The editorial director of New York magazine's The Cut is her own ideal reader.
BY KARA BLOOMGARDEN-SMOKE
Stella Bugbee has successfully reimagined the fashion magazine for the digital age, transforming New York magazine’s fashion blog into an influential women’s website with an identity all its own.
“We try to entertain ourselves and hope that translates to the world,” The Cut’s editorial director says, wearing a layered black-and-navy shift dress and platform sandals on a sunny afternoon in her office. “We want to articulate something that other people will look at and recognize, but that hasn’t been articulated elsewhere yet.”
The Cut started as a vertical on New York’s website in 2008, in a gambit to extend Fashion Week into year-long fashion coverage. Like most blogs at the time, the design was fairly basic. Entries were posted in reverse chronological order, and little attention was paid to aesthetics.
Bugbee, formerly the design director of Domino, the home décor magazine with a cult-like following, was initially hired as a consultant, tasked with the project of making the blog into a robust website with a range of coverage and a clear visual sensibility.
“The very unusual thing about Stella is that she has this big, important editorial job and has never been an editor before,” says New York’s editor-in-chief Adam Moss, explaining that he would have been unlikely to appoint a design director to run the site had he not already gotten to know Bugbee when she consulted. “What we saw then was that she was a natural editor—with a crystal-clear vision, an incredible sense of story, and great news judgement,” Moss recalls. “So her assumption of the editorship of The Cut was kind of inevitable.”
When The Cut officially relaunched in August 2012, it was with Bugbee at the helm.
“I am the ideal reader,” she says with aplomb. “Everyone on my team is. It’s a woman who doesn’t like a lot of bullshit, who takes herself seriously but really likes to laugh. She likes high, she likes low, she’s a real person with real goals and I never, ever want to talk down to her, no matter what.”
Four years later, The Cut has become a key part of New York’s brand. Ambitions for stories have gotten higher, and, not coincidentally, the divide between print and web has diminished: Since 2014, The Cut has been responsible for a designated fashion spread in the print magazine, and features that originate online often end up on the cover.
Content on the site fits into one of its five subsections: Fashion, Fame, Beauty, Goods, and Love & War, which means a mix of slideshows of runway shots and celebrity looks; first-person essays about sex, love, and motherhood; shopping and makeup suggestions; and reported features that explore gender politics.
In a shrewd move, Bugbee has scooped up marquee names to join the masthead —which now numbers 25—in at-large positions, such as former New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, journalist and author Rebecca Traister, and Allure founding editor Linda Wells.
“The idea is to stay fresh, try new things, and Stella is the driver,” Horyn says.
As Gawker, the longtime standard-bearer for bold blogging, faced a public crisis that resulted in a staff exodus last summer, popular writer and provocatrix Dayna Evans announced that she already had plans to leave for The Cut, a clear sign of Bugbee’s fearlessness when it comes to bringing in lively voices and embracing new directions.
According to Horyn, Bugbee’s talent is not only as a skillful editor with smart ideas—such as doing a comic strip of fashion week shows—but also as a leader. “She’s that rare combination of a solid news editor and a focused yet very human manager,” Horyn says. “Stuff just doesn’t get under her skin—or, anyway, she doesn’t let it show.”
But the secret to The Cut’s success may well be the tone. Whether exploring understandably conflicted feelings about culottes or entrenched social issues like the wage gap, the site balances intelligence and a sense of humor, drawing on New York’s signature DNA even as it stakes out a space all its own.
As for what she looks for, Bugbee tells people there are four words to go by: funny, smart, sexy, and stylish. “I want all things we do to try and reach those four points of the Approval Matrix,” she says, referring to New York’s pop culture guide. “Or whatever you want to call it.”
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