A passion and drive for writing led Kerry Diamond to forge a successful career in the beauty and fashion world. Love would later lead her into the New York restaurant scene. Now she combines food, fashion, beauty and feminism in a beautifully designed bi-annual magazine, Cherry Bombe.
You were born and raised in New York …
I was born in Staten Island which gets a bad rap. A lot of people don't even consider it part of New York City.
My grandfather is from Scotland, and moved to Sunset Park in Brooklyn. So my dad was actually born in Brooklyn but like many Brooklynites at the time moved to Staten Island. It's a very conservative place. Politically, it's not like the rest of New York City, although it's a way more diverse place today. I think now there is the biggest Liberian community outside of Liberia living there. Where I grew up, it was very Welsh, Irish and Italian … very Catholic.
You’ve spoken before about going to a very conservative Catholic high school, I read you once called it a ‘prison’ …
[Laughs] That’s right. It was very conservative, but I had a fantastic journalism teacher who probably saved my life. He was working at the Village Voice as a freelance journalist and asked if I would be interested in doing an internship there. I was like, "Hell, yeah!" I didn't even know what an internship was. I met him at the Village Voice offices and we literally walked from office to office to see all the different departments. I was very interested in fashion so we went to see the fashion editor first. She was like, "Oh, I'm sorry, honey. I have a million interns."
So then we went to see Michael Musto who's still an amazing writer in the New York scene. At the time he covered nightlife, which back then was such a huge thing. I don't even think he looked at me. He gave me a little side eye and was like, "No."
The only other option was working for the city news desk and it was run by these two guys, Wayne Barrett and Bill Bastone. I didn’t realize at the time but it turned out to be a giant blessing. I learned how to be a real journalist from them … not that I consider myself a real journalist today.
It wound up being me and Matt Taibbi, who's a big journalist today, working there as interns. We were sort of like their research assistants ... remember this was before the internet.
Old school researching!
We were sent all over the city to research court cases. Once we were sent out to Queen's to knock on people's doors to find out if the Mafia had built this local pool. It could be a little scary. Sometimes I would stand on the street and be like, "Matt, you go knock on that door." It was good though, it gave me a really solid foundation.
So journalism was always something you wanted to do?
I always wanted to be a writer. I loved anything printed. Like in third grade, I started the school newspaper.
Third grade? I wonder what sort of stories you were writing.
I remember it very distinctly because it was so great that the teachers let me do it. We printed it on a mimeograph machine, but something was wrong with the machine so it came out really faint and a little fuzzy. It wasn't great to read and I was mortified. I was all about the quality even in third grade. I was really upset and I wanted to reprint it but the principal said no. I was devastated.
Did you study journalism at university?
I went to SUNY Plattsburgh, which was practically on the border of Canada so I spent a lot of time in Montreal. It was great. I am a big advocate of the state college system. I did not graduate with college debt.
That's amazing. Not having debt on your shoulders must must have given you a lot of freedom …
I had some amazing internships. I interned at Spin. I worked for a great guy named Legs McNeil who wrote "Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Rock". I loved working for him. I also interned with the Staten Island Advanced and at the Plattsburgh Press Republican.
This is while you were at the university?
I would work during the summers. I also worked in a bookstore … I always had a million jobs.
Is your work ethic something your parents instilled in you?
I don't know. I was the oldest child and my parents were really young … there was just no possibility of not having a job.
I'm always amazed today when parents are like, "Oh, I want my child to focus on their education", I'm like, "Give me a break." The combination of work and school is the best way to prepare somebody for their future.
So how did you get to Women's Wear Daily?
After graduation, Spin offered me a job but it paid nothing. I mean I would've had to bartend on the weekends or be a nanny or something and I didn't want to do that. The Advance was offering me a full time job with a better salary. I was still making almost nothing though. I worked there for a few years and it was fun but the reporting was pretty dry.
There was a really wonderful woman who worked there as the fashion editor. She was so old school but in the most delightful way possible, and she would get Women's Wear Daily delivered to her everyday. Finding out there was a daily fashion newspaper was the coolest thing in the world. I started applying for jobs there. I must have written them a million letters.
