Just about the first thing you saw, walking into the air-conditioned tent of the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards at Lincoln Center last month was Glenda Bailey’s hair. Bailey, of course, is the newest editor in the 134-year history of the august fashion bible Harper’s Bazaar. And her hair – an extravagant mop of copper-colored frizz – is one of the unlikeliest coiffures in the history of fashion magazines. It was as if, in a universe where so many of her peers seem to aspire to be Lady Macbeth, Bailey had chosen, tonsorially, to model herself after one of the play’s Weird Sisters.
“I have my own style, and other people have their own style,” Bailey, daughter of a Derbyshire farm laborer, said later in her broad, nasal East Midlands accent. “That’s what’s great about fashion now: There’s no right or wrong.”
That is a near-sacrilegious thought in the fashion world, which is about exclusion. One of the major functions of magazines like Vogue and Bazaar has been to separate those who know from those who don’t. But what Bailey’s hair, and her whole attitude, really said was Fuck the code. She was going to be just who she was, and do her new job without trying to pass.
Fashionistas found this posture risible and deeply scary in equal measure. Bailey is a woman who launched her ascent in the business more than a decade ago by being the first – but certainly not the last – editor of a British women’s magazine to run a story featuring moody shots of penises. The word sex appears no less than three times on the cover of her last issue of Marie Claire. She brought real women with all their imperfections (and, frequently, their luggish boyfriends) into the pages of her magazine when upscale women’s books were supposed to be about idealized fantasy. “I have a passion for fashion,” she liked to say – and by saying it seemed to prove an opposite proposition. She lacked almost totally the iconic mystique the fashion world demands of a major editor.
But here was Bailey, the talk of the tent, with Chanel eminence Karl Lagerfeld suddenly approaching. Lagerfeld extended a warm embrace, and Bailey murmured thanks for a quote he’d given to the Times. “She’s very enthusiastic, lively, and not pretentious,” Lagerfeld had told the reporter, in praise that was faint indeed. “Those are all good qualities. But we do not know the rest. The question is open.”
Writer Lynn Hirschberg on Kate Betts:
“She has a trait that I think is very rare: She doesn’t care if people like her or not.”
Then a petite blonde in a little black dress sidled up to Bailey, quietly asking her how it felt to stand, at last, in the full glare of Seventh Avenue.
“I’m always up for a good fight,” Bailey said with a delicious smile.
Bailey’s graduation was a moment of remarkable drama in the fashion world. First of all, the woman Bailey had replaced, Kate Betts, was her polar opposite: tall, blonde, Princeton-educated, and a protégée of both John Fairchild and Anna Wintour herself. And second, it was an article of faith – table talk hardening into gospel – that Glamour editor Bonnie Fuller was a lock for the job. But only eight days before Betts was fired, Fuller was ignominiously dismissed from her post, having apparently displeased owner Si Newhouse.
As a backdrop to these royal conflicts, a class war was escalating in the magazine world, with Vogue, Bazaar, Elle, and W increasingly challenged by rising middlebrow powers, from Martha Nelson’s InStyle to Oprah’s new O to, yes, Bailey’s hard-charging Marie Claire. The pragmatic, service-oriented, workaday magazines always had the readers (Glamour’s circulation is over 2 million, versus Vogue’s 1 million), but fashion books traditionally had an exclusive on the high-end advertisers like Gucci and Chanel. InStyle, the most imitated magazine of the nineties, changed that equation. “There’s definitely pressure on the high-end magazines to move lower,” says one Condé Nast editor. “The problem is, there is a growing gap between what readers want and what advertisers want. Advertisers want their products displayed with big beautiful pictures and long stories to match. But no one wants to read about the guy in Venice who made these beautiful silver earrings. They want to read about where they can get the earrings.”
Patrick McCarthy, editorial director of Fairchild, actually hopes that his new competitor Bailey will produce a strong new – and high-end – Bazaar: “It will mean the category is alive and well and kicking. There’s nothing worse than high-end magazines’ going out of business, or getting lowbrowed.”
