Justine Picardie is the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK. During her long career she has been features director of Vogue, editor of the Observer magazine and a columnist for the Telegraph, and has written five books. In this in-depth interview with Media Masters Podcast, Justine reflects on her career as she departs the magazine and describes how she rediscovered “a sense of sisterhood” in the editor’s chair in memory of her late sister; discusses her role as launch editor of Town & Country, and how the “dream of Britishness” is popular in the US; and advocates for the “power of paper” over digital – and the connection between fashion and great works of literature.
Justine, this is a great time to reflect on your career, as you’re leaving Harper’s Bazaar to write a new book, Miss Dior. That must have been a difficult decision?
It was difficult, because I absolutely love Harper’s Bazaar, and I’ve loved being the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and indeed Town & Country, which I launched. Having said that, I’ve always, for a long time, alternated between journalism and writing books, editing and the kind of very pure form of creative writing. In fact, I wrote my first book, which came out in 2001, I left Vogue to write it. So I’ve done this before. Miss Dior is my sixth book, and I know the process of what happens, which is that I become, it’s almost like being possessed by a story, by a subject. And there are times when I just think, “Oh, please just go away and leave me alone because I’m perfectly happy doing my job.” But it gets to a point where the story has such a grip on me, that I have absolutely no alternative but to commit to writing the book.
I mean, you sound incredibly busy. How do you make it all work?
Well, god, how do I make it to all work? Well, I’m a very good advertisement actually for having a long career. And when I talk to younger people in their twenties, one of the pieces of advice that I want to give them, is you’re going to work for a long time, you’ve got a long career ahead of you. And I can look back because I am… there was a long time when I was always the youngest person in the room, when I joined the Sunday Times, I was 21, and I progressed quite rapidly. But now I’m in my late fifties, I’m 58, and so I’ve been a working journalist for a very, very long time and I think a career can have lots of different episodes. So sometimes there isn’t time for everything, and there is no such thing as having it all. But I did have children in my twenties and so I can do more now my sons are adults, and I also think the more you do, the more you do.
I mean, you leave with Harper’s bucking the magazine trend with print circulation up. How have you achieved that? Do people still want a luxury print read despite the move to digital?
I think you can never predict the future. But I think that my background, both in a real commitment to proper journalism, proper storytelling, I’m really, really committed to authentic voices in journalism, and indeed in writing books. But it’s interesting because when I came to Harper’s Bazaar, it was on the back of having written the biography of Coco Chanel, which was absolutely long form. It’s a long book. It’s a serious piece of writing, and it was a best seller around the world. And actually, the person that hired me, the two people that hired me at Hearst at the time, felt that what I’d done with that Chanel biography they sort of… I think hoped that I could bring that audience to Harper’s Bazaar. Which is of intelligent, thoughtful, in many cases professional women who love literature, love art, love fashion and don’t see fashion and feminism as being mutually exclusive. So as a writer of books, you can reach a really big audience with a successful book. And I thought, “Well, they’re reading in print, they bought my book in print, so the challenge is to reach them with a monthly magazine.” And that was the challenge I set myself. I thought that if as many people read Harper’s Bazaar as will buy my books, then I will have achieved something.
And what was top of your to do list when he took over? Because, I mean previously just before that you’d mined the Harper’s archives for your Chanel book. Did you think that the brand needed to marry its past with the future?
Well, I love archives, and every book that I’ve written, and in the book that I’m working on now, has involved time spent in archives.
Is that the old microfiche?
