from UCL, I did two more magazine placements - one at InStyle and one at Easy Living. It was then that I was faced with the slightly awkward reality of the magazine industry. You can have 200 placements on your CV but it doesn't guarantee you a job. I was happy to carry on interning but my dad was pretty keen to see his graduate daughter with a full-time job so I applied to Yellow Door PR (now known as Portas) and got my first job as a Junior PR. It was the toughest year of my life, I don't think a week went by when I didn't bawl my eyes out.
Looking back, I'm grateful I did it - it made me a lot more resilient and quite honestly, everything I've done since then hasn't been even a quarter as challenging. It's why I have so much respect for people who pursue PR as a career - it's so tough. A year into my PR job, I had a call from InStyle - the team remembered me and wanted to know if I was interested in applying for the year-long Fashion Assistant role. Obviously leaving a full-time job for something temporary (and half the salary!) was a risk but I knew I had to take it. It was an amazing year and I loved the team - I didn't want it to end!
NAKEDPRGIRL: You’ve worked for Good Housekeeping and now Phoenix magazine, any memorable shoots or career highlights?
Nini Khatiblou: I think being made Fashion Editor at 26 will always be one of my biggest career highlights. I got to do some amazing shoots - even the ones which didn't go quite to plan like the time we did a trip to Cyprus and ended up getting robbed, still make me smile. I'm very excited about this new chapter in my career - alongside working at PHOENIX, I do a lot of brand consultancy and have just finished a series of presentations up and down the country for a huge high-street brand. The last one was to 300 people - absolutely terrifying but a fantastic experience. It's made me realise how important it is to constantly push yourself outside your comfort zone.
NAKEDPRGIRL: How can styling build an image and how does that impact on our work and personal life?
Nini Khatiblou: I'm totally obsessed with the link between fashion and psychology - specifically how it can change how people see us, and more importantly how we see ourselves. You might have a bad day where you feel old, tired, fat, unattractive - then you put an outfit on that makes YOU happy and suddenly it's a different story. The confidence that clothes can give you is insane. I think people who don't work in fashion often misjudge us for being vacuous and snobby - I can't count the number of times someone has asked me if it's like The Devil Wears Prada. What they miss is the power that clothes have in transforming absolutely everything - how we feel, how we're seen and what we're projecting to the outside world. It's not about dressing for anyone else, it's just about seeing fashion as something much friendlier and more approachable - absolutely everyone has it in them to wear an outfit which not only suits them but which makes them feel good. And when you feel good, good things happen.
NAKEDPRGIRL: What’s your personal style? What’s your USP? Have you had to look at marketing yourself as a brand?
Nini Khatiblou: I find it so tricky to answer this because I genuinely don't know. I tend to feel more comfortable in casual wear - I hate dressing up and I hate dress codes. Apart from that, as cliched as this sounds, I've always been inspired by how the French dress. I spent several months living in Paris as part of my uni course and I was blown away by how amazing everyone looked. I don't think I do it deliberately but whenever I'm in a fashion pickle about what to wear, I always end up gravitating towards the most 'French' items in my wardrobe - a black tux over a grey tee, or a black oversized knit with black skinny leather trousers and a pair of white trainers.
It's when I feel my best. I don't think I have a USP - I'm probably one of the last magazine stylists without a blog. I was tempted to start one several times but I couldn't think of anything someone else wasn't already doing. I prefer to share my style on Instagram and make my money working for brands on a styling and consulting capacity. Maybe it's the PR in me but I'm much more passionate about talking strategies than taking endless photos of myself.
NAKEDPRGIRL: In your career what changes have you seen between print and digital media?
Nini Khatiblou: When I first started at InStyle nearly 10 years ago, I was so naive to what was going on. I just assumed magazines were stronger than ever and it never occurred to me to think about the wider picture. I suppose you could say I joined the print industry at the worst possible time! Funnily enough, when I joined GH I didn't realise that one of the biggest blessings in disguise were how loyal our readers were to buying actual magazines. On the whole, they weren't as sold on the online revolution so while other magazines were hit really hard by the inevitable shift, we were pretty lucky on the whole. That said, GH still had to adapt to the climate and very soon, it launched its UK website and became more present on social media. It was no longer about the Editorial staff just 'doing print' - it became a 360 work ethic where we were covering both the magazine content and online.
NAKEDPRGIRL: What helps you to be creative? Is it magazines, books, art, a favourite cafe?
Nini Khatiblou: It definitely used to be magazines. At Good Housekeeping, we were regularly sent international magazines and I loved flicking through French Vogue - there was always an idea I wanted to steal! These days, ideas can come from anywhere - Instagram, blogs, pinterest, street style... Weirdly I don't go looking for them, I just tend to see something and then subconsciously store it away for when I'm planning my next shoot.
NAKEDPRGIRL: I love how fun and normal you are on social media – do you have a strategy?
