2010 February 15

What About Bob?

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The cover of Monday's print edition. The cover of Monday's print edition.
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My job differs from Anna’s because I do not approve the well, I do not approve what features Robbie [Myers] is going to put in the magazine. I do get to approve what our issue is going to be about, however.

Are branding officers the wave of the future?

I think you need a president of a brand because you need a leader. You need someone to say we’re going down this road.

Was it your decision to hire Alexis Bryan Morgan to replace Nina Garcia as fashion director?

When Joe Zee came on as creative director, he didn’t replace Nina, so we were missing a fashion director—someone who’s respected at the senior level who all the market editors can report to. Joe is gone all the time; if he were here, we might not need it, but he’s constantly away on shoots. I just wanted the position filled. Joe and Robbie chose the person. I didn’t meet her until she said yes. She’s in the market; she’s going to get us the right pictures. We have wonderful senior marketing people, but there was a hole when Nina left.

What’s your relationship with edit like? Do you suggest stories?

Sometimes I do—usually because someone has called me and said, Oh, Carol, you should do something on such and such. I suggest, but I never dictate. Robbie’s the editor, and she runs it. She’s been the editor for 10 years now and I’m not an editor.

Is it difficult to keep church and state separate when you’re the boss of both?

My husband is an editor, so I married the church. I feel very sympathetic to the church and believe there should be a division. But there’s got to be a nice road one can go down. I don’t think there needs to be a wall. It’s fashion. It’s collaborative. The same person we’re selling advertising to is the same person pitching Joe on a story…

…and hiring him to style their fall ad campaign!

[Laughs] Sometimes! And we love that. We love all the dots connecting. When I started my career at the New Yorker, we weren’t even allowed on the edit floor! But I lived on 9th Street and a lot of the cartoonists did, too, so we all ended up getting really friendly. It was frowned upon, but it made no sense to me. Where I am now is a 180-degree difference. The good news is that Joe must have been a publisher in a former life. All he wants to do is help us, and we have the utmost respect for someone who does his job. He’s on planes all the time. He’s shooting Julia Roberts in Tribeca, Rihanna in L.A., then he’s back here, and then Paris…

Plus, all his Twittering...

Exactly! He’s Twittering the entire time!

Back to that wall between business and edit. Wasn’t it there for a reason?

You know what? It’s fashion. The fact is, Prada is our advertiser and Prada makes beautiful clothes. Get a grip. That’s what I say!

What about mass-market retailers with huge ad budgets? I saw a shoot in a magazine recently and the credits were Gucci, Armani, Ralph…and JC Penney. As a serious fashion book, how do you pay the bills and still sleep at night?

We have two special features: spring and fall’s “cheap & chic.” They’re perfect—H&M, JC Penney, Kohl’s, you name it. An outfit, head-to-toe, costs a hundred dollars. Now, JC Penney next to the Gucci and Armani? I would never approve it and our editor would never approve it. Once magazines start doing that, they erode readers’ trust, and when readers go, advertisers go.

Do you find yourself doing a lot of push-back with clients?

A lot. I feel maybe what’s happened is that everyone in the business is going to extremes [to please advertisers] right now in this desperate attempt to save something, but that we’ll all be pulling back soon. I mean, I’m so clear-eyed about this. I do believe that when you’re talking about fashion and beauty, you’re on different turf, but there isn’t a moment when I would ask Robbie or Joe to compromise. Not one. All I ever ask when we’re up against the wall is, What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll lose XYZ brand? And so far we’ve been OK. I feel so proud of Elle. I didn’t read fashion magazines before, but now I love it and I’m going to protect it.

Are you bullish on the iPad?

We’re looking at everything. I’m a magazine reader. I don’t think they’re going away. And my magazine makes a lot of money! It made a little less in 2009 than it made it 2008, but it still made a lot, so it’s okay. My magazine isn’t going away!

On your way to a branding retreat with Robbie and Joe your plane crashes in the Andes. Who would you eat first?

That’s the weirdest question I’ve ever been asked. I have absolutely no idea. I don’t really like people meat.

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