She’s definitely going out with a bang. Tonight, Glenda Bailey will cap her reign as editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar with a gala at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs marking the opening of an exhibition devoted to the magazine’s 150-plus years.
While she lamented that some designers and VIPs cannot attend due to travel restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreaks, Bailey adopted her glass-half-full perspective on things, always on the lookout for opportunities when problems arise. “Health is way more important than fashion,” she reasoned.
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She even saw an opportunity in another health scare to write a new chapter for herself after 32 years being an editor in chief, divulging with some emotion that she had hidden from the world, her family included, two bouts with breast cancer in recent years. In fact, she interrupted one round of radiation treatments to attend the Paris couture, and only informed her nearest and dearest when she was cancer-free.
“I wanted to tell the good news and not the bad,” she demurred.
Her superiors at Hearst Magazines listened with compassion and generosity when she informed them she wanted to slow down: hence her new role as a global consultant for Bazaar’s 29 global editions, effective March 1.
An exuberant fashion enthusiast with a ready laugh and a can-do attitude, Bailey recounted how she managed to propel herself from a middle-class upbringing in the British Midlands to the top of the masthead. Born in Derbyshire, Bailey worked at a factory that made lingerie for Marks & Spencer for a year to earn money for fashion studies at Kingston University — and that did not go according to plan. “I’m a terrible designer,” she said. But in Marie Claire Bis, a biannual magazine exalted by her and her classmates, she spied a possible path for herself. “It was just so great, it had a viewpoint, it had wearable, desirable clothes. It had photographs by Peter Lindbergh and I wanted to be part of that,” she recalled.
Her father’s cancer diagnosis six months out of college was a blow — her mother had predeceased him, also from cancer — and interrupted her stint in fashion forecasting. When her father finally passed, Bailey boarded a bus to London with her husband Stephen Sumner, picked up a payphone upon arrival and dialed up Colin Reeves-Smith at IPC Media. “I must have been very persuasive because he had me in the next day,” she recalled.
She was put in charge of a quarterly called Folio, and it wasn’t long before she had convinced IPC to take over British Marie Claire — and install her as editor in chief. That was in 1988, and she confessed it was a steep learning curve. “I started at the top and I never looked back,” she said. She would go on to edit American Marie Claire before joining Harper’s Bazaar 19 years ago.
In a wide-ranging interview, Bailey confessed her enormous admiration for Vogue’s Anna Wintour, her rabid interest in business strategy and why she thinks magazines have a chance to be around forever:
WWD: You mention a steep learning curve. Did you have mentors, and how did they help you?
Glenda Bailey: Heather Love was my publisher (at Marie Claire) and she was a brilliant boss. She had taught me very much to let your team know if you’re displeased and that’s the opposite of what I am now. I obviously have to let people know when things go wrong, but you can’t show your emotions. She encouraged my directness.
My approach to everything was just problem-solving. There’s no such thing as a problem, only an opportunity. I always say good is the biggest enemy of great because I always wanted to produce the extraordinary, otherwise why bother? And Heather was very straightforward, and she always said, “Treat people like you want to be treated.”
WWD: Are you more passionate about articles, or images?
G.B.: I’m very realistic about what I am good at and what I’m not good at. I’m a really terrible writer. I can’t write well enough for Harper’s Bazaar — such a shame. But I’m good at visualizing and coming up with ideas for shoots. I’m good at predicting fashion trends. I’m good at strategy. And it turns out I’m good at fundraising. I’ve raised for Lincoln Center alone something like $8 million.
I love fashion forecasting. I think that’s what I’m really good at. They used to say that I edited by crystal ball.
WWD: What were the glory years for you in magazine publishing, and some of your favorite memories?
G.B.: Obviously lighting up the Empire State Building (with Bazaar covers) is up there. But I’ve really enjoyed the entire journey.
I used to love British Vogue when Liz Tilberis was there. Of course I love Marie Claire. This might sound surprising, but I’m actually Anna Wintour’s greatest fan because I know what it takes to produce a magazine like American Vogue, and I think she’s done an incredible job.