Vogue’s Anna Wintour is quick to downplay any writing to be read on the wall. “I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who buy Volkswagens,” she says. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for a Mercedes.”
Bailey’s ascension, along with the industry’s circulation and advertising problems, made it seem as if everything was up for grabs. Rumors were suddenly flying that Kim France’s Lucky, the smart new magalog from Condé Nast, is about to swallow up Mademoiselle, killing two birds (Lucky’s young-skewing readership, Mademoiselle’s search for an identity going forward) with one stone.
Just about the only person in the fashion world who seems unconflicted about Bailey’s ascension is the woman who hired her, Hearst president Cathie Black. “She’s the American dream,” Black insists, mindful of the irony that Bailey, 42, is a very British creation. “Glenda’s quirky. She is who she is; she’s from where she’s from. But she hopped on an airplane five years ago and took America by storm, and she’s never looked back.”
Black, like most good ad-sales people, is brassy, electric, and perpetually upbeat, but her armor of enthusiasm can’t hide the fact that she’s largely the architect of all this turmoil. “Black needs a success at Harper’s,” says one former Hearst editor familiar with Black’s thinking. “Of course, she can retire now, because she started O, which is going to make money for the company forever. But her manifold failure with Kate Betts haunts her. Not only did she hire the wrong person, she fired her in a very awful way.”
While Betts’s firing was not as ghastly as certain legendary Condé Nast dismissals – Grace Mirabella’s, for instance – and Betts is not one to play the martyr, it certainly wasn’t Hearst’s finest hour. Black told some people a full 24 hours before sharing the news with Betts, creating a kind of final torture-by-gossip. The steely Betts broke down briefly when she told her staff in a meeting that afternoon, but she quickly regained her equilibrium. A few nights later – shades of Al Gore’s defeat – she was bobbing and shimmying with the bouncers to Destiny’s Child at a farewell party at Puffy’s in TriBeCa. “It was a little bit of the old Kate,” says a Betts loyalist. “Before she was forced to become corporate.”
Daughter of noted architect Hobart Betts, Kate, a lifelong Francophile, studied European history at Princeton and after graduating moved to Paris, where she ran the Paris bureau of Fairchild. Ambitious enough to have accepted the Harper’s job on the day she was due to give birth to her first child (son Oliver Betts Brown was born three days later), she started at Harper’s in August 1999. Editor Liz Tilberis had died the previous April.
“Kate always thought of herself as a fashion outsider,” says a friend. “She mostly figured she was an outsider because she was smart, and fashion designers are very dumb. Kate was always rolling her eyes at something Alexander McQueen or Miguel Adrover said.”
“Kate is very smart, but most important, she’s of that life,” says Bazaar writer Karen Marta. “She’s been formed by fashion; that’s the crucible. Still, she approached it as a serious reporter, which was what made her stand out.”
Another of Betts’s assets was her youth. “The idea was that under Liz, the reader was 40 years old, and Kate was going to go after Miss 36, Ally McBeal herself, the girl who watches every episode of Sex and the City,” says one Betts supporter at Bazaar. “It was perfect, because Kate was 36. The focus would get a little bit younger, the fashion would skew a little more to the edgy side. I mean, that would be a great magazine, you’d think.”
But Kate wasn’t quite as “mass market” in sensibility as Ally. Just before she took over Bazaar, she did a Today show segment with Katie Couric, previewing the new swimsuits for spring. Betts, then Vogue’s fashion-news director, said bikinis were back in a big way. “Any advice you can give this morning for women in terms of finding the best look for their body?” Couric asked. “Start getting in shape now,” Betts said coldly. Couric seemed dumbfounded.
Which brings up another truth: What some view as her refreshing, often amusing bluntness, others see as plain rudeness. “I think she views it as kind of ‘up front,’ ” says writer Lynn Hirschberg, a staunch Betts defender. “You know, you can see the knife, where others are of the you-can’t-see-the-knife-but-it’s-going-in-your-back variety. She has a trait that I think is very rare: She doesn’t care if people like her or not.”
