Wednesday, May 19, 2004

(Excerpted from the 5/19 The New York Fashion Report for Members)

It's so 'Bazaar':

"Why is a magazine that is regaining its foothold in the marketplace still perceived as a poor relation of its more glamorous and prosperous competitors, chiefly Vogue?" This and other questions relating to Harper's Bazaar were broached by Ruth La Ferla in her article in the 'Fashion' section of The New York Times this past Tuesday, May 18th ("Harper's Bazaar Says It's Just Fine"). Since I am an ex-Bazaar editor, I always read with interest articles about this once hallowed name that has been continually beleaguered in past decades.

Though Ms. La Ferla allowed that Bazaar has had its share of problems long before Glenda Bailey took over (going back to predecessors like Kate Betts who was fired and Liz Tilberis who died of ovarian cancer in 1999, she also left out any mention of Anthony Mazzola under whom I worked), there were quotes from fashion insiders who alluded to Ms. Bailey's lack of both "charisma", and "an original personal style", along with the magazine's perception as being "dated", "confusing", and "uncool" are words which -- with all due respect -- be used to describe Glenda herself.

Can we conclude then, that Bazaar's image problems can be somewhat blamed on Glenda's image problems? Will a fashion makeover for Glenda change the luck of the magazine? The highly successful Anna Wintour is undeniably a major fashion star that also happens to be a fashion icon - for which she has been inducted into the Best Dressed Hall of Fame. Can these superficial things alone guarantee success within the industry? And is it even fair to try and draw comparisons between the two women? Ms. Bailey is no Anna Wintour, but then not many are. Is it necessary to equate the look of the editor with the magazine he or she is editing?

Of course not. There are many who may 'look the part' but very few of that group necessarily go on to become a successful editor or editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine. And some of the most highly regarded and well-respected editors like Kim Hastreiter and Ingrid Sischy can hardly be described as fashion plates. While 'Interview' and 'Paper' are not fashion bibles like Vogue, they do deal in the world of style, beauty, and design, and both editors are always front row center at fashion shows.

But in the case of Vogue, Anna's flawlessly groomed, self-consciously consistent, signature fashion persona and identity happen to be reflected and integrated in her magazine. In fact, the name Anna Wintour and Vogue have practically become synonymous: it's virtually impossible to think of one without the other and it is hard to imagine Vogue without her. There is a consistent thread that winds its way through every issue of Vogue -- from the cover to the articles -- that is sorely lacking in Harper's Bazaar. When you thumb through the hodgepodge pages of Bazaar, what you find is a well-meaning 'fashion victim' lacking in a strong specific identity -- akin to Ms. Bailey herself -- who predictably and somewhat robotically follows the trends du jour.

Even though Harper's Bazaar may often be filled with attractive eye candy, it lacks any personality or signature identity. If you picked up the magazine without knowing which one you were looking at, you would be hard pressed to 'ID' it. Not so with it's biggest competitor Vogue. Vogue always looks like Vogue regardless of the season, regardless of the portfolio. Whether it's about evening couture or streetwise sportswear it always looks polished and still manages to have Anna Wintour's disciplined and rigorously consistent stamp and clear view on it.

Which leads me to another point. The one thing Ruth La Ferla did not mention in talking about Vogue's success as a fashion leader is Fashion Director Grace Coddington, Anna's 'secret weapon'. Her clear and focused vision helps pull the pages together each month. And of course, they also have Camilla Nickerson.

Ah, but again, talent alone does not guarantee success. Fashion magazines are much like television or Broadway shows: they are a collaborative, group effort. And why is it that some shows and sitcoms (even with the benefit of big name talented stars and celebrated casts) struggle to find an audience, while others (like 'Mash', 'Seinfeld', 'Friends', 'Frasier') become enviable and legendary success stories? It is that indefinable intangible quality ... the combination of personalities who just gel, jive, and work together in perfect harmony. It's something called the 'X Factor' - and if that could be bottled, well, we would all be multi millionaires, wouldn't we?

-Marilyn Kirschner

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