Well, sometimes it’s letters. And in the case of Dior and Chanel, it’s the original sketches by the designer. But I wrote a previous book about Daphne du Maurier, and that involved going to her archives at Exeter University and going to the British Library and actually reading a writer’s handwriting. Talk about the power of paper! When you see, whether it’s Charlotte Bronte’s handwriting on paper, or Daphne du Maurier’s, or Coco Chanel’s, that tells you that the power of the object, the handwritten, is extremely powerful. One of the reasons I love looking at archives, and Bazaar has a very, very rich archive because it was launched in 1867, is that what you find out about a magazine’s distinctive identity – or a brand or a woman or a man when it’s as a biographer – by understanding the past, I think that it sort of shines a light into the future. But you have to understand where you’ve come from in order to understand where you might be going to. And that’s what I wanted to do with Bazaar, because Bazaar, it really is the most distinctive and unique title. It’s the longest- established fashion magazine in the world. But the thing that’s so extraordinary about Bazaar is it was launched in 1867 by book publishers, by the Harper brothers, who published books. And they had this idea that there would be women out there who read literature, but that who also would be interested in the latest Paris couture as well as in art. But also, women that passionately had a conviction about politics. So, the first editor of Harper’s Bazaar was a campaigning journalist. She had campaigned against slavery and in favour of universal suffrage, and therefore for women’s rights to vote. And yet this was a magazine that was also publishing Thomas Hardy; it published Tess of the D’Urbervilles in serialized form by Thomas Hardy. It went on to publish Henry James, Virginia Woolf.
And that, I have enormous conviction that that literary tradition as well as the artistic tradition – it published Chagall, Picasso, Cocteau, Man Ray – as well as a commitment to great fashion and feminism and politics, that this is a unique and very distinctive publication that can reach a very unique and distinctive audience.
And did that massive heritage, well-deserved heritage, did that weigh heavily on you, on your shoulders when you took the job? Because you’ve made a huge success of it, but you could also have got it wrong?
Well, I’ve never been frightened of a challenge, but I’ve also always been very true to my instincts. So, I’ve been offered editorships of other magazines, which I’ve turned down in the past because I felt that the magazine didn’t reflect my own particular passions and sort of distinctive tastes. So, I’ve never taken a job just for the sake of the status of a job. I’ve always done it because I actually believe that there is something in a magazine, or in fact I’ve worked for newspapers as well, in what they stand for that reflects my own convictions and beliefs. So, it’s like falling in love with the right person. So I loved Harper’s Bazaar, and so it wasn’t about me and my status and what I might get out of it, it was more about loving something – and it feels like someone actually, because of course Bazaar feels like a person – so it felt very personal and I felt that I couldn’t say no to Bazaar. There were many other magazines that I could have been offered the editorship and I would have said no to it, but I’d just come out of writing and publishing a best-selling book. And so both my literary agent and my publishers kind of thought I was crazy not to write another book at that point, but to take a magazine editing job. But there was only one magazine in the world that I would’ve said yes to, and it was Harper’s Bazaar.
And why did you feel it was about the right time to move on?
I never set a time limit on it, but I do feel there’s something. I’ve always worked on instinct when it comes to my career. It’s something good about leaving when you’re at the top of your game rather than sort of presiding over decline.
Exactly. And I do you feel that Bazaar is in a very strong position. I also think that magazines and newspapers need change. I think journalism thrives on change. I have an extremely strong team, all of whom I’ve either hired or trained. I think that it’s good for new generations, new blood. But most importantly of all, and this is the real reason, is the book. This book, which is the story of a woman, Catherine Dior, Christian’s Dior sister.
It’s possessed you, hasn’t it?
Yes. It’s an untold story of an unsung heroine. Her story has never been told. And with all of my books, they’re stories that have never been told before. And I just felt this commitment. And when you feel committed and you feel… it’s like falling in love.
So talk us through the years in the editor’s chair then, at Bazaar. What have been the highlights, the lowlights, the teaching moments? What have been the eyebrow raisers? The unexpected twists and turns?
Well, when I joined, which was in 2012, I’d actually been doing dummies for the launch of Town & Country. And I hadn’t actually applied for the Harper’s Bazaar job, but I suppose in doing Town & Country – which is owned by Hearst and is Hearst’s oldest title, it’s more than 170 years old – I had to think about what was the difference between Bazaar and Town & Country, but how they might sit together. So I suppose I’d thought very deeply about how two magazines might be related and in the same family.
A symbiotic relationship.