Betts also enjoyed playing the role of fashion arbiter with comic Vreelandesque certainty. “She can be really funny,” says Hirschberg. “Over Christmas, I wrote a column about underwear, and I mentioned that I have all these matching sets, and some of them are browns and beiges. Kate was recovering from some minor surgery at the time, but she called me from her hospital bed. ‘Lynn,’ she said. ‘Three words: Earth tones, no!’
“I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I know how to turn a magazine into a gold mine.”
“‘You mean you want them out of the piece?’ ” Hirshberg asked.
“‘No,’ Betts said firmly. ‘I want you to throw yours out. Now.’ “
Early on, Betts played up the competition with Vogue and Wintour, her former mentor, while batting away the persistent suggestion (ironic in hindsight) that she was going to turn Harper’s Bazaar into InStyle. And her imperious, Anna-in-training persona (gossip columns had her taking her baby’s nanny on the Concorde and throwing a tantrum at Michael’s restaurant when her table wasn’t ready) didn’t help.
Another part of the problem was structural. “Kate inherited bad numbers, and she was following a saint,” says one Betts underling. “There was a lot of talk that even Liz would have been fired if she had not gotten sick.” Tilberis, yet another British import, had been a fashion anomaly – a humane, widely beloved mother figure in an industry of spoiled children. Tilberis’s elegance in personal style translated to elegance in the style of the magazine, which she remade when she took over in 1992. With its Fabien Baron design that looked back toward the glory years of legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch, Bazaar had an otherworldly beauty – though the aging demo that appreciated it was of serious concern to Hearst.
Betts was brought in to bring change, and change was swift. Relying on the sensibilities of art director Michael Grossman, who had given Entertainment Weekly its defining look, Betts jerked Bazaar into the present with a striking, even shocking, makeover, featuring MTV-zesty shoots. The venerable logo was discarded, as was, for the most part, Baron’s (and Brodovitch’s) beloved white space.
Every small detail was an excuse for another operatic squabble – it seemed to amount to a management strategy. “It was as if, with no drama, it would be like trying to cook an egg in a cold frying pan,” says a former staff member. “She tried the same sort of divide-and-conquer strategy that Anna does at Vogue. The idea is, if you keep people in fierce competition with each other, you’ll get their best work – but after a while, it just seemed like harshness.”
Betts and Hearst even allowed the turmoil to be caught on film, inviting in cameras from Hearst’s Lifetime television division to tape a behind-the-scenes documentary about a brand-new editor producing, essentially, a brand-new magazine. The tape became a camp classic – Mommy Dearest about fashion’s own family. The show portrays Betts needling her staff: “I feel like I don’t have any support,” she snaps. “I feel like I have to do everything myself … It’s making my life miserable.”
Unfortunately, while advertising perked up a bit, the newsstand numbers didn’t respond. They weren’t bad, mind you. A magazine being off 8 percent of newsstand during a recession is hardly alarming. Fair or not, though, Betts had failed to stop the slide at Bazaar, which was now selling 722,000, against 1.2 million for Vogue.
Meanwhile, the fashion Establishment was her toughest audience. Every cover was second-guessed – too young, too stodgy, wrong celebrity, wrong model. No one could put a finger on what fantasy Betts was trying to sell.
Last spring, she had the magazine redesigned yet again, adding a tone that attempted to reclaim the sophistication of Baron’s work. But in her last months, she was increasingly bunkered and anxious as she cast about for a formula that would save her job.
“The magazine business is in a phase of dumbing down,” says one Betts loyalist, by way of postmortem. “In the end, they just wanted ‘100 Looks for $100.’ But it doesn’t all have to be that. Everything doesn’t have to become ‘Find Your Inner Clitoris.’ There’s room in the business for more than one kind of success.”
But not for Betts, at this moment. When executive editor Mary Duenwald left Bazaar in the spring, she confessed to Betts, “I guess I’m just not a fashion person.” Betts joked, “I’m not, either.”
