Lucy Yeomans: Welcome to the Bazaar

'Harpers & Queen' is dead, long live 'Harper's Bazaar'. That's the sentiment behind a hedonistic relaunch, with the editor Lucy Yeomans leading the cheers. She tells Ian Burrell how she intends to give this veteran title a vibrant new look
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t's a prospect that the ageing impresario Peter Stringfellow would give his ponytail for: Dita von Teese, the burlesque striptease artist, stepping out of her frillies before an adoring star-studded audience (all dressed in red and black), as champagne flows and trapeze artists whirl about the ceiling. And all this on Stringfellow's old stamping ground, the Hippodrome, Leicester Square.

Sadly for the Sheffield showman, this night of hedonism will not require his supervision, planned as it is by the publishers of a magazine that has long had a reputation for defining the leisure pursuits of the well-heeled, as opposed to the well-oiled and the high-heeled.

Harpers & Queen, a feature of the British newsstands for three and a half decades, is being restyled on Thursday as Harper's Bazaar - and the editor, Lucy Yeomans, intends to have the sort of bash that will ensure that the name change gets noticed.

So she has persuaded Cate Blanchett to be photographed with an elephant and will use a giant blow-up of the image as the centrepiece of her party next week. The picture, which will be the cover of the first UK issue of Harper's Bazaar for 36 years, will be accompanied, both at the party and in the magazine, by pictures portraying Vivienne Westwood as a knife-thrower, Paul Smith as the world's tallest man, Matthew Williamson as a hypnotist and Christopher Bailey of Burberry as a tightrope walker. Yeomans has headlined the photoshoot "Cirque de la Mode". So it's convenient that someone has had the forethought to rename the old Hippodrome as "Cirque".

Yeomans says: "People were, like, 'You can't have a party at the Hippodrome,' but I said, 'We are Harper's Bazaar now and wherever we have our party, we can make it cool.' It's the most brilliant space. It's like your dream, isn't it, creating a circus party? It's like being a child in the sweetshop - 'Ooh, can we have this, can we have that?' It's going to be great."

Yeomans, 35, dressed in black and with long wavy brown hair, is a party girl. She's a chronicler of the thoughts, achievements and social habits of the stars of the creative industries. She has cleverly positioned herself at a key intersection in that busy world, enabling her to buttonhole the high-society cobbler Manolo Blahnik (now a Harper's columnist), or the film director Tim Burton, or the writer Jeannette Winterson.

She came up with the idea for the circus photoshoot over lunch with the shoe designer Christian Louboutin who, it turns out, is a trained trapeze artist.

Having flown back the evening before our meeting from Los Angeles, where she has been explaining the magazine relaunch to Hollywood publicists, Yeomans perches on a sofa in her office overlooking Carnaby Street and sets out her vision.

"There is this amazing heritage," she says of Harper's Bazaar. She's been buying vintage copies of it with abandon on eBay. "When you talk about the writers that Harper's Bazaar had, and the fashion photographers, you don't want to throw away that kind of history."

The writers Yeomans is referring to are the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and DH Lawrence. The photographers include Henri Cartier-Bresson and Norman Parkinson.

Harper's Bazaar was founded in America in 1867, with its British edition first publishing in 1929. It was intended for the "well-dressed woman with the well-dressed mind". Queen magazine emerged as competition when Sixties London became a playground for a new generation of party-minded young aristos who had Princess Margaret as their figurehead. So successful was Queen that Harper's moved to merge the titles in 1970.

Harpers & Queen - like the Hells Angels, it dropped the apostrophe - had its moments, such as when the style commentator Peter York first identified a tribe he dubbed the "Sloane Rangers", but the masthead was out of step with the US, where Harper's Bazaar is an institution.

For the Hollywood fixers so crucial to securing precious time with the American A-list, the hybrid title in London was just too confusing. The branding advantages of the name change are considerable, explains Yeomans. "As Harper's Bazaar, we've become one of the three big international fashion brands along with Vogue and Elle," she says. "Although I think there are a lot of elements to the magazine that make us a different proposition."

