Anyone interested in what Glenda Bailey has done to Harper’s
Bazaar is advised not to bother picking up the latest issue, hitting
newsstands now. The September issue of any women’s magazine is
something of a flagship, but the powers that be at Hearst are going
to want to forget this 400-page monster ever happened.
The heft is pretty much the only impressive thing about it. The
rest of it looks like it was put together by a headless chicken –
a bit like the masthead on page 60, which amazingly doesn’t have
an editor or editor-in-chief at all. Top of the list is the creative
director, Michel Botbol, who probably won’t last much longer.
The front cover is OK at best, featuring a Patrick Demarchelier
portrait of a heavily-made-up Nicole Kidman (kinda ironic, then, that
the top strapline is “BEAUTY: How to Get the New Natural Look”).
It’s ironic, too, that the first thing that falls out of the
magazine when you open it is a blowout card touting subscriptions
to Talk magazine – featuring Nicole Kidman on the cover. Also
worth noting for a magazine which is meant to be at the top end of
the market: an annual subscription runs to $10, which can’t even
cover the cost of postage, and, at least on my copy, Nicole has nasty
white spots under her left nostril and on her top lip, which look
as though someone’s been cutting corners either at the printer’s
or at the repro house.
Inside, it’s lowbrow fluff for at least 250 pages: the combination
of front-loaded ads and front-of-the-book bite-sized-chunks seems
to drag on indefinitely. It’s not done well, and it certainly
doesn’t give the impression that the magazine is a window onto
a rarefied, more glamorous world.
As we approach the feature well, we have to tiptoe our way around
a “special advertising section” (that’s advertorial
to you and me) which begins on page 207, takes a break on page 224,
restarts on page 257, and continues until page 282.
Finally, on page 315, the fashion begins. This is the point of a
fashion magazine, right? I mean, this is where Bazaar gets to show
us what it’s all about. The first spread is by Patrick Demarchelier,
of nothing in particular photographed against a plain background.
Some of the photos are better than others, of course (the best, harking
back to the Irving Penn glory days, is on page 330, if you’re
reading along with mother), but the first one is dreadful, and none
The second story, by Carter Smith, is the best thing in the book.
It’s a fashion spread which ought to be the sort of thing Bazaar
does in its sleep, but it turns out that the magazine is finding it
harder than ever to get really high-quality fashion photography.
Because from then on in, it’s just depressing. Craig McDean,
like Patrick Demarchelier, is obviously just snapping away in his
sleep here: 12 pages of white girls in black frocks on white backgrounds.
Then there’s Patrick Demarchelier’s Nicole Kidman story:
it’s dreadful, once again against a plain background, with nothing
approaching the quality of the cover photo. Sølve Sundsbø
has a seen-it-all-before I’ve-been-looking-at-too-many-Nick-Knight-photos
studio session, and then we’re back once again to Patrick Demarchelier
portraits on plain backgrounds, first for a beauty story, then for
a Marc Jacobs story, and then for a profile of an actor. That’s
Of 69 fashion pages, Patrick Demarchelier has shot 35, and might
as well have shot Craig McDean’s 12 for all the respite they
gave us. I’m sure he’s on some sort of long-term contract
with Hearst which more or less forces them to give him lots of work,
but this is ridiculous. He’s past it: while he can generally
be relied on not to totally fuck up, filling your pages with Paddy
D is not going to give you the kind of respect in the fashion world
which Harper’s Bazaar desperately needs to regain.
The next issue should start to show Glenda’s hand: we’ll
begin to see how she copes with a fashion title. The worry is that
she’s going to bring the book downmarket, and less fashiony:
I have a feeling that if she’s bright, she’ll go the other
way, and try to drag it back upmarket from the middlebrow ditch into
which it currently seems to have fallen. Kate Betts got fired for
putting Britney Spears (shot, surprise surprise, by P.D.) on the cover
of the August issue; I have a feeling Glenda Bailey’s not going
to make the same mistake.