Jacques Hyzagi: The Vengeful Viral Star Behind the 'Elle' Hit Piece Speaks
The earth-scorching Observer item wasn't an elaborate April Fools' prank or a pseudonymous act of revenge — it was a vicious takedown by a freelancer who's had just about enough of all the BS.
On Thursday, I got a very hard-to-get interview with the French-American journalist Jacques Hyzagi of, safe to say never again, Elle magazine.
Until this week, the New York-based Hyzagi worked fairly under the radar, contributing the occasional culture piece or personality profile to outlets like the Observer and The Guardian. But Hyzagi instantly shot to viral infamy on Wednesday when the Observer published "Elle on Earth," his 3,700-word cri de freelancer that offered readers a riveting glimpse inside the quaint mechanics of print journalism in 2016.
The primary targets of Hyzagi's enmity are Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers ("famous for wearing this souffle pompadour on her head," he writes) and its news editor Anne Slowey ("loud and tacky"), both of whom allegedly avoided him like the plague for months after he'd submitted a 10,000-word profile on Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo. The final version, Hyzagi says, features an introduction completely rewritten by Slowey. (They share a byline.) Along the way, however, Hyzagi manages to insult just about every power player still standing in the New York publishing world. He calls the editors of New York "bores" and David Remnick's New Yorker "very Reader's Digest meets GQ." He notes that Kawakubo was never invited to Vogue editor Anna Wintour's "insufferable annual ball at the Met" and quotes Slowey as saying that "everybody is sick and tired of f—ing Anna Wintour."
So vicious was Hyzagi's takedown that many were led to believe that he doesn't exist at all — that this glorious display of fashion-and-media-world earth-scorching must be some kind of elaborate April Fools' prank or, at the very least, a pseudonymous act of revenge. Turns out that is not the case. In this exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hyzagi reveals himself to be exactly who he says he is: a freelancer who's had just about enough of all the BS.
Oh, and did he mention he's currently looking for a job?
People are saying you don't actually exist, that you're a hoax.
No, please. I'm real. Look, all you have to do is go to a newsstand, pick up the March issue of Elle and you'll see my byline. I think this reasoning that I'm somehow a fake, that no one would ever write something like "Elle on Earth," indicates to me that journalism as an industry is completely self-serious and self-absorbed. The piece is a joke in the sense that I'm making fun of people. I write for The Guardian. I won't die if Conde Nast doesn't hire me. And I make it quite clear in the piece that I don't like fashion at all.
But you admire Rei Kawakubo.
What she does is more art than fashion. She's not some crackpot. You live in L.A. Have you ever lived in New York?
I have. I've worked at Conde Nast, actually.
Aha! OK, then you know. Here it's all about the ever-thinning line between the marketing division and the editorial division. I'm dealing with a fashion designer in the piece, OK? I'm not writing about nuclear weaponry. It's fashion. So I have to make it funny, because these people are funny to me.
New Yorker editor David Remnick is not fashion, though. Is he funny to you?
I have no particular beef with David Remnick. But I mean, look at The New Yorker. Do you remember when Tina Brown took over that magazine? Before she arrived, each piece was 60 pages long. She arrived and the first thing she did was was cut the stories down to 10 pages. Now you have David Remnick and New Yorker stories are six pages long. The most respected magazine in America is The New Yorker — and Conde Nast owns it. That says something, that it's owned by a fashion conglomerate. The signs are everywhere. My piece in Elle, which is published by Hearst Magazines, ended up being nothing more than a manufactured infomercial.
But at the end of the day aren't fashion magazines really just there to sell fashion?
