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Wednesday 15 August 2012

Helen Gurley Brown: Kerrie Simon-Lawrence on the Cosmopolitan magazine icon

Helen Gurley Brown, the legend of Cosmopolitan magazine, died yesterday and she was far more than a woman long-associated with the globally-renowned publishing brand.

Someone who knows this first-hand is the founding editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine Middle East Kerrie Simon-Lawrence. Here's an exclusive interview with Kerrie for Josie's Juice, on what she meant to her... and the world. 

Here's a photo of them together:

“The afternoon I met Helen, it was a freezing cold New York day and she, typically, was dressed up to the nines in her fur coat, perfect hair and a flawlessly made up face. She was 88.

At that stage, she was still a daily presence at Hearst Towers. I stepped into her candy pink office and gasped. There was more leopard print than you’d see on safari! Her original typewriter took up pride of place on her desk, and against the wall was her floral couch, complete with embroidered cushion that read, ‘Good girls go to heaven, bag girls go everywhere’.

It had been pointed out to me by my senior colleagues at Hearst that the company had done away with the ‘corner office’ mentality when they’d moved into their new building a decade ago – but for Helen, there had been an exception. Within her office was a full bathroom, and the story went that she had sent a memo to all the female staffers, suggesting that if they had a date after work, they were more than welcome to use her personal bathroom to freshen up, to ensure they were looking their best for the evening. This was, after all, the woman who, a couple of years ago, was seen heading to the elevators in her stilettos and fishnets, a slash of her scarlet lippy firmly in place. “Got a big night planned?” a colleague had asked. “No,” she said. “I’m heading up to see the boss. It can never hurt to make a good impression, you know,” she smiled. In fact, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Helen was still sporting her trusty fishnets on her near-daily trips to Hearst Tower.

For all of her sexiness and sassiness (and believe me, she had both by the truckload), she stood for so much more. She was all about empowering women – why should a woman aim to be the trophy wife, the stay-at-home mum, the polite and intimidated secretary if she wanted to be more? Helen’s belief was that there was no reason we girls couldn’t be just as great and powerful as the boys. And then some.

And boy, did she start something huge. Cosmo is the biggest-selling magazine title on the planet, sure, but it’s about so much more than copy sales. Australian Cosmo was behind the move to make the morning-after pill available over the counter. Cosmo Russia helped to slash the national abortion rate by lobbying for contraception to be available to all. For our part, Cosmo Middle East is the first public platform for local women to discuss their gynecological concerns, and have those questions answered by health professionals. And all this has been from one woman’s vision.

As I said my goodbyes to Helen that day, I asked if I might be able to take a photo with her. “Of course,” she said. “But who’s going to count me in?” Confused, I stood smiling for the camera while a colleague at Hearst recited, “Okay Helen, ready? One, two, three and laugh.” On cue, the original Cosmo girl let out the sassiest, flirtiest most ‘natural’ giggle. Eighty-eight, and still a pro at ‘the natural, un-posed pose.'

Farewell, Helen, the Cosmo sisterhood will miss you.”

Kerrie Simon-Lawrence
Editor in Chief, Cosmopolitan Middle East

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