As the US Editor for MR PORTER, it’s Dan Rookwood’s job to help curate the site with an artful balance of content and e-commerce, and anyone who comes across the website will agree that MR PORTER does this very well. Over the last six years, MR PORTER has reached another level by refining its image into one of the most premier men’s lifestyle and e-commerce, and it’s setting the bar very high by providing quality content for the men’s lifestyle arena.
Rookwood is someone who embodies the role of an editor thoroughly; he is poised, humble, charming, and doesn’t take himself too seriously, but has an unprecedented writing genius and dedication to his craft and to his company. He is also a sharp dresser, strategic thinker, and intimately understands good design. In other words: he is a lot of things, and you can’t help but admire the man. In this interview with The Laterals, we speak about his new multi-hyphenate role as US Editor and dad, his thoughts on the internet and publishing, and some practical tips for getting over writer’s block, among other wisdoms.
Congratulations on your twin girls! How old are they now?
Thank you—they turn one this week. It’s true what they say: the days can go slowly but the weeks and months fly by. Can’t believe it’s been a year.
What has been your favorite part about the whole fatherhood chapter of your life so far? Any hilarious moments you’d like to share?
I love the first 30 minutes in the mornings when they wake up and we go and get them from their nursery next door and bring them into bed with us for their milk and a cuddle—it’s a golden time and such a special way to start the day as a family. Even if it is 6.30am.
I was so nervous about our first flight back to the UK at Christmas that I put together little care packages for the people in neighboring seats—a little bag containing some sweets, some earplugs, and a handwritten plea for understanding from the girls explaining it was their first flight. Everyone was so kind. A family swapped seats with us so that we could sit together with more room.
Do you hope that your girls will pursue writing?
I’d like to think I will support them to do whatever it is they choose to do. But I would love them to have the ability to write if that’s something they want to pursue. They will be given every opportunity and encouragement but hopefully no pressure.
I’ve read in another interview that you knew that you wanted to write since the age of four. How does a 4-year-old come to that sort of profound conclusion when words and stringing sentences together are just beginning to become a part of developmental repertoire?
I was obsessed with Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake as a child—still am. My mother would read to me every night and I used to make up little stories myself. My mum kept them all. And when people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “an author”. As I got older and got into sport, I modified it to sports journalist. My first job was writing about football (soccer) for The Guardian. But the common thread for as long as I can remember (which goes back to around the age of 4) is writing.
What is it about the craft of journalism that gives you the reason to do it day in and day out?
Like you say, it’s a craft. The process can be maddeningly tough; at other times it can flow easily. But I love the cadence of the English language, finding precisely the right words, rolling them around, shaping the phrasing, paring back.
It’s a privilege to be paid for something I love doing. Writing is something you can continue to hone and improve with practice and experience. I don’t imagine I will ever willfully retire: so long as I have my faculties, I will always write.
Every writer experiences the soul-lifting joys of writer’s block. For someone who writes as profusely as you do and manages other writers for a living, what sort of tricks or methods do you live by to overcome or dismantle it?
I would say I suffer from writer’s block more than most, and I am a terrible procrastinator. As I tap out these words I am avoiding writing a column that is due tomorrow. I’m also surprisingly ponderous—I envy people who can write quickly.
You just have to get some words written down, even if you end up junking them—you have to break the seal on a blank page. In an ideal world you know how you’re going to begin and end, but if the intro isn’t coming easily then I’ll jump in part-way through and the first lines will eventually present themselves.
My other trick is to read something else for 10 or 15 minutes—a passage in a book I really like, or a magazine writer whose work I admire. That can get me in the right frame of mind and help stimulate my own creative juices.
Lastly, if I’m really struggling, I might take the dog for a walk or go for a run. Just the fresh air and a screen break can give me the headspace I need to come back refreshed.
As the US editor for MR PORTER, what has been your main focus and driving force in the curating the content you have put out so far?
We have an extremely clear brand identity and we know exactly who our customer/reader is, so we weigh all our content against those two things. When we discuss ideas internally, they tend to live or die based on whether or not they are “very MR PORTER” or “not very MR PORTER”.
When you look at successful editors, what common theme do they all seem to have and why?
Clear focus allied with the ability to keep a lot of different plates spinning, hopefully without any of them dropping. Also all successful editors need to be able to put together and manage a balanced team of editorial creatives all pulling in the same direction: writers, designers, photographers, sub-editors and more. The vision will be the editor’s, but it is implemented by a team of people who subscribe to it. At MR PORTER we have assembled a superb editorial team.
A lot of the editorial for the MR PORTER is obviously geared towards men’s fashion, but the content does seem to run a wide range—from quips about emojis to in-depth think pieces on how to reduce your carbon footprint. But in this age of the Internet, where the mantra seems to be the speed and proliferation of content at any cost, how do you justify the output of quality over quantity? As the US editor, where and how do you strike that balance?
I think our mix is more or less right. We have weekly content in The Journal which I would liken to a glossy magazine—eight well-considered features a week of extremely high production value, each of around 1000-1200 words. Then alongside that we have The Daily which is shorter form, more shareable, snackable, reactive content. Then we have a bi-monthly print newspaper, The MR PORTER Post, which is essentially a ‘best of’ compendium of our longer shelf-life content. But in terms of subject range, we cover men’s lifestyle with the clear emphasis on style. So while we focus on menswear and grooming and watches and accessories and all the other lovely things we have on the site, we cover anything we deem pertinent and relevant and useful to the MR PORTER man’s life so that the overall mix feels well rounded.
There seems to be a pivot towards a screen/print hybrid for magazines—what are your thoughts on this? Is this something that you think you would ever explore for MR PORTER?
We already do in that we are predominantly a digital magazine but with a bimonthly print broadsheet newspaper. The two work well together. Our primary focus is the digital offering and that is of course where our reach is. But it’s important to have the tactile tangibility of an aesthetically beautiful print product to complement that. The Post immediately and very effectively communicates our brand identity.
The internet and editorial—best friends or worst enemies?
Both. We have access to far more editorial than ever via the internet and yet the good quality gets crowded out and lost in all the attention-grabbing nonsense, which is one of the reasons our attention span's have never been shorter. I am proud to be contributing to some of the better content out there. And I think when there is so much noise, it’s ever more important to have your tried-and-trusted go-tos like MR PORTER who you rely on to edit and curate.
What is one men’s fashion trend that you are in love with right now?
Camp collar shirts for summer.
What is one trend that you desperately wish would just fall off the face of the earth?
Too tight tailoring—so uncomfortable and impractical.
Before we close out this interview, I would love to know where you’re getting your professional inspiration from as of late and why—name one person, one brand, and one book.
Person: Tom Ford. A poly-hyphenate polymath who does everything with such perfect precision. The idea of writing scripts, directing and producing your own movies as well as being such an iconic fashion designer without compromising or spreading yourself too thin is quite incredible. And he’s a father too.
Brand: Soho House. Their current rate of expansion would seem too frenetic to control but their brand just keeps getting stronger and stronger and every property they open is so very well done—most recently The Ned in London with which MR PORTER has a close partnership. Soho House is a club membership I really get value out of.
Book: Pour Me: A Life by AA Gill. One of the definitive writing voices of a generation whose style, wit and facility with the English language reached the level of virtuoso—all the more impressive given his struggles with dyslexia. Gill’s recent death is a sad loss but he was such a prolific writer, his body of work lives on, not least this remarkable memoir detailing his battle with the bottle.
Photography by Matthew Priestley
Dan Rookwood was photographed in New York.