Pandora Sykes is a polymath in the truest sense. Employing her incisive eye and voice across the cultural Zeitgeist, her various platforms include a day job as Fashion Features Editor at Sunday Times Style, a wildly successful personal blog, brand consulting, a bourgeoning podcast and a broad array of meaningful freelance work spanning styling and features writing. The only question is: how the hell does she fit it all in and still have a social life? Here Pandora reveals exactly how she schedules her week, what drove her to succeed and why Sunday nights should always be spent in front of the T.V.
‘I’ve always liked to be busy. Even when I was four years old I was always occupied, writing stories or drawing and tidying my room. Ultimately I do believe in working really, really hard—but it is definitely about creating boundaries.
I have a pretty clear way of organizing my workload across the week. Mondays are, in the main, spent shooting projects [which include social posts and stories published on Pandora’s blog] or writing from home. I’m careful to only schedule shoots twice a month to ensure I get that proper time in my flat to just be writing, writing, writing. This week I’ve shot with Uterque and Harvey Nichols, so next week I’ll keep Monday free.
Tuesday is always the busiest day at Style with a features meeting that starts at 9am and finishes around 11am. After that I finish off the credits [prices and stockists for the pieces featured] for my Wardrobe mistress column and file all my copy for the week.
Wednesdays and Fridays are the days I schedule breakfast meetings to catch up with contacts. I only go to one place for breakfast—The London Grind [in London Bridge]. I always order avocado and feta on toast—they do amazing things, duck eggs and breakfast pans, but I have my order and I’m sticking to it. I get my coffee from Three Wheels—they have a little stand in London Grind. It’s so good that it has ruined me for any other coffee. I’m not sure what’s in those amazing flat whites, but I now need one every morning.
If I have an interview, I always schedule it on Wednesdays. It’s the easiest day for me to go into town [the Sunday Times Style is in South London at London Bridge]. Last Wednesday I interviewed the designer Rejina Pyo and her husband who have written a Korean cookbook which has won an Observer Monthly Award.
“I’ve never just been interested in fashion. At University my ambition was to be a columnist and I’ve always written across culture, features and travel.”
Thursday is podcast day. I’ve never just been interested in fashion. At University in Leeds my ambition was to be a columnist and I’ve always written across culture, features and travel. I would be awful doing just one thing—that’s why I created the podcast. I have to be engaging with new formats for myself more than anything else.
People are always really shocked when we say we have a script of sorts—it’s considered a travesty that we’re not naturally wildly entertaining. But we’ve tried to ad lib and there end up being so many ‘likes, ‘oh reallys’ and ‘God, I don’t know what to say about that,’ that we’ve realized you really do need a loose script. First thing in the morning we go through all the sites, Twitter and papers from the week and look at all those cultural zeitgeist-y stories. We spend an hour chatting through stories when we first arrive, another hour listing down our features and then a final hour writing the script, which runs for about 35 minutes. Recording then takes about an hour.
After that I spend 15 minutes doing the Wardrobe Mistress Facebook Live slot where I answer all sorts of questions from readers then head back to my desk. I get about 350 emails a day, so I’m usually playing catch up until the end of the day.
Friday is the day I schedule desk visits. I normally have four new designers come into the office to talk through their work and it’s usually a real variety. This week, for example, I saw three new brands: Davina Combe who does great everyday wear jewellery, Gae Correy who makes amazing fine, conceptual jewellery and I saw Frances Cookson who has a new bridesmaids line called Rewritten—I think it’s going to do really well, we definitely need something like it on the market. It’s really important to me to make time for people starting out in fashion, not just because it’s great to know what’s coming next, but because I know how difficult it can be to get a break. It’s why I always make time for students and young fashion journalists too—most of the time I get them to give me a call as it’s much quicker and more useful for them that way.
I tend to stay in the office until around 8pm on a Friday night—I’ll normally have a dinner with friends, so I can meet them at 8.30. I know most people get that Friday feeling and want to dash off, but I really like to tidy up my week. No-one’s there and it gives me time to think about what I’m putting live on a Monday or what I’m going to write over the next seven days.
I try not to commit to more than one evening event for work a week. One evening a week will be working on my blog, but the other days I want to be at home or catching up with my friends and family. Saturday is down time unless I’m shooting something. Occasionally my husband takes pictures for my blog over the weekend, but usually I work with photographers to tag blog shooting on the end of other projects I’m working on.
I never make plans on a Sunday. But my schedule is pretty rigid–sleep in until 11am, papers from 12-3pm, writing for the blog 4-8pm, then I watch telly. For me, it’s the only way I can fit everything in and still keep sane.
I don’t really get anxious about taking on too much work, but I do really get worried that I’m not a) always producing the best work or b) haven’t got the mix right in what I’m doing. Part of that is being a good schoolgirl and always just wanting to do a good job. But it’s also because I’ve never just been obsessed with fashion. I have a real need to make sure I’m expressing myself elsewhere.
