What Fashion Week is Like for Glenda Bailey

There's no rest for the editor-in-chief of 'Harper's Bazaar,' who keeps the magazine running on schedule while attending back-to-back shows, meeting designers and securing cover looks for the months ahead.
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There's no rest for the editor-in-chief of 'Harper's Bazaar,' who keeps the magazine running on schedule while attending back-to-back shows, meeting designers and securing cover looks for the months ahead.
Harper's Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey in her office. Photo: Giorgio Niro

Harper's Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey in her office. Photo: Giorgio Niro

The front rows of fashion week shows are reserved for the industry's VIPs: big-name celebrities, influential buyers, street style stars and, of course, the trend-making editors of storied women's magazines, including Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar. Bailey has quite a bit on her plate not just during New York Fashion Week but the entire round of collections across the globe. Plus, she's simultaneously making sure the magazine issues are running on schedule (or "sheh-djul" as she says in her British accent) and celebrating the release of the "Harper's Bazaar: Models" hardcover book showcasing all the supes from the past 60 years, from Jean Shrimpton to Kate Moss to cover star Gisele Bündchen. But let Bailey tell you herself.

How does fashion week factor into your day job?

Well, it's huge. All the collections are huge because, as a magazine, we work in six-month cycles. I love doing the six-month plan because the spring/summer season is a tiny amount of time. We get back from Paris [Fashion Week] around October 10th and we have until about mid-December to complete our April and May issues before a lot of the talent [photographers, stylists, models, etc.] disappears. When we come back from the holidays, I'm only in the office for two weeks before I'm off to couture and then I'm only back in the office for one week before New York Fashion Week starts [in February]. So this is the smallest season. 

I like to plan the season right down to the sessions that we're doing, the locations that we're going to visit, the photography and the stylist teams and our ideal models — before the collections. Now obviously that plan will develop as the collections go on. We base all of our ideas around the collections and all of the great merchandise and knowing that we're in privileged positions to go and see all those gorgeous shows. Then we're picking out the very, very best to show our reader. We comb the world to find pieces that we believe are right for our readership and so we're saving their time.

When did you start formulating your six-month plan?

As soon as the September issue went down [in mid-July]. I've already got it through to December. So I started on doing February through to June and July on the very day that September went down. 

How do you prepare for the start of September New York Fashion Week?

I'm prepared because I've had the meetings to assign the stories, [including] the particular designers we want to focus on, as well as the photographers and the locations. The most important thing, certainly for the printed edition, is to create stories. Because we can't just — you're so brilliant and, we are as well at Harpersbazaar.com, at actually covering news stories — but for me, what is exceptional about what we do on the magazine is we create those stories and we become the talking point. That gives you a reason to go back every month to see what we're doing because it's always original and there's always something in there which you've never ever seen before. But that often takes a lot of planning. If you look at the September issue for example, I had my meeting with [artist] Marc Quinn about 18 months ago. 

In regards to creating stories, what are you looking for when you're at Fashion Week?

When I see a show, everything is about what I'm going to be able to show my reader. So I'm looking at a show and I'm choosing cover outfits. I'm choosing models. I am certainly choosing the looks that I want to see in Bazaar and it's again very focused. It's like, look number three: That will be it. We are going to shoot look number three, that's it. That's how I am.

How do you keep track of it all?

I'm super lucky because I've been doing it a very long time and I have got quite a photographic memory when it comes to clothes and images. So therefore, I will remember. I'll remember the nail polish. I will remember everything. I always think there should be a quiz.

You're like an encyclopedia.

It's because I love it. So it comes very easy and I try to avoid all the bad stuff and take that that from my mind. So I concentrate all on the good.

What type of bad stuff?

Well, inevitably there is good and bad and you're only as good as your last collection and, even within a collection, there are often some things that are not Bazaar and some things that absolutely are Bazaar. So that's the thing that I need to focus the team on. Then often as well for covers because [all the magazines are] shooting covers at the same time. So everybody is wanting the similar looks and, of course, you need for your cover to be as unique as possible. So as soon as the show's over, I can tell you which looks we're going to attempt to shoot for a cover. Then I narrow it down and we have all of them. It's a very easy job because all you have to do is know your own mind and know what's right for your readership.

What do you think people most misunderstand about your role at fashion week?

Well, the obvious thing to say about that is that people think that it's champagne parties all the time and that we get up at 12 and just in time for lunch and then we might see one or two shows. Whereas the reality is we probably see about eight to 10 shows a day, plus presentations, especially now as more things are added to the calendar. I'm starting at 6 a.m. and, certainly when I'm in Europe, I am lucky if I'm eating dinner before 11:30 p.m. The biggest problem for me is when I'm in Europe and physically dealing with the magazine. Of course, it's so much easier now thanks to technology, but it's still enormously difficult because of the time difference. Things are happening all the time, plus you have the magazine to get out. So you're okay-ing layouts and readying copy, heds and deks.

Could you elaborate more on one of your typical days at fashion week when you're also working on the magazine?

Well, it happens every single day, including weekends. I think people don't realize that once we start in New York on Wednesday until October 10, there isn't a day off. It's always a really early start and a really late night. I don't think people realize the sheer amount of time out of the office and the fact that you still are responsible for getting out the issues. The budget meeting is when we get back, so I have to work on a budget while I'm at shows. 

Something else, which I think is very important to mention: It isn't just shows and presentations. It's my opportunity to say hi to and catch up with the designers. I'm very fortunate to have excellent relationships with presidents as well because I love the business side of our industry. Of course, I love the creativity and everything that designers are doing, but we are a business and so it's just as important to talk to those presidents. 

How do you sneak in the magazine work?

While you are waiting for a fashion show to begin inevitably you're emailing, you're phoning, you're organizing. I organize my schedule well in advance. Alber [Elbaz] tells a story: He once gave me an award and said before he's even finished designing — before he's even put down his pencil — there's a call from me going, 'So! Our dinner is going to be on blah blah blah.' Because I have to be that organized to fit everybody in.

I know you don't have that much downtime during fashion week, but when you are away, what do you do to relax?

Well, I wish I could say shopping because that's my favorite hobby, but I can go to Milan and never step in a shop — which is so so sad — because there's not the time. But I think the joy is just getting to see people that you admire and respect and see so much talent. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.