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Fashion archive: Elle launches cross-Channel chic for the masses

Smart money’s new hothouse is international franchising. Up from burgers and pizzas, now it’s pop culture: magazines, fashion and sport. Global culture pusher Rupert Murdoch brings out British Elle in October, after a couple of tasters in the Sunday Times. The She of Elle is Joyce Hopkirk, who’s giving up the paper’s Look pages to be editorial director of the new transplant.

Hopkirk has worked media miracles before. A dozen years ago, as a bubbly broad, she ran the first international edition of Cosmopolitan – in Britain – making its US editor, Helen Gurley Brown, a global star and its publisher quite a few dollars. Rupert Girly Murdoch has achieved both already. But Hopkirk wants to make him an even happier man.

Now a bubbling 46, in a chic creation from Next – the clothing store closest to the Sunday Times office – she is trying to distil the essence of Elle for a British readership in a market saturated with magazines for women. So what’s so special about Elle, which is really like a stylish version of Woman’s Own, and is not read by the trendy young branchés, who go for Prima, Biba or 7 Jours Madame?

Elle has got strong visual appeal, says a game Hopkirk running a practised hand over a glossy fashion page as though it were Thai silk. “I like to think in terms of slogans. You know – the French have told us how to make love, how to cook, and now they’ll teach us how to dress.”

It would have been churlish to point out that Elle doesn’t know it all about love-making. Of 12 possible locations (train, lift, water etc) more than 90 percent of respondents said “jamais” in a survey included in the Elle sample issue which the ST distributed last week.

“Cross Channel chic,” bubbled Hopkirk obligingly. What else? “Well, their cookery cards are renowned.” The fashion goes without saying, but it’s got to be accessible. “We’re not aiming at Vogue readers. The hat on the Vogue cover this month costs £400. I earn quite a lot of money, but I can’t afford that.” The astrology is good, too, so that will be included. There’s no advice column to take. Anyway, Hopkirk doesn’t like the genre, except for Irma Kurtz.

The British Elle team is confident there’ll be no cultural rejection of the implant. They’re aiming mostly at women between 18 and 35 and already they’re testing the product on little groups of them in places like Farnham. Very Cosmo, Farnham: no hostile reaction to a French name. Maybe it’s one of the little bits of the Home Counties which is waiting to be douched with a French mystique.

For there is little mystery about the appearance of Elle in Britain. It seems that Murdoch’s main interest with the French publishers, Hachette, was in acquiring the US rights. The UK rights are a subsidiary part of the deal. Still, it’s giving the hacks on Gray’s Inn Road a lot of fun as they find yet another lifestyle to imitate.

There have been visits to the Elle office in Neuilly, near Paris to discover the Je ne sais quoi of the mag. The elegance of the white office furniture was much admired, though the town itself did not please. An ST writer, describing the place to a gaping colleague, began, “My dear, imagine Pinner.”

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