Mature? We're staying modern and fabulous – just like Kylie
Having started out making the tea, Sue James is now a top IPC executive and edits 'Woman & Home'. She tells Ciar Byrne there is no age limit for looking glamorous
Monday 10 March 2008
An intriguing photograph in the March issue of Woman & Home magazine shows Helen Mirren, hours before the Oscar ceremony, wearing a face pack and what look like pink pyjama bottoms, pinning up the hem of her sister's dress.
Kate Mirren's Oscar diary – the feature accompanying the picture – epitomises the IPC title's approach to celebrities, whom editorial director Sue James likes to see as "fabulous, but a bit flawed,like all of us". Like the Mirren sisters, James hails from Southend, although she now lives in Surrey, and the three women had a photo taken together which they captioned "the Essex girls".
At a time when much of the magazine market is in the doldrums, Woman & Home has just celebrated its best circulation in a decade – rising more than 6 per cent year on year to 336,000.
The title may be aimed at 40- plus women, but in six years as editorial director, James has striven to get away from the "mature" tag, which she detests. "One thing that really makes me mad is when people call it 'the mature sector'. It's not about maturity, it's about being modern; it's about generation blurring."
At 55, the married mother of two often socialises with her 25-year-old daughter, who has just started work for a fashion website. A bubbly blonde with an impressive track record in magazine editing, James insists that women over 40 can no longer be pigeonholed.
The magazine's March cover model is Kylie Minogue, who at 40 still looks incredibly glamorous in a backless silver sequinned dress, with blonde hair brushed back sensually from her face. The front, styled and shot by Minogue's right-hand man William Baker, was voted IPC's cover of the month and given pride of place in the canteen of the company's chic new Southwark headquarters.
"You no longer can be categorised by your age," says James. "I often tell advertisers there isn't any typical 45-year-old; she could be married with children, looking for love, coming out of a divorce, her children are teenagers and she's just going back into work, a board director and married without children, or have little ones. I go for mindset and attitude, because I really can't say 'Our reader is in her mid-40s, with two children and she lives in Guildford'."
In a symbol of generation blurring, Woman & Home shares an office in the Blue Fin building with younger women's title Marie Claire, as well as Home & Garden. James's office is small, but perfectly formed, with a vase of giant pink peonies in the corner and a screen print of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, sourced by her art director, on the wall.
Although they do not conform to a type, Woman & Home readership surveys throw up some interesting statistics. While only 56 per cent of them work, 45 per cent are the main breadwinner. Only 34 per cent have children, but 95 per cent are the main shopper for the household.
Glamour is very important to James, who believes her readers really care about looking good. But convincing advertisers of this has sometimes proved difficult. "It's been quite tough to talk to them about this market, but it's got much better. There are still a few that are convinced that nobody swaps their lipstick or perfume after the age of 29," says James. The magazine now has strong partnerships with name brands including Dior, Lancôme, Virgin and BA.
A section called "new directions" is also central to the ethos of the magazine. Both the March and April issues contain features with the headline "It's never too late to..." with the adjuncts "Make £100k... start a new business with your daughter... take a Thelma and Louise holiday... record your first CD".
Friends are crucial to the magazine's readers. The Woman & Home website has a whole section on networking, with opportunities for readers to meet up in real life at walking clubs and supper clubs – James was thrilled when two readers recently wrote to tell her they had met for lunch at the Bluewater shopping centre after chatting online. With one million page impressions and 75,000 users a month, the website – which also offers a dating service – is thriving.
Events are also popular. A forthcoming fashion show has sold out 900 tickets and each summer the magazine organises "Ribbon Walks" to raise money for Breast Cancer Care.
James is keen to inject a sense of humour: "We laugh about everything from the menopause – 'is it hot in here or is it me?' – to dating a younger man," she says.
At 14, James already knew she wanted to be a fashion editor. She worked as a gofer for a fashion magazine in her holidays, making the tea, and utterly adored it. Her parents were supportive and when she left school she joined a training course at IPC, which was half secretarial, half learning the business.
She left to do a fashion writing course at the London College of Fashion, and went on to become fashion editor of She magazine and Woman's Own. With two small children, however, she grew tired of travelling and joined Prima magazine, where she was deputy editor. She eventually returned to IPC and edited Essentials and Family Circle before taking over at Woman & Home. A stint as publishing director convinced her that her talents lay in editing and she now holds the grand title of editorial director: "I do oversee a couple of other editors, but I think it just shows that I've been doing it a lot longer." She is also at pains to stress what a wonderful team she has behind her.
Given its forward-looking ethos, is the title of Woman & Home a little out of date? James insists not, but she admits: "It's more woman than home. I see her sitting in her home looking out, not looking in."
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