Avril Graham: Setting the trends

Avril Graham. Photographs by John Rizzo.

As executive fashion and beauty editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Avril Graham has one of the most glamorous jobs in the world.

The Oscars’ red carpet. Commenting on the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Polo weekends with Nacho Figueras. (Sigh.)

But if you’re thinking “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Ugly Betty,” think again. This is an editor in the best sense of that word — the editor as educator — a woman who brings a warm, nonjudgmental attitude to a lofty post that’s really all about sharing information and empowering others, particularly women.

“I’m lucky that my role also takes me out of the office to be a voice for the magazine,” she says. “It’s a joy to be able to go out and meet people face-to-face.”

Neiman Marcus Westchester patrons will have plenty of face time with Graham when she hosts a fashion show to benefit the Georgetown Scholarship Fund at the White Plains store Sept. 30.

Though she says she’ll have more to share then, having come from New York Fashion Week earlier this month, she mentions some general trends for this season — lots of fur, the continuing love affair with the 1970s with the use of embroidery in the retro look and plenty of red and burgundy.

Looking chic in a cream-colored blouse with a black bow, a black pencil skirt and black gladiator, spike-heeled booties, Graham is seated on a table in the Closet — which contains the clothes and accessories for the photo shoots. As a group of interns works quietly on the far side of the room, heels and sunglasses stand at attention in cubbyholes. Accessories snake along a table. And a rack of clothes awaits a celebrity who cannot be named.

“The major A-listers have all been on our covers,” Graham says. There are two kinds, each serving as an entrée to a magazine “for the well-dressed woman with the well-dressed mind.” The newsstand covers feature text that signal the delights within. The covers for subscribers — well versed in those delights — are devoid of text. They’re all about the art — and the artistic.

Graham points to two elegantly sexy subscriber covers — a side view of a siren-like Gwyneth Paltrow, her blond hair obscuring her face, Veronica Lake-style; a deep slit in her black goddess gown revealing a long, toned, glistening leg. The other is a picture of Rihanna wearing a gold one-piece bathing suit and matching heels and lounging like a pinup in, yes, the mouth of a shark. (WAG didn’t ask how this was done. Why destroy the magic?)

Covers like these have led Adweek to name Harper’s Bazaar the hottest magazine of the year.

“Not bad for a magazine that’s 150 years old,” Graham says of the publication, purchased by the legendary William Randolph Hearst in 1913. It is housed on the 25th floor of the 44-floor Hearst Tower, a historic building that blends an Art Deco base with a jagged glass skyscraper a stone’s throw from Columbus Circle.

But Harper’s Bazaar isn’t about its past, however glorious.

“Fashion always looks to the future,” Graham says. It’s not just the moment but “anticipating the next moment” — not surprising in a medium where you’re always working three months ahead. To that end, the cubical-style office, with commanding views of the Hudson River, is filled with makeup palettes and mood boards that contain pictures of fashion shows organized by city, makeup artist and hair stylist. Culture — an upcoming film, an artist like Jeff Koons — is another source of inspiration.

In such a creative environment, the emails fly and the staff meetings are plentiful. And while Graham says Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey will have a vision for each issue, anyone on the staff — each of whom Graham calls an expert in his field — can walk into her office with an idea. “It’s a democracy,” Graham says. “It’s always a dialogue…” among staffers, between the mag and the top celebrities and models, the magazine and retailers.

And, perhaps most important, between the magazine and its readers, who are not necessarily 18 years old and size 2.

Graham advises women to update their looks, including their wardrobes, hairstyles and makeup bags, periodically. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, she says, adding that you can always mix pieces of clothing or makeup products.

And it doesn’t have to be a drastic makeover: “If you’ve always worn a shimmering blue eye and the season calls for a smoky one, try it. You can do it slowly.”

The most important tool in your makeup bag, she says, is “inner confidence.”

“Never try to be anyone else. Be yourself and accentuate the positive.”

Avril Graham will host a Neiman Marcus Westchester fashion show Sept. 30 at 11:30 a.m. to benefit the Georgetown Scholarship Fund. The store is in The Westchester, 2 E. Maple Ave. in White Plains. For reservations, call 914-989-4908 or RSVPWestchester@neimanmarcus.com.

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