Rumours of the name change have been bubbling for years, but the National Magazine Company has, until now, not been able to bring itself to take the plunge. This is partly a result of Yeomans' success in the five years she has been editing the magazine. Circulation is up into six figures (from 85,000 when she took over) and next week's six-monthly ABC will be the best Harpers & Queen ever managed. Advertising revenue is up 62 per cent year on year.

So the radical step of changing the name of the magazine now is being taken from a position of strength.

Harper's underwent a more subtle makeover two years ago, a modest repositioning away from the Chelsea-set turf of Tatler and a raising of its game in the area of fashion coverage. That move brought derision from Vogue, whose editor, Alexandra Shulman, accused her rival of being embarrassingly "derivative" and "unoriginal".

Other than the name change, this latest redesign is also less than radical. For a start, whereas the US and other editions are known by the shorthand "Bazaar" and use that name in big type beneath a much smaller "Harper's", the UK edition will present itself the other way round, in order not to offend the sensibilities of existing readers, who tend refer to the magazine simply as "Harpers".

Yeomans says: "Our existing readers are so key to us and we have really done everything we can to make them feel as much part of this change as possible. There has been a lot of speculation about whether we are going to go for a big Bazaar logo. This is a subtle change, but I think still impactful enough."

The name Bazaar will instead be drip-fed to readers through the inside pages, with sections and supplements being re-christened as Bazaar Business, Bazaar Bags and Shoes, etc. The effect of all this, Yeomans says, is to drive home the message that the magazine is no longer a posh people's journal.

Despite all her efforts of the past two years, including axing Betty Kenward's Jennifer's Diary column in favour of a less snooty affair called Flash, penned by Stephanie Theobald, much of the media, and indeed the magazine-buying public, continues to regard Harpers & Queen as tailored for a privately educated elite. "We are written about in the same breath [as Tatler], and it's really important for us to distinguish ourselves. I would say we are more similar to Vogue than we are to Tatler."

The March issue of Harper's Bazaar will contain something of a Flash special, Yeomans having managed to "entice" a group of celebrities to spend some time together in the Maldives. "We kind of assembled 20 fun, interesting people and I really wanted them to reflect the spirit of Harper's Bazaar," is how the editor describes this exercise.

Readers will be treated to this upmarket version of Celebrity Love Island, featuring the likes of the actors Saffron Burrows and Natascha McElhone, the artist Marc Quinn, the hat designer Philip Treacy and other celebrities including - once again - Vivienne Westwood. The latter, says Yeomans, "had never been on a beach before, which was fun, confiscating her shoes so she could feel the sand between her toes".

Yeomans, consummate networker that she is, once threw a party at Claridge's for David Bailey and was thrilled that by the end of the evening Kate Moss was lying atop a piano that was being tinkled by Ronnie Wood. She regretted the absence of a photographer to record the moment. She dreams of sitting around a campfire at the Glastonbury festival and peering across the flames to see the likes of Mossie and Damien Hirst sitting there with her.

It was in sharing such thoughts that she provoked the Daily Telegraph writer Jan Moir into a cruel portrait in which she described Yeomans as "curiously lacking in intellectual substance", presiding over a magazine that was a "sea of gushing blandness".

The memory of this two-year-old article is clearly, and unsurprisingly, still painful. She believes the criticisms were inspired by her attempts to break with tradition by dropping Jennifer's Diary, and that the insinuation that the magazine is vapid in content was inaccurate and regrettable. "It's a shame, because among interesting communities like the literary community, particularly among women writers, like Jeanette Winterson, Julie Myerson - all of those really great women writers - we've got such a loyalty, and among our business women. That, to me, is what really matters," she says.

"As long as we are bright enough to communicate with them and get them to do stuff, that's all I care about. Whether they think I'm the next Einstein is by the by."

Nevertheless, hers is a magazine that misses a heartbeat over Manolo's Bhutan sandals, drools at the mention of Patrick Cox's python flip-flops and implores its readers to splash out on new handbags "with rock-vixen attitude". Isn't this fashion-bunny world all a bit shallow?

"I love clothes, I don't think that makes me shallow," says Yeomans. "It's nice to be up to the minute in the way you look. I don't think we are slavish. Every woman wants to look great and you are guiding them to what's out there, what are going to be the big trends and how they can navigate them and find something that really suits them. I don't think it's shallow, really."