No! [Elle editor-in-chief] Robbie Myers is interested in doing other stuff. She is very intent on addressing the dangers of breast implants. It's just that everything is branded now. Over at Time Inc., the editor-in-chief position at Travel + Leisure has been filled by a guy from their marketing division, [Nathan Lump, former director of branded content at Conde Nast]. They aren't trying to cover this fact up, they're being quite brazen about it. I think what I'm saying is a platitude by now. It's just that I had never experienced it firsthand quite like this. [Elle news editor] Anne Slowey lied to me. She rewrote what I gave her. And she can't write. What she wrote is disgusting. I mean, look, I was very well paid. It's not the end of the world. I just found Rei Kawakubo fascinating. She was just 6 years old when the bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She is an artist visionary and uniquely punk in her outlook. But what Elle turned my work into — it was a puff piece. It had no edge. I just found the whole thing a very interesting look into the way they work.
After the Observer piece went viral, there was a scramble to learn as much as possible about you. But you have a very shallow social media imprint. Your first tweet only came yesterday, the day the story published.
I was getting killed on Twitter. I knew the piece would be talked about, but I didn't realize it would go viral. I had also interviewed [cartoonist] R. Crumb in The Observer recently and he had written a blog saying he objected to questions I had asked him. "What's your favorite sexual position," or something like that. So I felt I had to defend myself. I've been having a little fun with it.
And no Facebook profile, no Instagram, no LinkedIn ...
I'm not interested in Facebook and Twitter. I'm just on Twitter now to play around, and if I get into it with you on there, don't take it too personally. But as far as me not existing at all? "Nobody really knows who I am." Oh please, give me a break. All you have to do is click on my Observer byline to pull up all the pieces I've done on people like Julian Assange. I think the fact that I kicked the hornet's nest has just riled everyone up. The versions of me being described in all these reaction pieces are ridiculous, completely unrecognizable from who I really am.
Do you think it's fair to say, without having ever met you, that whoever wrote that story might come across as a bit temperamental and perhaps difficult to work with?
By difficult do you mean that I'm not going to sit there and take it up the ass? Apart from the part where I stood up that idiot Anne Slowey after she rescheduled on me many times, what exactly did I do wrong? I wrote 10,000 words for f—'s sake! I never heard from her — ever! The response I finally got from them left me completely dumbfounded. I mean, didn't they want to know if their story was going to overlap with the one I had written for The Guardian? "Oh, did you not get my emails?" I mean come on! There was overwhelming evidence that this lunatic Anne Slowey was hurt because I stood her up. The last I heard from any of them was in February. And the reason Anne lied is that she was busy rewriting [the intro] and taking my name off it. Now everybody says I'm a total bitch to work with. I knew it would come across that way. Every time you raise your voice when you're being oppressed, it's "going postal," it's "you're disgruntled."
Well, again, you could probably have made your point without dragging in the names of other magazines and editors who had nothing to do with this — people like David Remnick, Anna Wintour, Graydon Carter ...
Well. You're right. I agree with you. Maybe you didn't find it funny.
On the contrary, I found your piece very entertaining and quite funny.
And come on, Remnick is not [late New Yorker editor-in-chief] William Shawn. But you're right, I was mean about David. And he's always been quite supportive of me. I think he survived, though. I don't think he cares. What I said about Graydon Carter, though, I stand behind. He's turned Vanity Fair into an airplane magazine. He killed it, let's be real. It's so flaccid. It's just not Vanity Fair. Or take Rolling Stone. I got an interview with [Chinese artist] Ai Weiwei. He was banned from leaving China at the time. I worked six months on getting that thing. I had to negotiate with some kind of international art smuggler and make all kinds of arrangements to leave for Beijing. I'm so excited. I just want to go to China. So Rolling Stone says, "Absolutely, yes, we want the story." I'm like, fantastic! They say, "We'll give you $250 for it and it will be a short Q&A." I was like, "Are you kidding me? He's a jailed dissident artist and an internationally famous human rights symbol and you want 'a short Q&A?'" The week after that they published the University of Virginia rape thing and the editor I was dealing with was gone a few months later.
You know, from the outside, it looks to me like you took one interview and spun it off into a cottage industry. There's the Elle piece, the Guardian piece, the Observer piece and even a fourth story about Rei Kawakubo under your byline in the current issue of the British fashion magazine 10. All of them, I assume, paid you.