I ended up working at a little travel agent magazine called The Travel Agent Magazine and that was fun because I got to travel around the world. I was super young but literally went everywhere … Asia, all over Europe, all over America. It was a total blessing.
Women's Wear Daily was still the goal though. One of my letters must have reached the right person and I went in for an interview. I was so excited, I went out and I bought this periwinkle blue Cynthia Rowley sleeveless shift dress with a matching coat. In retrospect it probably looked as ridiculous as it sounds. I was interviewed by the editor-in-chief, a guy named Ed Mardoza. He asked me who I was wearing and I said Cynthia Rowley and it turned out that he was really close to Cynthia. I had a great interview with him and then I had an interview with the head of the beauty department. I thought it went great, but I didn't get the job. I was so upset. I was getting closer to 30 and I was like, "Oh my God if I don't break into this kind of industry now I never will". Six months later I got a phone call from Pete, the head of Beauty Department and he said, "We have a job. Are you interested?" The funny thing is the first job I was interviewing for was covering the mass market beauty industry but this job was covering the luxury beauty industry. I said yes immediately. I think it was my birthday and I was like “it's a birthday present for me!”
I've credited Ed and my boss Pete with everything. I learned so much and I met everyone in the industry. A good number of my really true friends I met through that job. It was an extraordinary time to work at Women's Wear Daily.
At that time, all these little beauty brands were launching. When I started working there people were already covering Estee Lauder and L’Oreal and all the big beauty companies, so it was hard for me to find my niche. I ended up focusing on these smaller brands and became sort of the expert on Bliss, Stila, Urban Decay, Hard Candy and Tony and Tina …
I was so into Hard Candy!
All of a sudden when they became the acquisition targets in the industry I was the one who knew what was going on. I actually launched a magazine for Women’s Wear Daily called Beauty Bizz.
I eventually got called by Lando Bailey to go work at Harper's Bazaar.
Liz Tilberis was the head of Harper's Bazaar. She's was always such an inspiration to me and I think everybody in the fashion industry.
What did you do at Harper's Bazaar?
I was the Beauty Director there. Such a great group of girls, it was a really nice time to be there. I worked there for about five years. Then I went to Lancome.
Cherry Bombe is a mixture of this world and food, how did that get started?
I literally started dating a chef and he said, "Would you like to open a restaurant?" and I said yes. I had no idea what I was doing. I don't recommend that for anyone. The restaurant business is the hardest thing in the world. There are just so many aspects involved to running restaurants in New York City.
Back when we opened the first restaurant in Carroll Gardens there wasn’t a lot there in terms of food. It’s changed so much since then.
I can't even imagine what it takes to run a restaurant.
I’ve blocked a lot of it out, I think it’s like childbirth in that way.
I was just going to say the same thing, you block it out otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do it a second time, and you did it twice more!
It was brutal. I was still working at Lancome full time.
How did you manage that?
I have no idea.
Then you threw Cherry Bombe into mix as well.
Right. By then things had stabilized a bit. I had changed jobs and was working at Coach but I was kind of bored. My boyfriend had talked about maybe doing an annual magazine for the restaurant instead of a cook book.
That’s when I reached out to Claudia Wu because she had done a magazine before, it was called Me Magazine. She still might continue to do it … it was a beautiful indie magazine. Claudia was really ahead of her time in terms of the whole indie magazine thing. We had worked together at Harper's Bazaar and stayed in touch. We just started talking and literally went from this to that and the name popped in my head one day and it all just came together. We worked on the first issue for about a year.
Cherry Bombe really focuses on women, is that something that just naturally happened because you worked with so many amazing women in your career?
I think so. One of the observations I made when we opened our first restaurant was the lack of women. In our neighborhood at the time I think all of the restaurateurs and chefs were guys. I came from beauty and fashion where I had a million friends, mentors, mentees, connections, you name it and I go into this new industry and I don't really know anybody.
