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Glenda Bailey Talks Future of Magazines and Harper’s Bazaar 150th Anniversary

The longtime editor-in-chief, as well known for her clever take on imagery as she is for winning over advertisers, addresses everything from her rumoured retirement to the elements of a collectible issue.
By
  • Chantal Fernandez

NEW YORK, United States — At the beginning of New York Fashion Week, right before four longtime editors-in-chiefs announced that they would be exiting their respective publications, Glenda Bailey had the unfortunate luck of falling and injuring her arm and leg. This forced her to sit out the shows for the first time since she took over Harper Bazaar's US edition 16 years ago. It didn't help the growing rumours that she might be the next legendary editor to step down. "It's hard to tell why I'm receiving so many bouquets," she said with a laugh, referring to the "fields of flowers" that arrived at her office after the accident.

But Bailey says she isn’t going anywhere. “So long as I can be a positive force in this industry, not just in magazines but in the bigger picture of this industry…I feel there is so much to do,” she says.

“Now because of social media, of course, everybody thinks they can be an editor,” she continues. “And I actually believe that; I do think they can edit. Of course they can, because everybody's got an opinion. But, you see, here’s the key: [editors] are paid to make the right decisions.”

But while trained editors may possess sharper judgment than the masses, Bailey believes that some of today’s long-standing leaders, no matter how talented, are too bogged down by cost-cutting efforts implemented by their parent companies, which continue to struggle to adapt to declining print revenues as audiences and ad dollars shift online.

Bailey, on the other hand, has always followed the money. “I believe in making a profit,” she says. “I've never come up with an idea and found I can't do it because of finance. I always find a way.” Often, she finds a way by relying on her decades-long fashion-industry relationships. (After all, she has been an editor-in-chief since 1986, when she was hired to lead now-defunct London publication Honey at just 27 years old.)

Tom Ford said the other day, 'Glenda, what impossible task are you asking me to do now?'

"Tom Ford said the other day, 'Glenda, what impossible task are you asking me to do now?'" she says. A self-described professional matchmaker, Bailey says brands also often rely on her for creative and management advice. She has a reputation for being beloved by advertisers, who are increasingly limited their print budgets. Indeed, Harper's Bazaar has been able to maintain its total circulation, which averaged 762,000 per month in the first half of 2017, up from 755,000 in the same period in 2014. Average total single copy sales, however, declined from 114,000 in the first half of 2014 to 73,000 in same period in 2017, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. While Hearst Magazines does not reveal revenue information, president David Carey reported that the division's earnings increased in 2016 for the third year in a row. (Parent company Hearst Corp. saw revenue increase 1 percent to $10.8 billion in 2016.)

Bailey's primary motivation is to "astonish" the reader, borrowing a word from Harper's Bazaar's influential art director from the 1930s to the 1950s, Alexey Brodovitch. "We want to create imagery that is memorable and iconic and that you look at it and you say, 'How on earth did they do that?'" she says, adding that many of the magazine's special covers — the one with Rihanna sitting in the mouth of a shark comes to mind — have become collector's items, even reselling on eBay for prices that far exceed the newsstand. "It is really important that you create something that is worth holding onto."

It’s an apt time to think about Harper’s Bazaar’s history, as the publication turns 150 this year. Bailey and Hearst marked the anniversary with the release of a retrospective book in the spring and a celebration at the Rainbow Room in the summer, during which memorable images were projected onto the side of the Empire State Building. Now, Harper’s Bazaar is commemorating the occasion in the pages of its November edition.

The issue marks Angelina Jolie’s first Harper’s Bazaar US cover in eight years. The actress/humanitarian was photographed at a wildlife sanctuary that she has supported for years in Namibia, surrounded by cheetahs. She styled herself and wrote the accompanying article herself, too. “She is someone who walks her talk and she has been so instrumental in highlighting women's issues and conservation issues,” says Bailey.

The anniversary issue also marks a significant redesign for Harper’s Bazaar. In order to further emphasise the magazine’s premium value to readers, Bailey and design director Elizabeth Hummer evolved the magazine’s layout to more closely resemble that of an actual coffee table book. The issue — which retains some of the signature design elements, such as the table of contents — is organized around five clean, distinct chapters: must-haves, ageless style, news, beauty and "dream" (cover stories and features). Each is anchored by a personal essay, including model Linda Evangelista on the “dress that changed my life,” and Salman Rushdie on powerful women, the latter of which is accompanied by exclusive work by the artist Kara Walker.

"How do we create a story that is memorable and distinctive and reflects what's going on in our society today?" asks Bailey, pointing to an editorial that features models including Hari Nef, Halima Aden and Winnie Harlow recreating historic works of art. ("Madame X," "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," and "Mona Lisa," respectively.)

“[Celebrities] know when they are talking to Bazaar that they're going to have to do something extraordinary.” To be sure, Bailey's cover stories are traditionally not for the faint of heart. During her Marie Claire days, she sent Gwyneth Paltrow to survive alone on an island off the coast of Belize for three days for a 1998 cover, and Brooke Shields to Canada to build an igloo by hand in 2000.

“People want to see something they've never seen before,” Bailey says. “There's so much noise out there that there is such a need for integrity.” While Bailey may not be retiring yet, she already has nailed down the essence of her legacy. “I wanted to create a party that everybody's invited to,” she says of her body of work at Bazaar. “And that's what happened.”

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