Any millennial magazine journalist will be able to recall a conversation that took place “inside the fashion closet” at work. Stepping inside such a space was like entering a well-dressed psychologist’s office; at any given time, there were two or more of your best friends ready to drop their inventory notes and counsel you through a matter of the heart. Often visited in haste – walk-ins were always accepted – the space offered a temporary hideaway from the world, a moment of reprieve where life decisions were coloured by your friend’s opinions, all while the few of you sat there hemmed in by racks and racks of the usual sartorial suspects (an iridescent Chanel tweed jacket that you certainly couldn’t afford, most likely).
For five seasons now, The Bold Type has brought this memory from magazine’s most glorified days to the silver screen. Executive-produced by the former chief content officer at Hearst magazines and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Joanna Coles, viewers across the world have tuned in to follow Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee), and Sutton (Meghann Fahy), three twenty-something women navigating the ebbs and flows of working in publishing – and their personal relationships that run adjacent. If you’ve watched the show, you’d know some of the biggest lightbulb moments have happened to the girls inside the fashion cupboard (sometimes with wine, sometimes high, and always with statement shoes).
As the show was marketed as an interpretation of Coles’ career in the media, we decided to forgo the usual talent interview and go straight to the source. The Bold Type admittedly applies a lot of gloss to the world of glossies but what it spotlights really authentically is how good friendships can shape the women we become, even when things in life don’t go entirely as we had planned. And when the world was literally tipped on its head, The Bold Type – in its delightfully light, frothy, romantic way – reminded us of those treasured days and the people in them. As restrictions lift and we head back to the office, it’s a little sad to think Jane, Kat and Sutton won’t be solving the world’s problems in the fashion closet. But as Coles says ahead, it was time.
JESSICA: Why is season five of The Bold Type the final season?
JOANNA: I think Faulty Towers’s John Cleese and Seinfeld’s Jerry Seinfeld knew. I always admired both of them for knowing when to quit and it felt like we would go out on top. And truthfully the magazine industry is slipping away from us, and it felt like a good time to leave the fantasy where it still feels relevant.
JESSICA: There is a sharp focus on the notion that everybody makes mistakes and not only is that OK, but Jane, Kat and Sutton realise what they can really learn from them. It’s also a running theme throughout all of the seasons as the girls mature. Is this something you instilled in your staff when you worked in magazines?
JOANNA: It’s certainly something that people instilled in me even though I was always mortified when I made mistakes. I hope I allowed my staff to know that not everything would work, but you had to try everything and as long as you learn from your mistakes, they are useful even if they didn’t always have the intended outcome.
JESSICA: There are a lot of scenes in the show where characters argue over whether a piece of content belongs in the magazine or on its website, which is a very accurate occurrence for any millennial magazine journalist. Are you on set when filming and do you have a say in this script?
JOANNA: I did have a say in the script. I would read the scripts and give notes mainly for accuracy, and I always look forward to receiving them.
JESSICA: The Bold Type has covered some very big issues: women’s health, white privilege, gun ownership, abuse, the list goes on. What big issues are covered the final season?
JOANNA: I would say the biggest issues covered this season are more personal and they’re around the nature of friendship, the nature of romantic relationships, and the relationship between a boss and her employees.
“The final season covers the notion that you don’t always get what you want, but what you get might actually be more interesting.”
JESSICA: What’s the dynamic like on set between yourself, Katie, Aisha, Meghann and Melora Hardin?
JOANNA: Well, I haven’t been on set this season because they were shooting during COVID, but I’ve had cameos in the show which I love. The relationship is one of real friendship, trust and excitement. I think each of the girls know that this has been a breakout role for them, and they are incredibly glad to have had the friendship amongst themselves. I think they would all say they’ve learned an extraordinary amount from working with an actor as experienced and as seasoned as Melora, who is very generous with her time and with her advice and has been acting since she was six years old.
JESSICA: Did you have a say in the casting of Melora? (Hardin plays Jacqueline Carlyle, the character who is based on Coles.)
JOANNA: Well, I didn’t not have a say, but when it became clear that she was going to be in the show, I was beside myself. I was a huge fan of The Office, and Transparent where she played a character called Tammy who coincidentally had a haircut just like mine. Tammy has bleached blonde, very short hair and I was obsessed with her because I was looking for a hair twin. Melora and I have become incredibly good friends. We stay at each other’s houses and our kids are really good friends. So, it’s been a real bonus for me that I met Melora.
