Mirabella folds

After months on life support, the "smart" women's magazine closes its pages.

By Sean Elder
Published April 28, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

The deathwatch is finally over at Mirabella as Hachette Filipacchi announced Thursday it was cutting the ailing women's magazine loose.

The announcement came after months of speculation. Hachette CEO Jack Kliger broke the news to a group of not-exactly stunned staffers late in the afternoon.

"I don't think anyone was surprised," said one employee who chose to remain anonymous. "People knew we had this meeting at 3:30, so the suspense was there and the rumors were flying."

At least one member of the editorial staff expressed bitterness, claiming the French-owned Hachette had deceived Mirabella staff by insisting it was committed to the title even as magazine watchers were taking odds on its demise. But the staffer I spoke to characterized the overall mood of the nearly 40 employees as "sad but resilient." And all were heartened by what she described as "generous" severance packages, as well as pledges by Hachette to find work for them at another of the company's titles.

"The advertising support has not been there for a while," according to Anne Janas, vice president of corporate communication for Hachette Filipacchi. "This decision comes after having looked at every alternative," she insisted, including trying to find a buyer for the nomadic title.

"I can't remember a time in all my years there that it wasn't about to fold, or someone wasn't saying it was about to fold," says Cathleen Medwick, one of the founding editors and a current contributing editor. "I half expect some knight in shining armor to come racing along and save it at the last minute."

Mirabella began in 1989 as the brainchild (and namesake) of former Vogue editor Grace Mirabella. The magazine changed hands several times, most recently when Rupert Murdoch sold it to Hachette in 1995. It had by then established a reputation as a smart women's magazine, but seemed to struggle for an identity at Hachette while its sassier, sillier sister Elle (where I once worked) flourished.

"A lot of people have very, very strong emotions about that magazine," says Medwick, who worked there under three different editors. (My wife was also there during one of those periods, under then-editor Dominique Browning.) "It was supposed to be the magazine that people would read who were irritated by other magazines. It was supposed to be smart. It was supposed to have articles that really said something, by writers you would really enjoy reading. And I think it was that, at various points."

With a current circulation of 558,009 (according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations) and plummeting ad pages, Mirabella was being written off for several months; recently, staff members began resigning. The departures of creative director Sean Young and beauty and fashion editor Rachael Combe followed the exit of publisher Susan Blank earlier this year. As industry sources estimated the magazine had lost nearly $9 million last year, the publisher's position remained unfilled.

Editor in chief Roberta Myers (who did not return calls seeking comment) has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Elle's departing editor, Elaina Richardson. Richardson announced last week she will be leaving in the fall to become president of Yaddo, the artists community in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

"I felt like when Oprah's magazine came out it was the last nail in the coffin," said one Mirabella editor. "And that's where all the advertisers would have gone.

"It's just sad that a smart women's magazine can't find its place in the world."

Sean Elder

Sean Elder is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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