• Dayna Tohidi

Jordan Wake: 'My first day of education was my first day of work'

Jordan Wake – the executive assistant to award-winning fashion journalist, Hilary Alexander – proves that people without a degree can break into the fashion industry too

Fashion journalist, Hilary Alexander, and her executive assistant, Jordan Wake, dicuss show notes during Graduate Fashion Week, June 2019. © Olivia Ferrara-Forbes

Confident that he would “learn more in the real world than in a classroom,” Jordan Wake left school at 16 to start his career in the equestrian industry. The timing coincided with the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in London, which cemented his dream of competing in the international sports festival. As a stepping stone to achieving his goal, Wake enrolled on a two-year apprenticeship at a horse riding school in his county, Norfolk. “I can honestly say that my first day of education was my first day of work,” he tells Plaster, referring to his apprenticeship. However, his ambition soon took a turn. “I got to a point where I wanted to do something different with my life and fashion had always been an interest of mine,” says the 24-year-old.

With no access to a computer at home, Wake began to visit his local library three times a week to research different careers in the fashion industry he could picture himself enjoying. In December 2015 – the same month he handed in his leaving notice at the riding school – Wake bought his first copy of British Vogue. While he had read his grandmother’s copies throughout his childhood, the timing felt symbolic to him. As English had always been his “favourite and best subject at school,” he put two and two together and decided to give fashion journalism a go.

Jordan Wake poses with his friend's horse at the Mount Pleasant Equestrian Centre in Norfolk, December 2019. © Jordan Wake

Unable to justify the debt and time commitment of a degree, Wake started a fashion blog, called Jordan and Fashion. “The name was so unoriginal and cringe, but you remember it, so it obviously worked!” he laughs. Between 2016 and 2018, he published opinion pieces and trend reports, which attracted invites to fashion shows, presentations and exhibitions. “That’s when I began to meet photographers, editors, stylists and designers. As I didn’t have a degree to my name, I quickly had to learn how to hold a conversation and network,” he says. Even though his charisma and enthusiasm earned him respect from some industry professionals, Wake’s decision not to do a degree didn’t go unnoticed. When he asked for work experience, the first thing employers wanted to know was where and what he studied at university. “I won’t name names, but a lot of people were very snooty and condescending towards me,” he says soberly.

In 2018, Wake put his networking skills to the ultimate test. Having admired Hilary Alexander since his childhood, he attended her talk with the former Royal Ballet dancer, Eric Underwood, at Graduate Fashion Week. “When it ended, I went up to her and simply said: ‘Hilary, I admire your work. Please can I do an internship with you?’ Here I am, almost three years later, as her executive assistant,” he says with a modest sense of pride. At first, Wake was supposed to do a one-month internship in London to help her prepare for the Breast Cancer Care Charity Gala’s fashion show. However, knowing he couldn’t afford to stay in London after the internship ended, Alexander offered him a permanent job. When we asked her what she saw in Wake, she replied: “enthusiasm, curiosity and a passion for fashion.”

"I don’t see myself becoming an editor-in-chief. Then again, Anna Wintour has to retire at some point!"

From managing Alexander’s fashion week schedule to arranging pandemic-safe Zoom meetings, Wake’s job is a constant juggling act. “Fashion week is a particularly busy time as I need to make sure I’ve organised Hilary’s travel and hotel arrangements, accepted the invitations to the shows she wants to attend and have a schedule ready to go,” he explains. While some may dislike the idea of working as somebody’s assistant, the experience has been invaluable for Wake. “It’s an incredibly stressful job, but I have gained so many skills from listening to Hilary speak to people at events and observing the techniques she uses to review fashion collections,” he explains. As his boss is a freelance fashion journalist and has a part-time role as the president of Graduate Fashion Foundation, Wake’s working hours are quite flexible. Because of this, he has been able to progress his journalism career through freelance work, such as contributing to BOYFRIEND magazine and guest-editing the graduate special issue of ASBO magazine.

ASBO magazine's graduate special issue cover, guest-edited by Jordan Wake, October 2019. © ASBO

The opportunity with ASBO also came about from a passing conversation during Graduate Fashion Week. “I briefly spoke to the editor-in-chief, David J Weller, and about a week later, he emailed me to ask if I wanted to be the guest editor of ASBO’s graduate special issue,” says Wake. Together, they discussed cover image options and exchanged suggestions for contributors and talent to feature. “It was a wonderful opportunity, but I don’t see myself becoming an editor-in-chief. Then again, Anna Wintour has to retire at some point!”

During the first national UK lockdown in March last year, Wake found the time to launch his podcast, Queer and the City. A playful spin on HBO’s cult television series, Sex and the City, it is inspired by his experiences as a gay man navigating his way up in the fashion industry while indulging in London’s pre-pandemic buzzing nightlife. In the podcast, Wake opens the lid on juicy topics such as “fashion, f*ckboys, friendships and everything else in-between” from a queer person’s perspective. Each episode is given a click-worthy title based on an interview gem, like the time when fashion designer, Patrick McDowell, photobombed Janet Jackson or when actor, Max Hoffman, spent a night dancing with Nicole Sherzinger.

The cover art for Jordan Wake's podcast, Queer and the City, designed by Jacquelyn Shaw, May 2020. © Jordan Wake

While his ambition has shifted from competing in the Olympic Games to getting published in Vogue, Wake is starting to turn his enthusiasm for horses into a niche. For Horse and Rider magazine’s June 2021 print issue, he wrote a feature about the parallels between the equestrian and fashion industry, referencing Christian Dior’s saddle bag and Gucci’s horsebit loafers among other signature brand creations. In addition to Vogue, he is determined to get his byline (name) published in the New York Times, Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, where his boss, Alexander, was the fashion director between 2003 and 2011.

For Wake, breaking into the fashion industry and moving to London has been as much about his career as it has been about finding his community and sense of belonging. “Back home, people are quite close-minded – and as a queer person, I always felt like an outsider,” he says. If there are two things we can learn from his career, it’s that enthusiasm goes a long way and there’s more to somebody's potential than their academic qualifications might suggest.