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What Samira Nasr's Appointment Means for Harper's Bazaar and Fashion Magazines

Currently Vanity Fair's executive fashion director, the stylist will succeed Glenda Bailey as the magazine’s first black editor.
Samira Nasr | Source: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images
  • Chantal Fernandez

NEW YORK, United States — Samira Nasr is the next editor in chief of the American edition of Harper's Bazaar magazine, overseeing both print and digital as of July 6. She succeeds Glenda Bailey, who stepped down from the Hearst title in January after 19 years in the role.

Originally from Montreal, Nasr is currently the executive fashion director at Vanity Fair and has spent her decades-long career as a stylist and editor working in and around fashion magazines in New York.

Nasr's appointment also marks the first time a black editor will lead Harper's Bazaar, the oldest continuously published fashion magazine in the country, a milestone in an industry where there is little if any diversity in the highest levels of leadership.

As Black Lives Matter protests grew in number across the US and Europe in recent days, current and former media employees who are minorities have taken to social media to share experiences of discrimination and inequality in the workplace, highlighting the lack of diverse editors and executives at Refinery29, Paper magazine, Condé Nast and Hearst, among others.

In her recent role at Vanity Fair under Editor-in-Chief Radhika Jones, Nasr has been part of a rebirth of a title that highlights a much more diverse slate of contributors than is typically seen in mainstream magazines.

"As the proud daughter of a Lebanese father and Trinidadian mother, my world view is expansive and is anchored in the belief that representation matters," said Nasr in a video announcing her appointment. "My lens by nature is colourful and so it is important to me to begin a new chapter in Bazaar's history by shining a light on all individuals who I believe are the inspiring voices of our time. I will work to give all voices a platform to tell stories that would never have been told."

I will work to give all voices a platform to tell stories that would never have been told.

Nasr thanked the Black Lives Matter protestors and said she hopes "we can join forces to amplify the message of equality."

The stylist will likely bring a very different approach to Harper's Bazaar than her predecessor, adding the website to her scope of responsibilities and bringing more of a focus on politics and current events. Bailey's tenure, which focused on print only while was led by Executive Editorial Director Joyann King, was defined by high-production celebrity cover shoots often featuring the season's most elaborate gowns and an overall slick, glossy sophistication. Bailey had strong relationships with advertisers and operated the magazine with a small team and lean budgets.

Nasr, who is also well-liked by advertisers and has a cool-girl reputation — she styles shows for independent New York brands including Rachel Comey and Adam Lippes — has worked to shift the way fashion is typically depicted in glossy magazines. In her time at Vanity Fair, she has styled Janelle Monáe in a vibrant, pleated Pyer Moss dress, Selma Blair in Celine skinny trousers and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates in his own Brooks Brothers suit.

"I'm so glad at this moment in history to see this role go to a woman of color," wrote Vanity Fair's Jones on Instagram. "We are a small club, but growing."

Her mandate at Harper's Bazaar will likely involve creating content that reaches a new and younger audience without losing too much of its pre-existing one. The average age of its print reader is 42, according to its 2019 media kit, with an average household income of $248,320 and an average net worth of $1.6 million — making it one of the wealthier audience groups in print.

The May issue of Harper's Bazaar | Source: Courtesy

However, Nasr is joining the brand at a particularly challenging time for print magazines which, amid the pandemic and its economic fallout and an increasingly unstable geopolitical situation, are struggling to be relevant.

Harper's Bazaar is led on the revenue side by publisher Carol Smith, who has had a long career at Hearst and spearheaded the launch of ShopBazaar, the magazine's online shopping arm, in 2011., which will continue to be led by King, has a younger focus on celebrity culture and entertainment and is known for its royal coverage. Its correspondent on the royal family, Omid Scobie, has close ties to Meghan Markle’s representatives and has broken news on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

In print, Harper's Bazaar's circulation is 760,000, smaller than that of other mainstream fashion magazines. Newsstand sales have decreased in recent years as they have across the magazine industry, down 67 percent since 2009, while circulation has increased slightly in the same period.

But regardless of its estimated reach, Bazaar is facing the same challenge as its competitors: it still relies on advertising, not subscriptions, to drive the majority of its revenue. And in the wake of the pandemic, brands have further cut the advertising budgets that magazine publishers depend on.

A recent report from digital marketing agency Digital Luxury Group showed that luxury brands have reduced their spend by anywhere from 30 to 80 percent. In recent months, fashion magazines have also had to tap new tools like Zoom and computer-generated imagery to create images and editorials while under lockdown. And many titles have cut back on the number of print issues they plan to produce this year as a result.

“It is a thrilling challenge to be in a position to reimagine what a fashion magazine can be in today’s world,” said Nasr in the announcement video. “Great style is about more than the way we wear our clothes. It is also how we see and occupy space in the world around us.”

Great style is about more than the way we wear our clothes. It is also how we see and occupy space in the world around us.

Nasr is part of a new generation of magazine editors-in-chief who are faced with the daunting task of filling in a predecessor's shoes with typically smaller budgets, increased scrutiny and more pressure to attract young readers with more diverse coverage and contributors and a values-driven, political point-of-view.

Many of these new editors are stylists like Nasr, signalling the importance of powerful, globally resonant images to the success of a magazine in the digital era. Other examples include British Vogue's Edward Enninful (also the black editor-in-chief of that title) and i-D's Alastair McKimm.

Nasr began her fashion career as an intern at Mirabella before heading to Vogue as Grace Coddington's assistant and then Harper's Bazaar as a fashion writer. After a stint as a freelance stylist, she served as style director at InStyle before returning to Hearst's Elle in 2013, where she was fashion director until leaving for Vanity Fair in 2018.

Hearst has seen a changing of the guard in recent years, especially after President Troy Young was appointed to lead the entire division, not just the digital properties, in 2018 with Chief Content Officer Kate Lewis, to whom Nasr will report. New editors, often ones with digital experience, have been appointed at Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Esquire since 2015.

"Samira's important voice will continue to evolve the brand's distinct position as a style touchstone for fashion’s most discerning," said Young in a statement.

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