My Digital Life: Navaz Batliwalla, Founder of Disneyrollergirl, Stylist, Consultant & Author
The multihyphenate blogger chats about message boards, power-pinning and her new book.
I first met Navaz Batliwalla back in 2007, when she was Fashion Editor at COSMOGIRL! and I was an over-enthusiastic, first-time intern. I’d sent her an email filled with words like ‘kooky’, ‘quirky’ and ‘fashionista’ (I mean, it was 2007), as well as a 5-page CV filled with illustrations. Luckily, she forgave my weird email opener as we bonded over a mutual appreciation for fashion illustration (it turns out, Navaz had initially intended to become an illustrator), and soon enough, I was happily digging through the magazine’s fashion cupboard.
A lot has changed since then – except for Navaz’s trademark pixie crop and Burberry trench (a style signature immortalised by the iconic house itself when she appeared in a Burberry ad). When COSMOGIRL! folded in 2007, she resumed a freelance career as stylist and consultant, simultaneously launching her now-famous blog, Disneyrollergirl, which she penned under a pseudonym. She attributes her survival of the economic crash to multihyphenism. ‘I was lucky because I’ve always liked doing a variety of things’, she says. ‘I was that multi-pronged person that is really common now but wasn’t so much then. I think that helped a lot if you were looking for work.’
Last month, Navaz assumed another role – author. Her debut book, The New Garçonne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman features interviews with stylish women including Bella Freud, Caroline Issa and Polly Morgan, all of whom embody the modern garçonne via immaculate suiting and menswear-inspired garments (stalwarts of Navaz’s own personal wardrobe).
The book cover of The New Garçonne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman
Though now immortalised in print, the book started with a Pinterest board. ‘I kept coming across these great images of these women with this particular style which is sort of masculine and feminine, a mix of high-low, and just the kind of the style I like, really’, Navaz explains. ‘Then weirdly I got approached by a book publisher saying, "Have you ever thought of doing a book?” Because I already had the Pinterest board, it was really easy for me to print off some images to show the publisher and try to flesh out the idea of it more. Also by then the Pinterest board had quite a big following as well.’ Navaz has over 1 million followers on the platform, and has collaborated with the likes of the Tate Modern gallery. Her gentlewoman board formed a point of reference throughout the book-writing process: ‘When I was briefing the photographers, I used Pinterest to collate the kind of images that I wanted.’
Bella Freud in The New Garçonne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman; © Kasia Bobula
Unlike many magazine editors, Navaz embraced digital media early on. She dove into fashion discussion forums in 1999, when handbag.com launched. ‘They needed someone, not to moderate, but just engage with the community on the discussion boards and I loved that. I remember asking [the members] if they ever read the articles and they said, “No, why do we need to read the articles? If we need to know anything we just ask each other”, and I thought that was really interesting.’ In 2007, she started blogging under the Disneyrollergirl pseudonym: ‘Starting my blog really was a challenge to myself’, she says. ‘I was just saying to myself, “I want to give this a go because I don’t think I’m going to very good at it but I want to try and learn.”’ The challenge paid off; Disneyrollergirl has won recommendations from the likes of i-D and The Times, and amassed an impressive audience, including a stronghold of 24.5k followers on Twitter. ‘I got on Twitter quite early, [in] 2009’, Navaz remembers. ‘It would feel like you were speaking out to the void. You wouldn't get any engagement because you didn't have any followers.’ Soon, she found her niche: ‘I'd be retweeting an article to some sort of fashion business or fashion or opinion piece or whatever. Then I became known for being the go-to person for that kind of insider fashion information.’
Caroline Issa in The New Garçonne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman; © Kasia Bobula
Apart from Pinterest, what digital tools can’t Navaz live without? ‘I really love Evernote’, she enthuses. ‘You just put any kind of document that you're working on, images, all sorts of stuff…and it works across all your devices and it syncs. It's like having whatever project you're working on on your computer with you all of the time.’ How does she penetrate the virtual noise, I ask? ‘I use Pocket’, she says. ‘You can file articles in there. You don't have all the extra sidebars and distractions, you just have the article that you want to read.’ Digital tools aside, Navaz is a woman who appreciates good stationery. ‘I’ve got to have my Muji pens, my [Smythson] diary…I’m really quite analog.’
Just like Navaz’s work life, the media she consumes falls into one of two camps: digital and real-life. When it comes to books and audio, she’s loyally bound to the latter. ‘Oh my god, I've got so many books! Love a book, love my CDs and cassettes’, she says. ‘I just think a book as an object is a really comforting thing to have…you [can] take that time to sit down for an hour and not think about notifications, it's really quite good for you.’
I wonder how Navaz finds the time to read, between consulting, styling, blogging and book-writing. How does she find balance? ‘Oh, you just don't’, she laughs. ‘You're just always feeling like you haven't given enough attention to something else and you're always on deadlines. I'm a bit greedy. I think it's fun though, really, I just don't want to feel like I'm missing something that could be... The thing that changes my life.’
Words by Natalie Hughes.
The New Garçonne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman is out now.
Follow Navaz @disneyrollergirl