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Betts Intentions

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"I always wanted a magazine that's avant-garde and up-to-the-minute," Betts says. "The whole point of fashion is to showcase what's happening and what's new."

It's precisely that quality that attracted Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black to Betts when she was seeking to fill the top slot at Bazaar. "Kate is a new-generation woman," Black says. "She adores fashion and yet has very good commercial instincts. That's exactly what we needed."

Betts, who is married to the writer Chip Brown, thought the magazine also needed to be a lot smarter; to this end, she dismissed many of the magazine's writers and replaced them with a stable of literary brat-packers like Bret Easton Ellis, Meghan Daum, Mary Tannen, and A. M. Homes. She also hired Hollywood journalist Lynn Hirschberg to write a monthly column on fashion and got former New York Times editor Sara Mosle to write a column on politics.

Signing top-tier photographers has been more problematic. With not much experience as a fashion sittings editor, Betts doesn't have as many personal relationships with name-brand fashion photographers as Tilberis did, though she did manage to keep Baron protégé Patrick Demarchelier on board.

So, partly out of necessity, she has turned to a new guard of photographers, like Alexi Hay, the 25-year-old who shoots documentary-style spreads like December's Playboy Mansion story, where Gwyneth Paltrow and Tori Spelling mingled with lesser-known, equally beautiful people. Michel Botbol, a highly regarded stylist who was lured over from W, recently signed on as creative director, and he is expected to make the fashion spreads sexier and more provocative than they were under Tilberis.

Betts has also packed the magazine with a raft of new, servicey elements, including a roundtable of industry experts weighing in on pop culture and a section called "The Bazaar Report" that bears an uncanny resemblance to the "Vogue Index." And she says she plans to do broader theme issues like April's dot-com package, devoted entirely to fashion in the cyber world, and an "Extreme" issue that will run in May.

"Fashion magazines are usually pegged to themes -- you have to do fall fashion, accessories, fine jewelry -- but I wanted to do more unconventional themes as well," Betts says.

Will all these energetic enhancements give a boost to the magazine that has in the past decade languished in third place in circulation (behind Vogue and Elle) and fourth (behind W) in advertising?

"I think Anna views her ideal reader as an Anne Bass type," says a Vogue staff member. "She thinks the Vogue reader doesn't give a shit about hip-hop. Harper's Bazaar has a real chance to pick up readers who find Vogue too stodgy and too old. Kate's targeting a younger, smarter, edgier audience." An audience that happens to be a lot like her.

Katherine Hadley Betts was born and raised in Manhattan, the daughter of a patrician, artistic family. Her father is the well-known architect Hobart Betts; her mother, Glynne, a photographer. In 1982, she followed her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather to Princeton, where she spent her days studying European history and her evenings cultivating an eclectic group of friends, mostly black-clad artists and writers who stood out from the university's sporty, blue-blood elite.

"I had these roommates who were rowers," she recalled in an interview with Princeton's alumni magazine, "and they used to ask me every day why I wore makeup." Betts herself wasn't the sporting type; friends remember her as a hardworking iconoclast who flirted with theater but dropped out when she discovered she couldn't sing. By her sophomore year, she was spending much of her time off working as a reporter at The Daily Princetonian. A longtime Francophile, she moved to Paris right after graduation, writing articles for American publications in order to pay her way.

It was one of these articles -- an essay on boar hunting in Brittany -- that caught the attention of John Fairchild, the flamboyant, famously grumpy founder of Fairchild Communications. Impressed by her quirky style, Fairchild offered Betts a job as a feature writer at W's Paris office. Eager to make her mark, Betts chased fashion news over the countryside, charming locals with her near-perfect French. On Fairchild's idiosyncratic orders, she brought back stories from the Abbey of Senanque's lavender fields, sneaked into closed fashion shows, and convinced Jeane Kirkpatrick to sit down to a gossipy meal. By 1990, she had become the magazine's Paris-bureau chief.


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