Meet the 54-year-old new Vogue editor who says it’s time fashion embraced the older woman
Part way through our interview, Martina Bonnier starts chatting about the menopause. ‘It’s easier to discuss in Scandinavia than in other countries,’ says the 54-year-old.
People are more accepting. They will take a subject like this and ‘lift it up to the light; make it an issue that is important to discuss’.
It’s not something I expected to be covered by the new editor of a new Vogue — Vogue Scandinavia — which launches not just digitally, but in old-fashioned paper form, in spring 2021.
Nordic people are practical, unabashed, open, she says. They will happily talk about the menopause, sex, ageing and equality.
Martina Bonnier, 54, is the new editor of the new Vogue Scandinavia and is unafraid to talk about the menopause
Her admission says two things about Martina: that she is bold — very bold indeed — and that she is not afraid of controversy.
The decision to launch a fashion magazine in these uncertain times, is, arguably, both brave and controversial.
Not only has Covid all but wiped out luxury goods advertising, it has killed some small designer firms, wounded bigger retail outlets and given haute couture a nervous breakdown.
Last month the New York Times published an article entitled Sweatpants Forever, which predicted the end of fashion weeks and rigid fashion cycles.
But has Scandinavian fashion bucked that trend? Even before Covid (or ‘BC’ as it is now known), the region’s designers had caught the attention of fastidious fashion buyers.
In evidence everywhere — from Net-a-Porter to your local high street — was Scandinavia’s strong unhysterical aesthetic in clothes.
The value of Sweden’s fashion exports alone was £18 billion in 2015. Since then, fashion’s interest in Scandanavia has only grown.
Chances are, you already know many Scandinavian fashion brands. H&M is the most obvious (the High Street giant also owns Cos, & Other Stories and Arket), but there are also the highly successful labels Ganni, Acne Studios, Stine Goya and Malene Birger among others.
Perhaps Vogue’s parent company Conde Nast is onto something. Perhaps now is the obvious moment for the world’s eyes to turn to Scandinavia, with its emphasis on practicality and nature, as we cope with the fallout from Covid.
So, what should we expect from Martina’s new Vogue?
It will be published in English, Martina says, to give it the widest possible market, and sell across Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
And it will be very different from all other Vogues (there are 28).
She insists that women should not be invisible when they are a certain age. And to exemplify her point, she’s wearing no visible make-up, no nail varnish, no earrings in her unpierced ears today
For a start: ‘It will not be elitist,’ she says. It will be real, it will be ‘natural’ and — she references fashion’s current preoccupation — ‘it will be sustainable’.
Nature is her muse, she says. ‘In Scandinavia, nature is more or less a religion.’
The stress on natural extends to Martina’s personal view of cosmetic surgery (no), tweakments (no), tattoos (no), piercings (no) and filters on social media (no).
This ‘authenticity of the filter-less’ will be very Vogue Scandinavia, she says. Retouching is bland.
‘It’s OK to age,’ is her mantra. Martina doesn’t flinch from saying she’s 54.
In the past, there has been a tendency for women to be erased from view at this age.
Last week Fiona Bruce, BBC news anchor and presenter of Question Time, said she was surprised to have a job at 56 for this reason.
Although still in situ at 70, Anna Wintour became editor of British Vogue aged 36 and American Vogue aged 39.
Alexandra Shulman was 34 when she took over British Vogue and retired from the chair at 59.
Martina believes women should make a virtue of their age. Her mantra is: ‘Dare to be more yourself.’
This does not mean she doesn’t dress up, of course. Her social media is a dizzying carousel of couture, often against sumptuous backgrounds — her house in Stockholm, her Manhattan apartment, boats, planes, beaches, ski slopes and (pre-pandemic) galas galore.
As well as big floaty numbers pictured against dramatic Nordic scenery, she’s in bikinis and gym kit.
‘Women should not be invisible when they are a certain age,’ she says.
As if to exemplify her point, she’s wearing no visible make-up, no nail varnish, no earrings in her unpierced ears today.
Martina is married to Sverker Thufvesson, 61, the CEO of a private bank. She has two children with him, Mildred, 20, and Bolder, 23
She’s wearing a unisex shirt and a pair of — sharp gasp! — shorts.
They are unisex sky-blue. Like her shirt, they are made by Swedish designer Hope, and have both men and women’s sizes on the label.
At the end of her long, shiny, naked leg (teeny black dots suggesting a shaver, not a waxer) is a kitten heel.
When I mention that Anna Wintour has a blow dry at the crack of dawn every day, Martina says that in Scandinavia ‘you do it yourself’.
She is sitting at a slight angle, her knees pointing away from me, her hands scrunched in her lap, and speaks in a light feathery way although her eyes are dark and flinty as they take me in.
Martina has worked in fashion for 30 years. She’s edited magazines and is a frequent pundit on television.
She has written five books: mostly on fashion history, but also a novel, Obsession (about a Swedish fashion dynasty which has a crisis when the founder throws everything away to become an eco-farmer). It has sold out online.
In Stockholm, she’s called Sweden’s Anna Wintour, a description she encourages.
Other labels she likes are ‘fashionista’ and ‘influencer’ (‘You should always be photographed,’ Martina told one journalist).
She sees herself as a brand, she says. She once even put herself on the cover of her own magazine.
We meet during Copenhagen fashion week in August.
The city is (unusually) unbearably hot, as everyone from the hotel receptionist to the man in the coffee shop to Martina herself keeps saying.
Women are flushed and fanning themselves, sweat pasting their middle-parted hair to their clear-skinned foreheads, dampening their utilitarian black smocks, making their feet slide in their neutral-coloured Birkenstocks.
‘Scandinavian fashion is influenced by its history; it is functional and unfussy,’ Martina tells me.
‘That’s why we are so big on jeans, for example, because it’s workwear and everyday.
And outerwear, of course, because of the cold winters. We have a saying in Sweden: there’s no bad weather just bad clothes.’
‘It’s OK to age’ is Martha’s mantra. Pictured: The mother with Mildred when she was younger
Swedes tend to be the ‘groomed and well-dressed’ of the region, she continues; Danes ‘a little more relaxed, a little more eclectic, more bohemian’.
Finnish fashion is influenced by its border with Russia, ‘so a little bolder, more folkloristic’; Norwegians like sports gear.
‘We have a joke in Sweden: Norwegians never work, they go hiking.’
Jewellery designers are also big news, she says, showing me the chunky twist of thousands of pin-head diamonds on her wrist.
‘This is a Swedish designer, Engelbert.’ The crystals around her throat are ‘by another Swede, Marta Larsson.
‘These are healing crystals. They give you more energy. Well, at least I hope they do.’
It was while living in New York last year (with her husband Sverker Thufvesson, 61, CEO of a private bank, with whom she has two children, Mildred, 20, and Bolder, 23) that she first received a call from Conde Nast about licensing Vogue for Scandinavia.
Has she met the other Vogue editors, such as Wintour and Edward Enninful (editor-in-chief of British Vogue)? ‘Yes.
‘They have been so sweet and everybody has welcomed me to the Vogue family. It seems very family-like.’
Earlier this year Wintour apologised for the lack of diversity in the pages of American Vogue, and following this, Martina was sent the new rules on diversity and ethnicity by Conde Nast.
She says these are more relevant to the U.S.: ‘I mean there’s still things to work on here — always — but in terms of equality and diversity, we do very well compared to everywhere else.
‘I am used to working with different minorities, different age groups, it’s very much in the system.’
Sweden and Denmark are well known for their gender equality.
Women find it easier to work because childcare is free, and men are encouraged to pitch in 50:50.
‘In a young family it would be normal to share parental leave,’ says Martina.
‘You see all these trendy dads walking around Stockholm on leave for several months. We don’t have that macho rejection thing, no.’
In keeping with this contemporary attitude, Martina is approaching her Vogue project like a start-up, focusing on tech and sustainability.
‘I want to work on reaching a new audience; on finding new ways to see, listen and communicate fashion. We will test and risk a little.’
Martina has acknowledged the magazine format is ‘pretty old-fashioned’. She says she will produce only six issues of her Vogue a year, with a view that ‘they will be something you save for a long time’.
Well-connected Maria says she comes from ‘one of the largest media families in Northern Europe‘. Pictured: The journalist with supermodel Cindy Crawford
She won’t shy away from, say, putting teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg on the cover.
‘For us, she is an example of how far we are at the front of the environmental conversation’ — but the cover ‘doesn’t have to be a known person’.
She jokes that her obsession with fashion was the fault of her father, Dan, who straitjacketed her into jeans and T-shirts as a child, while her desire fluttered over the gowns and tailoring in the varnished pages of American and British Vogue, the magazines she spent all her pocket money on.
When she was 16, she was sent to school in Newport, Rhode Island, 3,796 miles from her Swedish family.
Cut off, alone, worried about her parents’ failing marriage and starved of letters and phone calls from home because her parents thought it too expensive to call the U.S. ‘and never did’, she did two things: she excelled at school, driving herself hard to achieve straight As; and she stopped eating.
Those around her thought her obsession with fashion was to blame for what developed into anorexia.
‘But it wasn’t so much that, it was something in myself,’ she says. ‘It’s classic: high-achieving, ambitious, needing to feel in control.’
By the time she returned home to Sweden, she was ‘in turmoil’ and ‘very sick’. Her parents, who had divorced, were ‘so shocked’ when they saw her.
‘They had no idea,’ she recalls. ‘I can’t remember how much I weighed — not much.’
Her plan had been to study at an American university, but ‘I was still sick and I didn’t feel supported by my [immediate] family’.
A word about the Bonnier family: they are eye-wateringly rich.
‘I come from one of the largest media families in Northern Europe, and it’s a 100 per cent family-owned company with more than 250 years of history,’ she says.
‘I’ve felt the tradition of publishing since I was born.’
But that did not translate into a stable childhood. Both Martina and her brother David, two years younger, had a peripatetic upbringing.
‘It shapes lives,’ she has said. ‘It’s been tough. But who doesn’t have a burden?’
By the age of 25 she had moved 23 times, living in Copenhagen, Paris, Toronto and New York, among other places, as her mother Vera trailed her father, trying to keep the family together.
‘My mother always tried to normalise the family. But they were young when they married, and it was a lot to deal with.’
The experience, she has said, has made her resilient: ‘I’m used to life turning upside down at times. I’m not particularly afraid of deep crises. I know they enrich life in some strange way.’
In interviews in Sweden, Martina has defended her privilege, claiming that her surname has meant she has had to work doubly hard.
She started as a junior on the newsdesk of Goteborgs-Posten, the second largest newspaper in Sweden and part of the Bonnier empire, and was despatched with her notepad to cover strikes, small exhibitions and school events.
‘I learned to write,’ she says. ‘I learned the style and the importance of good language. I’ve always been able to fall back on that.’
Martina is called Sweden’s Anna Wintour in Stockholm and it is a description she encourages. Pictured: Wintour on an outing in New York last month
At 24, she switched to another family-owned magazine, VeckoRevyn.
‘As a fashion person, I wanted to move back to Stockholm and work for the most trendy, young, pop-culture magazine in the early 90s.’
Like The Face and i-D, I ask? ‘Yes, like that.’
It was there that she decided to write about anorexia, a subject not much talked about in Sweden in the late 1980s.
‘No one had wanted to talk about it much. But I wrote a whole series on it, including my personal experience. And it became a news story.’
Despite this success with writing, her obsession with fashion prevailed. ‘I was peeking into the fashion department and asking: ‘Do you need help?’
‘One day I found the courage to see my editor-in-chief. I said: ‘You know, I really would like to start as a fashion assistant, from the bottom again.’
She looked at me and said I was crazy. Why would I change from a writing position to being pushed around by a fashion editor? But I wanted that job.’
Once there, Martina was in her element describing the clothes like friends. ‘I got to be near the clothes, to hang out with them,’ she told one interviewer.
She saw them as a way of expressing herself, as ‘theatre’.
In 2008 she flung open the doors of her eight wardrobes to a weekend magazine, inviting them to inspect her 30 designer handbags (including a crocodile bag from Zagliani: ‘They are best on exotic skins, and even have a dermatologist who Botoxes the skin to make it extra-soft,’ she said at the time).
She declared women should have no fewer than six ‘in a functioning wardrobe’, and dismissed those who thought £6,000 was a ‘completely disgusting’ amount to spend on a single bag because, ‘Men buy cars for hundreds of thousands of kronor, no one shouts about it’. She had a point.
In 2011 Martina took the helm at Damernas Värld (Women’s World), a large circulation fashion magazine also owned by her family.
Her experience with anorexia meant, ‘that throughout my career, I always have felt that I can support other women when I see it, and I can see it early.
‘I’ve always said: “OK, come here. I’ll talk to you. We’ll help you.” So I helped a lot of young girls in the industry.’
This mothering streak is less Wintouresque, perhaps, than her reputation for being ‘tough’ and ‘uncompromising’.
After leaving Damernas Värld in 2016, she moved to New York with her husband, attending, often in a vast gown, key social events: the Met Gala, the Tribeca Film festival; New York Fashion Week and Ralph Lauren’s ’50 years as a designer’ show in 2018.
Low-key her life was not. Mornings began with a Soul Cycle spin class. She holidayed in ‘my beloved Hamptons’.
But despite the glitz, Martina says she would like to be played, in a film of her life, not by Meryl Streep, but by Winona Ryder because ‘she’s feminine in a low-key way’.
No doubt this apparent internal contradiction — the Scandi warmth, the Manhattan granite — will make for a bold and controversial Vogue.
Who will be on the cover? She won’t say. What Anna Wintour will make of it? We shall find out in spring 2021.