Many found the timing of Betts’s dismissal perplexing, since she was in the midst of closing Bazaar’s September issue, the most important one in a fashion magazine’s year. But with the Glamour job open (Fuller had been fired days before) and Bailey therefore in play, Black had strong motivation to move quickly, whether or not Bailey had actually been in contact with Condé Nast.
While Bailey hasn’t fired many people yet, she’s wasted little time in making her mark. She’s told her entire staff to cancel their summer plans. The hardest job to fill has been that of art director. Word is that she approached Robin Derrick, the star art director of British Vogue, in her first two weeks, but Derrick declined. The play for Derrick only fueled the theory that Bailey was going to “do a British Vogue.” Vogue’s English sibling is considered a more “commercial” magazine than its elitist American counterpart – “commercial meaning that it’s not ‘coded,’ ” explains one fashionista. “It’s not self-referential, by fashion people for fashion people.”
Bailey, as noted, is definitely not a fashion person. Like many upcountry Brits, this daughter of England’s rolling, agrarian hinterlands comes off as disarmingly “real” from the first meeting. She’s charming and witty and candid and folksy and upbeat – delightful, really, even if that particular menu of character attributes seems almost pornographic when set against the Siberian emotional landscape of high fashion.
Which is not to say that she’s necessarily any cuddlier than her fashion adversaries. In fact, she seems to relish a good class war. “I’ve actually committed the two biggest fashion sins,” Bailey says cheerily. “I’m not from a privileged background, and I don’t hide my past. So I’m sure some people find that intimidating. They look at me and they realize I am where I am because of my talent. I might not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I know how to turn a magazine into a gold mine.”
Then, in fierce tommy-gun bursts, she dispatches some of the canards that swirl in the air around her.
She doesn’t know fashion?
“I’ve been going to the shows since 1983. I’ve been a fixture on the front row for more years than I care to remember.”
Rubbish. “I was very, very successful at Marie Claire,” she says. “It was the biggest-selling upmarket fashion-and-beauty magazine. It had far more upmarket fashion advertising than any of its competitors.”
Marie Claire soared partly on the strength of cover lines seemingly written for Jerry Springer (fathers who pledge their daughters to celibacy) but also on a cozy middlebrow mix of first-person confessionals and very wearable fashion. The British fashion world suddenly shut up about Derbyshire and began to lionize Bailey. Portrayed as a real-life version of Patsy and Edina of British television’s Absolutely Fabulous, Bailey even starred in a fawning Channel 4 documentary, Absolutely ‘Marie Claire.’ A starring role in a big American Express ad campaign followed. Before long, her electric personality had her mingling with Tony Blair at cocktail parties.
“I always say I had to leave the country because I had become a question on Celebrity Squares,” she jokes.
In 1996, Hearst imported Bailey to perform the same sort of alchemy she had demonstrated in England – that is, to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Bonnie Fuller, who had just graduated to Cosmopolitan.
Bonnie Fuller was supposed to be sitting in Glenda Bailey’s office – if not Anna Wintour’s. Instead, she finds herself in P.R. man Howard Rubenstein’s corner office, 30 floors above Sixth Avenue, which is enshrouded, appropriately, in fog.
When Condé Nast fired Fuller on May 22, the industry was stunned, and so was Fuller. “I was surprised. I was very surprised,” Fuller says with a pained laugh. With her girly, vaguely sixties-ish long chocolate tresses, Fuller looks sprightlier than her 44 years (indeed, she just had a son in January; Sasha and his nanny had become a fixture in the Glamour offices, since Fuller wanted to breast-feed while maintaining her punishing workload). “We had just come off two of the biggest revenue years in the magazine’s history. We had the highest rate base the magazine ever had.”
Fuller’s Midas touch was the envy of the industry. “Wherever she went, she minted money,” marvels a rival editor. “Condé Nast is saying that it’s the numbers,” says another rival editor. “But if you’re looking to boost the numbers, Bonnie’s the first person you’re going to bring in.”
