Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.


Anna and Me: Fashion Meets Finance

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editor Janet Bodnar compares her career with that of Vogue's editor.

What do Vogue editor Anna Wintour and I have in common? For starters, we both wear big sunglasses (except I bought mine at CVS). We both have short hair (although I'm sure that she has a stylist to arrange each perfectly placed strand every morning).

And we're both editors of a national magazine. Of course, she's in fashion and I'm in finance, which is far less glamorous. But the similarities between us were enough to send me off (with two of my Kiplinger colleagues) to take in The September Issue, the documentary about Anna's editorship at Vogue. The title refers to the magazine's September issue, which traditionally rings in the new fashion year. Serendipitously, the September 2007 issue of Vogue, the subject of this documentary, turned out to be the single largest issue of a magazine ever published, with a staggering 840 pages, of which 727 were ads (a feat that, thanks to the recession, won't be duplicated anytime soon).

Even though I don't have a Long Island estate or a couture wardrobe, I learned from the film that Anna and I have a lot more in common than sunglasses and hairstyles: We love making magazines. In a poignant moment at the end of the movie, Anna wistfully admits that her siblings -- one of whom locates housing for low-income residents of London and another of whom works for farmers' rights -- find her job "amusing" (oh, how carefully she chooses that word). So does her daughter, who would rather attend law school than fulfill her mother's dream that she become an editor.

What her family fails to grasp is how fulfilling, even thrilling, it is to make a magazine each month -- an honest-to-goodness "old media" publication that you can hold in your hand and read at your leisure, savoring each photo and soaking in each printed word. And then there's the satisfaction of serving readers who depend on you for information, no matter what the subject. It never gets old.


No perfect fit. At Kiplinger's, fashion isn't our business, and we don't have the luxury (nor the desire) to publish 20 pages of glossy pictures from a photo shoot. But our readers might like to know that, from an artistic point of view, the challenges of creating an attractive visual package are the same at a personal-finance magazine as they are at Vogue.

I felt Anna's pain when, looking at the photos from the cover shoot in Rome, she realized that she didn't get the Colosseum backdrop that she had requested, nor had her world-class photographer sent as many fashion shots as she had expected. "It's a little short on clothes," she says with terse understatement. I have found that no matter what instructions you give photographers, they have a vision of their own and you don't always see eye to eye. As Kiplinger's art director Cynthia Currie puts it, "You get what you get."

Anna at least has the advantage of working with models and celebrities (in this case, the cover girl was actress Sienna Miller). We at Kiplinger's pride ourselves on putting real people on our cover, so that readers can learn from their successes and missteps. But let's face it: Real life is messy, and you may never find someone who's a perfect fit -- either visually or editorially -- for the point you're trying to illustrate.

Recently, for example, a disgruntled reader said that we were being misleading when we featured a couple on the cover who had cut their monthly expenses by $2,750. Among the savings: After the husband was laid off from his job, he stayed home with the kids so that the family could save on day-care costs. "What's the big deal?" asked our reader. "They didn't have much choice." Actually, for this couple it was a big deal, and we felt that readers would like to know how one family was coping with a job loss even if others chose to handle it differently. Plus, the father was also working on an advanced law degree in hopes of making himself more marketable -- a strategy with broad appeal. And the family was doing other noteworthy things to save money as well.


It turns out that Sienna Miller wasn't a perfect fit, either. Her hair was so "lackluster" that the stylists tried hiding it under a wig. When that didn't work, they solved the problem by putting it up in a top knot. In the cover photo, her smile was toothy, and a cavity was visible (call in Photoshop). In the end, Miller remained on the cover but was bumped from the lead layout.

Three questions. At the end of the film, Anna is asked three questions:

  • What is your greatest strength? "Decisiveness," she replies decisively.

  • What is your greatest weakness? "My children."

  • What gift would you like? "A better backhand."

I asked myself what I would answer if those three questions were posed to me.

  • Greatest strength? Empathy with my readers (and with my staff members). I'm decisive about that.

    Greatest weakness: I'm with you on the kids, Anna.

  • Best gift: I'd take those 727 ad pages, thank you very much.

Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, is the author of Money Smart Women (Kaplan, $15.95). Available at a 40% discount through the Kiplinger store.

"Other books, like Kiplinger's Money Smart Women by Janet Bodnar, avoid the patronizing finger wagging and stick to giving advice that women can really use -- like explaining when you can tap your Roth IRA to help with a down payment on your first house. You'll save so much money, you may decide to treat yourself to a latte. After all, you've earned it." -- Time magazine, April 16, 2007