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Money. Power. Prestige. With so much at stake, Anna Wintour of Vogue and Liz Tilberis of Harper's Bazaar are locked in a . . . : Clash of the Titans

May 17, 1992|MARY ROURKE | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

One gets compared to royals, the other to nannies. One shops couture collections, the other goes to The Gap. One is a fashion-correct Size 4, the other a free-spirited 14. One is cool, one chatty. One envied, one liked. One is known as the queen. And one is after her crown.

Anna Wintour and Liz Tilberis, the editors of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. They are the closest-watched competitors in their field, the Kristi Yamaguchi and Midori Ito of fashion.

And the world is waiting to see who rises and who falls as they both skate across thin ice.

Thin for Harper's Bazaar because this isn't just a fight for dominance, but for survival.

Once a champion, the 125-year-old magazine has lost its strength. Tumbling circulation and ad sales, and an obvious lack of imagination, have left it all but ignored by the fashion industry and by fashion magazine readers alike.

Thin ice for Vogue despite the fact that, while it and Bazaar have been rivals for years, Vogue now rests comfortably at the top of its class. It's the crown jewel in the Conde Nast empire of luxury publications. But that domain is threatened by a weak economy, changing public tastes and the mercurial nature of the magazine business.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 28, 1992 Home Edition View Part E Page 4 Column 3 View Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong circulation figure--An article about fashion magazines in View on May 17 gave an incorrect circulation figure for Mirabella magazine. The correct figure for 1991 is 560,563.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 28, 1992 Home Edition View Part E Page 4 Column 3 View Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong circulation figure--An article about fashion magazines in View on May 17 gave an incorrect circulation figure for Mirabella magazine. The correct figure for 1991 is 560,563.

With the stakes so high, attention has focused on the two women at the top.

Wintour, 42, is the current darling of the fashion scene, and everybody loves a winner. Her star has been rising at Conde Nast since she took over British Vogue in 1986, then moved to New York as editor of HG, formerly House and Garden. Earlier, she had gained attention for her fashion and home furnishing pages in New York magazine.

Tilberis, 45, started her rise to the top of Conde Nast in 1970, serving as a fashion editor, executive fashion editor and editor-in-chief on her way to becoming the director of Conde Nast Publications in 1991.

Wintour actually gave Tilberis her big break. She appointed Tilberis, who had worked for her about a year, editor of British Vogue in 1987, when Wintour left to take over HG.

Tilberis' leap from Vogue to the Hearst-owned Harper's Bazaar--reportedly for a $1.2 million a year salary and perks--turned the colleagues into competitors.

Their rivalry became official April 1, when Tilberis took over Bazaar. She had not yet moved into her new office when Hearst publisher Claeys Bahrenburg announced her mission: Make Harper's Bazaar No. 1.

At the moment, that seems a long shot. Vogue holds the title in a very firm grip. Its 100-year history of innovative editors, art directors and photographers has propelled it so far ahead of the fashion magazine field that overtaking it seems an impossible dream. (See story, E6)

"You get to be No. 1 by high circulation and ads," noted Don Nicholas, editor of MagazineWeek, which reports on the industry. "But at this point, Vogue benefits from its girth. It is a very good magazine, and just as important for readers, it is the thickest."

In theory, the differences between the two magazines are slight. Both were created in the name of high fashion, fine living and the rituals associated with refined taste.

In the early days, Bazaar overshadowed Vogue. When Carmel Snow became Bazaar editor in 1932, she created a magazine for the avant-garde, where outdoor photographer Louise Dahl Wolfe and exotic fashion editor Diana Vreeland were part of the creative team. (Vreeland later defected to Vogue, where Snow had started out.)

But Vogue showed steady flashes of brilliance, particularly when the artistic photographer Edward Steichen and the socialite Baron de Meyer turned their cameras to fashion. The magazine gained momentum in the early '40s when Russian-born artist Alexander Liberman joined the editorial staff and Irving Penn became the featured photographer.

As Vogue grew strong, Bazaar grew lame, relying in recent years on outdated layout themes and predictable personality profiles.

Vogue took chances, mixing jeans with couture jackets for a cover shot, poking fun at old-fashioned dictates such as "black is out," and introducing feature stories on such serious health issues as schizophrenia.

The two magazines probably will begin to look more alike in September, when Tilberis unveils her first issue of Bazaar.

After years working at the highest elevations of Conde Nast, Wintour's and Tilberis' formulas for a successful magazine are all but identical. They both say you need fashion features with a sense of humor, smart coverage of social issues, a stable of terrific writers and photographers who surprise you with an added spin.

Wintour downplays the reported feud brewing between her and Tilberis.

"I was one of the first to call and congratulate Liz about Harper's Bazaar," Wintour said recently in an interview.

"Vogue is very bright," conceded Tilberis in return. "It will be tough to compete with."

Did she say compete ?

Bazaar's attempt to take over the top spot began with a vengeance.

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