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TILBERIS TAKES OFFENSIVE IN WAR ON CANCER EDITOR OF THE YEAR EXTENDS PASSION FOR PUBLISHING TO WOMEN'S HEALTHCARE

By Published on .

In her first two years as editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar, Elizabeth Tilberis couldn't keep track of the accolades.

She garnered two National Magazine Awards, the industry's most prestigious honor. She won the Gold Medal from the Society of Publications Designers, for overall design.

Since the Hearst Corp. publication's redesign and relaunch in February 1992, circulation has climbed. Ad pages have soared. And the once dowdy book upstaged Elle to become the No. 2 fashion magazine in the U.S.

Ms. Tilberis is the fair-haired winner of the fashion books, and Advertising Age's Editor of the Year for 1993. But in December, her charmed world fell apart with a chilling diagnosis: Ovarian cancer, stage three.

Rumors swept the publishing world. Would Ms. Tilberis, British-born and the mother of two, keep up her hectic schedule? Would she want to? How would her illness, treatment and recovery from surgery affect her performance?

After a successful operation, Ms. Tilberis didn't waste any time in going back to work. Interviewed on her second day at Harper's Bazaar, she's on a limited schedule: chemotherapy two days, one day of rest and three days a week at the magazine.

In her modern black & white office, 37 floors up with a view of the icy Hudson River, Ms. Tilberis is surrounded by b&w fashion photos, framed in black lacquer and neatly placed around the window ledge.

She looks thin, dressed in a black wool jacket, long velvet skirt, suede boots and a white T-shirt. But there's a clarity and calm about this spacious setting. The only touch of color to pierce this mood is a big glass cylinder filled with mauve tulips and a rainbow-lettered poster saying: "WE'VE ALL MISSED YOU, LA BLANCHE. WELCOME BACK!"

Ms. Tilberis, 47, speaks at a fast clip with a lilting, British accent. And she minces no words about her new crusade.

"I'm going to do a 3,000 to 5,000 word article in Bazaar about why I got this cancer. I'm determined to inform other women," she says.

"I'm a boomer. I was born in 1947. I had fertility treatments, about 15 years ago, in the late '70s. They gave me a lot of drugs, especially Clomid and Pergonol, which are still on the market.

"When I went to see my gynecologist in December with a slightly fat tummy, she asked me if I had ever had a fertility treatment. I said `yes.' Then, she asked me if I had ever had Clomid and Pergonol and I said, `yes.' She immediately sent me to an oncologist. And I was operated on within 14 days.

"I want to make other women aware that they can get cancer in their ovaries. Women who have ever had fertility treatments should go straight to their gynecologist and get a check-up. I was in stage three when they caught it in me. And there are only four stages in ovarian cancer. So I want to frighten everyone. Right now!

"If women hadn't been frightened about breast cancer, we wouldn't be in such advanced stages of treatment for that cancer now. Although the treatment for ovarian cancer is by and large successful, particularly in young women, people should know-and I'm determined to help inform them."

It's not only her new health crusade that triggers Ms. Tilberis' passion these days. She uses the same enthusiasm when discussing her magazine, today's fashion, beauty, models, her life in New York, and much more. Here's what she has to say:

On the redesign of Bazaar: "My biggest challenge was to get the Right Team, because each person relies on the other. If you don't get great photographers, you don't get great fashion editors. If you don't get great fashion editors and if you don't have a great creative director-you can't have a great magazine. That was the challenge! Suddenly, it just jelled. We had our own look."

On the new Bazaar look: "It's very clean. It has an elegance about it. It's serious about fashion. It's serious about features. It's very professional and carefully put-together. It's an unhurried magazine. It should take you a while to read it. I like that."

On Bazaar's creative director: "What I love about Fabien [Baron] is the way he puts a page of heads-not the article's text-but the big headlines with the writer and the photographer's names played up big-opposite a fashion photograph. In my previous life [she was editor in chief of British Vogue since 1987 and a director of Conde Nast Publications since 1991], I would never have done that. Normally, you do a double-page spread and you run some type across the picture. That's how fashion magazines were. Then Fabien comes along and we have these wonderful pages where the typography flatters the picture, as much as the picture flatters the typography. I think that is one of our great fortes."

On fashion today: "I don't feel we've reached where the `90's will be yet. But I do think that what will play a large part of what is going to happen-will be personal choice. And in the realm of designing, there is a great personal choice. You can make it work for you. It's your budget that counts. It's your choice that counts."

On fashion photography today: "I think fashion photography has found itself for the '90s, faster than fashion has. We're using lots of black/white photos. I think the romantic side of photography is very important ... very suitable as we are coming to the end of the 20th century. This doesn't mean we're going to go around with roses in our hair. But it's just a softer look. I don't think women need that hard edge that we had in the 80's."

On beauty trends: "I think beauty is all about information-innovation-and your personal choice. There is an enormous amount of research that is resulting in

fantastic products. You can never give the reader enough beauty products to look at ... to think about ... to maybe buy.

On advertisers: "I really love the game of what makes a magazine work. Advertising is the most important part. You learn from your readers when you go out to the stores. I love meeting and listening to what our advertisers, as well as our readers, say."

On her achievement at Bazaar: "What I am most proud of is the magazine; its clarity, its elegance. I want to produce the very best fashion magazine in the world-and that's exactly what I told my boss, Claeys Bahrenburg, when he interviewed me for Bazaar. And he has given me the wherewithal to do it."

On living in New York: "I love New York. The kids love it (her two boys, ages 9 and 12). The dogs love it. And Andrew loves it (the artist husband).

" But I must admit, it's been a massive learning curve. Massive."

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