Profile: Derick Chetty, Fashion Journalist

“Let’s go down to our hideous cafeteria for coffee and conduct the interview there.”

It’s clear that Derick Chetty never holds back – typical behaviour for a fashion journalist. Chetty is currently the one-and-only style writer at the Toronto Star, covering everything from fashion shows to photo shoots to street style.

“This is sort of a new era in traditional media, because when I started, there were about four people in the fashion department,” says Chetty.

His outspoken nature continues to shine when discussing designer Donna Karan. “She can be a bit of a bitch,” Chetty says. “I find she was incredibly smart though.”

Chetty, 42, was born and raised in Guyana until the age of 11, when he moved to Toronto with his family. He is the youngest of six siblings, who now live everywhere from England to California. After high school, he was set on attending Ryerson University for fashion design.

“It probably started when I bought my first GQ magazine at 12,” says Chetty, knowing the cliché of that sentence.

His love for fashion didn’t blossom, though. He quickly learned that fashion design wasn’t for him. In fact, he loathed it.

He instead switched into fashion merchandising, covering illustration, photography, and advertising. After completing this degree, Chetty travelled for a year and returned for a master’s degree in journalism at Centennial College. ”I had this grandiose idea that I wanted to do entertainment writing… But my instructors were like ‘no, you should get into fashion’ because I already had that background,” says Chetty. “So, I had to do an internship, and they sort of forced me to go to Flare magazine. I fought against it, I was like ‘no, I don’t want to go to a fashion magazine.’”

Chetty eventually became a fashion editor for five years at Flare, freelancing for the Star, then landing a full-time position as a reporter for the daily newspaper.

He says the two work environments were a drastic change – particularly on his wardrobe. “When I first started here, because I was coming from Flare, it was all about wearing your designer duds. I quickly lost interest in that, because your time here is so fast and time-consuming,” says Chetty. “My favourite item is a black hoodie, because it goes with everything. So that’s typically what I wear to work.”

I found it very interesting that a fashion editor cares so little about clothes. So I ask him why he dressed so nice today. Pinstripe suit, polka-dot dress shirt, camouflage Prada pochette. Was it for me?

“Honestly, people were taken aback because normally I’m not dressed like this. But I had to go have my passport picture taken today, and I thought for once, I’m going to have a decent passport picture. One where I’m not going to look like a thug,” says Chetty. “So it’s not for fashion, it’s for a passport.”

As much as he seems to not care about appearance, his inner fashionisto definitely comes through. Chetty is rocking Dolce & Gabanna sneakers and an Etro paisley bowtie, which retails around $125. No self-respecting person would ever pay that much for a bow tie. Dead giveaway, Chetty.

Compared to his wardrobe, though, his job is less than glamorous.

“There are glamorous seconds,” says Chetty. “I don’t think people realize that it’s not just about going to fashion shows and travelling to Paris and New York. I only do that twice a year, and even then, I complain about how much work I have to do. It’s definitely not Ab Fab, let me tell you.”

This week is particularly the perfect embodiment of his glamorous but hectic life – LG Toronto Fashion Week at Heritage Court. Chetty will be attending all the shows, as well as resuming his usual duties during the day. He will be front row, of course.

Don’t expect him to pull an Anna Dello Russo any time soon, though (Vogue Japan’s editor-in-chief who famously changes outfits in between shows.) What you see him in at the beginning is what you’ll see him in at the end.

Although Chetty isn’t known for wearing outlandish outfits or sunglasses à la Anna Wintour, he is known for one thing during fashion week – starting the Twitter craze.

“I think it was about two years ago, and tweeting at the shows was just taking off. There weren’t a lot of people doing it,” says Chetty. “Fast forward two years now, and that entire front row is doing that.”

He may not be that attached to his BlackBerry, but Chetty says he isn’t attached to anyone – romantically, that is – either. “I really do think it is the job, actually, because it is so time-consuming. People think that I go out a lot, but all that going out is usually work-related,” says Chetty. “You never really get to let your hair down and have a good time.”

“Also, you operate under this strange notion that someone will find you… You have to work at it and put in some effort. I’m not Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty waiting to be discovered.”

But what’s next for the busy journalist? Although Chetty is perfectly happy at the Star, he is keeping all options open for future projects, including perhaps a return to his design roots.

“I think if the opportunity presented itself to be a creative director at a line somewhere, I’d go for it,” says Chetty. “It would be a little difficult for me to do, but it’s something I would keep my eye on.”

Ultimately, though, Chetty says he will continue to live, eat, breathe and sleep fashion – something that comes with the job description.

“The saying is that if you’re a good writer, you can write about anything. I don’t subscribe to that when it comes to fashion,” says Chetty. “I feel it’s a beat that you really have to live 24/7. It’s a world and industry that changes by the second. To keep up with that, you can’t just be dipping your toes into it.”

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