What's your point?
Just that if you're trying to make a case for the struggles of the freelance writer in the current media landscape, you seem to be quite skilled at both repurposing your content and getting attention. And yet you still seem intent on biting the hands that feed you.
You say I'm biting the hand that feeds me. Well, I didn't trash The Guardian, the Observer, 10. I trashed the very publication that threw me over. I was very specific in who I trashed. I mean, yes, I also attacked New York magazine, because they told me right off the bat that Kawakubo was never going to tell me anything new. There's such lethargy at that magazine. I live in New York. I know tons of people. Believe me when I say that no one reads that rag.
You're also taking some heat for the way you casually let it slip that you date models.
I prefaced that by saying that, yes, being a douche, I have dated models. Yes, it's douchey. But am I going to shoot myself in the face for that? Maybe it leads people to think I'm insecure, maybe I'm ugly. And maybe that's true. I was trying to brag a little. But that wasn't the reason I mentioned it. What are my credentials in fashion? I am an outsider looking in — that's what I was focused on. I also talk about dating a fashion editor. I said I dated a woman who is a designer for Alexander McQueen. No one talks about those. I also made the point that models brought more to fashion just by being themselves than [Vogue editor at large] Hamish Bowles ever did. Call me an idiot, but sushi? No one was eating sushi until models started doing it in the '70s in order to lose weight. You could even credit them with the Whole Foods revolution. I remember when it was all D'Agostinos. Then the first Whole Foods opened in Chelsea in 2001 and it was model central. They all wanted their spiritual grain bowls and whatever. Models have brought a lot more trends to the world than Anne Slowey ever did. But OK, I admit I wanted to brag a little about dating models. People get so freaked out whenever you mention models, you know? They're coddled and fretted over and never thought of as actual people.
How have you found yourself reacting to the responses to your piece?
First of all, there's been all this hatred hurled at me because people assume I'm French.
You aren't French?
I'm French-American. I have a French name and a French accent. But I have both French and American citizenship. Somehow that gives people the idea that I don't wash. I wash every day. Or that I'm arrogant.
Where did you grow up?
So how do you feel about the online reaction?
That piece on your own publication Pret-a-Reporter, that's a disgusting piece. It's a [hit] piece. "It raises some interesting questions," he writes. Well, what are the questions? He doesn't say. Who gives a shit. Nobody cares. [The post's writer, Sam Reed, is a woman.] I liked the Jezebel piece. She can write. I ripped her a new asshole on Twitter. Overall, she really went at it, though. She deconstructed the Observer piece. She attacked me, however, saying it was all motivated by the fact that I was working for women. "He can't stand to be edited by women." Had the Jezebel writer read my previous work, she would have seen that I go after the patriarchy all the time. But what Anne Slowey did was outright plagiarism. She took my ideas and slapped her name on them. Anyone who read the piece said, "Are you for real? That c— stole your ideas!" She wrote a bunch of soporific bullshit. She used the president of Comme des Garcons, who happens to be the husband of Rei Kawakubo, to translate Rei's words again after they had already been translated by my own translator. That's what I call "content branding." I have the smoking-gun email in which she says as much. "You never saw my email?" she later wrote. No, bitch, because you never sent it to me! And you use the brand guy to rework the piece. What am I, some garbage that just came off the boat?
Who would you like to interview next?
I once interviewed Ricky Gervais for the Observer. I flipped the script on him. I kicked the publicist and manager out of the room and we just went at it for two hours. We talked about shit nobody would ever talk about.
So, who would you like to interview?
I'm fascinated by movies. I would love to interview people in the film industry.
Jean-Luc Godard. Martin Scorsese. Gena Rowlands. I once tried to get an interview with Gena Rowlands. It never happened. I wasn't calling from The Hollywood Reporter, let's put it that way. Do you have a job for me?