Ingrid Sischy was cool. The kind of cool that didn’t need to announce itself. The kind of cool that commanded a room. Certainly the kind of cool that invited hero worship from a pop culture-obsessed 16-year-old.
I had my first extended interaction with Ingrid three weeks into a post-10th-grade summer internship at Interview. When her assistant fell victim to a midsummer flu, I was tasked with covering Ingrid’s phones. On the first call of the day, I was greeted by an unmistakably lyrical British accent: “Is Ingrid in? It’s Elton.” I replied with a flustered, “Of course,” and a request that he hold for “a moment.” (Just a typical day for Ingrid — a little morning touch-base with Elton.) Immediately, I sent the call through to…nowhere. I had hung up. I had hung up on Sir Elton John. Shamed, I approached Ingrid’s office and explained my offense, only to be reassured: “Oh, that’s fine. He’ll call back.”
Several hours and two more dropped calls (one from her mother and, horrifyingly, another from the piano-playing knight of the realm), Ingrid called me into her office. Instead of delivering a peeved tutorial on proper phone operation, she asked me whom I thought would make a good subject to cover. What was I watching? What bands was I listening to? Had I read anything great recently? I was dumbstruck. Even in my teenaged ignorance, I knew Ingrid was a cultural marvel: She was friends with David Bowie. She and Karl Lagerfeld planned out cover shoots together. Elton John called her. On the phone. She was cool. Actual, real, adult cool. And she was asking about my cultural references?! Picking the interns’ brains, Ingrid explained, was her favorite way to find out about zeitgeist-y personalities who might otherwise have stayed off of her radar. It was why she invited us to sit in on weekly staff meetings, and not only suggested, but encouraged us to speak up.
A few days later, one of the other editors suggested that I come up with some possible deks for an upcoming story. Eager to please, I put together a list of about 30 punlike one-liners about Ashanti. After a while, Ingrid came by my desk — I was sorting mail, or transcribing, or working on some other intern-appropriate task. She handed the list back to me; she had crossed out 29 of my suggestions. Her delivery was neither harsh nor indulgent of my teenhood, but direct. “These won’t work. Too long. Too cute. Too complicated.” She pointed to one line circled in red pen. “This one’s good. We’re going to use it. Come up with some for the fashion feature.” Ingrid’s stamp of approval — even on a one-line turn of phrase — meant the world! More deks followed, then credited blurbs and, the next summer, an interview with Brittany Murphy (Ingrid’s sage advice: “If anyone asks, just don’t tell them you’re an intern”).
I spent two summers working at Interview, a short time in the grand scheme, but long enough to develop a lifelong awe. This woman of renown and powerful cultural capital bothered with me. She cared about my tastes in youthquake bands and television types, and about teaching me how to refine a silly joke into a witty headline. Ingrid Sischy was many things — a brilliant writer, an incisive cultural critic, a fabulous boss and, to a girl who really ought to have been better at using the hold button, an indelible inspiration.