Tralee Pearce has a flair for uncovering the latest trends. She also enjoys writing about the fun things in life, which is the core of The Globe and Mail’s Saturday Style section. From gazing at intricately designed jewellery at Cartier Boutique to schmoozing with socialites and fashionistas in Rosedale, she admits her life is a bit chaotic.
For the past week, Pearce has exposed her hectic job as a style journalist to me. Surprisingly, it’s less than glamorous. We tried to organize a time when we could go walking down Toronto’s Queen Street West for her “Shopping Survivor” story, but both times she had to cancel – once because she couldn’t make it on time and another because of rain.
Forget the image of Carrie Bradshaw running around town in four-inch heels and designer threads. Pearce wore a long grey winter jacket over a knee-length black dress, dark brown hair tied loosely back, and a big silver purse. She’s lighthearted about her wardrobe, joking, “You see how badly I’m dressed for a style writer.” She calls her long, chocolate brown coat, detailed with buttons and clasps, her Amelia Earhart jacket. Her brown winter hat has fur-lined flaps over the ears and a turned-up fur front flap. The entire ensemble is reminiscent of a 1940s war pilot.
Meeting Pearce for the first time at Cartier on Bloor Street West in Toronto, reinforced how easy it is to get lured into the lifestyle you’re observing. She’s writing what she calls a quasi-promotional story about the boutique and candidly admits, “It’s easy to think you can afford the things you write about, but you can’t let it get to your head.” Of course, that’s not quite what we’re thinking as we gawk at the breathtaking selection of stones and gems, some of which are valued at $100,000.
The promotional piece is for the weekly segment called “Talk of the Town.” Pearce explains, “It’s not a review and it’s not critical. It’s just something people are talking about.” The hook is how Cartier is using panther sculptures from its Fifth Avenue store in New York to attract attention, but it’s really just a come-on for shoppers to visit Bloor West during the Christmas season. The last sentence reads: “There’s been a direct increase in sales,” she says, referring to the kind of holiday magic that dances in retailers’ heads this time of year.
I get a sense that Pearce is acquainted with the wary perception Style creates in some readers, especially because it’s frivolous and advertising-driven. Yet she doesn’t think it should be dismissed so easily. “We treat our material with the same level of intellect as other journalism. That’s sometimes the struggle,” she says. “I strive for intelligence.”
Recently, Pearce highlighted the growing trend of restaurants that offer water lists. One restaurant is offering 30 choices, and her skepticism crept in. “But really, how different could they be? It’s just marketing, right?” writes Pearce. Besides finding out about waters, like artesian water, that tastes thick, and other high-priced mineral, spring, and distilled water from around the globe, Pearce questions its legitimacy. She quotes Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill Office for Science and Society, who says: “Gourmet water is not a completely bogus business. But having a glass of mineral water once in a while in a restaurant is irrelevant to total intake.” Although trends are consumer driven, Pearce questions them. Carol Toller, a Globe editor, says that although many stories are generated in weekly story meetings, publicists constantly try to entice Pearce to check out new ideas and venues.
Before she became a publicist’s must-send, Pearce started as a volunteer intern at The Ottawa Sun in 1992. By 1999 was writing for the Globe, but was only hired full-time in 2003. “Sometimes I wish to be a general reporter,” says Pearce. Although her byline is primarily found in the Saturday Style section, she also writes for the Focus, Toronto, and Review sections. Her stories range from a Nick Nolte profile, to a piece on New York rebel chef Anthony Bourdain, to a story on her grandmother’s fur coat, and, just recently, to a piece on the trend of poker television. She can’t be classified exclusively a beat writer. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none,” she says. “Writing different things weekly allows me to be more open. If you’re open about your inexperience, you can get meatier stuff.”
The pitfall to skipping along the surface is what Pearce calls “professional ADD.” After doing a piece for a couple of weeks, you have to let it go and move on. Keeping story ideas past their due date is a condition her editors have coined “sked-itis,” when a piece sits on the schedule for too long and the idea of it becomes boring.
Boring is Pearce’s most feared emotional response. “I don’t want you to think my job is boring,” she says at least twice. I don’t think her job is boring, but I had misconceptions before meeting her. I imagined her job being more glamorous than hectic. Not that they’re aren’t perks – Jennifer Carter, who runs the local Hermes shop, invited Pearce to a fancy Christmas party at her Rosedale home.
But Pearce is humbled on a daily basis. For one thing, she says the Globe doesn’t have the budget of a fashion magazine. The last photo shoot was in the paper’s cafeteria. For another, the Globe maintains an ethical stance on the constant stream of promotional goods. It requires journalists to return expensive gifts and donates a multitude of free beauty products to shelters.
Pearce is fortunate enough to get out of the office frequently. Sitting and chatting again, this time in a Queen West coffee shop, we get on the topic of generating ideas. Observations, she says, often lead to stories about trends. For example, she noticed that her friends were using their cell phones instead of their watches to keep track of time.
Ideas also come from having a certain social flair, as most of Pearce’s stories come from being out and about, talking to people. “I’m social by nature, so it’s easy for me,” she says. But mostly, Pearce says she is “endlessly mining trends and eventually something new comes out.”
Pearce decides to make a quick shopping stop before hitting the office to continue writing. She says she’s a procrastinator, but, for a Style writer, a shopping detour seems like the most natural distraction.