Glamour, the little magazine making all the big ones cry

Five years after launch, the handbag-sized read is riding high. Danielle Demetriou meets its editor

It understands how to turn a man from lust to love. It is an expert on working the "country girl" look for spring. It also knows what Eva Longoria "really" thinks of her Desperate Housewives co-stars. And now it has reached the grand age of five.

Glamour, the UK's first handbag-sized glossy, is this week celebrating its fifth birthday after turning the magazine market upside-down. Since its 2001 launch, it has knockedCosmopolitan from its long-held No 1 spot to become the biggest-selling women's monthly style magazine in Europe. More than 32 million copies have been sold over the past five years with an average of 586,000 bought by women every month, effortlessly exceeding its initial circulation projections of 250,000.

The woman behind the success of the magazine is Jo Elvin, the 35-year-old editor and straight-talking Sydneysider. "Five years is a very long time in magazines," she says. "It's the longest I've ever worked anywhere. It's very easy to stay here and be happy."

Within minutes of meeting in Condé Nast's Old Bond Street offices it is clear that Elvin does not subscribe to the haughty stiletto-stamping school of editing. Instead, in the words of Nicholas Coleridge, the managing editor of Condé Nast, Elvin possesses a "sunny toughness" that has no doubt helped her through the more challenging moments of the past five years.

And success was not always assured - particularly in the context of its small-sized format. It was Balenciaga handbags at dawn when Condé Nast announced plans to launch a new mini-sized monthly women's glossy in the form of the UK version of Glamour.

"Just a pygmy," chortled Duncan Edwards, managing director of the National Magazine Company, home of Cosmopolitan. Cathleen Black, president of the parent company, Hearst Magazines, warned that Glamour would be squashed "like a little armadillo on the road".

But Glamour is having the last laugh - at least for now. Testament to its success is the shrinking trend it appeared to have sparked among rival publications: Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Elle have all subsequently downsized.

"It's a magazine for women on the go, for women waiting for friends in a bar or stuffed yet again on our fabulous train service. Women love this size," she says. Key to the magazine's success, according to Elvin, is the ability to get back to basics in relation to what women want.

"Magazines before Glamour apologised for being for women," she says. "But women love women's magazines. When they want a feature about the death of architecture in London, they'll turn on a BBC3 documentary.

"Glamour is shamelessly feel-good. Women's magazines had forgotten that it was OK to enjoy being feminine without feeling less secure about your intelligence or success at work."

She is diplomatically dismissive of rival magazines: Grazia's circulation figures are "nothing to crow about" and Glamour is "classier" than Cosmopolitan.

"I've forgotten all the horrible bits, just like when you have a baby," she says. "I remember Nicholas saying we could sell 300,000 and me thinking 'That's a really big figure'. But it was an instant success, it was amazing. We sold more copies than I'd dared hope."

With sales soaring, critics defied and executives sated, Elvin could be forgiven for sitting back and relaxing. But this, it transpires, is simply not her style.

"It takes effort to remain competitive," she says. "Glamour is No 1 and that brings its own pressures. The magazine is entering a maturity phase, so now it's about keeping it relevant, keeping it fresh and keeping it number one in the market."

She adds: "The world has definitely changed since Glamour launched and we probably include more political comment now than we did intend to at the beginning. More women have realized that they are interested in politics as events have touched more women's lives. We've done lots of stories on women from every angle, in Afghanistan, Iraqi women and British women in the Iraq war."

Amid the flux, there remains an indisputable certainty: Elvin is determined to keep Glamour in the number one spot.

"I am a perfectionist and I can be a complete pain. But that's because deadlines don't frighten me in the face of getting something right."

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