Vogue has always held a special place on the cappuccino tables of fashionistas. In recent years, however, its position as Britain's fashion bible has come under threat from both inside and outside the Conde Nast camp. But it has survived unscathed, posting a record-breaking circulation of 216,218 copies in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures.
Much of its success can be attributed to the efforts of its publisher, Stephen Quinn. He forms an impressive double act with the Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman, who joined the title shortly after Quinn in 1992. Quinn, at 62, likes to point out that while other titles might change editor and publisher every 28 minutes, loyalty and continuity have paid off at Conde Nast.
His professional modus operandi is one of total commitment to the job; Quinn is a resolute champion of the magazine, a charmer with a twist of eccentricity (described by one business associate as "slightly bonkers"). His personality is clearly respected and valued by the Conde Nast chairman, Jonathan Newhouse, and the managing director, Nicholas Coleridge. Asked to describe Quinn in three words, Coleridge chooses "passionate, buccaneering, hard-working".
Whatever Quinn does, works. The latest ABC figure reflects a 5.7 per cent period-on-period increase in UK actively purchased copies. Moreover, profits for the February-August issues are up 20 per cent, according to Quinn, which keeps the flagship title in better health than sister title Glamour.
Vogue now carries more than 2,000 ad pages a year and he also claims to have reduced bulk copies from 25,000-odd when he arrived in the job to around 5,000. Quinn's own feeling is that 75 per cent of the advertising would roll in as a matter of course, which clearly leaves a crucial 25 per cent.
Quinn's CV should be an inspiration to ad sales executives. Arriving from Ireland in the 60s aged 17, he worked his way up from ad sales executive at Thompson Newspapers, through Nova, where the purple-suited, long-haired charmer thrived, then on to the launch of Over 21. He was then enlisted by Harpers & Queen, where he rose to become publisher.
When Quinn was offered the Vogue job 14 years ago, he did not leap at it. He had arrived at Conde Nast four years earlier to work on the launch of GQ and was keen to see the title into profit. However, Newhouse persuaded him to move over to the flagship title.
At Vogue, Quinn's urbane manner is a perfect foil to Shulman's glossy pages. Clearly, the magazine has a strong history in its favour, having launched in the UK in 1916. The success of the title over the years has been underpinned by its use of the best photographers, ranging from Cecil Beaton, Lord Snowdon and David Bailey to Mario Testino and Nick Knight.
Its readership divides roughly 50:50 between the wealthy and the aspirational, offering a market to haute couturiers as well as the likes of Top Shop and Marks & Spencer's Autograph label. Vogue has worked on a number of sponsored, cover-mounted supplements, such as the Catwalk Report and Cheap Chic Guide, but would never stoop to give away sunglasses or bags. What it does well is the occasional stonking issue - December's 90th anniversary issue is the next in line.
Quinn eschews notions of magazines as brands, distancing himself from the Vogue website and focusing on the main event. "We concentrate on the detail of editorial content and avoid the empty cliche of the brand," he says. "I would give up if I found myself talking to Chanel about 'brand Vogue'."
Some advertisers, such as Jaeger and Balenciaga, have been a constant for 50 years. Others, especially the beauty clients, are more fickle. Quinn's greatest strength is his relationship with advertisers. Coleridge says: "He knows every client in Britain, is highly respected by all and has a gift for conveying the editorial supremacy and power of Vogue to all-comers and turning that fact into revenue."
Advertisers and rivals agree. Julie Harris, the general manager of the women's group at Hachette Filipacchi, says: "He never fails to impress me in terms of what's going on from an advertising perspective. Stephen takes his job, but not himself, very seriously. He's very charismatic, very funny and people genuinely enjoy doing business with him. He's a real pro."
When his wife Kimberly's affair with David Blunkett became famously public at the end of 2004, Quinn remained resolutely loyal and dignified in the face of various revelations, including the question of the paternity of his son William. On a professional level, Harris observes: "He turned up unflinchingly to everything - every fashion or fragrance launch, every show - every day and every evening and won lots of respect."
Steve Goodman, the Group M managing director of print trading who has worked with Quinn, says: "There's no-one in that world who wouldn't know him or know of him. Vogue is one of the bibles of fashion and a must-have for so many people and Stephen has been important in maintaining that position."
Three years away from the official retirement age, is Quinn plotting to take a back seat? As the father of two sons under five, he has been given a new lease of life. "Having young children is invigorating and demanding," Quinn says. "I used to think of retirement, but now I think that if they don't employ me here, they'll employ me somewhere else."
- Magazine ABCs, page 25
Lives: Mayfair, London
Family: Three sons, Matthew, Jamie and Fergus, from first marriage; two
sons, William and Lorcan, from current marriage to Kimberly Quinn, the
publisher of The Spectator
Most treasured possession: A portrait of me painted by my son Fergus
when he was 18
Best thing about working at Vogue: Working on a top-quality magazine
that is admired and talked about
Last book read: Small Island by Andrea Levy
Personal mantra: I am not paid enough to lie in business