MEDIA HEADLINER: Elle's new hands-on editor is scaling the heights of fashion. Sarah Bailey, editor of Elle, will not be making radical changes, Ian Darby writes

It was time to take an Easter break from the workaday world of media buying and selling to step into a more glamorous, stylish orbit. The journey wasn't far: Emap Elan's HQ on Shaftesbury Avenue, and all of a sudden Campaign is talking about Paris catwalks rather than global agency consolidation or ITV Digital's plight.

The excuse for this ephemeral experience? Sarah Bailey has just been made the editor of Elle magazine, the title that mixes high and street fashion with celebrity and showbusiness. So what does the woman who caught the celebrity fashion bug after interviewing Christian Slater in a Paris hotel have planned for the magazine?

Bailey is cooking-up changes to Elle for her first fully edited edition in June. She says: "I want to take Elle back to its core values of fashion and style. This will run through the issue and will involve making the features as sexy as the rest of the mag."

She won't be more specific but though the changes will be perceptible, they are unlikely to be radical. The previous Elle editor was Fiona McIntosh, who left late last year to work on new projects for Emap. Under McIntosh the title became more celebrity and showbiz focused and this helped to increase circulation from 180,000 in 1998 to its current 210,000.

Bailey certainly won't be ditching the celebrity focus. Under McIntosh she took on the great- sounding title of editor-at-large, which basically entailed hot-footing it to Paris, New York and Hollywood to woo celebrity agents and fashion houses.

Some big exclusives followed, including a piece on Jennifer Aniston at home with her friends and a front cover with Jay Kay and Denise van Outen in happier days.

This hard work has left its mark on Elle. For instance, Britney Spears adorns the cover of the April edition. But fashion lies at the centre of the magazine. Bailey says: "The women's market is very competitive at the moment but our core readership is very focused. They tend to be style leaders in friendship groups - the ones who know who Marc Jacobs is before anybody else."

At this point not knowing who Marc Jacobs is seems like a disadvantage.

However, despite looking resplendent in a Gucci jacket and a pink scarf by heaven knows who, Bailey is more than capable of a rounded conversation.

She went into journalism with an addiction to fashion and celebrity honed during her childhood in a village near Stockport called Marple. A stint as an usherette at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, serving tea to the likes of Alan Bates and Adam Ant, whetted her appetite further. An English degree at Cambridge followed before a move into journalism.

Bailey's passion for film led her from the editorship of J17 to contributing to Elle, mainly on film reviews and celebrity interviews. Before this she had a stint at IPC on 19 and then Chat ("I did lots of courageous pet stories"). At J17 Bailey says there were only so many angles she could develop for the weekly Take That features.

Both Bailey and Elle's publishing director, Julie Harris, are upbeat about Elle but don't predict stellar growth. Bailey says: "Elle can grow but I don't think we're looking for massive growth."

Harris says: "Elle has enjoyed its most successful period in the past five years and this is a hard act to follow. We're looking at evolution and Sarah knows how to take it on in keeping our current readers and recruiting new readers."

However, Elle had a recent year-on-year drop of 6 per cent in circulation.

Does it have problems or is it just a stable magazine with a loyal readership and good advertising? Mark Gallagher, the press controller at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "The question for Sarah Bailey is: 'is the formula right?' Glamour has come into the market well above Elle but we feel InStyle, with its celebrity focus, is the biggest competitor."

Bailey's intention to make the magazine "very hot and talked about

fits with Gallagher's assessment of the market. He says: "If Elle can balance accessible, aspirational fashion coverage with the celebrity resources of Heat, it will gain an edge. It will have a point of difference in a market where brands tend to merge together in the minds of the public."

Massive changes to Elle's editorial team are not expected but Bailey says she will bring in two new faces to fill vacancies. She claims to be a hands-on editor, "forever scribbling on proofs", compared with other women's glossy editors. And she wasn't handed the job on a plate - Harris says that Emap "searched far and wide

for an editor but settled on Bailey because "she lives and breathes the brand and understands the readers".

Bailey is less abrasive than the archetypal glossy editor. It's difficult not to like her even when envy creeps in. "It's a fascinating and brilliant lifestyle,

she says. "One week you could be hanging out with novelists at the Cheltenham Book Festival, another with the Moulin Rouge cast in Cannes."

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