Yeomans believes that fashion should even be part of the Bazaar Business section, on which she has sought advice from such serious-minded figures as Helena Kennedy QC, David Cameron's wife Samantha, and Katherine Garrett-Cox (the high-performing fund manager who is known in the City as "Katherine the Great"), in specially convened breakfast meetings.

"We ask them what they want to see in the business supplement and often they really want to know about fashion and beauty, because they know a lot of the other issues," she says of these "business consultants". "They want to know about time-management issues and work-life balance and general lifestyle issues, which is our authority."

Harpers, which claims the highest AB readership in the women's magazine market and that 10 per cent of its readers own their own businesses, stages the Bazaar Chanel businesswoman of the year awards. The magazine's claim to the intellectual high ground is further reinforced by sponsorship of other awards ceremonies dedicated to screenwriting and short-story writing.

Whatever some may have said, Yeomans is no lightweight. She grew up close to Loch Lomond after her father, the owner of an international shipping company, decided to move his family north because "he wanted a bit of a life change".

In spite of her love of the catwalk, she did not hanker for the city. "I'm a country girl at heart. It's wonderful to have the space and being in the country is really beautiful."

She went to the University of St Andrews to study art history and completed her dissertation by spending a summer in Paris. She loved it so much that she decided to return, though she wanted to be a musician and was then more likely to end up as a flautist than a glossy-magazine editor.

"I thought I'd just go there and even if I'm washing dishes, I'd be washing dishes in French and that will be great. I didn't know a soul there so did all sorts of jobs: worked in an art gallery, taught piano, did au pair work, a variety of stuff," she says.

She saw an advertisement for an English-language magazine called Boulevard and managed to get hired. It was a hothouse environment where she quickly learnt the basics of publishing. "You had to do everything. When the lorry drivers went on strike, I was the only person who had actually driven in Paris - when I was au pairing - so I set off to deliver magazines around Paris, an absolutely hilarious experience," she says. "I'd never driven a van. One of my colleagues had to come along because I couldn't change gear and steer at the same time."

She taught herself to speak fluent French after an attempt to bluff her way through an interview with Gérard Depardieu led to the actor answering her questions with nonsensical replies such as "I am a donkey", after he realised she could not understand what he was saying. She only discovered this later, when translating the tape.

The Paris experience helped her to a job at the ill-fated pan-continental title The European, but her job was dispensed with shortly after Andrew Neil took charge. Yeomans learnt the bad news while she was in Cannes covering the film festival, but returned to London and managed to land the features editor's position at Tatler.

Having earlier tried to distance her current magazine from the unashamedly high-society publication that is Tatler, she is naturally not keen to portray the Condé Nast title as anything resembling a professional home from home. "It's not naturally my kind of thing, I would say, I suppose. When I worked there, the features items were much more arts-based."

Nevertheless, she concedes that she learnt a great deal from the former Tatler editor Jane Proctor, including the skill of telling a story in pictures.

From there, she moved within the Condé Nast stable to Vogue, where she remained for less than one day. During her first lunch break, Yeomans was offered the editorship of Harpers & Queen.

She spent the afternoon agonising over how she would break the news of her impending departure to the Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman, who was out of the office during London Fashion Week. "I was in a complete panic, and [her former assistant] always says now that she thought I was on drugs or something," she says.

"In the end, I just had to call Alex on the mobile, which was kind of awful but obviously the right thing to do, and she and Nicholas [Coleridge, Condé Nast's managing director] were incredibly understanding and very gracious, which was lovely."

Shulman, whose Vogue continues to thrive and outsells Harpers by two to one, is these days a little less gracious when talking about a title that she barely regards as a rival, expressing the belief that the name change will be accompanied by minimal change in the basic content.

But Yeomans will relish the challenge. The young woman who once headed off to Paris to wash dishes has retained an irrepressible sense of adventure. She spent one recent New Year's Eve in the Ecuadorean rainforest, being woken up at 3am by a shaman, who offered her hallucinogenic tea and encouraged her in multiple vomiting.

"It was amazing. I felt so clear-headed and I swam in the Amazon the next day," she says - neglecting to mention whether she had a pair of Patrick Cox python flip-flops waiting on the river bank.