The real sting must have been that Bailey had triumphed. “You know, Glenda and Bonnie hate each other,” says one editor who knows both. “So it’s unbelievable that in the end, Bonnie was outwitted by this woman. Glenda trashed Bonnie’s version of Marie Claire to the French owners, then somehow has gotten it in the media now that somehow she, Glenda, saved Marie Claire. It didn’t need saving.”
In a larger sense, it was Fuller’s ambition – her aggressive flirtation with Bazaar and, later, her bull-in-a-china-shop approach to Condé Nast court politics – that seemed to drive this entire wild round. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being ambitious,” Fuller says after careful consideration. “I’ve always had a philosophy that if you go after your dreams, you’re going to be a happier person. Men have always felt that they could do that. With women, that whole idea is only a generation or two old. So would you define that as ambition, going after your goals?”
Which Fuller definitely did. While editing Flare, in Canada, she wrote to the publisher of YM trumpeting her accomplishments and looking for a job, which she got. She promptly reinvented the magazine, pumping its 970,000 circulation to a lordly 1.7 million – and wrote to Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan, trumpeting her accomplishments. Fuller was drafted by Hearst to run Marie Claire shortly after it was launched Stateside, and when she eventually replaced Gurley Brown, Fuller grew newsstand circulation at Cosmo by 17 percent in her first year.
When Fuller jumped to Glamour, Ruth Whitney, rather coldly put out to pasture, disapproved vehemently and publicly of the choice of her successor. And eventually, Si Newhouse came to share this view.
Fuller, however, had perhaps hastened her downfall two years earlier when she tried to get out of her Glamour contract to go to Harper’s. It’s common knowledge within the industry that Newhouse had never forgiven her, and had gone so far as to threaten to sue her.
It was no secret that Fuller wanted Bazaar. She’d made a relatively public play for the magazine when Tilberis died in 1999. It wasn’t long after Betts beat her out that Fuller hopped to Cosmo’s historic rival, Glamour. At the time, the press reported that Fuller and her ever-present collaborator, creative director Donald Robertson, actually produced mock-ups of Bazaar as they would render it and sent them to Hearst as a virtual job application, even after Betts had been hired.
“Those reports simply weren’t true,” Fuller says. “I was out of the country in Israel with my son at the time. I don’t even know what could have started the rumor. I know that James Truman at one point had asked Donald to do some cover ideas for Teen Vogue – maybe that’s what people saw.” Most who know Fuller believe her. “Hearst had wanted her, then Si wouldn’t let her out of the contract,” says one well-placed editor. “Then she became damaged goods. And by that time, Glenda said that she wanted the job or she was going to go to Condé Nast, so Hearst gave her Bazaar to keep her.”
When Betts was axed, word was that Fuller made another play for the magazine and even delayed signing an existing extension of her three-year Condé Nast contract while making a bid to outmaneuver Bailey into Hearst’s marquee seat. One source close to Fuller says she had been offered a contract renewal – which she planned to accept – in the late stages of her pregnancy and had simply put it off until after the baby was born. Fuller, for her part, insists she made absolutely no overtures of the sort.
“I was really committed to Glamour magazine,” Fuller says. “Now, the Harper’s Bazaar thing, I had been approached two years ago to go back there. I did not. I thought my future was at Glamour. There was absolutely no contact between myself and Hearst. None. None none none.”
The perpetual interest in Fuller is hardly surprising. Wherever she’s landed, Fuller has shown an uncanny, almost Spielbergian instinct for what regular American flyover-type women believe, wish, fear, and, most important, understand. “I’ve always thought the key was to empathize with the reader, and then to talk to her,” Fuller says. “I’ve always thought it’s very important to be a reader’s friend and make magazines that felt like they were a club you could belong to.”
“I thought my future was at Glamour. There was absolutely no contactbetween myself and Hearst. None none none.”