Nini Khatiblou: Thank you, that's really nice to hear! It's very odd social media - you post photos but you have no idea what people are thinking or how you're coming across. Unfortunately I'm super self-critical so if a certain photo doesn't get as many likes, I agonise over what I did wrong, was the outfit not good enough, was my expression too cheesy?! It gets to a point where you have to let go otherwise you drive yourself crazy and it stops becoming fun. I definitely don't have a strategy - everything on my Instagram is real and accurate to how I live my life day to day. Obviously I don't post the photos of me wearing leopard print leggings and a fleece dressing gown with scraped back wet hair - there's got to be some smoke and mirrors!
NAKEDPRGIRL: What is your favourite social channel?
Nini Khatiblou: Without a doubt, Instagram. Facebook will always have a special place in my heart - I have so many memories attached to it. But generally speaking, I keep Facebook for close friends, Instagram is more work-led and Twitter I seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Perhaps I'm more attracted to the visual side of things but Twitter struggles to keep me interested.
NAKEDPRGIRL: How important is networking for you? Do you have a gang you love working with and socialising with?
Nini Khatiblou: I've never been good at networking. I've literally lost count of how many times I've been told I need to network more. Who knows what would have happened if I was better at going out and mingling with the right people. I think in all honesty, I'm just too selfish with my down-time. If I'm going out, I want to see the people I love who make me fall off my chair with laughter. I do have a close group of friends in the industry and I love them to pieces - they're mostly PRs. My nights out with them are epic - none of us take anything too seriously and I think that's why we get on as well as we do.
NAKEDPRGIRL: What photography tips would you have for others?
Nini Khatiblou: I don't have any of the fancy gadgets most social media connoisseurs do. My biggest tip is to get yourself a photographer friend - mine is David Nyanzi (www.nyanzi.com), I met him about 6 years ago on Carnaby Street and my favourite photos of me are the ones he takes. He's incredibly talented and so much fun - I feel totally comfortable in front of the camera when he's taking the picture. I like to think of him as my personal Paparazzi photographer - I've been known to text him and say 'I'm wearing an amazing coat, can you come and take my photo'. God knows how he's put up with me for so long.
NAKEDPRGIRL: What advice would you give to others just starting out in the industry?
Nini Khatiblou: Please, please don't be precious. No one has any time for it. Keep your head down, work hard and leave the sassiness at home.
NAKEDPRGIRL: You must have a jam packed diary for Fashion Week – which show do you most look forward to and what’s your failsafe fashion tips for the week?
Nini Khatiblou: It really varies each season. I love the buzz that comes with up and coming designers and their shows - there's something quite exciting about not having a preconception of what you're about to see. Tip-wise, I always stress about what to wear. I love the people-watching but each season, it seems to get more and more ridiculous - people literally show up in fancy dress costumes. I try and plan ahead as much as possible firstly so I don't stress about not having anything to wear and secondly so I don't panic-buy an outfit at the last minute and then bump into someone wearing the exact same thing. My other tip is to not go out on day one - it's a mistake I make every season which means I spend the rest of the time hungover and emotional.
NAKEDPRGIRL: What would be your dream brand/people to work with?
Nini Khatiblou: I'm not especially fickle when it comes to brands I dream of working with. Every brand offers its own exciting opportunities and on a personal level, I find it really satisfying to be a part of a process - like a rebranding or the actual launch of a new brand - which then involves styling a lookbook or campaign later down the line.
NAKEDPRGIRL: When things go wrong on shoots, what do you do?
Nini Khatiblou: Go home, have a large glass of wine, and cry my eyes out. Unfortunately, it has been known to happen - the key is to not take it personally, have some perspective and get a grip (obviously much easier to say in hindsight!)
NAKEDPRGIRL: Do you have a motto or a mantra that you live by?
Nini Khatiblou: I can't remember who said it but one that I really like is 'don't compare your inside to somebody else's outside'. I think everyone is guilty of looking at pics on social media and thinking that a particular person has the most perfect life - the best clothes, the best career, and seems to be in a permanently good mood! But the reality is that everything is so edited these days that what we think we know about someone is vary rarely what's really going on. The most important thing is to not compare and to be grateful for what you have yourself - I'm always trying to remember to thank the universe more!
NAKEDPRGIRL: You style menswear and womenswear – what can we expect for AW16?
Nini Khatiblou: A lot of velvet, animal prints, gothic vibes to name a few for womenswear. And the men have got utilitarian, cardigans of all shapes and sizes and plenty of shearling to dip into.
NAKEDPRGIRL: What’s next?
Nini Khatiblou: At the moment, I'm loving life at PHOENIX towers as well as the variety of work I'm doing on the freelance side of things. If things can carry on like this, I'll be happy!
Photos courtesy of Nini Khatiblou & donnaida.com