As the fashion industry prepares for another month of shows in all four major hubs, including London, from February 17, one face is about to become even more familiar to those who attend the scene of parades. Originally from Montreal, Caroline Issa moved to the British metropolis two decades ago and transitioned from a career in management consulting to a more creative field. After joining style and culture publication Tank Magazine in 2002, where she is currently Managing Director and Fashion Director, Issa oversaw the launch of the agency Tank Form in 2004; then came the creation of the tech-centric lifestyle platform Because Magazine in 2007.
Her continued ability to be ahead of the curve has led Issa to collaborate with footwear brands like LK Bennett, Nordstrom and beauty brand Kjaer Weis, as well as serving in a variety of positions, including as an external reviewer for the MA Journalism from Central Saint Martin. and fashion communication courses. And having been a member of the British Fashion Council’s press committee for the past few years, it was no surprise to see Issa join the BFC board last November.
“My mother was Chinese, my father is Lebanese-Iranian, and yet growing up in Canada, it’s such a beautiful melting pot that you don’t feel like you’re ticking the ‘other’ box,” Issa says, adding that she now considers herself British too. “That grounding made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted.” We asked Issa what continues to excite and energize her, from art gallery tours and virtual reality to TV series English.
Tell me about your decompression routine.
It’s only in the past few years that I’ve really understood work-life balance. I work all the time and travel a lot, and now my weekends are very precious. What is therapeutic and meditative for me is going to museums, so I take advantage of the energy and art scene in London. Last week, for example, I went to the Serpentine Gallery to see Kamala Ibrahim Ishag’s exhibition; she is an octogenarian Sudanese painter. Then the next day I went to Goldsmiths, the university; it showed the work of the late Italian designer Cinzia Ruggeri. When I’m really exhausted, seeing other people’s creativity really fills my tank.
What else do you do in your free time?
I’m learning Mandarin, which is great. I have a teacher every Saturday and then I do Duolingo every day. It makes another part of my brain work and it’s unlike anything else I do. I’m not a fan of reality TV, so at night I watch documentaries or “feed” on creative endeavors that I respect. I recently watched English. It’s a western – and I’m not a western fan – but it’s amazing. Emily Blunt is in it, and she also produced it. It’s this very violent western that has such romance; beautifully shot, beautifully acted and beautifully written.
How has your relationship with the British Fashion Council evolved to the point where you have now taken on this new role with them?
I’ve lived in London for 20 years now and been doing Tank for 20, so I’d like to think I’ve become part of the fabric of the community. Talent based here has continually fueled global brands, and the headhunting from London is still on. Many of our creatives go on to create their own amazing brands and also work in some of the best houses in the world. I feel like I’ve done so many different things in this industry, and it’s an exciting time to be able to see it from another perspective.
There’s so much on the table in terms of technological advancements, whether it’s textiles made from recycled plastics or AI-generated experiences. And then, on the other hand, there’s this huge emphasis on craftsmanship. Which do you lean into the most?
I’m on both sides! To create a print magazine, you have to be interested in craftsmanship and haptics, in feeling. We have paper enthusiasts who care so much about the weight, volume, and gloss of a type of paper. I completely believe in the physicality of things because I think that’s the only thing we’re looking for these days – that connection, that touch and that solidity. On the other hand, I have been working in the world of virtual reality for a few years; we’ve had to pivot a lot of our agency work to digital, and we’ve pioneered some really interesting luxury experiences in virtual reality. So I spend a lot of time in a helmet. And it’s an incredibly exciting and different world.
The fashion industry also faces many problems. Tell me about your activism and how you navigate it.
I think we’re all working the hardest we’ve ever worked and there’s also so much terrible news, whether this is our planet as we know it – what will it look like for the next generation? We really don’t have much time to change that. We have incredible movements happening in certain places, and we also have wars in many parts of the world. How did humanity get to a point where it feels like it’s going backwards rather than forwards?
I remain optimistic in these difficult times through silent action. I’m not a performative activist in the sense that I don’t throw around slogans. I do not carry my policy on social networks. Instead, the way I stay optimistic is by doing. If you’ve ever read Tank, it’s a very critical and in-depth magazine that also features gorgeous fashion. We are very lucky, as an independent publication, to be able to support young creators who have no money and who are ignored because they do not pay for advertising. I am very proud that we have always been a platform for voices that are not necessarily integrated.
As a female entrepreneur and someone who ticks the ‘diversity’ box, the fact that I was working in a management consulting role and sitting in a room full of only male executives made me think, Okay, well, I’m just and Do. This feeling of quietly trying to practice my beliefs rather than shouting them out is the only way I know.