Jeannette Chang is my ‘Woman of Substance’ this month. She is the Senior Vice President & International Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines International, which publishes 285 magazines in 34 languages and 81 countries - Harper’s BAZAAR, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Town & Country and Esquire being just a few.
Jeannette and I have worked together many times and often meet in unusual places. I recall once in an amazing restaurant in Shanghai when I was opening a store there and we talked through to the early hours.
From Jeannette’s office in New York we recently chatted about the world of global fashion and media.
Jeannette, some seven years ago I was staging one of the first serious fashion show events in China and you accompanied Pierce Brosnan on the front row for what was his first visit to China. What do you recall about Pierce - and do you have any favourite celebrities?
The thing I will never forget about Pierce – and this is a tale I have told many times – is that he looked only at me while we were talking. It was only a few minutes, but his eyes were 100 percent focused on me. A sign of a genuine guy - and he was very funny. My other favourite celebrity has to be Tilda Swinton. We both happened to be on a plane once and I had lost my voice, but was still trying to speak. Tilda came over and said “If I were you I just wouldn’t even try to talk – make the most of it!”. We ended up spending time together at Berlin Fashion Week thanks to that flight. I am so inspired by her style that I’ve just had my hair chopped just like hers – very Audrey Hepburn.
How did your career start in the frantic world of media and publishing?
It all began when I first worked in direct sales for Cosmopolitan. Helen Gurley Brown was the Editor and she became one of my mentors. She taught young women to be the best that they can be in every area of their lives. Liz Tilberis (Editor of American Harper’s BAZAAR from 1992-1999) was my other amazing mentor – she and Helen took away the “frantic” and showered me with love and respect.
I know Hearst Magazines entered Asia well before others were even looking at the potential of the region – how did you foresee this potential so early on?
George Green, who was president of Hearst Magazines International and my boss at the time, was the one who first identified China as having real potential for our titles. He could see that, as in Russia, the Chinese really wanted to be educated in all things fashion and beauty. Cosmopolitan launched there in 1998, Esquire in 1999 and BAZAAR in 2001. At the time everyone laughed at us – they thought we were crazy. But we brought the elegant world of Harper’s BAZAAR to the Chinese and it has been a huge success – they loved us for it - and still do!
Hearst is a highly digitally-developed business – please tell us about your impressive social media campaigns.
Yes, Hearst is really known for its trail-blazing on the digital front. We have over 200 websites internationally, for a start. We continue to invest in and to expand our social media footprint – we have incredible resources. As Hearst is a content-based company – we employ some of the world’s most talented editors and photographers - our content is wanted in so many different forms by so many people. It involves a huge amount of work and due diligence, all of which is seriously worth it and very exciting as it is an important accelerating business.
I know how much you travel – we rarely meet in the same city! You clearly love it as it takes you to such exciting parts of the world. How do you cope with different cultures and time zones? - and please share with us your travel and packing recommendations.
We all complain about air travel – delays, lack of comfort, etc – but I really don’t think like that as travel is what enables me to meet the most exciting people in the world. Not just designers, but artists, opera signers – different kinds of people – which I feel makes me a little bit more interesting and rounded. I don’t get jetlag. Sure I spend a little longer in the shower on arrival and I might have a quick rest, but I aim to just ‘get on with it’, whatever time of day it is. I used to travel with five bags – I’ve got it down to two. I’m not the world’s best packer.
You are such a naturally chic dresser – what would you say are your personal ‘rules’ when it comes to putting an outfit together?
I do like things to fit and I like a sleek, Audrey Hepburn style. I wear a lot of cashmere and linen – natural materials make me feel like I can conquer anything. I’m seriously into the sneaker phase at the moment – my favourites are by Charles Philip, a new young designer from Shanghai, whose mother, a former Fashion Director of Harper’s BAZAAR Italia, I’ve known for most of my life. My trousers need to be shorter and tighter now – to give the sneaker a chance. The look I really love is Audrey in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – it’s a very chic early sixties look. Generally, when it comes to outfits I try to keep things simple – and I rely on fabulous pieces of jewellery. If I wear a neat cashmere roll-neck and some cropped cigarette pants in black, and add a fabulous necklace, preferably by the couture jewellery designer Anna Hu, it makes a simple look stunning.
I know one of your Winser London favourites of last season was the Fisherman’s Knit Jumper. Now you've seen our new Autumn Collection - which pieces do you have your eye on?
I'm still wearing that fantastic Fishermans's Knit - I team it with a pair of ski pants to get a sleek effect. This season I am tempted by the Pull On Tapered Leg Trouser, Chunky Rib Wool Jumper and of course the Winser Trench Coat in black. What a great outfit.