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So What Do You Do, Glenda Bailey, Editor-In-Chief, Harper's Bazaar?

Word on that rumored Vogue rivalry and how she times celeb covers from the iconic fashion glossy's EIC

By Diane Clehane - September 12, 2007
Ask any fashionista -- off the record, of course -- and they'll tell you things can get pretty ugly among the beautiful people in the fashion industry. When Glenda Bailey, then editor of Marie Claire, ascended to the top spot at Harper's Bazaar in 2001 after the powers that be unceremoniously dumped one-time Anna Wintour protégé Kate Betts, the normally blasé fashion world was shocked. Some style mavens gossiped that Bailey's bailiwick wasn't exactly the cosseted world of couture.

No matter. The former punk rocker and reputed inspiration for the cult hit Absolutely Fabulous has successfully restored the luster to the iconic title on her own terms. Bailey's unerring pop culture radar and unabashed love of fashion has resulted in a slew of talked-about celebrity covers (Britney Spears, Paris, and Nicole) and features (the infamous image of Rudy Giuliani's liplock with his wife that made headlines in the New York Post was from a Bazaar interview), have generated both all-important buzz and newsstand sales, which have surged 38 percent throughout her tenure. The editor who cites "keeping my sense of humor" as her greatest professional accomplishment let readers in on the joke last month when she published the much talked about fashion spread featuring the Simpsons along with designers Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace and supermodel Linda Evangelista. She explains her penchant for mixing aspirational images with accessible and -- gasp! -- instructional -- fashion editorial this way: "Fashion reflects what's going on in our society."

Name: Glenda Bailey
Position: Editor-in-chief, Harper's Bazaar
Resume: Before taking the helm at Bazaar in May 2001, Bailey was editor-in-chief of Marie Claire. During her five-year tenure at the magazine she was named Adweek's editor of the year (March 2001). Under her stewardship, the fledgling fashion book was named to Adweek's hot list in for four successive years (1997-2000). Before crossing the pond, Bailey launched British Marie Claire in 1988. After making the magazine the top selling fashion book in the UK, she added the title international editorial consultant for all 26 Marie Claire editions to her resume.
Birthdate: November 16, 1958
Hometown: Derbyshire, England
Education: BA in fashion design, Kingston University
Marital status: "I'm the most married person that didn't have a wedding. He [artist Stephen Sumner] and I have been together for 30 years."
First section of the Sunday Times: "Sunday Styles. It's the sports section for girls."
Favorite television show: "I moved apartments about two years ago and the moving men dropped the TV. I have to confess we haven't bought a new one."
Guilty pleasure: "You should never feel guilty about pleasure."
Last book read: "Restless by William Boyd. It's extremely well crafted and beautifully written. He has such a unique voice. He writes from a woman's viewpoint so well. He's a brilliant writer."

What's the best part of Fashion Week?
The clothes. It's all about what's new.

And the worst part?
Waiting for the shows to begin. Sometimes shows don't start for an hour. In Europe, they can be two hours late.

To the outsider looking in the fashion industry is like some exotic tribe that has its own idiosyncratic customs and mores. What's the protocol when it comes to wearing something from the designer to their show. Is that just the province of celebrities and socialites?
I don't know how anyone would find the time to change. (Laughs). The mind boggles. It's like being Superman and changing in a telephone kiosk in Bryant Park. I certainly don't have the chance to change for a show. I have such a passion for fashion. I love shopping -- it's my hobby as well as my job. I relish getting the clothes and putting my looks together in what I think is my personal style for the season.

Do you have a Fashion Week uniform? How do you style yourself for the shows?
I really don't like to wear one designer head-to-toe. That says everything about the designer and very little about me. I try to buy clothes that complement my existing wardrobe. I try to practice what I preach which is personal style and updating your look every season. The days are over, thank goodness, where you rushed out and bought everything new. It's all about expressing yourself and putting together looks that you love with [clothes] that you have worn forever.

