When Janice Breen Burn, highly regarded Fashion Editor at Melbourne’s ‘The Age’, left her post after 12 years, her fans (us) were thrilled for the chance to follow her new blog, VoxFrock. Janice’s wealth of experience and wit ensure her VoxFrock following is kept abreast of Melbourne’s fashion goings-on, whilst being highly entertained.
We tracked down the busy lady, right in the middle of Spring Racing Season, to ask a few questions.
We’ve been fans of your writing since your time at ‘The Age’. Your style is personable and humorous but always well researched and elegant. Did you always want to write? And what led you to a career in fashion journalism?
Firstly, I must tell you that I initially I dropped out of two (journalism major) university degrees! I did finish my tertiary education with honours at Melbourne University when I was about thirty, but that was much later and after my career was established…
At 16 I left home in country Victoria and came to Melbourne to study. In order to fund my education, I had to work during the day and study by night. I was about seventeen when I got a job as Receptionist / Office assistant at ‘Rag Trader’, the fashion industry’s newspaper. While there I began writing a column called Counter Comment. Later, I became the youngest Women’s Editor at the ‘Geelong Advertiser’ and after a couple of years was offered a job at the ‘Herald Sun’. You see I got really, really busy. I didn’t have time for university in those days.
Although I was working on general news stories as well, I was most interested in writing about fashion at a time when many journalists were not. It was considered a very lonely beat - the ‘frock beat’ - so it was an area I had it to myself.
When did you first take an interest in fashion?
There were six children in my family and so I was always wearing ‘hand-me-downs’ which I hated. My parents were well-bred and learned but they were white-collar working class. We didn’t have a lot of money.
After I left home and began working full time in Melbourne, I suddenly had my own money. This was Nirvana to me as it meant I could buy my own clothes.
In regard to my personal style, I’ve always had a bit of a ‘classic’ bent. I was never particularly enamoured of following labels like a sheep and do not understand why people flock to Chanel just because it’s Chanel or Prada because it’s Prada. I’ve always had a really disparate taste base. I like beautiful design and beautiful quality. It could be a young Australian designer like Andy Truong, or Toni Maticevski. It’s the quality, originality and fit that interest me.
How did VoxFrock come about?
I’d been working for ‘The Age’ for 19 years, (with 12 as Fashion Editor) when the compression of the newspaper industry around the world began to have an obvious effect at ‘The Age’. A lot of very disappointing policies were adopted regarding the concept of fashion within the paper. There was less interest in writing about fashion as a cultural phenomenon or an historic marker than there had been in one hundred and fifty years – the history of the paper itself!
The nail in the coffin was about 5 years ago when they cancelled the fashion papers, after shrinking and shrinking them. I left with around 70 (mostly) veteran journalists, who didn’t like the idea of what was happening there.
My intention was to take a year off. VoxFrock, which has now been going for six months, is in fact my year off. Of course I work on it more than full–time.
The way I approach the blog is the same way I worked the fashion pages ten years ago. I write it and edit and with commissioning pieces from guest columnists. I am not a ‘Veteran’ blogger, a ‘Selfie-taker’, or a ‘Shop-The Looker’. A long-form blog, VoxFrock is comprised of stories about people, phenomena and evolving trends. It’s a much deeper engagement with fashion.
The followers are racking up slowly but surely every month indicating that people are discovering it and getting a kick from it too!
What era in fashion holds the most fascination for you?
Definitely the 50’s! I think the fact that this era has been revived, particularly in race-wear, over the last 5 or 6 years is significant because the 1950’s are the seat of modern glamour.
From Dior in 1948 onwards, this was about the celebration of the female form. It doesn’t matter that we got ‘boxy’ in the 60’s and we got ‘warrior-like’ in the 80’s or that we went all ‘drapey’ in the 90’s. We keep returning again and again to the 1950’s.
Designers like Karl Largefield for example, continue to resort to the premise of femininity and glamour that was sketched out by designers at this time.
What fashion destination do you really love in Melbourne?
I know that it’s not particularly fashionable to like it, but I really love Chapel Street… all the way from Toorak to Dandenong Road. It’s almost like a tuning fork for how things are going in the fashion industry with the ‘swank’ stores up one end and little independents and cafes crowding into the cheaper end. Now the cheaper end is getting more expensive.
I’ve been going to that strip since I was about 16..