Media: Something about Sally

After a 10-year absence, Sally Brampton has been lured back to glossy magazines with the editorship of Red. But what are her plans for the title? Mary Braid reports

A little frisson of excitement has spread through the glamorous, shiny world of women's magazines this week with the announcement that Sally Brampton, who became a legend in the business after her successful launch of Elle in Britain is to return to magazines after a 10-year break.

Brampton has been lured back by Emap Elan, publisher of Elle, but a decade on, it is to edit Red, its more mature and considerably less glamorous sister title.

Brampton is shunning all interviews until she hits the hot seat next month, which will disappoint those eager to know what has enticed her back after she opted out of the rat race at the height of her success to combine writing - her fourth novel comes out in January - with motherhood. She returns to the fray a married woman - her husband Jonathan Powell, credited with bringing us Casualty and EastEnders, is currently the head of drama at Carlton Television - with a daughter, Molly, now seven.

What precisely she intends to do with Red fuels yet more speculation. The press release announcing her appointment restates Red's commitment to "middle youth", that more discerning, intelligent and previously neglected group of the thirtysomething women (who might have children and mortgages but still groove with the best of them at rock concerts) the magazine claimed to have discovered when it launched in January 1998.

But there are rumours that Brampton might be planning to take Red where few other women's magazines would dare to tread, deeper into so-called older women's territory. Red has already found an older niche - with its broad target band of 29-45 and ideal reader age of 35-38 - but some claim Brampton may take the "greying" further.

It is interesting speculation in a business where traditional assumptions that over 35 is too dowdy and over-the-hill to be worth catering for is now being challenged. Indeed the speculation may arise because Brampton, now an absolutely ancient 44, has written passionately and eloquently on the subject.

Red may be happy still to describe itself as "middle youth", but it's a term its new editor despises, along with the prejudices and attitudes that gave it life, and the publishers, who are forever claiming they want to launch "older" titles but still cannot bring themselves to utter the f-word (that's 40). Describing three friends, still stylish and glamorous in their forties and fifties wearing Gaultier, Helmut Lang and Joseph, Brampton argued, in an article in The Independent last December, that such women are neither "middle aged" nor "middle youth". She asked scathingly if there was ever a blander, more patronising phrase?

What was wrong with women's magazines aimed at the over-30s, she said, was that they had "No grit, no humour, no rigour, no bloody style", and were made for a generation of women ready to put its slippers on. "Elle and Marie Claire may be way too young for us, but magazines that tell us how to crochet a centrepiece for a table or disguise a thickening waist with clever accessories are just way too old," she says. She does not mention Red by name but says the "exciting" new magazines being launched into the middle youth market are no more than the same tired formula - frocks, cooking and gardening - smeared with a touch of gloss.

The woman who stayed at home "knocking up gourmet meals from left overs and wearing bright colours in clashing patterns" no longer exists, she says. Neither does middle age. Of her own age group, Brampton says: "our time will come".

Such views are worth considering now that Brampton has her own vehicle, already parked on the edge of "age", with which to test her theory. In her only statement, via the press release, she has said she believes Red reflects and challenges a new generation of smart, informed savvy women.

Ian Birch, Emap Elan's editor-in-chief, says Red's readership is defined more by attitude than age. He adds that Brampton feels there are more women out there that Red could reach, lingering in the twilight zone that follows the twentysomething titles full of frocks, make-up and multiple, earth-shattering orgasms.

In an echo of Brampton's own assessment, he says that Red recognises that 40 is what 30 used to be, and while a woman can be a grandmother at 42, she may also be having her first baby. He insists Brampton will be building on what Red has already achieved. "It will be a process of evolution not revolution," he says, pointing out that the new title's success would make it madness to "throw the baby out with the bath water".

It is true that Brampton is taking over a pretty healthy magazine from outgoing editor Kathryn Brown, who herself left to have a baby. Emap conducted exhaustive research before the launch, and spent a lot of money and went to extraordinary lengths to reach their target audience. Within weeks it had its 180,000 readers. Most have proved loyal. Almost two years on, circulation has slipped by only 3 per cent in a viciously competitive women's magazine market.

According to Gavin Stamp of Media Week, as many as a half the readers who initially bought Red are thought to have been fresh - ie not deserters from other women's magazines, though of course other magazines did suffer from Red's arrival.

It is precisely because women's glossies is such a competitive area that Red, despite its success cannot afford to be complacent. "It had a good launch, and found its niche," says Mr Stamp. "But the question is where does it go from here."

He is not confident that increased circulation will be won by targeting women over 40 more vigorously. Though he admits the age group is under exploited and that has more to do with a lack of ambition than past failures.

Other than her theories on age and segmentation of the women's market, what else will Brampton bring to Red? Birch claims that his new editor epitomises his readership. Glamorous, successful, smart, Sally Brampton is the woman Red wants to reach. And despite her long absence, he says Brampton, once his boss at Elle, is still "one of the world's most inspiring editors".

What industry insiders expect her to bring is a touch more glitz, glamour and excitement to a title which, though perceived as more substantial than its rivals, has become a touch worthy, and slightly dull. Glamour and substance - not a mix many, if any, of the women's titles can really boast. If she is successful, it may not be long before rival titles come round to Brampton's way of thinking on older women.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea