The Knot

Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Support Of Friends

I received a Facebook message from my friend and former Dolly colleague Jo Elvin last week telling me my blog looks great.

The reason that's a big deal for me is that Jo is the Editor-in-Chief of UK Glamour, one of the few magazine success stories in recent years.

I unashamedly claim her as my own because I gave Jo her first magazine job as a junior writer for Dolly magazine, shortly after I was appointed Editor. She honed her craft on Australia's number one girls' magazine before scratching the travel itch.

Jo headed for London more than a decade ago and never came back. She found her footing fast and, with her unique wit and fresh perspective, turned the magazine world there on its head. Jo edited TV Hits, Sugar and New Woman before being poached by Conde Nast to launch Glamour. The magazine went straight to number one and has remained there ever since.

We've remained good friends, albeit mainly from afar. When I was in London a few years ago, Jo treated me to lunch at a posh Italian restaurant while I drooled over her latest gift - a gorgeous white leather tote from Anya Hindmarsh.

The best kind of friendships are the ones that you can rely on for support and we've always had that between us. So although I'm entirely flattered that Jo reads my blogs, I shouldn't be surprised.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why We're Drawn To Real People

Her name is Clare Werbeloff, for those of you who only know her as the 'chk chk boom' girl. For the past week the media has been obsessed with her. But then so has the public. Just days after the shooting that we now know she didn't actually witness, the video of her account on Youtube had been viewed more than 200,000 times.

That affords her serious fame. More than her designated 15 minutes, it's lasted more than a week so far. So why do we care?

Dare I suggest that we have reached the point of celebrity fatigue and are looking for something fresh and new? All of those tedious celebrity dancing, singing, skating programs have bored us to the point of rebellion. So we're going anti-celebrity.

I witnessed a similar shift in consumer interest about 10 years ago, so perhaps it's the 10-year itch. During the eighties and nineties, it was models rather than actresses and singers that stared at you from the cover of a magazine. And then overnight, magazine buyers began to reject the notion of the supermodel (probably because the same five seemed to be on every cover known to woman) and instead craved images of the likes of Madonna and Jennifer Aniston in model-like poses.

At the turn of the century we still craved celebrities, but we wanted to see them in a more natural environment. So magazine covers featured them less posed and sometimes even lounging on an armchair supposedly in their own living rooms. Television shows featured them gardening and pretending to know how to decorate homes.

But we quickly grew tired of that and in the past few years 'real' types have become famous for their expertise. We like that Scott Cam is actually a builder and Katrina Warren is really a qualified vet.

As we've been edging closer and closer to reality, and in the process rejecting the posed and unreal, we have in fact been working up to embracing someone like the 'chk chk boom' girl for some time now. The public has voted with their fingertips and proven that anyone with natural appeal (let's not forget that this girl is very attractive) can be famous.

Clare Werbeloff was a phenomenon just waiting to happen. Magazine editors and TV producers have officially been put on notice.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Enduring Obsession With Anna Wintour

Above: this story by Celeb TV includes some of the 60 Minutes interview.

Anyone who's anyone in the fashion industry would have watched the Anna Wintour interview on 60 Minutes tonight. The infamous Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue rarely gives interviews and almost as rarely removes her sunglasses, so I was fascinated beyond belief (and beyond any rational thought) to see her, hear her, get any sense at all of her.

I'm not usually this ridiculous about other people but Wintour represents the pinnacle of my craft. When I decided on a career as a magazine editor two decades ago, I hoped to be inspired by innovative, clever editors a generation ahead. I have been a devoted reader of the American edition of Vogue magazine for all of Wintour's 22 years at the helm.

US Vogue is breathtakingly beautiful but aware of consumers' sensitivity to price-points. The magazine is glamorous yet always contains quality writing about subjects of topical interest. The coverlines are clever, the cover image supports a consistent point-of-view.

Fashion is a business and the fashion magazines rarely reflect that. US Vogue is the exception. Wintour is a genius and ultimately that's the fascination.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why We Still Care About Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett was one of the original Charlie's Angels. When I was a young girl, she was one of my heroes by association. Never my favourite Angel (I wanted to be Jacqueline Smith), she was part of an inseparable trio that redefined women for me as capable of being strong and glamorous - the terms were no longer mutually exclusive.

Charlie's Angels was one of the few TV shows that gave women power. Three gorgeous women saved the world each week and they made me feel that a woman could do anything.

The most famous and enduring of the three Angels, partly sue to her controversial personal life and penchant for a swimsuit modelling shoot, Farrah personified eighties golden girl glamour. Hers was the hairstyle we all copied. Her handsome and not dissimilar looking partners, Lee Majors and Ryan O'Neal, were the men that women fantasised about. She appeared to have it all.

Her battle with anal cancer at the age of 62 is a stark reminder that the worst can happen to anyone. I've been asking myself lately why I care so much and I've decided that it's because Farrah is generationally close. The older stars that my parents admired are dying of old age. The following generation that included the likes of the Charlie's Angels actresses were really Hollywood's first taste of the celebrity actor. We knew so much about their personal lives that they became famous beyond any particular role.

We know everything about Farrah. Her life has been chronicled constantly in the weekly celebrity magazines for the past 30 years. Her ups, her downs, her romances, her divorces. Her son's battle with drugs; his recent incarceration.

That's why hearing about her impending death has touched me more than I ever thought it would. It feels as though a friend is dying, and there's nothing we can do but watch it happen from afar.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

To Screen Or Not To Screen For Autism. That Is The Question

Left: Albert Einstein is the poster boy for Asperger's syndrome

My parents know a couple who recently discovered that both of their sons have asperger's syndrome. The boys are aged 21 and 17.

Everything I've read about asperger's and the autism spectrum indicates that most children are identified with the syndrome when they are about three years old. So how does a parent miss the signs?

Apparently the boys were very bright when they were young and labelled 'geniuses' by their teachers. A genius child is expected to be different and the parents of these boys rationalised any unusual behaviour as being 'special' in a positive way.

The autism spectrum allows for a variety of types, from mild to severe. Those with a severe condition are easier to identify because many of them have language difficulties. The milder cases can often go undiagnosed till much later, as was the case with the children of my parents' friends.

A new study on the genetics of autism has just been released and consequently an ethics debate around the potential screening for this disorder is underway.

Cheryl Dissanayake, Development Psychologist and Director of Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at Latrobe University in Melbourne, says the toddler autistic observation schedule is just about to be released.

"You know, you can get very clear signs right from 12 months now, so with this new tool we'll be able certainly to say whether a baby is developing autism or not," Dissanayake told Natasha Mitchell from the ABC's All In The Mind blog.

The biggest question to my mind, as a parent, is what benefit will early screening have for the child? The boys that I mentioned earlier clearly enjoyed a relatively 'normal' existence until they displayed problems relating to relationships with the opposite sex as adults.

Would they have benefitted from knowing they had asperger's syndrome earlier in life? The positive of not knowing sooner was that they were able to go through puberty without the added burden of believing they were not like everyone else and being treated as different by their peers. The downside is that had they known sooner, they may now be better equipped to cope with new relationships and their special needs may have been progressed.

To screen or not to screen. If it was your child, would you want to know sooner or later?



Sunday, May 17, 2009

An Economic Marvel

Six months ago we exchanged contracts on a Gloria Jeans franchise. My husband and I had made the decision to invest in a managed business before the economy started its sharp decline and were naturally nervous putting ink to paper as it became inevitable that we were staring down the barrel of a recession.

But we'd done our homework and everything that we had read, heard and then surmised indicated that coffee, like lipstick, was a personal treat that would continue to be bought in tougher times. We crossed our fingers as we committed to moving forward with owning the business.

Last Friday, the Australian Financial Review pointed to coffee shops as being "the successful exception as other small businesses struggle".

While it's heartening to read an article that supports our business goals, it's more of a relief to live them in these otherwise difficult times.

It's absolutely true: consumers are not giving up their coffee - in fact may even be drinking more - and businesses like ours are able to continue to employ staff who don't feel the need to cut back on their personal spending.

This positive coffee spiral offers a glimmer of hope for our economy.


Friday, May 15, 2009

The NRL Board Needs Greater Diversity

Left: NRL Board member Katie Page and husband Gerry Harvey

I googled 'NRL Board' because I wanted to see if there were any women at the top of an organisation badly in need of a rethink. The NRL does in fact have one female on its Board, businesswoman Katie Page of Harvey Norman.

I wonder how Page feels about her role in a sport that seems to be populated by sportsmen with so little regard for women. "Another NRL scandal and all parties take the well-thumbed crisis management manual off the shelf and put us through a predictable ritual," writes The Member for Benelong Maxine McKew in The Daily Telegraph today.

But surely with a woman on the Board it can't just be business as usual. Won't Page be using her valuable seat to try and effect real change? At the very least I would hope that she'd be pointing the otherwise blokey Board, that includes the likes of former tabloid newspaper editor Roy Miller and Cronulla Sharks Chairman Barry Pierce, in a new, enlightened direction.

A couple of years ago I applied for a seat on the Board of the Manly Sea Eagles. I was already a Board member of a media company and a fashion group, so I had Board experience. In fact I ticked all boxes on the criteria list apart from one. I had no previous experience or relationship with rugby league. I saw that as a bonus, given all of the game's problems to date. Clearly they didn't. I wasn't offered an interview.

Six months later I was appointed to the Board of Netball Australia as the Independent Director, with no previous experience or relationship with the sport.

It takes a brave Board to look outside the square and choose a director who may offer a diverse point of view. If you haven't been immersed in the culture of an organisation, it goes without saying that you are more likely to identify opportunities to do things differently. I take my role as the Independent Director very seriously and my reappointment to the Board for a second term is evidence that my fellow Netball Australia directors do too.

I challenge the NRL Board to look beyond its circle of friends and supporters and appoint directors who can change the way the sport is perceived by its fans, their parents (who are looking for reasons to continue to allow their children to follow NRL 'heroes'), the players and the executive. Reputation is a Board responsibility, after all.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Matthew Johns Must Pay

Left: disgraced former footballer Matthew Johns

Seven years ago, then Cronulla Sharks footballer Matthew Johns returned from a game in New Zealand and revealed to his partner that he had been unfaithful. He had in fact been involved in a group sex scandal with a 19-year-old woman and the matter was being investigated by police as he was returning home to his comfortable life. Apparently the issue caused major 'hurt' to his partner and it took some time to heal.

Last week history returned to haunt the star of The NRL Footy Show as the woman at the centre of the scandal was interviewed for a Four Corners expose on league players behaving appallingly. Johns thought he'd nip it in the bud by being the first to talk about it on last Thursday's The Footy Show. It's become a Footy Show special to offer disgraced footballers airtime to have their say. Johns did his best to appear apologetic and sincere, but from where I sat it looked like a cynical exercise devised to downplay the drama.

The poor victim is still so traumatised by the event (as she undoubtedly will be for the rest of her life) that she disguised her voice for the interview. That said it all for me really. The Cronulla sharks players go on with their lives, playing the game they love, earning a salary that places many of them in the top 10 percent of salary earners in the country and marrying the woman of their choice (a bonus of being a football star that I'll never get my head around).

So when NRL CEO David Gallop revealed that Johns' role as a rugby league leader was under a cloud, I was relieved. Unless the NRL takes a tough stand against the seemingly constant sexual abuse and disrespect of women by some of its players, the meatheads who would choose it for a fun pastime will keep on doing it.

We need to take away the things that define them, in the way that they have taken away the things that define the women that they have defiled and cast aside, never to be given a second thought, unless the 'issue' rears its ugly head. We must make an example of Matthew Johns for the good of those who idolise him. And because we owe it to that poor young woman in New Zealand.



Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mother Of All Days

As a mother, a daughter and a daughter-in-law, Mother's Day is always fraught with danger for my family. The constant dilemma: how do we celebrate the day without upsetting either mum and in a way that lets me have the day off too?