Ever leave a show because you didn't like your seat?
[Laughs] I've only ever sat in the front row, so no... [Laughs] This is a very serious business. I'm there because I represent Harper's Bazaar and I'm looking for the very, very best fashion that my readers are going to want to know about. I take that job very seriously; I don't take myself very seriously.

Did you always want to be a fashion editor?
I always loved fashion and I always loved magazines. I studied fashion design and I realized I wasn't going to be the next Karl Lagerfeld and I wanted to be really good in an area. I was really fortunate enough to do a placement [internship] at IPC Magazines back in England and then I did my dissertation on their magazines. I was very strategic about my career in magazines.

What magazines do you read?
I've always read so many magazines. I collect magazines. I've got some really great issues of Jil. It was a French magazine edited by Babeth Dijan. The first three issues of Italian Elle are so well done... I love looking at all sorts of magazines, from Popular Mechanics to Pop magazine, if they're really well-edited.

You actually read Popular Mechanics?
Yes -- which is particularly interesting because I don't drive. I love the art of editing. You don't have to know about the subject to know whether something is well done.

What's a typical day like for you?
During the shows, it's quite an early start with shows starting at 9 o' clock and 8 o'clock for previews. Then there are presentations and dinners after all that. It's even more intense in Europe because you sometimes find yourself out until 1 or 2 in the morning. If you haven't got an early show in the morning, you're inevitably trying to see the designers or presidents [of companies] to catch up on the business. Back in the office my day could be described as "Yes, no, yes, yes, no" -- because that's what you do when you're an editor. That's your job.

There's been so much about fashion in recent years in pop culture from The Devil Wears Prada and Project Runway to Ugly Betty. How do you think they stack up against the real thing?
Anything that gets the general public more aware of the fashion industry and creates more excitement about it I'm all for. In the same way, one of the reasons for our success at Harper's Bazaar is that we really embrace popular culture. We put fashion in context of popular culture. It's really quite unique positioning in our market. In the September issue Chloe Sevigny in the rehab story totally reflects what people are talking about. [EDITOR'S NOTE: the actress is depicted in a fashion spread as a starlet in rehab].

How did the idea for that photo shoot come about?
The idea was mine. It came about a very long time ago at the shows as more and more celebrities were going to rehab. That's what people were talking about so I thought how great it would be to put it into context of a fashion story. It was about six months ago and we were waiting for Chloe to be free. I'm very proud of the results because I thought she really got the spirit of the piece.

You've shown yourself to have an uncanny knack with your timing for celebrity covers. You put Paris and Nicole on your cover and featured them in a fashion story as fugitives just as Hilton was sentenced to jail, and this month you've got Kate Hudson when the tabloids are speculating on what role her breakup with Owen Wilson might have played in his recent troubles. Do you have ESP? How do you pick your stars for your covers?
[Laughs]. We're interested in the stars everyone is talking about. As you mentioned about Paris and Nicole, we shot that in early February and it was our June cover. Paris went to prison on our on sale day. I trust my instincts. I always wanted to be innovative and inventive -- not just to report on what's going on, but to create ideas that people talked about.

Like having the Simpsons go to Paris?
Laura Brown, our celebrity and special projects editor, and Stephen Gan, who is our creative director, were talking about the Simpsons movie and they had the idea of sending the Simpsons to Paris. So we concocted a storyline that was executed really well by Elizabeth Hummer, our design director.

You can't deny the influence that Paris, Britney -- and Lindsay -- have had on fashion.

Which celebrities have sold the best for Bazaar?
They've all done very, very well. It's really hard to pick one or two out. Jennifer Aniston sells really, really well. Indeed so did Madonna, Katie Holmes, Demi...

Which was the best selling one?
It's probably Jennifer Aniston. That sold incredibly well. So did Ashley Olsen -- her first fashion magazine cover. That's something else I'm very proud of -- I'm not afraid to give somebody her first cover. I gave Sarah Jessica Parker her first cover and Teri Hatcher. It's timing. It's all about the right idea at the right time.

