Being the editor of a high-profile fashion magazine has its rewards: an impressive salary, a generous clothing allowance and at least two trips to Paris and Milan. But there are drawbacks as well: gossip columnists feast on your every hem length and heel height; sycophantic employees copy your wardrobe; and photographers with prodigious egos must be flattered and indulged. And then there is the pitfall of having your earnest editorial pursuits overshadowed by the more tabloid-friendly stories of where you stand on sable or mink and with whom you are allegedly at war.
These are some of the trials experienced in recent months by Kate Betts, 35, the newly installed editor in chief at Harper's Bazaar. Since September, when she assumed stewardship of the country's oldest fashion glossy, Betts has been plotting its complete redesign, transforming everything from the magazine's layout to its logo--replacing the elegant typeface with bold lettering that she hopes reflects a more youthful orientation. Formerly the fashion news director at Vogue, she succeeds Liz Tilberis, a beloved editor who died from ovarian cancer last April. Betts inherited a magazine that, despite earning praise for its sleek aesthetic and daring photography, has suffered from stagnant circulation.
The result of her efforts, on newsstands this week, has created enough buzz to spike ad pages 70% compared with the same time last year. But rather than dwell on her innovations, the media have tended to focus on the more irresistible and dramatically convenient story line that pits Betts against her former boss Anna Wintour, Vogue's formidable editor in chief.
Both sides insist that any rivalry is merely professional. Vogue is the prestige fashion title for its publisher, Conde Nast, while Bazaar holds the same distinction for its parent company, Hearst. Indeed, from all reports, the women worked well together at Vogue, with Betts' skill as a writer complementing Wintour's impeccable eye. And with the exception of a newspaper article in which Betts, who gave birth to her first child only days after accepting the Bazaar post, expressed disappointment that Wintour had not sent her a baby gift, both women have behaved with determined gentility. Wintour praised Betts in a recent editor's letter (making no mention of the handful of Vogue staff members Betts took with her), and Betts acknowledged Wintour in her first editor's note as well. It seems the two share more than good manners. "Kate is more effusive and engaged than Anna in general," says a writer at Vogue, "but she can also be curt and quite intimidating."
Now that she's in charge, Betts is moving Bazaar into the sort of fashion coverage she instituted during her eight years at Vogue, where she highlighted trends from the street and created the Vogue Index, a popular, service-oriented section. "I think it's important to provide useful information but at the same time maintain the avant-garde photography for which Bazaar has traditionally been known," she says. "I'd like to give people something they can relate to, that's not foreign to them or of a certain insular world."