I've discovered that for as long as I'm a daughter, the day will never be mine alone. But this year my mother was always going to be the focus. Mum's going through chemo for a likely genetically acquired bowel cancer (which means check-ups are about to become a way of life for me) that crept up on us late last year. She's been feeling like hell - although fortunately still with hair - so Mother's Day was an opportunity to cheer her up.

But with two mothers in the mix, my husband and I had to tread carefully. We took my mother-in-law to dinner last night instead and she spent Mother's Day with her daughter's family. Families can be tricky, but thankfully this year it worked out well.

My boys never let me forget that it's my day too. They celebrated Mother's Day by serving me breakfast in bed. A perfectly round pancake topped with strawberry jam, a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea arrived on a tray. The present, although given to me by my sons with lots of accompanying kisses, was clearly bought and wrapped by my husband. But the card was truly special.

My 15-year-old, a young man of few emotive words these days, chose the card. He took a good 15 minutes to select just the right one. It read: "For a special mum."

My 11-year-old wrote the message which was so beautiful and heartfelt: "To the most happy-tempered, organised, lovable, comforting, relaxed, artistic, fun, exciting, intelligent mum in the world!"

I have often wondered how my sons perceive me, and now I know. Happy Mother's Day indeed.

Visit The Daily Beast to read how women like Maria Shriver and Barbara Walters feel about their mums.



Friday, May 8, 2009

Vale Guy Mascolo

Left: Frank Chirico, Guy Mascolo, Bruno Mascolo and Paul Joseph

One of the founders of the successful hair salon chain Toni & Guy died this week of a heart attack, aged 65.

Guy Mascolo founded Toni & Guy in 1963 with his brother Toni. The brothers were trained in the arts of hairdressing and customer service by their father Francesco, a renowned hairdresser himself.

The brothers started their business in London at a time when severe geometric cuts were fashionable. They focused on the more flattering, feminine cuts which would prove to have far greater commercial appeal. Toni & Guy would grow to become a global brand with salons throughout Europe, USA and Australia.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Berlusconi: Once A Philanderer . . .

Left: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his wife Veronica Lario

It's ironic isn't it - Veronica Lario, the wife of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is filing for divorce as the result of her husband's alleged cavorting with other women.

As they say in the classics, if he does it once he'll do it again. Berlusconi cheated on his first wife Carla with his now second wife Veronica in 1980 after he saw her performing topless in a play. It took him five years to divorce Carla so there was much romping to be had with the former actress.

Although I don't condone his actions, surely his current wife is the last person who should be surprised.

The Age reported that Italy's First Lady has taken a stand against her husband's behaviour to set an example for her daughters and remind her son Luigi to respect and value women.

"Today for my female children, already adults, the example of a woman capable of defending her own dignity in her relationships with men takes on a particularly significant importance," she said.

The right sentiment - but surely hypocritical?


Monday, May 4, 2009

The Logies' Cringe Factor

For the past 24 hours (that includes during the live telecast) Gretel Killeen has been bagged for her hosting of The Logies.

I watched some of it and to be perfectly frank it's hard for any host to make that show truly exciting. Just tell us who won and let us go to bed, I wanted to shout. And this from a former Editor-in-Chief of TV Week - yes I plead guilty.

The live cross to the female toilet we could have done without. But was that Gretel's call? Doesn't the executive producer have a say in that decision?

From where I sat (in the comfort of my lounge room) the only part that really made me cringe was when Gretel forced some poor unsuspecting teenage actor (I'm sorry I don't know who you are as I don't watch any Australian soaps) to tell his "girlfriend" that he loves her on national TV, at The Logies. He was 16-years-old and clearly uncomfortable with even admitting that he had a girlfriend. As the parent of a 15-year-old boy it made me very angry.

Gretel's children are now through their teen years so she should have known better. Most teenagers are uncertain of their relationships and emotions. Was it nerves that made her go on with the 'skit', even though the kid was clearly squirming? Or was it ego that made her blind to his unease?

Either way, that was the true black spot for me from a program that yet again proved to be far too long for its own good.