In conversation with

Raven Smith

Writer, columnist at British Vogue, creative director

raven smith

Introduction

Introduction

Raven Smith is a columnist at British Vogue and the funniest person on Instagram. Nobody unpacks pop culture or pairs a meme with a one-liner quite like Raven. And from the Kardashians and IKEA meatballs to ceramics and turtleneck season, little escapes the clutches of his whip-smart, irreverent eye.

Raven’s Friday night column for British Vogue is a celebration of whatever has caught his attention that week (recently: Kanye’s Sunday service and Channing Tatum going blonde). When we paid a visit to the self-proclaimed Del Boy of content, he was buried in a draft of his debut book, Trivial Pursuits. “I want to examine the world around us and somehow interrogate our humanity at this exact point in history, on and offline,” he says.

Screengrabs are Raven’s secret weapon: “You never know when a picture of Mariah Carey on rollerblades will inspire an Instagram strategy”. But if he were stranded on a desert island then he could make do with the complete works of Agatha Christie, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and a Jurassic Park full boxset.

Question and Answer

Paint us a picture of the young Raven Smith – what kind of books, movies, stories were you into growing up?

I was very loud and dramatic as a child but with bouts of intensive, focused downtime too. I’m an only child so imagination was my sibling, I definitely lived in a fantasy that revolved around having siblings and discovering I was incredibly rich. I still talk out loud to myself. Not Now Bernard was my favourite book. The parents are the bad guys at the end which is gleeful. And the final image of a monster going to be alone is a motif for life frankly. All the best books end with people getting horrifically smashed to bits, which I love. The little mermaid turns into the froth on the ocean and the ugly sisters get their eyes pecked out by pigeons. Chilling metaphors for mankind.

not now bernard
"The final image of a monster going to be alone is a motif for life frankly"

You started your career as an editor at a company producing illustrated books before becoming commissioning director at Nowness. What did you learn about storytelling through those roles?

As humans we instinctively connect two dots put in front of us. That connection, however tenuous, is a story. And we continue to understand our world through these connected things. From the pens you use, to the shoes you wear to the baby names you choose, you understand the currency of something and its value to you based on its heritage.
Essentially my job is to communicate these stories in the simplest possible way. Sometimes a new story, sometimes and evolution. Most brands I work with are a jumble of stories waiting to be communicated clearly. If I’m doing that well my intervention should be invisible. You should be absorbing without the feeling that someone’s helped shape the narrative.

“Most brands I work with are a jumble of stories waiting to be communicated clearly”

Tell us about your Friday Night column with British Vogue – what’s the concept behind it, and what’s the best part of being a cultural critic?

Friday nights are so, so special because you don’t have to get up for work. Suddenly staying up after 11 isn’t a danger zone for sleep optimisation. I’m more celebratory than critical in the column. The internet is full of negativity, so why not stick your neck out and say you enjoy something?

“My endeavour through this column is to weed out mediocrity and offer some distinctly un-basic options for Friday nights with just a little je ne sai quoi”. What are the best, un-basic options you’ve discovered so far?

Nothing has come close to the Venice Simpleton Orient Express from the grand canal all the way back to London. Friday night could not be more decadent. Less ornate things have been fabulous and affecting but the majesty of the train lingers.

raven smith books

How do you stay on top of pop culture – what are you go-to platforms, podcasts, magazines for story ideas and leads?

I’m a screengrab addict. I grab and grab and pull together the moments when I need to focus or develop an idea. You never know when a picture of Mariah Carey on rollerblades will inspire an Instagram strategy. I have an app that I dictate notes into too. Our thoughts whizz past all day so I try and catch them and return to them later for proper examination.

Can you describe your personal approach to Instagram in three words?

Witty, timely, timeless.

You appear to have wholeheartedly embraced the role of content creator, while others (a number of traditional journalists for example) shy away from it. How come?

I don’t think I’m easy to box or describe really. I used to think that was a negative, because people couldn’t hire me into traditional roles. But actually it’s kept me working my whole career. Making content or commissioning it has the same level of reverence for me. It’s harder when people critique my own work but I just do a big cope.

“I don’t think I’m easy to box or describe really. I used to think that was a negative, because people couldn’t hire me into traditional roles. But actually it’s kept me working my whole career.”

What are some examples of ‘content projects’ you’ve worked on for brands that have been really rewarding?

The Audi project with Nowness was magic in places and the films are epic.

You’ve been labelled the Del Boy of content. Reading into that means friendly, cheerful…but not always totally honest. So where’s the trick?

Good question. I meant that Del Boy is a jack of all trades so if you need a podcast or a short film or a campaign image I’m your man. The line between fact and fiction is always blurred, that’s what makes life interesting. If you concentrate on what’s important you realised we’re all just going to die to I guess everything is a trick: a slight of hand to distract us from death. Wow that escalated from Only Fools and Horses.

What can we expect from your first book, Trivial Pursuits?

Everything and nothing. I want to examine the world around us and somehow interrogate our humanity at this exact point in history, on and offline. Despite these lofty aspirations the book is dreadfully unserious, all one liners and pop culture references. Expect Beyoncé and Sartre. There’s a lot of voices out here so I hope I get heard.

What three pieces of content would you take to a desert island?

The complete works of Agatha Christie, if they exist
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
A Jurassic Park full boxset

agatha christie

The Storylist

Books

  1. The Complete Works of Agatha Christie by Agatha Christie
  2. Not Now, Bernard, by David McKee
  3. Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton
  4. Phenomena: A Book of Wonders by John Michell & Robert J. M. Rickard
  5. Hitchcock's Psycho by Richard J. Anobile

Magazines

  1. The Face
  2. Vogue
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