Four Former Bazaar Editors Sit Down To Lunch
This past Tuesday, I had lunch with Julie Britt, Sheila Sullivan and Jun Kanai: three top Harper’s Bazaar fashion editors whom I had worked with in the 70’s (and in Sheila’s case, the 80’s and early 90’s). Even though we don’t regularly see one another, we share a commonality and easily reconnect. You could say we are part of a sisterhood. Sure there were a handful of male fashion editors (Robert Turner, Freddie Leiba) but, back in the day, they were admittedly few and far between. It was really us gals.
We are in fact, inextricably linked; forever entwined. Part of a secret society with shared secrets (my lips are sealed) and shared bonds. Let’s face it, being a fashion magazine editor is a singular experience within a rarefied world, though it’s not as rarefied now as it was back then thanks to social media. I mean really, anyone with a computer, iPhone, or iPad can have access to the same things that were once limited to a select few, and they can enjoy a front row seat at the most important shows, just like the top editors.
Way back when, you were privy to things unavailable to most others. Magazines work generally 2 to 3 months in advance so whatever you saw and wanted to be photographed for the magazine, would not be published for several months. Today it’s all about instant gratification. And it was a big deal when you were ‘scooped’ (for example, if an ensemble you had planned for March showed up in February Vogue that was a big no-no!) Can you imagine? Nowadays, there are virtually no exclusives. Thanks to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, everyone sees everything at the same time. It’s far more democratic and accessible, but also far less special. It’s a different time.
We talked about fashion magazines today and the repetitiveness rampant within them. As Jun aptly observed years ago the fashion editorials were fabulous and the ads were boring. Today it’s the opposite. But the problem is that the magazines are almost entirely made up of ads. You have to sift through most of the pages to get to the editorials…and the same ads appear in all the magazines.
I asked what they thought of Harper’s Bazaar today, under the direction of Glenda Bailey, this is what they said.
Julie Britt: “Today Harper’s Bazaar holds up in the features especially. The fashion reporting has become more personal. Frankly since everything is on line it’s unusual for me to feel the passion and excitement that ruled my life for years. Trends come and go and accessories have become art. I do like the stories best that show personal style. There are no Do’s and Don’ts. I’m not inspired by the photography or art direction as in past days since everything is digital”. Just a note, Julie did single out Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel as two standout fashion photographers whose work continues to be exceptional.
Sheila Sullivan: “I like Glenda Bailey’s Bazaar very much. It’s a very good and luxurious presentation. It’s very polished…sophisticated without being boring. It’s “full” of fashion..lots of clothes and ideas…and lots of color. I think her front-of-book (FOB) fashion & features articles are always interesting with lots of fresh ideas.The fashion pages are always beautifully done with a strong fashion & beauty point of view. The art direction & photography really stands out & the styling is very good. The covers are often very striking – especially the covers sent to subscribers.I like the size of the magazine which they re-formatted awhile back and cut down to 10 issues. It is one of the fashion magazines I look at each month because like any good magazine, you really feel you have missed something if you haven’t read it!”
Jun Kanai: “I am ashamed to say that I don’t follow fashion magazines anymore, neither Vogue nor Harper’s. Bazaar.”
Boy-oh-boy have things changed, and unsurprisingly, that was a topic of discussion. We marveled at how, back in the Stone Age, we had to rely on Polaroid cameras to photograph clothing and accessories at showrooms and we had to work with slides taken at the major fashion shows. And as Senior Market Editor, you could say I was the ultimate “hunter gatherer”, but I didn’t have Google to help me track things down instantly. It all came down to perseverance, ingenuity, creativity, thinking out of the box, and just good old fashioned pounding the pavement.
And of course, we talked about – what else? Fashion. Among the topics: Tom Ford’s modernity and the genius of Thom Browne and Issey Miyake. Jun Kanai, the U.S Representative of the Miyake Design Studio and founding member of the Miyake Design Studio from 1970, was wearing one of Issey’s techno pleated tops. Proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her 39 year old daughter Aya who has already has an impressive magazine editor resume, is currently Chief Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Woman’s Day. She is also one of the judges for the “Project Runway Junior” for the last two series.
We amused ourselves trying to conjure up images of what the upcoming Met Ball will look like since it’s in honor of Rei Kawakubo. Who would actually wear Rei? Would Anna? (Doubtful! lol) We spoke about Joan Juliet Buck who just penned her memoir, “The Price of Illusion”. Julie is a longtime friend and had been her boss at Glamour Magazine. In fact, when I interviewed Joan, she described what it was like to be Julie’s assistant. She said Julie spoke about inspiration all the time, she would “constantly get inspired by things”. And because of her innate kindness, (she referred to it as “the kindness of soul”), she had Joan believing everyone in fashion would be “as nice” (I laughed).