Exactly. So, I would say that one of the highlights for me has been seeing how you can develop two titles side by side, but using the same team as well. So that’s been a highlight. Another highlight was the launch of Bazaar Art, which is an annual art magazine, which I launched in 2013. And that I really, really wanted to do because Bazaar has this extraordinary artistic legacy and heritage, which had always been part of what gave it its identity. But in the past, when you look at the great artists who contributed to Bazaar, they were largely men – Chagall, Picasso, Cocteau, Man Ray – and to begin with the first issue of Bazaar Art, there were men, we had this incredible cover by Howard Hodgkin, and then I thought about the idea of the female gaze. So, the female gaze is a term that originally arose out of the idea of films actually as well as arts, might there be a different way that women might interpret a view of the world, and of themselves. And then it was very interesting when you apply it to female artists and photographers. How is it that women might produce imagery, whether in the form of fashion photography or artworks, that is different to the male gaze? And so, I’m the daughter of a feminist, my ideas of feminism have evolved, and I suppose that I was really interested in exploring how women might see themselves and the world. So that was a definite highlight. Working with a team has been extraordinary. And I would say rediscovering a sense of sisterhood. So for me, really everything I do as a writer and an editor, I would say goes back to having a beloved sister, my younger sister Ruth. And when we were little, we literally made books and magazines together, and we would draw them together, write them together, sew them with needle and thread together and we were each other’s audience. So, she wrote for me, I wrote for her, we made these little books and little magazines together.
Have you still got them?
I wish I did, but I don’t.
They must be in a drawer somewhere.
They’re not, sadly.
We did all that when we were kids, but we’ve still got them.
Oh, how fabulous!
Well, fabulous/horrendous. I had no news judgment when I was six.
I don’t have them, sadly. But anyway, I became a journalist when I was 21, and then my sister also became a journalist. And when I was the editor of the Observer magazine, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was working for the Independent at the time, a place where I had also worked. We’d had parallel careers, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was a very aggressive form, and she died less than a year after diagnosis.
I’m very sorry to hear that.
In that period, she said to me that she wanted to write about it, and she was a writer, and that’s how she made sense of the world. And I think that cancer, or any kind of terminal illness, makes you feel that your body is being invaded and your life becomes chaotic and you have no control over your body anymore and over your future anymore. And she’d just given birth, she had twins, and they were babies when she was diagnosed and they were babies when she died. But she wrote a column for me at the Observer called Before I Say Goodbye, which was enormously, it really, really resonated. And I remember it was quite a fight for me at the Observer to publish that column, because people said, “Well, who wants to read about breast cancer?” I mean, there really was a taboo, interestingly, at that point.
So she died in 1997, and so she wrote these columns, and this was before the days, really, of digital or… I mean, email was barely functioning in those days. And literally, we received thousands and thousands and thousands of letters. And before she died she asked if I would turn it into a book of the columns, but also there was some of my own writing, there were letters to her friends. And so I did with her husband, Matt Seaton, and it was a book that came out after she died called Before I Say Goodbye. And it was an act of sisterly love to do that book. But then the first book that I wrote, and it took me some time actually after her death before I wrote it, but it’s called, If the Spirit Moves You, and it is about her death. But it’s also about the relationship between sisters. It’s about relationship between the living and the dead. And for a long time, I think that when I started writing that book, I was working at Vogue, and I left Vogue in order to write the book and to commit to the book. And for a long time, now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I felt that there was nobody that I could ever feel sort of sisterly about in the same way that my sister, she was my beloved sister, but she was also my best friend. But she was also my colleague in journalism. And we talked about everything, and we laughed so much about everything. And we were very, very sisterly to one another as journalists. So although we didn’t work at the same place at the same time – she worked at the Independent after I’d left there, when I was at the Observer I commissioned her – and so we were really, really… we were kind of comrades. And when I started in my career at the Sunday Times, there were no women. There was such a handful of women in the newsroom, and I worked in an almost entirely male newsroom. I was an investigative journalist, which was very traditionally male. But I had my sister. And then when she died I thought, “Well, I’ll never find that again.” And working at Harper’s Bazaar and building a team, which isn’t entirely women, there’s two really wonderful men that I work with actually on the team. And there are male writers and photographers that I work with, but it’s a largely female team. And with many of them, I’m old enough to be their mother. But some of them, I’m old enough to be an older sister, and I would hope that we have created a sisterly environment to work in. And that has been a very powerful thing to feel. I think we’ve also reached an audience that is sisterly. I think that we believe in… we’re essentially celebratory, and at a time when it’s not just the digital universe, all kinds of places can feel filled with sort of hatred and venom and aggression and abuse. I would say that Bazaar is, at its heart, sisterly – and that’s been very important in finding an audience. But it’s also very important for me to rediscover sisterliness. And it’s interesting, my sister was called Ruth and I could have been become a very literally ‘ruth less’ person, but I didn’t want to be ruthless. I didn’t want to be one of those kind of stereotypical bitch in heels, Devil wears Prada…
Which is not your type.
Exactly. I wanted to do something different and that’s what I feel I’ve achieved.
It sounds like that you hold the memory of your departed sister very close to your heart on a daily basis, and that she still continues to inspire you to this day.
Yes. I would say that Ruth is still sort of my reader, I write for her. I think about her every day, many times a day. I feel… it’s really interesting. Margaret Atwood, who is a wonderful writer, who I’ve had the privilege of commissioning and publishing in Harper’s Bazaar, and that is one of the things I feel most proud of and has been a career highlight. But she wrote a wonderful book, which is based on a series of lectures that she gave at Cambridge, which is where I studied literature, and she said that all writing is negotiating with the dead. Which is a wonderful and rich phrase, but I think it’s true that writing is negotiating with the dead. But I also think that so is editing. If you are editing a great legacy title, like Harper’s Bazaar. I mean, I have come in the footsteps of great editors who have commissioned great photographers, Richard Avedon, the greatest fashion photographer of the 20th century, was largely discovered by Carmel Snow, who was a visionary editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Diana Vreeland, who was the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar, the single most influential fashion editor of the last century. But the dead don’t feel dead to me. They feel very alive to me. When I think you know about Carmel Snow or Diana Vreeland, or indeed the women that I’ve written about in books, Daphne du Maurier, Coco Chanel, I find myself as it were negotiating with Coco Chanel on an almost daily basis in what I do at Harper’s Bazaar, because I’ve learnt so much from these women. But when it comes to my sister, yes, she was a really talented writer, who, if she had lived, would have gone on to write many books, would have gone on to have been one of the great journalists and writers of her generation, and she died too young. But I think that as a consequence, I have felt it very important to know that life doesn’t… well, we all know life doesn’t go on forever. Nobody lives forever, but life can also be much shorter than you expect. So live it to the full, do the things that you believe in and that you want to do, and don’t do the things that you don’t believe in and don’t want to do. When I think about my Ruth – oh, that’s interesting, my Ruth, Ruth, my sister – I do think, well what would she have done? But I also think of her last year when she knew she was dying, there were lots of things she didn’t want to do anymore and she stopped doing them.
Well seeing people that she didn’t like, writing stuff that she didn’t believe in. When I talk to younger people and we don’t live in a totalitarian regime. We’re very lucky. We live in a democracy. We are free as journalists and writers to write for the people that and the platforms that we believe in. And I think feeling that sense of freedom is incredibly important.
And that sense of empathy, that sense of curiosity in other people, how’s that translated into the big interviews that you’ve had along your career? You managed to scoop some very big names. For example, your recent encounter with Michael Kors.
I think that, yes, I’m not frightened of asking the kind of emotionally resonant questions. And I think that what unites us as humans is love and loss. I you mentioned Michael Kors, who is a wonderful interview, and he’s very open and he talked very openly about the AIDS crisis that swept across the world. And I’m of an age to remember that. I lost friends to AIDS. But it’s interesting, I was thinking about this because there’s a new edition of my Chanel book that is going to be published. And I was writing a new introduction and I was thinking of Karl Lagerfeld, who died at the beginning of this year, at the beginning of 2019, and Karl I first interviewed not that long after my sister’s death. And people when they think about fashion think that it’s all about the surface of things. It’s all about froth.
Fluffy and shallow.
Yes. It’s not. Great fashion designers and, and Karl was…
But it’s also about being able to look beneath the surface of things. And every beautiful glossy surface has a hidden depth. And yes, there is absurdity and frivolity in fashion, but fashion can provide really important clues as to who we are and how we feel. I mean, Virginia Woolf, who wrote Harper’s Bazaar, said that clothes change our view of the world and the world’s view of us. But when I think to that, the many interviews that I had with Karl, and he was hugely important to my career, and as a mentor, as somebody that I wanted to kind of do good work for. He, that very first encounter, we were both grieving. And as a consequence, I suppose I was unafraid to ask him about the death of the man he had loved. So I’m not frightened in talking about death and disappointment, and I’ve lived through the end of my first marriage. I think that being able to talk about grief, about disappointment, about lost hopes, as well as hopes and dreams and joy, I think to be able to try and connect with people on an emotional level is what I do.
It seems to me to be the opposite of the Instagram approach, where you will only ever put the good stuff on.
Well, interestingly, I do like Instagram, and I do use it, and I don’t just put the good stuff on. And some of the things that I have posted, so on the anniversary of my sister’s death in September, I posted something very, very personal. It was lines of poetry from a wonderful poet called Mary Oliver, who as it happens, we published in Bazaar, but it was my sister who introduced me to Mary Oliver’s work when she was dying, when Ruth was dying. And I posted some lines of poetry and then wrote about how I still felt over 20 years since my sister’s death. And that had an enormous response. And similarly, when Karl died. So, if I’m feeling blue, I am open on Instagram. So yes, I don’t just skate on the surface of things. I think Instagram can be really liberating for creative people, be they artists, photographers, textile designers, because you can reach an audience without having to go through layers of other stuff. I think that it can be very creative and very empowering.
What other memorable interviews have you had, and encounters along the way?
Well Karl was always surprising, always memorable. Donatella Versace, who I’ve interviewed twice. The first time I interviewed Donatella…
A formidable woman. And it was not that long after Gianni’s death. And again, so not that long after my sister’s death. So Gianni Versace died in 1997, as did my sister. As did Princess Diana, actually. And Donatella, the first time I interviewed her, and we’ve talked about this subsequently, was in a really bad way, when I interviewed her.
Well, understandably so.
Yes. She was suffering, she was in the throes of grief, and we talked about that, and that was an interview that really stayed with me, haunted me. I think that ghosts are really interesting. When you ask people if they have any ghosts in their life, because ghosts, you know, you can be haunted not just by the dead, but as I think I’ve said before, by disappointments, by lost loves. So I would say Donatella was a powerful interview. Karl Lagerfeld, Natalie Portman, who I’ve just interviewed actually for the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, was a really interesting interview. She is the face of Miss Dior. And so she was interested to hear my research actually into Catherine Dior, because this just hadn’t taken place before. People didn’t know about Catherine Dior and the fact she was in the French resistance. And then Natalie Portman, who had lost members of her family in the Holocaust, it was very, very powerful to be able to talk about how she was the modern embodiment of Miss Dior, because she’s the face of the ad campaign, of a real woman, Catherine Dior who was in the French resistance and who fought for freedom. So that was a memorable interview.
In terms of the logistics though, is it hard to get past the kind of protective layers and PR surrounding A-listers like Natalie Portman?
It is, but I’ve always said that we won’t give either copy approval or picture approval to anybody. And I think that people have to trust me. I’ve been writing fairly big interviews since my early twenties, and editing titles for a long time. So I always say to my team, “Trees are cut down to make this magazine, so let’s write about the people that we feel passionate about.”
To honour the dead trees.
Yes. So the people we admire. So if somebody doesn’t want to be interviewed, that’s fine, I’m not in the kind of process of cornering somebody. So if they want to do it, they want to do it. And if they don’t, they don’t. And yes, there are more and more layers I would say, so that has changed. But nevertheless, I think that people, I would hope, and I think we do get great interviews. I mean, Julia Roberts did her first interview with a British title in 10 years with Harper’s Bazaar. Kristen Stewart did an incredible cover interview recently for our October issue, and actually made headlines around the world because she talked very openly about being told you can’t hold your girlfriend’s hand in public in case you’re photographed, because that will stop you getting cast in a Marvel movie. That really kind of was picked up around the world. But she spoke very openly, because this was the third time she’d been interviewed by Harper’s Bazaar and she felt safe. So it is a question of making people feel safe to talk in an intimate way, in the same way that you and I are talking openly. Because really, why to an interview if you’re not going to be open?
You’ve always taken an intellectual approach to fashion. I was doing some research for this podcast and I found a quote from you saying, “There’s no rule that if you are interested in fashion, you can’t be interested in books.”
Well indeed it was Diana Vreeland who said something along the lines, I’m misquoting her, “Without literature there would be no fashion.” And I think that’s absolutely true, that you look at how great writers and some of the greatest scenes in literature involve clothes. So whether it’s Jane Eyre and it’s the night before she’s supposed to be marrying Mr Rochester, and the mad woman in the attic, the unknown first Mrs Rochester descends the stairs and tears Jane’s wedding dress up.
Those great Gothic scenes in literature, the women in white, whether it’s Wilkie Collins or Charles Dickens’ Miss Haversham in her tattered white wedding dress, or Daphne du Maurier, one of the most chilling scenes ever written, which is when the second Mrs de Winter goes into Rebecca’s bedroom, and there’s the sinister Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, the keeper of the flame and the whole thing, the whole sinister encounter between Mrs Danvers and the second Mrs de Winter takes place over Rebecca’s clothes. I mean, du Maurier is brilliant on clothes. The way red dresses and red gowns can also be a symbol of sort of being subversive as well. So I’m so fascinated in that symbolism. And you look at Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, where she was writing about gender fluidity…
Back in the day.
Back in the day. So of course, fashion is so much more than being, “Oh, it’s about next season’s trend.”
It’s amazing that when you do study literature, some of the so-called new issues of the day have actually been around since time immemorial.
Absolutely. And Orlando and Virginia Woolf is a very good indication of that. I suppose one of my big campaigns that has been quietly going on for quite some time is I don’t feel that fashion has been taken seriously in, to use the terrible word, mainstream media. I think that there is this sense… we take it, we engage with it on a playful level at Harper’s Bazaar, but also seriously. It’s a massive industry. And yet if you look at the big broadcasters, they don’t do anything. There isn’t a fashion editor, or fashion reporters, and it’s really treated as an afterthought. And you look at the amount that is dedicated to sport. Why is fashion deemed so irrelevant?
What’s wrong with indulging in a little Chanel?
And if you look at Chanel, you can look at the history of how women define themselves as being independent. The little black dress in the 1920s turning the colour of mourning after the deaths of the first world war. When everybody had, every woman had lost somebody, a husband, a son, a father, a brother, a lover, and they wore black. And then Chanel turns the colour of grief into the little black dress, which becomes the badge of an independent, courageous, feminist woman. And the fact that broadcasters cannot really seem to be able to engage with that, I still find shocking and disappointing.
You’ve consistently championed women within their creative industries with the Harper’s Women of the Year Awards. Have the last few years seen a real breakthrough?
I think that women have often been successful in certain areas of the creative industry. So obviously, actresses, leading ladies in Hollywood. I think that where we have championed women who have been underrepresented is in art. So, artists that are really finally getting their due who maybe have been working for years, and have been known within the kind of inner echelons of the art world but haven’t reached a wider audience, we have championed. And I feel proud of that. I think women writers are now getting their due recognition. I think for a long time that if you looked at the short list of the big literary prizes, they often would be largely men. I think that that has changed. I mentioned Margaret Atwood who’s really reached the worldwide fame that is her due.
The Women of the Year Awards is incredibly personal to you, is it not?
Yes. The Women of the Year Awards feels really personal, because it is a celebration of sisterhood. It’s a celebration of women from lots of different areas, from artists, whether it’s fashion, from literature as well as politics, and campaigning, that we really, really admire. This will be my eighth Women of The Year Awards as editor, and indeed my final one. And one of the things that feels so personal about it is that it’s at Claridge’s and has been since I became editor. And after my sister died, I launched something called the Lavender Trust which was a charity that raised money. It’s fundraising for younger women with breast cancer. And some of those events, the fundraising events took place at Claridge’s. And I look back on it and the women that helped me with that like Nigella Lawson, Sophie Dahl, Thandie Newton, Emma Thompson, really came and supported me in a show of sisterhood. And so that took place long before the Women of the Year Awards started at Claridge’s. But I do feel there’s a very, very personal connection to the place and to the spirit of it, which is that of being sisterly.
And as editor in chief of Town & Country, you’ve also overseen the growth of that title and its international expansion in circulation. How have you managed to kind of ride those two horses at once with the same team producing both titles?
The team, including me that does Town & Country, we just love it. I know this may not sound true, but it really is true. It genuinely is a pleasure because we are writing the things about Britain that we love. Everything from corgis and the Queen to cottages, cottage gardens to stately homes. And you look at the kind of also the huge popularity of things like The Crown and Downton Abbey. And Town & Country, which really does represent that, the dream of that Britishness, is very, very popular abroad. So without any kind of real plan for world domination, we did a little bit of research and found that Town & Country, for example, its circulation was up 27% in the United States. And it was being sold in bookshops, it was being sold at Barnes & Noble. So, I think that it’s like loving something. I love fashion. I’m interested, as you can probably tell, in Chanel, and Dior, and those stories. But I’m also a passionate gardener. So, I’m writing and editing the things that I love.
Has anyone ever accused you of being lazy?
Because you seem to me to be the most busy, industrious, focused, and disciplined person I’ve met in a long time. I wish I had your discipline and your work ethic.
Yes, I do have a work ethic. And I sometimes, probably would do me good to…
To switch off and kick back once in a while.
Yes. That is, I would say, a failing. I can never just sit down and just do nothing. But the closest I get to that kind of meditative state is gardening, just thinking about what it is that I’m doing in the garden. So, yes.
Your background is actually as a punk, and you were brought up in a very Bohemian home.
Yes. I did grow up in an extraordinarily Bohemian home. My parents were really very young when I was born, and they were 60s radicals. And my mother was, and remains, a woman of very strong convictions. She was always going on demonstrations. I remember a really early memory. I’ve got two very early memories of her. One was of her demonstrating against the Vietnam War at Berkeley Square. And then the other is of her taking me and my sister to see the Rolling Stones play live, it was the free live concert at Hyde Park. And Mick Jagger was wearing a white dress, and that made a big impression on me. And she continued, she never gave up on her convictions. And she’s still alive and she’s still a woman of strong convictions. But as well as protesting against the Vietnam War and CND, she was one of the very earliest Greenham Common women. So she actually went to live at Greenham Common to protest against America’s cruise missiles there. And she lived there in a tent throughout, for quite some time, through cold winters.
I haven’t got the courage to do that.
She sounds awesome.
Yes, she really is. And I think that there’s probably things that I have done in my career that she wouldn’t necessarily have agreed with. So my first job was at the Sunday Times. And I worked…
Yes. If you don’t mind me asking the delicate question, then. How did she like you taking Rupert Murdoch’s shilling?
She didn’t approve. But somehow we have, for all our differences, remained close. And I do admire her convictions. So even though I’m working for the capitalist press, you know, which I can’t imagine something that she could really have approved of, I think it’s good to have principles and good to have convictions. And there are certain things that I wouldn’t do. I do have lines that I would not cross.
