Battle of the British imports

September 03, 1992|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Staff Writer

It's a battle of the heavyweights. The September fashion magazines, traditionally the year's thickest in ads and stylish editorial content, have weighed in. They're the lazy end-of-summer dream books that give women a fashion rush which is intended to drive them into a fall shopping frenzy.

Vogue, Elle, Bazaar and Mirabella -- in that order -- are the leaders, but the big competition this month is between Vogue editor Anna Wintour and new Harper's Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis, both imported from Britain to beef up American magazines. Their rise to those heady perfumed executive suites is the stuff of prime-time soap opera.

The story so far: Vogue editor Anna Wintour was the former British Vogue editor who was hired by Conde-Nast to replace then-Vogue editor Grace Mirabella. Liz Tilberis, who once worked for Anna Wintour at British Vogue and inherited the editor's job with Ms. Wintour's blessing, now has been tapped by Hearst Magazines to beef up Bazaar and give Ms. Wintour a challenge.

Grace Mirabella, who was ousted at Vogue, now has a namesake magazine financed by Rupert Murdoch. Elle editors are watching the action.Days before the September rag mags hit the newsstands, Regis Pagniez of Elle published a pointed little note in Women's Wear Daily:

"Dear Anna, Grace and Liz, seven years ago Elle woke up the slumbering fashion magazines of America. The fashion action is heating up. This is going to be fun. Love, Regis."

Oh, my! The world of the beautiful people isn't always pretty. There can only be one queen, and the the fashionables are dancing attendance gingerly.

Ms. Tilberis is getting the royal treatment. The Hearst Corp. hired her at an alleged salary of $1.25 million plus perks, which are said to include education for her two sons, an apartment, and generous allowances for limos and lunch money. "We went after the best fashion editor in the world and we brought her to New York," says Carl Portale, vice president and publisher of Bazaar, "and we did what we had to to get her."

In the months before her editorial debut in September's Bazaar, Ms. Tilberis began gathering her forces and lured photographer Patrick Demarchelier away from Vogue, one of Ms. Wintour's favorites. The word got around that writers or photographers who work for Bazaar will be banished from appearing in any of the luxury publications owned by Conde-Nast.

This month's magazines define their style.

Call it luck or timing but, but designers are thinking retro, to the '40s when cut and quality made the woman of fashion. Ms. Tilberis has captured the look. The cover invites the reader to "Enter the era of elegance." "The cover is beautiful, very new," says Marjorie Deane, editor of the Tobe Report, which follows trends in the industry. "After all, retro always becomes modern at a certain point."

That retro trend is personified by a studied pose by Linda Evangelista in discreet but dramatic beaded netting by Donna Karan. Inside, Ms. Tilberis preaches restraint -- 26 pages of the magazine's 412 have not a hint of glitter, no pins, earrings, bracelets or chokers -- only perfectly groomed models in classic clothes that evoke the style of Dietrich, Garbo and Hepburn.

"There is no longer room for the cheap, the fake and the flashy," Ms. Tilberis states.

Take that, Ms. Wintour.

September Vogue features supermodel model Claudia Schiffer in a peppy red cap and fitted red shift and jacket by Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis. Quite a contrast. One line of elegant script for Bazaar; many teaser headlines in Vogue which tout "Sex, Sitcoms, and Rock 'n' Roll."

In her letter from the editor, Ms. Wintour defines her role: "A fashion editor's job is part scout -- regrettably, hardly ever fashion dictator (personally, I'm not crazy about long skirts!)." Paul Wilmont, director of public relations and communication for Vogue, says, "She felt it important to underscore the changing mood in fashion and preface it with a letter. It is only the second time she has done it. Her first letter appeared in the April 100th anniversary issue and was on an historical note."

They have chosen their corners, or niches, as the marketing mavens say: Ms. Tilberis intends to be the taste-maker; Ms. Wintour claims the trend-spotter title.

The industry is playing wait and see. Women's Wear Daily asked advertising, media and fashion executives to review Ms. Tilberis' debut issue. Responses were mixed and given only with a guarantee of anonymity -- nobody wants to offend the queens.

Ruth Shaw, whose boutique in the Village of Cross Keys caters to the upscale and fashionable, doesn't see what the fuss is all about. "I was excited when I saw the cover and a promise of 'elegance,' which has become a dirty word in fashion. But inside it looked just like Vogue."

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