In the Sundance series All on the Line, Joe Zee, creative director for Elle Magazine, helps struggling designers save their lines from ruin. The affable Zee recently talked with Windy City Times at the W Hotel about the show, fashion basics and Glee.
Windy City Times: Hey, Joe. How are you?
Joe Zee: I'm great. The weather is OK, so I'm fine.
Windy City Times: Be glad you weren't here a while back when we got two feet of snow.
Joe Zee: Actually, I was here! I was here for a meeting in the morning. I ran to the airport at noon and got on the two o'clock flight. The snow came down later that afternoon. I was on one of the last flights out. I can't believe people abandoned their cars on Lake Shore Drive.
Windy City Times: Speaking of weather, it's incredible what Japan is going through.
Joe Zee: I've been watching the coverage, and I called some friends in Japan. Tokyo is [relatively] fine.
Windy City Times: Well, let's talk about you. I saw you on [the reality-TV competition] Stylista. What was that experience like?
Joe Zee: That was my first foray doing any of this on television. I loved the people, and I loved everything. I'm a big storyteller, and watching it all was a great experience. The cast of characters was beyondthey were really good.
Windy City Times: Maybe you could bring it backand you could be in [Elle fashion news director] Anne Slowey's role.
Joe Zee: [Laughs] She was fun.
Windy City Times: So how did you become interested in fashion?
Joe Zee: I've always been interested in magazines. I think things evolved for me as I got older. When I was a teenager in Toronto, I was obsessed with fashion magazines so, in a way, I was obsessed with fashion. I love clothes, creativity and design. Clothes are an expression of who you areand I loved how magazines defined that.
So I packed my things, moved to New York and wanted to work for a magazine because I loved fashion so much. As I worked in the industry more and more, I realized that I love fashion but I love magazines even more. The magazine tells a story, letting a specific reader know what they need to know that month. It has that flow, that interest level that can keep you. So I realized that I also love versions of media; I love digital, I love broadcast, I love the Internet. I love telling a story.
Windy City Times: And you tell a story on each episode of the series All on the Line.
Joe Zee: I do. Each episode focuses on a designer who's hit a roadblock in their own design business. I come in and give them a real, honest assessment and I work with them. I don't just come in and walk away; I roll up my sleeves, get down and dirty, and we work.
What's different about this show is that there's no competition, contestants or elimination. It's real life. Fashion is not glamourous, and you get to see all the blood, sweat and tears behind it.
Windy City Times: This seems to point toward a larger question: What do you want the viewer to take away from this show, besides the entertainment? Is there a larger message here about having someone take a look at your work and possibly helping you along?
Joe Zee: Bingo. It's about sticking to your guns and being true to who you are. I've helped so many people who feel like they want to give up; sometimes I feel like I want to give up.
You work so hard and you have difficult days, but this is about, "How do I overcome this hurdle?" Do I know that if you do this, that you will get this result? Nothere are no guarantees in life. But if it means so much to you, then we've got to work that much harder to try it. I'm talking about designers who have maxed out their credit cards, mortgaged their homes. When you know you're supposed to be doing what you're doing, [making these sacrifices] doesn't mean that much. For them, it was like, "We have to do this." I respected that so much, and I respected their talent; I felt like I would've let them down if I hadn't given my all.
Windy City Times: You talked about having your own stumbling blocks. How did you turn it around?
Joe Zee: Perseverance, I think, and hard work. I have blocks every day. People have big blocks in their careers. It's so easy to throw in the towel, but that's an immature way of doing things. Life doesn't owe you anythingI just expect things from myself.
Windy City Times: You're like the Suze Orman of fashion.
Joe Zee: [Laughs loudly] I was just watching her today! She was yelling at Nadia Suleman [aka "Octomom"]. I was like, "I kinda like you." Windy City Times: What are three pieces of clothing every woman should own?
Joe Zee: For sure, a skinny black pant, a white shirt and a trench coat. You can put those items with everything.
Windy City Times: What designers do you think bring something new?
Joe Zee: Oh, wow. In New York, we constantly go to Marc Jacobs; he just marches to his own beat. Someone like a Muccia Prada, Givenchy or Alexander Wang has always been at the forefront. One of my favorite collections in Paris was from a smaller designer, Haider Ackerman.
Windy City Times: Any comment on the John Galliano situation? [Galliano was recently fired from Dior for anti-Semitic comments.]
Joe Zee: There are so many legalities happening that I'd rather not comment; I just cover fashion. [Laughs] I think it's sad that fashion is overshadowed by such awful comments from someone. That part I don't condone at all.
Windy City Times: You've been on shows such as Gossip Girl and, of course, Stylista and All on the Line. If you could be on any other show, what would it be?
Joe Zee: [Laughs] I would want to be on Glee, but I can't sing or dance at all. I can maybe dance, but I definitely cannot sing. [Laughs] I love that show; Ryan Murphy is so smart.
Windy City Times: You should try to make it happen. What would you sing?
Joe Zee: [Laughs] I don't knowno one's ever asked me that! I have to think about it but whatever it is, it would be horrifyingly bad. [Laughs]
All on the Line is on the Sundance Channel Tuesdays at 9 p.m. See http://www.sundancechannel.com/all-on-the-line.