Interview with Edie Locke – A career in fashion media

Image 1 Edie Locke today
Edie Locke, March 2016

One of the many things I love about being a dress historian is meeting inspiring women through my research. Women who have pioneered aspects of our industry, worked to connect with female readerships and to forge successful careers. Edie Locke is one such woman. I was introduced to her via email by model turned photographer Pam Barkentin (my interview with her will follow soon).

Locke has had a fascinating life. Born in Vienna in 1921, she went to New York alone in 1939, as the situation in Europe worsened.  She attended school in Brooklyn – where she learnt to speak English, and then embarked on series of jobs in fashion. Locke generously agreed to answer some questions via email in fashion media:

What was it like working at Junior Bazaar? And with Lillian Bassman? Did your experiences there impact your approach at Mademoiselle?

[In 1945-46] I was working as an assistant to the Ad Manager of Harpers Bazaar, when Hearst Magazines launched Junior Bazaar, as a ” competition” to Mademoiselle.  A short-lived, futile idea! But knowing how much I had hoped to be on the editorial side of the magazine, my then-boss arranged for a transfer to the merchandising department of Junior Bazaar [1946-47] consisting of my covering the very minor dress manufacturers (largely out of St.Louis) and occasional weekend photo shoots, no other editor wanted to go on.

[I] never worked with Lillian Bassman! But did get to know and work with Pammie’s father, [photographer] George Barkentin! When Junior Bazaar gave up its ghost, I followed its then Editor, Kay Long, to the very well-known fashion advertising agency, Abbott Kimball.  [From 1947-49] I became its fashion ” guru” –  [I] wrote the Newsletter the agency sent to clients and business friends and went on all fashion shoots.

[In 1947] one of the Newsletters reached Betsey Blackwell, Editor in Chief of Mademoiselle and prompted a phone call from her office to arrange a private meeting with her and a job offer to join the magazine as an Assistant Fashion Editor, covering the dress “market”. (My ex-boss offered a huge salary raise… trips to Europe…etc to keep me from jumping to Mademoiselle, but after some excruciating evaluations of my options, I happily phoned [Betsey Blackwell] with an enthusiastic YES).

Fashion magazines are so collaborative – how did you organise and manage the various interconnecting fashion and beauty stories for any one edition?

I do believe that you’re only as good in what you do, as the people who work with and for you. Having the right individual editors in place to head the different departments of any magazine is key. And then trust their expertise and opinions and ideas and judgements. When I became Editor in Chief of Mlle, I was blessed with a great editorial staff – Fashion Editor, Features Editor, Beauty Editor, College and Career Editor and Art Director. And a Publisher who respected editorial content, direction and use[d] it all well to “sell” the magazine to potential advertisers. Two things that are crucial: strong circulation and demographics ( 18-35 at Mlle )  and a readership that is financially compatible with the price range of the products you feature, clothes etc etc – whether self-earned or “parental” income.

Several meetings with all editors come first – each Editor presenting her ideas for the upcoming issue. Discussions, more meetings, until the whole content gels and is one-of-a-piece …. hangs together!

How did the nature of fashion photography included connect to your readership? It’s so interesting that college girls formed such a major part of your target audience, how did you feel about the annual college edition and the college competition?

Mlle‘s annual big College issue (August) would be very much directed to that reader, September more geared toward a “working’- career – readership.

Mlle always leaned more toward lively … location photography, than more formal in-studio shots. Moving, rather than “still”.

The college issue was photographed totally on “real” college students, not professional models! Associate Fashion Editors and photographers traveled to campuses all over the US to do this – with a wardrobe of appropriate fashions. The PR department of each school would sometimes pre-select  who they deemed suitable or leave it up to hordes of  volunteers who’d assemble for try-outs and fittings in conference rooms on campus. The toughest job: the gentlest rejections… that would not bruise egos !!!!!!

The college competition – which was NOT based on anything but accomplishment  – be it in writing, illustrating, or fashion – spawned many extraordinary talents, who went on to major careers.

As attending college became more and more the norm, no longer an elitist group, and definitive target audience, Mlle‘s emphasis had to broaden as well. A move strongly demanded by CNP management.

What was your favourite aspect of working on fashion magazines?

My favorite aspect of working on a fashion magazine???  Making it more inclusive, by diligently balancing content between fashion-beauty, how-to features, and intellectually stimulating articles. Feeding the brain!

The rest is history. I went from Assistant to Associate to Fashion Editor and in 1970 to Editor in Chief, when Betsey Blackwell retired. Til 1980 when Publisher Si Newhouse terminated  (fired !) me. Reason : I had firmly kept Mlle‘s intellectual stance … and not made it into a sexier ( [like] Cosmo ?) publication.

A year later, I was on TV with my own version of a fashion/beauty/relevant articles half-hour weekly program called YOU! Magazine. Originally airing on USA CABLE, and eventually LIFETIME, it was on-air til ’86, when Lifetime launched its daily ATTITUDES and I joined as fashion producer and on-air fashion pro until the early 90s. We moved from NY to LA in ’94 to be near our daughter and eventual granddaughters (3) …. and I again worked on fashion TV.

Interview edited and condensed.