When I see somebody do something fantastic, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. I’m just so appreciative because it’s hard to come up with innovative ideas all the time.
I think it’s the journalist that will kill print, not the reader. If we as journalists and editors produce fabulous fashion magazines, then the reader will respond.
WWD: Can you share what you learned working with photographers?
G.B.: It’s the up-and-coming ones that are the difficult ones to work with. The great photographers? So easy to work with. For example, Peter Lindbergh: You could not wish to work for a more fabulous man. …It was just such a wonderful memory of creativity. …That’s what I think is fabulous about fashion magazines, reflecting what’s going on in society.
WWD: What makes a fashion image very Glenda Bailey?
G.B.: Originality. Whimsy. Memorable. And hopefully when you look around the exhibition you’ll see that, because there are so many incredible greats that have gone before in Harper’s Bazaar’s history.
What’s fascinating is how times have changed. One of the greatest fashion photos of all time has got to be “Dovima With Elephants,” and I encouraged the museum to blow it up hugely. Because what many people don’t realize when they see that image, is that we would never, ever do that image today because it’s horrific. You’ll see that the elephants’ legs are bound by chains. You can’t whitewash the past. It’s important to learn your lessons from the past, and produce something that is relevant for now.
WWD: Do you have a favorite cover image from your long career, or a favorite fashion story?
G.B.: I’ve always been very hands-on when it comes to covers. One of my favorites was Demi Moore. Remember the Alexander McQueen collection with the Armadillo shoes, his very last? I remember calling Demi and saying, “Now, what I need you to do is stand on a spiral staircase on sand wearing the Armadillo shoes. I know it might be precarious, but if you could also just hold your hand out, and I’m thinking you could feed a giraffe.” And all she complained about was the fact that the giraffe had bad breath.
WWD: I know you’re proud to have shaped many young editors, more than a dozen of whom have become editors in chief. What’s your secret to growing these leaders?
G.B.: I always employ someone who has different talents than me, and I love to see them grow. And I’m good at choosing people with talent. I’ve only ever chosen strong people who would challenge me. That’s what making a good magazine is about — making the most of everybody’s talents.
When I took over Bazaar there were 60 members of staff. Now there’s nearer to 20 on the print edition, so everybody has to work harder, and I’m a very demanding boss. I believe in editorial excellence. I think it’s from the journalism I learned at Marie Claire.
What I love about being editor in chief, I very much encourage debate and I love an open-door policy, and I love collaboration.
Also, transparency is something I really believe in and letting everybody know exactly where they stand all the time.
WWD: Your cancer scare seems to have been a life-changer.
G.B.: I felt too scared to say. I never missed a day of work and I even skipped radiation treatment to go to couture. I didn’t want anyone to look at me and think cancer and not Glenda. As soon as that happened, I realized in a way that life is too short. I really want to concentrate on the projects that bring the most joy.
WWD: Do you see your exit as “the end of an era?”
G.B.: No, I’m not so pretentious to think that. And because there are other great editors out there following that tradition of being inventive, of being creative, of not accepting the standard. Like Laura (Brown, editor in chief of InStyle) and Kristina (O’Neill, editor in chief of WSJ Magazine, both of whom worked for Bailey at Harper’s Bazaar.)
WWD: What are some of your proudest accomplishments in your long tenure at Harper’s Bazaar?
G.B.: I think it’s those great people, by far, because they’re going to go on to do their own things. They’re not going to produce things like I would do. That’s what’s so great, the evolution. That’s what’s brilliant about fashion — it’s ever-changing and that’s why we all love it so much.
WWD: What are some of the things you wished you had done better, or didn’t have time to accomplish?
G.B.: You’re only as good as your last issue, so of course I want to do more. I have to tell you, I was sitting at the shows going, “Oh, I’ve got such a good idea for that look.” The good news is that I had a lovely meeting with the international editors when I was in Milan, and so of course I get to work with them and bring my experience. So it’s not like I’m completely disappearing.
