- Alina Cho is most impressed by fashion heavyweight Karl Lagerfeld.
- Cho calls Michelle Obama's style "fashionable" and Ann Romney's "conservative".
- Fit is important for Cho on camera -- she favors dresses, 3/4 sleeve cardigans and belts.
"My goal is to not alienate Anna Wintour -- and also bring in viewers in Peoria," says Alina Cho, host of CNN's Fashion: Backstage Pass (airing Sept. 15 at 2:30 p.m. E.T.), on which she has interviewed Marc Jacobs, Donatella Versace and more. Here, the fashionista (who profiles designer Bibhu Mohapatra in TIME Style & Design, available at time.com/style) lets loose with us.
TIME: Of all the fashion heavyweights you've talked to, who surprised you the most?
Cho: Karl Lagerfeld. I was just interviewing him in Paris, and I asked him, "After all these years, how you still can look at a dress and see that it needs to be a millimeter longer?" And he said, "Well I'm not blind yet!" He's very quick, he's very funny, and I think you have to be very smart to be funny.
TIME: But he's not exactly a CNN staple. How do you tailor your fashion coverage to viewers who are more accustomed to hard news?
Cho: In order to tell great stories, you need great characters. It doesn't matter whether you're covering the political race or the aftermath of a hurricane or fashion. So my approach has always been to be more character-driven than collection-driven. And there's no shortage of characters in fashion!
TIME: Like Karl?
Cho: Right, like Karl. The other thing I try to do, and I think this is really important, is make my fashion coverage accessible. People always say, "Oh, you're the new Elsa Klensch!" But I think the show that she did [CNN's Style With Elsa Klensch, which ran from 1980 to 2000] and the show that I do are very different, because we live in a different world. My fashion coverage has to be both aspirational and accessible.
TIME: You've reported extensively on politics. Why do you think people are so interested in what candidates and their spouses are wearing?
Cho: It just gives us another thing to talk about. And I think in many ways, Michelle Obama changed the game. She came onto the scene wearing Tom Ford one day and J. Crew the next. There's something appealing about that, no matter your politics. I know it's exciting for me to watch. She's incredibly fashionable.
TIME: What do you make of Ann Romney's outfits?
Cho: I think she plays it a little bit more conservative. Maybe that has something to do with her politics. I'll leave it at that.
TIME: How do you dress well for TV?
Cho: You know what they say -- the camera adds 10 pounds. So fit is incredibly important. I tend to favor dresses. I tend to favor three-quarter sleeve cardigans and a little belt, but I like to say I don't own many pants. I like the ease of a dress. You zip it up and you go. It's pretty simple. So as long as it fits great, I'm in.
TIME: You travel to so many fashion shows for work. What's your go-to comfort heel?
Cho: My go-to comfort heel is a flat.
Cho: No, but really, I change between shows. Every female New Yorker can relate to that. Nobody wants to walk around in a high-heeled shoe! I'll carry my beautiful high heels in a bag.
TIME: Smart. I've seen people do that on the subway.
Cho: It's something my mother told me a long time ago. I'm just now starting to listen!
Alina Cho is a national correspondent for CNN and host of Fashion: Backstage Pass. Fashion: Backstage Pass with Alina Cho debuts on Sept. 15 at 2:30pm E.T. on CNN US.