It was lonely. My boyfriend would be cooking in the kitchen every night and I'd feel too guilty to go out. I was craving a network and that's what led to Cherry Bombe. I knew there were women in the industry, but they weren’t visible.
The media was not celebrating them. That was a really interesting thing to come to understand, the food media world was run by women but they were choosing for whatever reason not to celebrate women.
I think there was such a focus on the executive chef as the rock star. All these other people and roles were being forgotten. A great example is Erin McKenna who owns Erin McKenna's Bakery which used to be Baby Cakes. She’s on our second cover. You know, to us, to our readers she’s a rock star. But she wasn't an executive chef. She wasn't you know, that guy like the one in the Bradley Cooper movie. So she wasn't really being celebrated on that level. That's one of the things we wanted to do, to celebrate these people who maybe weren't doing what was so traditional, obvious, or expected.
We see so many more women in the industry now, why do you think there’s been such a change?
The change was really fast. We launched around the time that Time Magazine’s “Gods of Food” controversy happened. There was not a single female chef on the list. That woke up a lot of people because you couldn't help but look at that and think it was bullshit … total bullshit.
I mean, come on, you know! Everybody was kind of on notice after that. At the same time, hiring practices were definitely changing and more and more women were getting into the kitchen space.
What do you think is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for women to climb in this industry?
I don't have children myself, but I know that can make it really hard. It's such a heavy night life industry and the hours are crazy. What does that mean for women who have children? That's the next big thing everybody needs to tackle. It’s so interesting seeing this new wave of feminism, and God willing we're going to have a female president.
Young women are facing a different kind of sexism. Not just institutional sexism. There is blatant sexism and then just this inherent institutional sexism.
It can be a very strong undercurrent …
Right. Sometimes you don’t really have to face it until the second you start thinking about having a family. That's when it all falls apart. As an industry, that's the next thing that we all have to fix. It's can be tough.
How do you balance everything?
I figure it out as it goes along.
Are you working on the next issue now?
We just shipped Issue 7 to the printer. The theme is California, it’s a really fun issue. If you want a little balance, move to California. They seem to have it figured out. One of the themes that runs through the issue is definitely a more laid back pace. It just seems like there's more respect for downtime.
How long does an issue usually take to put together?
What's next for Cherry Bombe?
We have our jubilee in San Francisco later this year. We're also working on a cookbook. It'll be out maybe in 2017 or 2018. We have our radio show which is a lot of fun and that has been great. It gives us another way of telling these women’s stories and introducing folks to really cool people doing cool things.
You live in Carroll Gardens, I actually just moved there and I love it! What are some of your favorite places, apart from your amazing restaurants?
My apartment. I love my apartment. There was a brief moment when I was working out of my apartment after I left Coach. My boyfriend was like, "You should go get an office or something. Doesn't it make you crazy working here?" I was like, "I'm never here." I have this beautiful apartment and I would like to spend time in it.
I like walking around the neighborhood. We've got great a farmer's market on Sundays. That's kind of why we picked where Nightingale Nine is because the farmer's market is right across the street.
What else do I love in the neighborhood?
My girlfriend Jessica has a beauty boutique called Shen.
I love BookCourt which is a bookstore up near Atlantic Avenue. I probably buy a book a week from there. I love American Apparel. I hope it sticks around. There’s also the most beautiful little store called Swallow, it’s so subtle.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
Trust your instincts. If you feel something's not right or you feel something in your gut, you have to listen to yourself. Just trust yourself hundred percent.
How much has New York shaped you? What does New York mean to you?
That’s almost impossible to answer because I don't know anything else. I do think New York attracts people with a specific energy. Some of my siblings left New York. Only one still lives here now. I think you have to be a certain kind of person to deal with the sort of relentlessness that is New York. The only thing you can rely on in New York is that things are going to change. New York represents constant change and it's just astounding to me how much the city turns and changes every year. It's never going to stop and if it makes you crazy, this probably isn't the place for you to be. If you can roll with it, this city is the best place in the world.