15 Sep Influencer Interview – Neale Whitaker, Vogue Living
Neale Whitaker has developed a reputation – both nationally and internationally – as a design authority. As Editor-in-chief of Vogue Living, he heads the Australian edition of what is arguably the most iconic design magazine in publication, a role that came after an eight year tenure as editor-in-chief of Belle magazine. Perhaps best known in Australia as a judge on The Block, Neale has amassed knowledge and experience of the design industry second to none, but his talents don’t end with design! He was also responsible for the success of Vogue Entertaining + Travel and delicious magazine, which he launched (and which happened to be the most successful magazine launch in the history of Australian publishing), plus he has authored a book The Accidental Foodie. No wonder then that I was thrilled to take the opportunity of interviewing him for my Influencer series!
MS | Your career began in publishing, what was the tipping point that led you into the interior design field?
NW| My publishing career has taken me into the fields of food, fashion, travel and homes – everything generally referred to as lifestyle – but I guess the interior design tipping point was being appointed editor-in-chief of Belle in 2006. That’s where my current journey started and I consider it to have been one of my luckiest and most satisfying career breaks!
MS | Do you have a favourite era/ genre in design or are there elements you love from many?
NW| I’m a bowerbird when it comes to design. There are so many styles, eras and genres that I admire. I rarely look at design in isolation, preferring to see it as part of the social culture of an era. I’m fascinated by the 50s, 60s and 70s and a lot of my favourite designs and designers come from those decades. I’d love to have been poolside in the Palm Springs of the Rat Pack/ Slim Aarons era and I’m always the first to defend the much-maligned 70s as it was an incredibly creative decade – in terms of design, the arts, music and fashion. I’m also intrigued by British design and culture in the 50s and 60s, from the post-war optimism of the Festival of Britain through to the Swinging Sixties and beyond.
MS | Do you have a favourite piece of design?
NW| Yes I do. It would be Tom Dixon’s ‘S Chair’ for Cappellini. I have one in woven straw and the shape is sublime. To me it’s sculpture.
MS | The approach to design on The Block seems to be worlds apart from Vogue Living. What have you learned about design from your time on the block?
NW| The five years I have spent as a judge on The Block have been invaluable. Quite apart from being enormous fun and a great privilege, being involved with a show like The Block is an important exercise in keeping me real and grounded! My fellow judges (Shaynna Blaze and Darren Palmer) are both professional interior designers and I have learnt so much from them about the practical and technical aspects of the craft. I believe the two aspects of my working life actually co-exist quite comfortably.
MS | What is your advice for marrying high end with budget? Can you bring the budget-conscious approach of The Block together with the more serious design approach of Vogue Living?
NW| Of course you can! It’s no different to the fashion principle of wearing designer labels with high street. It actually makes for a more interesting mix. Vogue Living undoubtedly showcases some of the most beautiful homes on the planet but its purpose is to inspire, regardless of budget. Contestants on The Block rely heavily on magazines like Vogue Living, Belle, Inside Out and real living for their ideas and inspiration! Besides which, budget-friendly retailers like IKEA and Freedom are now more design-forward than ever before.
MS | What excites you most about Australian design?
NW| Australian designers and interior designers are very good at observing global trends and distilling and adapting them for our climate and lifestyle. There’s a freedom of thought and an independent spirit that I believe have really come of age. We are producing work in this country that is truly world class and we continue to lead the way in designing for indoor/outdoor living.
MS | You recently made the move from one iconic publication (Belle) to another (Vogue Living) – what has been the biggest adjustment for you personally?
NW| Moving to Vogue Living has been an exhilarating experience. We may only produce six print issues per year but we have an incredibly strong presence across online, digital and social media – all the things that a global magazine brand needs. www.vogueliving.com.au is like having a daily design newspaper to think about – it’s a challenge for a small editorial team but it’s an amazing resource that allows us to reach a huge audience in Australia and worldwide.
MS | You are extremely influential within the design industry. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?
NW| I’m conscious of the role that I have in the industry and I take it very seriously. That’s not to say I don’t have a lot of fun too! It’s an incredible privilege to have a foot in each of two industries – publishing and interior design – and to work alongside so many talented and creative people. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.
MS | What advice do you most want to impart to the new designers who are inspired by you?
NW| To keep at it and stay inspired! And to find the niche that is most suitable for them and where their passion lies, be it interior design, decoration, product design, styling, writing, blogging, graphic design, photography – even selling real estate. ‘Design’ is an incredibly broad church these days.