A Bazaar royal success
'Harpers & Queen' was once an upper-crust bastion, but a year on and shorn of its Sloanes, 'Bazaar' is paying off. Matthew Bell reports
Sunday 31 August 2008
It's been a year since Lucy Yeomans finally killed the Queen from the Harpers masthead, and renamed the magazine Harper's Bazaar. The radical move was the final stage of a transformation which began when Yeomans became editor, aged only 29, in 2000. Initially management at The National Magazine Company, which publishes the title, were resistant to meddling with the brand, but recent circulation figures show Yeomans' vision – for a big, glossy, upmarket features and fashion-orientated magazine – is paying off.
When Yeomans joined – she was poached from Vogue on her first day – Harpers was a hangover from the Sloane days of the Eighties, chronicling the lives, parties and trends of the upper classes. "Harpers & Queen, as it then was, was more like Tatler," she says. "It was quite exclusive in its readership and was aimed at a smaller audience. What's fantastic is that it's now come into the mainstream, as you can see by the fact beauty brands use us to, say, endorse their mascara on television."
Ditching the aristocracy in favour of cosmetics companies was "nothing personal", but as Yeomans talks it is clear she is a strong believer in meritocracy. "I love people who are achieving things", she enthuses, "whether it's in music, fashion, the arts, whatever." Tomorrow, Yeomans will be handing out the gongs at her magazine's Woman of the Year awards, formerly the Businesswoman of the Year Awards. "We've got some big names coming, but there will also be one or two women the readers may not necessarily have heard of."
When Yeomans first purged Bazaar of the nobs and multi-barrelled names it was not immediately apparent who would replace them. In a market saturated with women's glossies, there was a danger the title could lose its identity. But Yeomans has no regrets. "The move away from the society tag has freed us up to do much more, and we can now bring in all sorts of exciting different things. I don't think there's room for snobbery any more, do you?"
The current issue is peppered with names from fashion, design, music and art, including Alexander McQueen, Sophie Dahl, Rosamund Pike, Sir Peter Blake, Lily Cole, and The Kills, but intriguingly also features an interview with the Duchess of Devonshire. Are the toffs creeping back in? "The beauty of it is we now don't have to worry about who we're featuring. When it first changed we would think, Oh God, we can't do this or that because people will think it's a bit old-society for the modern woman. But now we can feature Debo Devonshire for what she has achieved, not just because of who she is. She's an amazing character. It's all about the mix – it's like one big party where you might see a Rolling Stone next to the Duchess of Devonshire."
And the party is going strong. Circulation has risen steadily – the latest ABC figures show a 3.1 per cent year-on-year increase to 109,146. This is more than Tatler, which shifts about 90,000 copies per month, but still much less than most women's glossies such as Cosmopolitan – 470,735; or Glamour – 551,351; or Vogue, which Yeomans now sees as her nearest competition, which has a circulation of 221,090.
"It's Vogue we find ourselves going up against. But we are not trying to be Vogue. I think Vogue has a duty to be the fashion bible, probably more slavishly following the catwalks. The great thing about Bazaar is that we can edit the trends – our readers are not going to go out and buy lime green pop socks and silver hot pants because it's the fashion. Actually what they'll do is go and buy, say, a beautiful Lanvin dress."
But with so many other monthly women's glossies crammed on the shelves, what does Harper's offer that is unique? "I suppose it's our features. We're not just about fashion, although we have beefed up our fashion coverage a lot." So it's Vogue with more brains – isn't that what Vanity Fair does? "There's an element of Vanity Fair. We're not commissioning 10,000-word features, although we do sometimes have a 5,000-word feature. If something is relevant to us we'll do it. For example, we've got a piece coming up about marriage, but by Germaine Greer. And Russell Brand has done a shoot in which he's the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood .... It's about unexpected collaborations."
Yeomans' enthusiasm for "mixing it up" is convincing. "I like the people we write about to also write for us." Hence shoe designer Manolo Blahnik is the unlikely film critic.
"Graydon [Carter] says [his] Vanity Fair is a society magazine in that it's about the people who shape society. Bazaar is also about society, but now it's with a small 's'." Yeomans' references in conversation to Manolo or Graydon are revealing – she is a formidable networker with an impressive contacts book. The magazine's party section regularly features snaps of Yeomans herself – in the September issue she is with Mary McCartney on one page, with designer Matthew Williamson on another. "I'm lucky that I meet all these wonderful people through my work," she says, blushing slightly.
One of her people-of-the-moment is Samantha Cameron. "I think Samantha is amazing. For me, Sam is an absolute Bazaar woman. She's got a kind of independence to her that a lot of the 'First Ladies' perhaps don't. There she is being incredibly supportive with her husband but she's also got a very important job in her own right. She very much knows her own mind, she's interesting and funny. She's charming and has a great character. That's what I love."
Yeomans is equally impressed by David Cameron's transformation of the Conservative Party. "It's been an extraordinary marketing achievement.... Cameron's been clever, playing a quiet game. I've met him, and I think he's very charismatic .... But the duty of the magazine is not to tie itself to any political party but to get a sense of what's happening in society. And that's what we're doing."
There is a sense that Yeomans would like to feature more politics in her magazine, and she says she is excited to be "doing something" with Boris Johnson soon, whom she "loves". But the bulk of British politicians are simply too dull for Bazaar: "We get a bit jealous of American Vanity Fair because there are all these fabulous colourful characters in US politics and not all of them translate British-wise into the pages of Bazaar."
After eight years of change, does Yeomans finally feel happy with the product? "Yes, but I believe magazines need to work a lot harder. There are some design changes coming up in the spring." Bazaar's sister magazine Cosmopolitan enjoyed a boost in sales five years ago when it launched a handbag-size edition, but Yeomans rejects the idea for Bazaar. "No, if anything I'd like a bigger version – it's such a luxurious magazine that we need the big spaces for the images."
After an hour of listening to Yeomans enthuse about Bazaar, it is convincing to hear her declare she "lives and breathes" the magazine. She plays down the suggestion it is time for her to move on to new pastures. But, aged only 37, she has a long future ahead. Does she have an eye on a bigger prize, perhaps following in the footsteps of the godmother of magazine editors, Tina Brown, and crossing the Atlantic? "I don't rule out going to America," she says coyly. "It all depends on where you are at what time of life, and what's going on in your life personally."
Yeomans is unmarried, but has a long-term boyfriend. When we meet she has just returned from a holiday in Ibiza with a group of friends, and admits she can't believe her luck. "Ibiza is where I used to go in my twenties, but this time we were in this amazing villa."
At times Yeomans' exuberance is overwhelming, but her enthusiasm for her work leaves one in no doubt. "Sometimes ... I just can't believe the things I do. The great thing is it doesn't get boring because people and life don't get boring."
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