In a spunkily teenage-ish show of inclusiveness, Fuller tended to abandon her corner office at Glamour, preferring to rule more democratically from an open pod in the center of the office. To some, the effect was a little too teenage: “She and Donald were the ones at the cool table,” one staffer said, “and everybody else was always trying to be cool by sitting as near to them as possible.”
As befits an editor of her stature, Fuller is burdened with the usual luggage cart of underling-bludgeoning stories. She astonished with her hands-on micromanaging. “She’d even go pore over the photo credits: ‘Are we sure this is beige and not ecru?’ ” recalls one former employee. Phone calls from the slopes in Utah were routine, and when Fuller took a bike tour of Tuscany with her husband, Michael, staff members had to map her mile-by-mile progress so they could FedEx copy to her next pension.
In her first week at Glamour, Fuller assigned several members of the art department – all of whom had just seen their immediate boss fired – the task of making decorative party-favor picture frames for her daughter’s birthday party (Fuller insists the incident occurred because an assistant had misunderstood a simple directive to go out and buy some cheap frames).
Last-minute changes were frequent; hours were often brutal. “With Bonnie,” says a Glamour editor, “you’d be working until 2 a.m. for days on end. I guess if I were going to give her credit, I’d have to at least say she was a workaholic.” Attrition became a fact of life. Some called her the “Fuller Brush,” says former senior editor Barrie Gillies. “People were always getting swept away.” Others, less charitable, dubbed her “the Bonster.”
“Bonnie can be monstrous in her pursuit of what she thinks is right,” says one Fuller loyalist. “But she’s grateful to those who help her. She’s a person with a lot of drive, and sometimes she runs over people. But she’s a decent person.”
“If you were a thick-skinned person, then you could do fine under her,” recalls Lisa Simmons, a former Cosmo editor and a Fuller supporter. “She would write in ‘Duh’ in your copy. She would get mad at you if you had bad handwriting, as if you were trying to get at her by not having good handwriting. But she was amazing at seeing what a story needed to work.”
In the end, it might have been Fuller’s ambitions for another fashion magazine, Vogue, that did her in. At the time Fuller took over Glamour, the press was brimming with rumors that Wintour might soon step down. One Condé Nast source says Fuller told intimates that she took Glamour so she could get Vogue. “I know for a fact that Anna heard that,” says another. “Anna hasn’t spoken to Bonnie since Bonnie got here.”
The simmering rivalry bubbled over this spring, when Fuller attended her June-issue print-order meeting, a monthly meeting at Condé Nast in which editors of each magazine show off the upcoming issues to the suits in order to determine how many copies will be printed.
Much to the shock of her superiors, Fuller unveiled a cover featuring a photo of actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. Vogue had wrangled a hard-fought exclusive cover story with the actress and new mother for the July issue. Glamour had done a “write around” on the actress and put an older photo on the cover. Within weeks, Fuller had visitors from upstairs at 4 Times Square, the company’s headquarters. She was out.
A source in Fuller’s camp insists that Vogue’s plans didn’t even come up in the meeting. Moreover, the source says, when Fuller heard about the tension at Vogue, she raised the possibility of pulling the cover, but the implicit directive was that she go forward with it.
The story of her dismissal is liable to become a classic. One version had her stubbornly camping out in her Glamour office, refusing to leave even as movers were hoisting in boxes of files belonging to new Glamour editor Cindi Leive, who had once worked under Fuller. “They asked me to stay,” Fuller insists. “I asked Cindi what she wanted to do, and she asked if I could please help finish the August issue.”
“In the end,” says the Condé Nast source, “Anna’s tantrum sealed the deal.”
“When I was at Vogue, everyone was lamenting the bringing-down of Vogue,” says one writer. “Now it looks like the last bastion of fashion culture. Anna is the one who’s holding out.”
Back at Bazaar, Bailey is said to be in talks with Fabien Baron about a return engagement – tantalizing insiders with the prospect of the revered logo making its return with him. Bringing him back might be a P.R. masterstroke. It could usher in the era of updated glamour that Cathie Black covets. It could also be the season’s most fashionable fig leaf.