'Eve' plots to tempt readers and turn 'Red' green

There's a new editor and a fresh look for Haymarket's women's monthly. Nic McCarthy talks to Ciar Byrne

Dressed smartly in trousers and a red pin-striped blouse, there is a more newsy quality to Nic McCarthy than your typical woman's magazine editor. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that the new editor of Eve magazine oversaw Richard Desmond's weekly celebrity title OK! for three years and also edited US Weekly.

Founded by the BBC's magazines arm eight years ago to tap into the thirtysomething women's market, Eve was bought by Michael Heseltine's Haymarket publishing company three years ago. Although McCarthy insists that she was not brought in to overhaul the title, she has wasted no time instilling a new look. "The Eve woman is amazing, but I didn't think the magazine did her justice in terms of its design," she admits.

Harking back to her days at OK!, which she joined when it was on the brink of overtaking arch-rival Hello!, McCarthy says: "It is great as an editor to come to something that you feel has potential. When I went to OK! as the deputy editor in 1999, we were just beginning to make a break against Hello! There was a real job to be done there. I could see that we could take OK! and thrash Hello! in terms of sales. It's the same here."

The cover of the June issue of Eve is a bold statement of where she wants to take the magazine. A glamorous shot of Sex And The City's Sarah Jessica Parker is accompanied by a new logo – in Bodoni ultra bold italic, font geeks – which she describes as "fashionable, feminine and friendly".

McCarthy has been assisted by Eve's art director, Jo Sams, a former art director at Elle magazine, who has "brought the design values of the fashion books to a lifestyle title". Newspapers and websites have provided much of the design inspiration. "Design has come on amazingly in the last five years, if you think about Sunday supplements – Stella, Sunday Times Style – then you look at what is online for our woman – Net-A-Porter, Vogue. com – they are all gorgeous and their design is evolving constantly," says McCarthy.

Eve sits in the marketplace alongside titles such as Red, Marie Claire, She and Easy Living. Although it has the lowest headline circulation of the bunch at 168,270 copies a month, McCarthy thinks her magazine is better than its rivals. "I think of Red as a very nice, cosy magazine. It is a lovely read, but it is not particularly surprising. Whereas, I think of Eve as a much more glamorous, much more surprising read. We are famous for our great writing. We've had Zoe Williams, Miranda Levy, Chrissie Iley. We have got a much smarter, more intelligent, glamorous edge. We are a much more inspirational magazine."

Having secured Sarah Jessica Parker for the June cover, McCarthy decided to turn the magazine into a Sex And The City special, commissioning five writers to talk about what the landmark series taught them about sex, dating and feminism. The median age of Eve's readers is 37 but, like most magazine editors, McCarthy prefers to define them by attitude. "One of the reasons I really wanted the job was I was really impressed by the Eve reader: she's a smart, educated, fairly well-off career woman. They're very much about what's going to happen next. They might want to set up their own business, or take up photography... they're always looking to have a more fulfilling life."

A decade ago, the big new concept in the magazine world was "middle youth" – women who had celebrated their 30th birthday, but were still interested in fashion and having fun. According to McCarthy this is now "old hat".

"If I think about myself, my friends, family, the thirtysomething women I know, I wouldn't assign any sort of badge to them, they are all completely different. I'm 38, I've got two children, I work. My sister-in-law is 37, she has given up her career for a few years to raise my godson, James. I've got other friends who haven't got children and don't particularly want children. Middle youth makes them sound a bit juvenile or old-fashioned or something."

McCarthy's break in magazine journalism came in 1999 when then OK! editor Martin Townsend hired her as his deputy. In 2001, she took over as editor when Townsend went off to edit the Sunday Express.

Three years later, she was headhunted by Rolling Stone magazine chief Jann Wenner to edit US Weekly, while its editor was on maternity leave. When the editor in chief went into labour early, McCarthy found herself living in a hotel in Manhattan with her husband and her own young baby, editing the magazine without a clue as to who half the celebrities in America were.

In 2006, she returned to the UK to have her second baby and by the summer had been hired by Emap to help with new product development. Like most in the magazine world, she mourns the company's rapid demise.

Her career trajectory means she is used to working with powerful proprietors – from Desmond to Wenner – and at Haymarket she comes under the aegis of Tory statesman Michael Heseltine. "He's interested in the standards of journalism in the magazine and we've talked a lot about attracting great writers," she says.

McCarthy has given columns to the fashion, beauty and homes editors – in which they talk about their new Ali MacGraw-style haircut or meeting Helena Christensen at a fashion launch. Other changes include a new section called "Eve Boutique", which is a "mood board" for the rest of the magazine – in June pretty florals are in for fashion, homes and beauty. Another new feature, "Stylemaker", this month features the Sex And The City über-stylist Patricia Field. "It is the feeling that we are out and about meeting people and knowing what's going on. That is something you learn as a weekly editor, people have to feel that you are really in the know," McCarthy says.

Eve has international editions in Indonesia, Lithuania, Mexico, Greece, Turkey and Romania, with more on the way and it is McCarthy's job to meet the editors from those territories and talk them through the brand. The magazine also runs a programme of workshops, Eve Educates – teaching everything from how to start your own business, with HSBC, to how to write a novel, with Penguin.

Threatened by the popularity of weeklies, McCarthy is adamant that there is still a role for monthly magazines in helping women to make the most of the four weeks ahead. "Yes, the magazine is £3.40, but for that you can plan this amazing month of not just stuff to buy, but events to go to, and workshops to sign up for."

As she prepares to jet off to Milan for a meeting that afternoon, one suspects that if anyone can turn Eve into a successful brand, she can.

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