Face Lift

2000 could be a model year for Harper's Bazaar. as Kate Betts recently of Vogue, takes over a editor and gives the magazine a whole new look

January 27, 2000|By TAMARA IKENBERG | TAMARA IKENBERG,SUN STAFF

Kate Betts is reinventing Harper's Bazaar for a generation more attuned to cable TV than Christian Dior.

Under the new editor-in-chief, the 132-year-old magazine is less about expenses and exclusion, and all about edge and inclusion.

No garden party snottiness, no isolated runway-speak, no obscure designer name-dropping.

February's Bazaar is the first to fully show off Betts' redesign. You'll find pieces from "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell, an essay by "American Psycho" prodigy Bret Easton Ellis, and cheeky charts and features that cooly combine Hollywood and haute couture.

Fashion is still the focus. It's there on the mega-bucks backs of such celebs as cover girl Gwyneth Paltrow, and in slick, celeb-free spreads as well.

A former star at Vogue, Betts, 35, accepted the Bazaar post in June. She replaced grand dame Liz Tilberis, who died last year of ovarian cancer. Betts said yes to Bazaar three days after her first child, Oliver, was born.

Recently, we shot the breeze with Betts about Gwyneth, wild boar hunting and the changing face of the fashion magazine.

Why did you choose Gwyneth Paltrow for the first cover?

It just seemed like a natural fit. We wanted somebody who represented this new generation of fashion. She loves fashion, she looks great in it. She looks great with brown hair. We wanted somebody who projected bold, confident style. Gwyneth: Better brunet or blond?

I like her better brunet. She looks very beautiful and sophisticated.

Hollywood seems to be edging fashion and supermodels out of fashion magazines. How do you strike a balance?

That's the job of a magazine editor, to sort of take the temperature and figure out what's right for that particular issue. I think there's a place for both. If the celebrity represents something that is part of the message of the issue of the magazine, it's fine. But I don't think every month it's necessary.

For the cover, what comes first, the chick or the clothes?

It comes together simultaneously. We knew we wanted Gwyneth. We knew we wanted it to be an American designer. We felt very strongly about Marc Jacobs' collection, and voila!

Is Gwyneth nice?

I like her. I think she's really nice. She's smart and confident and fun.

How do you make haute couture keep its allure?

People are always interested in fashion, and if you can tell a story with it that relates to what's going on in the culture at large, then I think people will be interested.

Is there still a place for straight-ahead, runway fashion writing?

There's a place for it. I don't think you can have only that. I think as long as the writing is well done, then there's always a place for good writing and good reporting.

The teen fashion market is getting stronger and stronger, are you going to go all Teen People on us?

We're making the magazine younger, but not that young. I think the spirit of the magazine is younger. That's what's most important to me.

As far as fashion magazines go, what's always in style?

Maintaining a balance between what's shocking and new and what's accessible and informative.

How does it feel to be compared to grand magazine mademoiselles like Liz Tilberis and Anna Wintour?

It's a different generation. Liz, obviously, those are huge shoes to fill, and that's my job now. Anna was my mentor at Vogue and I learned a lot from her. I feel the people that I've hired and the staff I'm working with now are a different generation, and we're trying to address a different generation.

Who is the biggest influence on your editorial style?

I don't know, that's a tough question. I would say Anna, probably, because I worked for her the longest. But my first job in fashion was with [fashion publishing magnate] John Fairchild. Those were formative years.

Fairchild discovered you after reading an article on boar hunting you wrote for European Travel and Life.

I've come full circle.

Would you say there's a big difference between boar hunting and being a fashion magazine editor?

(Laughing) Not that big.

Was becoming a fashion writer part of a natural progression?

I was actually hired as a feature writer, not a fashion writer. I ended up writing about fashion after a few months. But, sort of ultimately, at Fairchild you end up writing about fashion no matter what.

How do you stay in vogue?

You just have to be constantly aware of what's going on. The people who work for me are all very plugged in on many different levels. I have to say that Hilary Swank [of "Boys Don't Cry"] was a great person to have [featured in the February issue]. We are the only magazine that has her.

With a new baby, how do you divide your time?

Office and home. Very clear. I do work long hours, but the weekends I tend to reserve for my family.

If you could have any time strictly for yourself, how would you spend it?

That's a dream right now. It doesn't exist.

Do you think work will slow down anytime soon?

I don't know. I hope so. I think it will take a while. We have a lot of work to do. We're launching a Web site in April.

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