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Beyond Beauty

Fashion stories are great, but Marie Claire's editor wants her magazine to be something more.

October 18, 2000|CANDACE A. WEDLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Marie Claire magazine, believes that women want some heft with their fluff. Defying the traditional concept that a women's magazine can cover only beauty, cosmetics and entertainment or serious issues, Bailey has instead taken a sweeping approach to editorial content.

Founding editor of the British edition of Marie Claire, which was launched in 1988, Bailey took over the Hearst-owned magazine's 2-year-old U.S. edition in 1996, when Bonnie Fuller left for Cosmopolitan.

"When I came over to America from England, I met a lot of editors, and they all gave me the same advice: That would be a great magazine if only I would take out the investigative journalism," Bailey recalls during a visit to L.A. from her home in New York.

"I never heard such low, patronizing rubbish," she says. "All the American women I've been pleased to meet were the most articulate, well-informed, intelligent [and] eager to know more about what was happening in the world. And I think that's the reason for [Marie Claire's] incredible success."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 24, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Incorrect caption--A caption accompanying an article about Marie Claire magazine in Wednesday's section incorrectly stated that the publication sent actress Calista Flockhart to Kenya for an article. Flockhart traveled to Africa at her own expense to do charity work, one portion of which the magazine covered.

During the past three years, the magazine's average monthly circulation has increased by about 250,000, to more than 887,000. The August issue was the first to hit the one million mark. (By comparison, according to the New York-based Magazine Publishers of America, Vogue's monthly average for the first half of this year was 1.1 million; Elle's was nearly 920,000 and Harper's Bazaar had 708,000.)

Seated at a corner table in the bar of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Bailey, 41, is dressed in a trim suit, pumps and is wearing only minimal jewelry. She smiles as she takes the opportunity to boast, albeit modestly.

"Sixty percent of sales are off newsstands. Advertising rose 50% October 1999 to October 2000."

The magazine originated in France in 1937 and currently has 26 editions. The U.S. version has always focused on beauty, but under Bailey, its more serious side has strengthened. Bailey makes clear that Marie Claire is still first and foremost a fashion magazine--she herself loves to shop--and like the competition, Marie Claire covers hair, makeup and, of course, sex. "But that isn't where the story ends," Bailey says.

Bailey has continued to produce meaty articles on weighty women's issues, expanding their length and making them monthly musts. She also likes to include political stories.

"A good example of this is that we got Gore and Bush to write abut why Marie Claire readers should vote for them. What was fascinating, though, was Gore got his copy in on time. Bush, on the other hand, missed the first deadline, the second deadline, and came through only on the third deadline. And then, readers wrote in to point out that Gore mentioned women 22 times. George Bush managed to not say the word once."

She has also ventured into more investigative territory. "We published a list, for example, of how many companies in America produce torture equipment which is used on women throughout the world. This is a major industry here. Of course, we're one of the first people to write about it."

"The beauty of Marie Claire is it attracts you with the sex, fashion and celebrity, but what brings readers back is all those in-depth articles which deal with genuine women's issues," says Samir Husni, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi at Oxford.

Before Bailey came on, Husni says, the magazine was more like Cosmopolitan--sex and fashion. Bailey, he says, has made a "barely known" magazine into a "must-read for the American woman."

There's even a Bailey spin on using celebrities as news sellers. Bailey believes readers are fed up with the same old boring interviews. So, she and her team decided to put high-profile subjects through some paces.

This month's cover features Calista "Ally McBeal" Flockhart traveling to Kenya with playwright Eve Ensler ("The Vagina Monologues") to investigate and report on a women's movement against female genital mutilation.

The November issue, on newsstands now, features Elizabeth Hurley sharing her thoughts on the seven deadly sins and chronicling her own "unscrupulous exploits."

Bailey is animated as she talks of these features: "I bet you I'm [the] only one who can say that they sent Jenna Elfman into a burning building, Brooke Shields off to build an igloo in the Arctic over a Thanksgiving weekend and Julia Roberts to a dinner party where she knew nobody and she acted out [a] scene from 'Notting Hill.' "

None of them were paid. The stars do it, Bailey says, in exchange for a cover story and the chance to reveal a different side of themselves.

Bailey reveals that her December issue will feature the second generation of "Charlie's Angels." "We have Drew [Barrymore], Cameron [Diaz] and Lucy Liu. And, of course, what did we do with them, for three days and nights? We dropped them in the middle of a desert, without food, without water, with no tent, no blanket, no nothing and they had to survive."

"There were survival experts, of course, because it was very, very dangerous. I admire them because it was obviously really vigorous, and physically and mentally demanding."

*

Candace Wedlan can be reached at candace.wedlan@latimes.com

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