Well, yes. You do a day’s work for a day’s pay. You’re involved in the capitalist system, but you have unshakeable principles as a journalist.
Yes, I really do.
You can’t be bought.
Yes. And I do feel very strongly also about the #MeToo movement, for example. And about not working… there’s just as many, I think, young men who’ve been abused as well as young women. But I do feel that it is important to stand up and say what you believe in. And I did learn that from my mother.
The world moves in mysterious ways. You have fellow fashion commentator Trinny Woodall to thank for meeting your husband Phillip.
Oh yes. Gosh, you’ve really done your research well.
I haven’t. I have a gentleman who helps me with the research, Adam.
Oh well, here’s to you Adam.
He’s brilliant. Some of the questions have been mine, to be fair, I’d say about half of all of these podcast questions, the good questions are him. The ones I ask ad hoc are me.
Yes, well that’s a good question. So, I’ll tell you the story. So, I split up with my ex-husband. And we are friends and we have a cordial relationship…
The notes do say second husband actually, but I thought, “I’ll just judicially edit that.”
Yeah. So, but anyway, I was writing my book about Chanel. And I had my two sons and I had my friends, and I really thought, “I’m never ever, ever going to fall in love again. I’m never going to go on a date again.” So, I was invited to a dinner party by Trinny. And I nearly didn’t go.
I was going to say, I’ve never been invited by Trinny to anything.
Mainly because I don’t know her, but I’m still irked.
Well, she invited me to a dinner party. And actually, it was also Sophie Dahl, she was giving I think a joint dinner party with Sophie. I seem to remember. It was quite a long time ago.
Can I carry your bags from now on? Can I just be like a hanger on? Do you need a PA?
Well, somehow it had something to do with Sophie, I think. But don’t quote me on that! But anyway, I ended up at this dinner party and the placement was changed at the very last minute. And so it was quite by chance I ended up sitting next to somebody. And I was clearly being set up with the man on my right, and he was clearly being setup with the woman on his left. But he was on my left and I was on his right, and we found ourselves talking. And he asked me what I was writing. He asked me my name and he recognized my name as a journalist, and he asked me what I was working on. And I told him I was researching this book about Coco Chanel. And he asked some very good questions and made some very good suggestions. And sort of sweetly rang me up the next day to ask me out to the theatre. And I rather ungraciously said that I didn’t want to go to the theatre and I wasn’t up for going out on dates. But to give him his due, he wasn’t put off by this. And anyway, we did go up to Scotland together and he helped me uncover the sort of totally untold story of Coco Chanel’s time in Scotland, salmon fishing. And we went and discovered these fishing records together, which showed Chanel salmon fishing with the Duke of Westminster and Winston Churchill. Anyway… listener, I married him! So yes. I have Trinny to thank for it, but I also have Coco Chanel to thank for meeting my really, really lovely husband, Phillip.
Now you’ve said what’s immediately next once you’ve exited Bazaar. But what’s next in the long term, in the medium to long term? What are you going to do for the next few years, and dare I say decades?
Do you know, I never look that far into the future and I would say that is because of my sister’s death. So I think maybe a year ahead. And so for the next year I’m going to be writing my book about Catherine Dior. My husband and I, we’ve bought a house in the country and just sort of moved in, in the process of moving in. I know I’ve got a real long-distance marathon to do on the book. I’ve done a lot of research, but the material is very powerful because it involves the Second World War. It involves the resistance, collaboration, concentration camps. It involves, what does liberation look like? What does a liberated woman look like, when you think of Catherine Dior, who did survive the terrible ordeals of the second World War? So it’s powerful material. And I just got to write every day and know that I’m going to wake up the next day and write. That’s what I’m looking at. And I never think beyond that because I have learnt that life can be shorter than you might expect and so live each day as it comes, and cherish the people you love, and cherish the places and the people you love.
Justine, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. It’s been absolutely fascinating. Thank you.