The whole point of my blog—it’s nice that it’s a business and it makes money now— but the whole point was that I could write op-ed pieces that made me feel like I’d used my brain. So I sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not challenging myself enough. I definitely get anxiety about not expressing myself in the most productive or balanced way. That’s why the podcast has become so important to me. It’s so amazing to have a platform to talk about such a myriad of subjects.
People often ask me what’s the endgame—almost conspiratorially as if I have it all mapped out. The honest truth is that you never know what’s going to come next. I was so surprised when I got the call from Style asking me to come into interview for my role. That will probably remain the most seminal experience work-wise, because it was just a complete game-changer. It just proves that if you’re prodigious enough and you ‘hone your craft’ quote/unquote, then you can get somewhere even if at the time it feels you’re slaving away for little gain. I definitely had times of thinking, why’s it so hard to get a break?
“I get quite frantic about finishing things. And while I don’t really procrastinate with work, I definitely procrastinate with joining the gym. That’s my biggest guilt trip at the moment—procrastinating with my health.”
But if I could go back, I don’t think I would say anything to myself. I think if I’d said, ‘don’t worry you’re going to get a great job at a magazine you’ve always read’, I might not have churned as much as I did. As for advice for other people, while I totally understand how annoying it is when someone is like, ‘I don’t know how I got here,’ I do think we all assume everyone has much more of a plan than they do. We work really hard and hope it’s going to pay off. But honestly, when I first started my blog, it was just because I felt a burning need to write stuff. It’s not that I think I’m William Thackeray— I just wanted so deeply to get my opinions out.
“”I definitely had times of thinking, why’s it so hard to get a break?”
It’s really important to me that what I’m doing aligns with feminist thought. It’s only really something I’ve considered in the past year, but I’m really passionate that every opinion piece I write is considered through that lens, and every podcast we produce we really talk around it rigorously before we go in because we are so intent in making sure it’s a robust portrayal of modern womanhood. The thing is, we are going to make mistakes—but that’s ok. If you get something wrong, you can apologize.
You can only live and learn. There’s always going to be someone that disagrees. I wrote something the other day and someone said how patronizing they found my tone—and I went back and read it and just thought, no, I really meant what I was saying. So you know, you can’t please everyone and everyone is fallible. But that should never stop you saying what you think and expressing your opinion. If there were an ultimate ambition, I guess it’s just to keep on growing into a strong, learned well-read fashion writer. Can you be a feminist fashion writer? Well I’m damn well going to try.
“One of the biggest challenges of adulthood for me has been that you can’t predict what’s around the corner and you have to adjust. I’m quite controlling and have always wanted to control things around me. But you can’t. You can only control how you respond to the challenges and opportunities that come your way.”
It’s been incredible for me emerging as a journalist during a time when I didn’t have to pick a single discipline. There is, however, definitely a case for going too far with doing everything. I hate it when people say ‘I’m a consultant and an editor,’ when they neither consult nor edit. You have to earn your stripes. So for example, I would say that I style but I’m not a stylist. Because that’s something I’m very much learning. It’s absolutely the time to be doing lots of things, but I still have some of the old guard feeling that there has to be rigour somewhere. If you don’t need to jump through the hoops to get somewhere you miss that rigour, because you’re just dancing to your own tune. I’ve definitely benefited from having bosses. I like having someone to tell me whether I’ve done a good job or whether actually there’s something I could do better. I like authority in that sense.
One of the biggest challenges of adulthood for me has been that you can’t predict what’s around the corner and you have to adjust. I’m quite controlling and have always wanted to control things around me. But you can’t. You can only control how you respond to the challenges and opportunities that come your way. That has always panicked me. Say it’s Thursday and I’m thinking I’ll do this today and finish that tomorrow, then suddenly I have to go and do an interview on Friday. My natural instinct is to think, ‘but I hadn’t planned to do that on the Friday. Is it going to be ok? Does this mean it will go wrong and I can’t do this or that?’ Now instead it’s more if it has to be done on Friday, then I’ll do it on Friday. End of conversation.
That’s definitely a big lesson—trying to remain positive and calm and enthusiastic about all things even when they come out of nowhere. I know that’s even more important as I make my next step—I’m moving on from Style at the beginning of January and even though aspects of my schedule will stay the same, from the podcast to making time for new designers and getting loads of writing in, things will inevitably change. My focus will be divided between writing for a broad range of publications from digital to print and consulting for emerging cult brands like Hunza G and Dodo Bar Or. I’ll also be relaunching my blog as a website rather than just a pure blog at the end of January to better represent my myriad endeavours. I know it won’t be plain sailing, but i also know I’m in the best place I’ve ever been to cope with that.
Check our Pandora’s style, travel and social criticism site pandorasykes.com here; The PanDolly Podcast is currently on hiatus—stay tuned for updates.