JESSICA: New York City – the publishing capital of the world – plays a big role in this show. When you first moved to New York in 1997, what shocked you the most?
JOANNA: Great question. I think what shocked me the most when I arrived in New York is that I didn’t know anybody! I think having spent the previous five years watching Friends and lots of American shows I sort of arrived thinking, ‘Oh you know, I’m going to run into Jennifer Aniston in Central Park and Ross at the local pharmacy’. Then I realised that actually they were all fictional characters and here I was in the city and I needed to meet some real people. That was a bit of a surprise; the city felt so familiar to me through endless visits and movies and television show, but I actually didn’t really know anybody who lived here!
JESSICA: When you were editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan, what was it like watching young women navigate dating and working in New York? I imagine a lot of the tales from their lives crept into the pages of the magazine…
JOANNA: Well, some of them did. In an episode on the show, one of the characters gets a yoni egg stuck inside her. [Editor’s note, its extraction happens inside the fashion closet.] That was based on something similar that happened to someone at Cosmo. The relationships that the characters have are very much like the relationships that I think all of us have in our early 20s and mid-20s – they are full of romantic hope and lots of naïveté. Then expectations change as one grows older and begins to understand one’s real needs.
JESSICA: When you were coming up through the ranks in publishing, did you spend time in the fashion closet?
JOANNA: Yes, when I worked at Marie Claire and Cosmo, the fashion closet was a fantastic place to go for inspiration. You had all the newest clothes in front of you; the smell of them, the rustle of the paper, the perfect way everything was hung on the racks, the incredibly detailed logs or inventory that the closet manager used to take was all wonderful. I loved it.
JESSICA: You got to the top of the publishing world. What would you say to passionate young women starting their careers in journalism?
JOANNA: I think if you’re going to go into content now you want to go into digital content first. I’m on the board of Snap [the parent company of Snapchat] and I love the Snap Originals, I think that’s a very exciting place for content right now. I think anybody who loves magazines and is passionate about magazine content might want to try and think about how they can take that enthusiasm and apply it to some form of digital content, because if you’re starting out, it’s probably a better place to learn than to hold out for one of the few jobs in print publishing now.
I think it’s very important that people understand distribution. You can’t just be a content maker anymore. It’s really important to understand the numbers around any content you do because that way you can have a sense of your power as a content maker and where you should probably try and improve. There’s no real future in magazines themselves, but I think if you could be digitally smart about understanding who your audience is – where they show up, how you can get even more of them – then that’s my advice to young magazine wannabes.
JESSICA: How alike are you and Jacqueline?
JOANNA: Jacqueline is much more patient than I ever was, and she has a much more expensive wardrobe. Our goal for Jacqueline was to make her a female boss who was invested in her staff’s success, and my feeling was I had yet to see a good portrayal of a complicated female boss on television or in the movies that one actually wanted to work for.
“My experience of female bosses has been that they’ve always been extremely supportive, encouraging and very helpful towards me, and yet I never saw that on TV. All I saw was bitch bosses like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, who weren’t very nice people, and I was just tired of watching that old trope. It felt it just didn’t reflect my experience.”
JESSICA: What little pearls of advice would you give Katie, Aisha and Meghann because I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t look up to you in the same way that Jane, Kat and Sutton look up to Jacqueline?
JOANNA: That’s a good question. Thank you for the compliment. I think this is a really important point. Many young women think that they need a mentor and that that mentor must be very senior. I found in my work life that my best mentors were my colleagues, they were my peers and that what you wanted was their support and their partnership in projects to actually get things done.
“What you discover is that you all rise together so that when you become a boss, it turns out that a lot of your former peers are now bosses too and you’ve got the real network.”
So, I don’t think it’s always necessary to have a very senior person giving you advice. You can get great advice from people in your own age group with your own experience and as you grow in experience together, you begin to help each other more. It’s a really proprietorial network and you don’t know it at 22, but it starts to sort of kick in around 25 or 26 when you can all tell each other about jobs you might have heard of. You can introduce each other to other companies and your world starts to get much bigger.
The final season of The Bold Type is now airing on Stan.