Have you had a disappointing celebrity cover?
No. We were fortunate enough to win the ASME award for best [celebrity] cover [in 2006 for the January issue] and that was Julianne Moore and she's not known for being a newsstand success. What I loved about that cover is we even covered her face -- which is something you're not supposed to do and it was all green, which is also not successful with a cover. Obviously that sold very well. Often you see a list of people who don't sell very well. I would just say to every editor it's whether the person is right for that particular magazine and the timing is right.

Your pregnant Britney Spears cover [in August 2006] was named one of AdAge's Ten Best. Would you put her on the cover given what's become of her now?
Again, it has to do with the right timing and the right idea.

Britney, Paris, and girls like them occupy a curious position in fashion. What role do they play in fashion? They're certainly not icons -- or are they?
You can't deny the influence that Paris, Britney -- and Lindsay -- have had on fashion. One of our best sellers of all time was Ashley Olsen. What's exciting about that is that I love that fashion can come from the street, it can come from celebrities. Generally, it's coming from the culture.

So it's all good -- reality stars as models or designers, bad girls as fashion leaders, and lower priced lines from stores like Target and Kohl's that have made fashion much more accessible and less elitist. Ever think fashion has become too egalitarian?
Our job as editors is to find the very best fashion at the best price. The more variety there is, the better it is for the reader.

Have you ever been approached to do a reality show? Would you ever open up the Bazaar offices for television?
People have asked but the answer has been "no."

Has the diva factor played up on shows like Project Runway given fashionistas a bad rap as super bitchy, overly competitive strivers?
Fashion is the entertainment industry and attracts lots of characters. Long may that continue.

Anna Wintour, the editor of your rival publication, is very much a "celebrity editor." You seem to keep a much lower profile. How do you see yourself in that context?
[Laughs] I just get on with my job.

Okay, let's have the real story between the rivalry between Vogue and Bazaar. How would you describe the rivalry between the two magazines?
I don't think there is [a rivalry]. I'm very fortunate that my competitors are really good at their jobs and that's good because competition is the thing that gets us all really excited. Everyone in this area of the industry has their particular market, which they serve very well.

You really don't think there's a rivalry between Vogue and Bazaar?
No. They're good at what they do and I'd like to think the reason why we've become so successful is because we hopefully provide a magazine for women who love fashion and beauty, that have a sense of humor, that love entertainment, and that want to see popular culture reflected on our pages. I think the biggest reason Bazaar is a success is because of all the franchises we have. You mentioned you liked 'Fabulous at Any Age' -- that's just one of many franchises I either brought back or created. Whether it's 'Smart Shopping' or 'Personal Style' or 'What's In, What's Out,' these are all areas of the magazine the reader enjoys or comes back to every single month. That's something that's happened over the last five years. That's really set us apart from our competitors. So often with fashion magazines they take themselves very seriously and it's often about head to toe a particular designer. I think it's very important to have the very best fashion in Bazaar and I take that job seriously. We work with the very best photographers and stylists in the world. We have these beautiful aspirational images so people can dream, but at the same time we also know that even the most fashionable, knowledgeable woman wants ideas.

What has been your greatest contribution to Bazaar?
It's what I've just been saying. The first thing I did with Stephen Gan when we took over was to put the logo back, and from then on it was a question of building up franchises which people could enjoy every month at the same time creating "talk about" features that were unique in a fashion magazine.

What are the qualities you look for when you're hiring someone regardless of position?
They have to have a sense of humor. They have to have original ideas. I think there is way too much magazine fodder out there which is very boring. I get bored very easily.

How would you say you've gotten to where you are?
Hard work and good shoes.

What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
I've learned that life happens when you're making other plans.

Do you have a motto?
Good is the greatest enemy of great.

Diane Clehane is a contributing editor to FishbowlNY and TVNewser. She writes the Lunch at Michael's column.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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