Natasha Silva-Jelly: Australians do well in a city like New York

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

It was always in the pipeline for Natasha Silva-Jelly, Contributing Fashion News Editor of Harper’s Bazaar, to move to New York – which she refers to as the “epicenter of publishing.” Beginning her career in Sydney some of Australia’s most respected publications – The Sydney Morning Herald, Vogue, Grazia, to name just a few – it was only a matter of time before her international move became a reality.

Relocating with her family to after securing the visa Holy Grail; a successful application in the Green Card Lottery, she now comfortably calls New York home. Advance spoke to Silva-Jelly about how she sees Australians as having influenced culture in New York and why organisations that support the advancements of Australian companies are important.

How did you end up in New York?  

I’ve been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember, I was always moving here. Australia is a big beautiful island and I love my life there, but you do feel cut off. My husband and I moved to London pre children in 2000 for four years. I wanted to go to New York at the time but he won. I loved London’s accessibility to Europe, but it’s a tough city and not great for a freelancer, which I was for most of the time. It would be dark at 4pm and I’d be sitting at my computer in my Ugg boots writing about the hot new trends. Not exactly inspiring. 

When we left London my husband was like, “are you ready to go to New York?" And I was like ”are you kidding?! I’m going back to Bondi to chill out.” We spent 10 years there, had our two sons and I was like “OK, let’s go. Our oldest is young enough and the baby is old enough, if we don’t go now we never will.”

You’ve worked across a very diverse range of publications. Was working in fashion always the end goal?  

No, I always wanted to be an actress. But looking back, I always loved to write and consider myself a writer more than a fashionista. I’d never thought about fashion but in my early twenties I went to see a recruitment agency in Sydney for some temp work and ended up getting a full time job as an editorial assistant at Vogue. It was the best seat to start in. I’ve never really wanted to be the editor of a magazine, I  prefer the engine room. I loved the pace of news so have to say my stint as Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald was one of my favourite jobs.

Did Harper’s Bazaar create your role for you when you moved to New York?

No, as I like to say, this isn’t like a bank, you don’t get a transfer in this business. I was ironically working at Bazaar in Australia before moving to New York, but I came here jobless. My focus was finding an apartment and getting the kids settled in school. I knew Laura Brown, the now Editor In Chief of InStyle, who was then executive editor of Bazaar in New York, from her days in Sydney, and had followed her career, so I sent her an email to say hi and let’s get a drink. In typical Laura style she responded straight away with, “Hey Koala welcome to New York.” The next email was, “Are you legal to work, do you have a resume and can you start tomorrow?” She gave me my start in the Big Apple and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started work?

Not being as connected as you are in Sydney, it takes time to build up a network and relationships. And I won’t lie – some of the US spelling! I like to think I’m bilingual now.

You seem very at home here!

I feel very at home in New York, I love the village vibe and for the most part Americans are super friendly and excited in the same way Aussies are. I didn’t find that in London.

Do you think Australian’s have influenced the culture here at all?

The Australians have arrived. The Americans now know our designers, our actors, our lifestyle. We’re also responsible for the coffee culture, though I’m a tea drinker personally, which has been written about in the New York Times.

New York is really the new London in that Aussies now come here to live and work, we seriously are everywhere. And thankfully we have honed our reputation for being happy, laidback, ballsy and hardworking. We’re from paradise after all and the land of “no worries” and it shows.

How important are organisations like the Australian Fashion Chamber that galvanise the Australian community overseas?

Very important in the way they create a sense of community and platform for Australians wanting to penetrate the market. There’s a great support network within the Australian community here, and it's nice that we all stick together and help each other. Ironically that’s not actually what happens at home because the tall poppies have yet to be trimmed.

What would you recommend a visitor do in New York?

You’ve got to do the usual suspects – walk the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chelsea High Line and go for a bike ride in Central Park. I love to just walk around the West Village, and the Lower East Side is really cool. I had dinner at the Aussie restaurant Lucky Bee with a friend the other day because I was craving some modern Asian, hard to find here. I always take people to the Top of The Standard too, a glass of French and the best views in town. Just please don’t stay in Times Square.  Tick it off your list and live like a local, that’s the best thing about New York, just hanging in your neighbourhood.

What advice would you give to Australians wanting to come to New York to work in the editorial industry?

Good luck with that. Just kidding. Be brave, be proud – we are no longer a back water. Connect with as many people as you can, especially Aussies that have gone before you. But whether it’s New York, London or Sydney, in this industry it is not what you know but whom. The good news is, once you’re in, you're in.