To hear Grace Mirabella tell the story, the magazine that bore her name was done in by the fashion establishment. In her memoir In and Out of Vogue (1995), she includes a final chapter about her magazine, which had just changed hands from the Murdoch corporation to the French conglomerate Hachette. From the outset, the magazine faced unusual challenges. Photographers and models from Vogue were forbidden to work for her, facing dismissal if they did. Murdoch brought in a constant stream of new editors, each tampering with Mirabella’s vision. But most of all, the fashion industry just didn’t support the magazine with advertising revenue. Although it had high circulation numbers, it never made a profit. While Mirabella’s memoir ends on a hopeful note, things did not get better under new ownership. It closed for good in 2000.
But perhaps Mirabella was just too unusual to thrive in the 1990s. From the outset, it was a fashion magazine that only focused on fashion half the time—a full 50% of the magazine was non-clothing related articles and fiction. While fashion advertisers might not have given it the support it needed, other advertisers weren’t banging down the door either. The January 1995 issue I have shows mainly ads from the usual suspects—make up, clothing, jewelry, and perfume. Only Cadillac, Apple, and the World Wildlife Fund came from outside the normal world of women’s magazines. (I didn’t count the ad for Patric Walker, the world’s most popular astrologer.)
And I can’t help but wonder if Mirabella’s subtle targeting to the older woman was also part of its demise. Although the editors always claimed they had women from thirty to thirty-five in mind, many clues show that it was not really the case. Lets take the January 1995 issue as an example: It included a feature on Bonnie Cashin, then in her eighties, a long story on productive artists who were over sixty, and an account of the friendship between the writer Mary McCarthy, then eighty three, and the philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975).
I wish there were a magazine like Mirabella available to me today. Not Vogue with its celebrities and outlandish photo shoots, not More with its aging starlets and “look ten years younger” advice, but an intelligent magazine with interesting, wearable clothes.