A former British Vogue editor shows what not to say after you’ve been fired

Shortly after Lucinda Chambers was fired from her job as the fashion director of British Vogue, she decided to air her grievances and reflect on her 36 year-tenure at the fashion magazine in an exit interview with the journal Vestoj.

The interview was so revealing that it got taken down when it was published on Monday and then re-posted, with an editorial note that Chambers’ former employer Conde Nast was launching a lawsuit. The interviewer suggested that the magazine company was upset that Chambers had insulted important fashion brands — who are also important advertisers in its magazines. It’s not surprising that the discussion has launched a lively discussion. No one comes out of this interview unscathed—from an industry that will “chew you up and spit you out” to “crap” magazine cover shoots with mediocre designers and their “appalling” work.

Chambers gives a bridge-burning interview full of disclosures that make it clear she does not expect to work in the magazine industry again—or at least, never again at publisher Condé Nast.

It’s also full of candid observations about jobs and careers that we can learn from.

Own your story

After you get fired, it’s all too easy to let the rupturing event consume you and subsume your identity, and to obsess about it. But it’s important to remember that you are not this one job, event or failure.

This debate comes up in a conversation Chambers relays she had after her firing: “Later I was having lunch with an old friend who had just been fired from Sotheby’s. She said to me, ‘Lucinda, will you please stop telling people that you’ve been fired.’ I asked her why – it’s nothing I’m ashamed of. She told me, ‘If you keep talking about it, then that becomes the story. The story should be that you’ve had the most incredible career for over thirty years. The story shouldn’t be that you’ve been fired. Don’t muck up the story.’ But I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the person who puts on a brave face and tells everyone, ‘Oh, I decided to leave the company,’ when everyone knows you were really fired.”

Chambers is right to not hide what happened to her. In the immediate aftermath of a public firing, you can capitalize on everyone talking about you by redirecting the conversation. Be open that you need a job and ask your network to find you leads. That’s what Sree Sreenivasan did after he was fired from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as their chief digital officer in 2013. He wrote a public Facebook post inviting anyone to tell him what he should do next. “If you want to invite me to anything, I now have time, including for meaningful cups of coffee and drinks,” Sreenivasan wrote. “I’d also love to go walking with anyone available.”

The suggestion from Chambers’ friend to take a longer view also has merit. By reframing the question over her firing around what she did accomplish at British Vogue over what ended it, the friend is looking towards the future, at employers and prospects down the line.

Owning your story means not shying away from the bumps in your career, while also taking a longer view of your journey. To own your story, you must acknowledge that the firing happened to you while not letting it become all you can talk about. Balancing these scales, the important question after a firing becomes—how much to disclose?

Chambers was frank around the anxieties about her firing, while also hinting that her career is not over: “Most people who leave Vogue end up feeling that they’re lesser than, and the fact is that you’re never bigger than the company you work for. But I have a new idea now, and if it comes off maybe I won’t be feeling so vulnerable after all.”

Insult your employer at your own peril

Chambers’ account is full of juicy details about the fashion magazine industry’s fickle nature, and its uncomfortably close relationship with designers and advertisers. On designer Michael Kors, Chambers said that “the June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway.”

These insider details make for a great read, but as the Fashion Law pointed out, they can also lead to lawsuits. The legal website cited the Balenciaga lawsuit against its former creative director Nicolas Ghesquière after he gave a disparaging interview to a magazine where he compared his relationship to the fashion house to the sensation of “being sucked dry, like they wanted to steal my identity.”

Compare that to Chambers’ comment about her former employer: “Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years. Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life. The clothes are just irrelevant for most people — so ridiculously expensive.”

The lesson? Tell-alls are great for the reader, not always so great for the storyteller. When you decide to spill, be careful about breaching your non-disparagement and nondisclosure contracts. For Chambers, it’s clear that Condé Nast is not going to take her statements lying down. As of Thursday, the post now carries a new editorial disclaimer, saying that the site has “been contacted by lawyers on behalf of Conde Nast Limited and Edward Enninful OBE and have been requested to amend the interview. This request has now been granted.”

Curious about other ways to handle getting fired or laid off? We asked people who have been through it. Here’s their excellent advice.