WWD: What’s the best thing about being an editor in chief, and the worst thing?
G.B.: The best thing, definitely the people — the collaboration, and the talent. The worst thing, having to let people go, always thinking you could have found a way to save them.
Even sometimes good people go off on a tangent. But if you’re direct with them, and tell them, so often they can turn things around and they’re incredibly successful. I think people just need to be told what your expectations are.
WWD: What do you think the exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs will convey to the public? That magazines are a part of the past, or the future, too?
G.B.: I’m hoping they’ll realize that magazines have their place and will continue to grow and develop alongside digital, just as when radio or TV came up, it didn’t put a stop to newspapers. But I do think it acts as a reminder to anybody producing magazines that we all get our news online. So to produce something which is relevant with a monthly format, it has to be memorable. I always say to my team, we’re not just about hemlines, we’re about headlines.
WWD: Do you feel you adapted well to the digital revolution, or is it something to be tackled by a new generation?
G.B.: I don’t think I’ve had the opportunity, because as you know it’s separate at Hearst. That’s the one thing I’m most looking forward to in my new role is getting involved in digital, particularly video. I can’t wait. I don’t think it matters what your background is. Everybody can be an editor now and that’s something I love and want to push that idea. Magazines and digital are in praise of the individual. As I always say, Bazaar should be the party that everyone’s invited to, whether it’s print or digital.
Anybody from Condé Nast or any other publishing house, they’re all welcome to come, and they are coming to the gala. I think that’s what the industry should be about. We should be supporting each other in these difficult times. I’ve learned a lot from being arms-wide-open. I think by being narrow, you show weakness. You’re much better to be open arms and inclusive. I know it’s a novel approach in our industry, but it’s one that’s always worked for me.
WWD: Would you recommend fashion editing as a career? What advice would you give to young people who want to work in fashion media today?
G.B.: Hundred percent. My advice: Be invaluable. You have to be essential, that people can’t work without you, so that you’re the solution. The other thing I would say: You must do your homework, you must be knowledgeable, and you must be passionate, because it is hard, and there’s no doubt about it — it’s very competitive, but so few people bother to do the research and are knowledgeable. Talent is so rare. I worship talent. I try to make members of my team feel like the goddesses or gods that they are.
You want to encourage people to be the best that they can be. Think how proud you must feel to have their work at the Arts Décoratifs. I say to the team, “Is it museum-worthy?”
WWD: Have you ever considered jumping into another facet of the industry, like sales, PR, retail or brand management?
G.B.: Strategy. Frankly, I find it very creative to make money, and I’m very good on trends, so I know what’s coming next. When I was growing up, before I ever realized it was possible to be an editor in chief, I wanted to create advertising. And now we have an opportunity, because you can do native (advertising), which I love. Also, I love doing events, because I love meeting readers. Experiential, those parts of the industry I really want to get more involved in. A few people have asked me to be on their boards, and I’ve never been allowed to before. Obviously, I’d have to ask permission from Hearst, but I think there might be an opportunity for me and I’d welcome that.
I still want to have enough free time for Steve and me to enjoy. We want to buy a house and we want to do it up. We’ve always rented.
WWD: You plan to apply your experience to the business side now. What do you hope to accomplish?
G.B.: As well as editorial, of course.
On the business side, maybe it’s just that other people’s problems are easier to solve, but I look at companies and I think, “This is what I would do if I could contribute strategy.” There are so many brands in our industry that could so benefit from fresh eyes, I think, with the understanding I have, and the knowledge I have, and frankly the contacts I have.
Fashion shouldn’t just be a vanity project, it is a business to make money, and keep people employed, which is honorable.
WWD: What are your first tasks and your first goals in your new life?
G.B.: Professionally, the first task is to get the Bazaar exhibit to tour. Maybe in the future there’ll be an opportunity for me to collaborate with someone who’s worked perhaps at Condé Nast, you never know. Or a designer, for example. That would be unique. Obviously, I’m a Hearst employee.
But I’m more interested in working with people who you admire than accepting the norm and doing things the standard way.