Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Habitually Chic Q&A with Margaret Russell

As you probably know, ELLE DECOR is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year with the launch of their new book Style and Substance: The Best of ELLE DECOR. Editor in Chief Margaret Russell has been there since the beginning and she was gracious enough to take time out of her busy day to talk about ELLE DECOR, the new book, and the future of magazines! Enjoy!

HC: You’ve helped found ELLE DECOR 20 years ago and have been the editor in chief since 2000. What is the biggest change you’ve seen to the design industry in that time?

MR: The manner in which magazines are produced has changed exponentially—honestly, we used to write on typewriters! And our world is still changing; it’s the most exciting time in terms of technology, digital capabilities, and increased and more varied means of delivering ideas and content. But the most important development of the past two decades is clearly the Internet—Google, websites, design blogs, Facebook—even the things we haven’t yet imagined.

HC: What are the criteria that you and the editors use to determine if a project is right for ELLE DECOR?

MR: ELLE DECOR’s design and decoration editor Anita Sarsidi and I review most projects together and I think we balance each other well; plus, it’s not really about our personal taste, it’s what we believe will work for the magazine and our readers. We are both drawn to places that offer lots of ideas, that have a sense of history and real life to them, and those that reflect the owner’s taste and personality. We have neither need nor desire to publish interiors that are brand-spanking-new or look like a tastefully organized furniture showroom; our readers expect and deserve better.

HC: How hard was it to go back through the ELLE DECOR archives and choose the best rooms of the last 20 years of ELLE DECOR for your new book Style and Substance: The Best of ELLE DECOR? Do you have a favorite?

MR: It wasn’t hard at all; it was time-consuming and I did most of it at night and on Sundays, but it was truly a pleasure. There were places I’d forgotten that I loved seeing again, a few layouts that admittedly made me wince, and many ideas that will inspire some tweaks in our lineups and format in the future.

HC: We’ve seen so many magazines close in the last few years. Do you think that traditional magazines will be able to survive in a world that has become increasingly digital?

MR: Print magazines will absolutely survive, though we all need to be even more creative, smart, focused, and discerning. There’s no margin for error. Magazines are now brands—brands which must exist on all levels—print, online, TV, books, and perhaps as ancillary signature products.

HC: I know that ELLE DECOR is doing very well at the moment so what is that you are doing that keeps readers anxiously awaiting their new issue every month?

MR: I am wildly fortunate to work with a terrific team; we’re all passionate about what we do, curious about what’s coming next, and driven to discover new talent and the best in design.

HC: I don’t think we’ve seen your home published anywhere. Would you ever be willing to open it up to your readers online or in the magazine?

MR: I’m moving to a new place this year, which will be a big project, but I always prefer to focus on others in ELLE DECOR and not me; I’m far too private!

HC: What do you see for the next 20 years of ELLE DECOR?

MR: ELLE DECOR has done well because we’ve never lost sight of our original mission: The magazine was launched 20 years ago as a sister publication to ELLE and ELLE DECORATION and is now one of 24 international ELLE DECO editions. (ELLE DECO is correct and not a typo.)Our mandate is to publish the most interesting and intriguing interior decoration, architecture, art, and product design from around the world and infuse it all with the flavor of our strong fashion focus. During such a challenging economic environment, it’s also critical to show that living well needn’t be expensive and great design can be had at an affordable price.

Moving forward will require flexibility and the skills to adapt—you can’t just throw some version of a print magazine online and expect anyone to think it’s a great idea. We’re constantly refining and redeveloping what we’re doing on the web, and I’m excited about how we can grow and all that we will be able to offer our readers both in print and online in the months and years to come.

And I truly believe readers should pay a higher subscription price or more magazines will fold. The devalued subscription-offer situation has become insane. I know that it’s impossible to take even a short taxi ride in New York for what one year of my favorite magazines costs; I'd be pleased to pay up!

Photos from Style and Substance: The Best of ELLE DECOR


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