Who will talk to the women of substance?

AT A TALK given by the European Professional Women’s Network, I was
much taken by the taste and grooming of this audience of corporate head
girls and female entrepreneurs.

While the first women to enter
corporate life aped men in their garish ’80s power-suits, this new
generation wears subtle tailoring, buttery suede and enjoys the
confidence-building heft of an £800 handbag.

But, looking around
the room, I wondered: which magazines would these women buy? Probably
The Economist, the Far Eastern Economic Review or maybe the FT
Weekend’s How to Spend It. A women’s magazine? Beyond a casual flick
through Vogue at the hairdresser, I rather doubt it.

With
Hollywood divas being styled ever more like pornstars and magazines
such as Easy Living insisting that all women are swapping PowerPoint
for needlepoint, it is very easy to overlook an astounding social
change. Very quietly, British women are getting formidably rich and
powerful.

In fact, among millionaires aged between 18 and 44,
there are now 24 per cent more women than men: that’s 47,355 seriously
loaded ladies. Around 2.4 million British women now have liquid assets
– spare cash sloshing around – of more than £25,000. By 2025, women are
expected to control 60 per cent of all Britain’s personal wealth.

Most
men viewing those statistics will say one bitter little word: divorce.
And true enough, that is a contributor, particularly when London
properties are divvied up. But many women have earned it, all but
conquering the middle-class professions.

Half of barristers being
called to the Bar are now women; within a decade there will be a
majority of female doctors; a third of managers are now women compared
to two per cent 30 years ago. And while women CEOs are rare and
corporate drop-out is high, many women leave to create their own
companies: 177,000 women did this last year alone.

What fantastic
readers for any glossy, with their limitless aspirations and oodles of
disposable wealth. But does any magazine really talk their language?

In
March, Harpers & Queen will be relaunched as Harpers Bazaar, in
line with its famous American sister, to attract these big-buck broads.
The magazine already appeals to high-powered women like no other title:
it boasts the most AB-class women of any magazine, 80 per cent of whom
work, a tenth owning their own companies.

The bi-annual Harpers Business supplement is already in its third year and the magazine holds networking breakfasts.

The strategy so far has gained H&Q an ABC just over 100,000, its highest since 1988.

And
Harpers deposing its ‘Queen’ is the last stage, says NatMags, in a
meritocratic revolution which began when Lucy Yeomans, with her ‘rock
stars are the new aristocracy’

agenda, became editor four years
ago and scrapped Jennifer’s Diary, the family album of the unremarkable
rich (although the back pages still seem full of nobby weddings to me).

Rivals
scorn that NatMags, lacking the originality to launch new titles, can
only retread old brands – see the newlook She. But it is hoped the
Harpers name-change will draw in casual readers for whom the ‘Queen’
tag still evokes images of Lord Snowdon in hipsters and cravat. And it
will show its intention of being a purer fashion title, like US Harpers
Bazaar, the 750,000-selling magazine currently edited by our own Glenda
Bailey, familiar to the well-travelled top-end reader or even fans of
Sex & the City.

As a fashion magazine, Harpers still lacks
the front-row-ofthe- shows kudos of Vogue or Elle, the gold standard
authority to define, as much as reflect, a season. And although the
Harpers reader is rich, she is too old, say critics, to want to buy
what she sees on the page, although Yeomans has pushed her average age
down from 46 to 41 during her tenure.

But
Harpers’ trump card is its writing. Unlike other exclusive glossies, it
acknowledges that the reader sees herself as more than a walking
wallet. In recent years Vogue has turned much editorial space over to
fashion coverage, and now there is little to read beyond an anodyne
cover-star interview. Moreover, instead of remaining haughtily above
the mel̩e of popular culture, Vogue has tried to engage with it Рoh so
ironically, of course – by putting TV stars on the cover or trying to
make a designer silk purse out of that sow’s ear, Colleen McLoughlin.

Harpers
was launched in 1929 for “the well-dressed woman and the well-dressed
mind” and has a history of august contributors from Cartier-Bresson and
Cocteau to DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Yeomans, from a features
rather than a fashion background, is attempting to maintain that brand
DNA.

Harpers has extensive arts coverage and there are outbreaks
of intelligent, pithy writing now practically extinct in women’s
magazines. A recent issue had a fascinating discussion about whether
plastic surgery is an art-form, and a witty dialogue between Alain de
Botton and Julian Barnes.

Of course, a high volume of fashion
coverage begets blue chip advertising. But for readers, more than at
any time in history, fashion is everywhere. The high-end glossies may
do it best, with their exquisite photography and avant garde styling,
and their magazines bestow cachet upon their readers.

But from
the much-improved weekend supplements, to the weekly must-buys of
Grazia, women are bombarded with evening-wear edicts and shoe
directives.

In adopting the name and fashion purism of its
American sister, I hope Harpers does not dumb down like every other
British glossy. I’m told that US Bazaar is renowned for getting
brilliant minds to write on fashion – Nora Ephron on handbags etc. –
but the current issue has nothing more cerebral than “Does Sugar Give
You Wrinkles?” and “Help! I’m Thin in New York, Fat in LA”. Britain’s
businesswoman elite expects better.

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