Other topics: the (sad) state of retail (executive comings and goings, store closings, etc.) and what things are actually selling. I repeated what Marylou Luther told me months ago. It’s the men’s market that is performing now; everything from clothing and accessories to jewelry (yes, jewelry).
Lunch was appropriately lighthearted and fun but as it turns out, it was actually far more than that. I subsequently posted an image of the four of us at Isle of Capri on Facebook and was immediately flooded with responses from scores of people, many of whom literally came out of the woodwork to make their comments. Reading their wonderful remarks got me thinking about how lucky we were to have been a part of this crazy rarefied world that has obviously shaped all our lives and afforded us so many invaluable experiences.
When I asked the gals to sum up what for them, was the best part of their time at Bazaar, this is how they responded.
Julie Britt “We LOVED being part of that time in fashion and having the experience of working together as we were all DRAWN to the excitement of NEW trends and styles during those years. I remember the combinations of textures along with minimal versus cluttered. We had such FUN. It was a dream time as there was such creativity coming from foreign countries. Working together with admiration for one another. We still love to see one another and discuss the business that has given us fascinating memories”.(The storied fashion stylist is currently contributing to various projects dealing with RETRO & styling in addition to her involvement with Tom Britt’s Rizzoli book, “F A B U L O U S: The Dazzling interiors of Tom Britt” written by Mitchell Owens, which comes out in November)
Sheila Sullivan: “When you worked at a top fashion magazine, you were at the gateway to the fashion world. I saw and experienced the creative process at close range. Developing key working relationships with top designers not only in New York but in the fashion capitols of Europe. It was extremely exciting being part of an editorial effort where everyone thrived on and delighted in fashion. You were surrounded by fashion and beauty editors, art directors, features editors, photographers, and stylists with a thirst for bringing the best ideas and creativity to the magazine”.
Jun Kanai: “There was nothing like working with all the young people, then, with the same intense interests in fashion. Having so much fun together, good times and bad times. And many of them becoming life time friends – one of the most valuable treasure I have. It was all about the pursuit of the goal (creativity, excellence, beauty). Never give up”.
Betty Ann Grund had been Senior Fashion Director at Bazaar and was there from the 60’s (when Diana Vreeland was editor in chief which she admitted was amazing) to the early 70’s. She is a consultant working on “three different projects” now and while she was not at the lunch, I wanted to know what she thought was the most valuable thing she gleaned from her tenure there. As she succinctly summed it up: “How to relate to great talent and their personalities.”
I began to reflect on my own experiences as a magazine fashion editor for 21 years and thought about the way it changed my life, and shaped me into who I am today. It trained my eyes, and opened them to the beauty of the world. It gave me a chance to travel to Helsinki, Milan, Paris, and London where I covered fur, ready to wear and Haute Couture shows. I met, worked with, and was the editor for many designing icons: Geoffrey Beene, Pauline Trigere, James Galanos, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Adolfo, Ralph Lauren, Willi Smith, Stephen Burrows, Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Halston, Perry Ellis, etc. I also had the privilege to meet legends like Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier.
Among the many things I learned: the importance of perseverance, being able to turn on a dime, working well under pressure, staying curious, being a self-starter but also a team player. It’s all about the collaborative team efforts and it was a delight to be part of the creative process. I had to wear many hats, be flexible, resourceful, and imaginative. And one thing that has stuck in my mind: God is truly in the details.
I was exposed to it all, from the low to the high end and I loved it all. For me, it was (and still is) a never ending search for perfection and the thrill of the hunt. I am convinced if it’s out there, I will find it. And I do! I can trace my love of finding great items (and great buys) to Carrie Donovan who, as Senior Fashion Editor, promoted me from an assistant to an editor. At the outset, I was given the junior market- less pricey sportswear- and I relished in discovering designers and companies and bringing them to the attention of the magazine. I loved that every day was different and you had to be up for the challenge.
I initially met Perry Ellis when he was at John Meyer of Norwich and followed him when he launched his eponymous line. I brought him to the attention of Carrie Donovan, and we began photographing his clothes. They subsequently became close friends. In fact, after his passing in May 1986, there was a Memorial Service at the Ethical Culture School attended by every major magazine editor and retailer, and when Carrie stood up to make her remarks, she recalled how “a young editor, Marilyn Kirschner” kept bringing Perry’s fabulous clothes up to the Bazaar offices. She credited me with ‘discovering’ Perry for her. That was an out of body experience!
As they say, “Once a fashion editor, always a fashion editor” and that is truly the lens through which I see the world. That part is inextricably linked to me. Throughout the lunch Julie kept reminding us that we are all in our “prime” right now, and thanks to the Internet, all things are possible and there are endless opportunities.
– Marilyn Kirschner