First Mover: Carol Smith

The new publisher of 'Harper's Bazaar' refuses to be derivative—even if her hair reminds you of someone

You started at Elle in 2002 before winding up at Bazaar. How do you see the fashion category now?

The core is the core, and in many ways, they sit in the same position. The great thing about fashion is, it’s print first. I don’t fear losing fashion’s strong foundation. Bazaar continues to have that “ahhh” moment when you open the magazine. When it comes to magazines, we were Americans’ first fashion magazine. I want it to be America’s best magazine.

How do you do that?

Hard work. Obsession.

You’re reducing the frequency to 10 issues in 2012 by combining the December with January editions and continuing to run a June-July issue. Is Bazaar on the defensive?

It’s not a defensive move. January and July were not profitable for Bazaar. I got to take the savings and reinvest in the magazine. It just about covers the trim size [increase].

Do you see bringing reality television like Project Runway, which you took to Elle, to Bazaar?

I was so lucky with Project Runway. Project Runway happened because Vogue turned it down. What I think we need to do with Bazaar is be in the right place so we can capitalize on those opportunities. I love the More Reinvention Convention. Maybe Bazaar needs to do something like that. Here’s what I do know: I don’t want to be derivative. If you’re going to fail, fail at something new.

Now all the fashion books seem to be getting into e-commerce.

I’m going to do it. I’m going to open The Bazaar. It’s going to be in spring 2012. It will be digital, but it might be a store within a store, too. It will be entirely connected to edit. Glenda [Bailey, the editor] is entirely on board. I know David [Carey, Hearst Magazines president] was very interested in it because when I went to Condé Nast, he was working on something with Gourmet that was very similar. We are most likely going to choose a retailer in the next few weeks. They’re e-commerce, but also brick and mortar. We may have a chance to open with a temporary pop-up in fall 2012 as well.

Any lessons learned from your short tenure at Condé Nast?

Don’t go to a [new] job because you had a bad day in the office or a fight with your boss. I had a difficult time with my boss—not Jack [Kliger], who I love. Condé Nast is very seductive, and their products are seductive. I thought it was great, working on fashion and food. But it’s a narrow canvas.

You once said women make better managers. What could they be doing more of in publishing?

I still think women make better managers. But women aren’t pushing enough. I would like to see more of that. I still think we’re challenged.

Best part about being the publisher of Bazaar?

The fashion. People say it’s in my genes. There were three girls in my family. I remember my dad yelling at my mom, “I can’t stand these bills anymore!” So she opened a store. It’s 2011, and now my sister runs it. I always felt like Anne Klein and Donna Karan were at the dinner table.

Have you always had the bob?

Until my senior year in high school. It was very long in college. At some point you start to look ridiculous if you have long hair. And I do look like Anna Wintour.

Do you ever get mistaken for her?

Oh my God, so often. Once I did sign an autograph. It was for a 9-year-old girl. I didn’t want to disappoint.