Suzanne Boyd Biography
Magazine editor Suzanne Boyd launched Suede, a fashion magazine aimed at African-American women, in 2004. Unfortunately, Suede struggled financially through five issues before its parent company put it on indefinite hiatus. Future career prospects for Boyd—a Canadian of West Indian background—were unclear, but as Globe & Mail writer Simon Houpt noted, the longtime Toronto fashionista "presented a sizzling polyglot fabulousness that challenged the stiff British ice queen of the New York fashion magazine world, Anna Wintour," editor of American Vogue.
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1963, Boyd was one of four children in her family. Her father, Donald, was a civil engineer originally from the Dominican Republic, who had met Donna, Boyd's mother and a native of Quebec, while a student at Dalhousie University. As a child, Boyd lived with her family in Barbados and also on Dominica, an island between Guadalupe and Martinique in the Caribbean. Her high-school years were spent in Jamaica, where she attended a Roman Catholic boarding school.
Boyd's first job in journalism was with The Nation, a Barbados newspaper, in 1982, for which she covered parliament and the tourism industry. Moving to Canada in 1984, she enrolled at York University in Toronto, where she majored in mass communications and English. She joined the staff of Flare, a leading Canadian fashion magazine for women, in 1990 as its associate beauty editor. Tragedy struck that same year, however, when her sister died in a plane crash. For a time, Boyd left Flare and freelanced for the Toronto Star and Chatelaine, another Canadian women's magazine, but returned to Flare in 1992 as its acting beauty editor. She rose to associate editor, and then editor-in-chief in 1996, which made her the first black woman to head a major Canadian publication.
Boyd retooled Flare and helped give it more uniquely Canadian focus. She championed homegrown designers, and emerged as a bona-fide Toronto celebrity herself. Statuesque at five-feet, ten-inches tall, with her hairstyle and perilously high heels sometimes adding another six inches, she regularly made it onto lists of Canada's best-dressed women. Her high profile attracted the attention of a New York publishing executive, Isolde Motley, at Time Inc., the print journalism arm of the Time-Warner empire. As Motley told Carr in the New York Times profile, she had first spotted Boyd on Flare's Letter from the Editor page, with an accompanying photograph that showed her "wearing an evening dress that she had designed out of a Hudson Bay blanket," Motley recalled. "Years later, those dresses showed up on the runway."
Boyd and Motley kept in contact, and in early 2004 Boyd left Flare and relocated to New York City with a new job: Time Inc. had joined with Essence magazine's corporate parent to launch a new magazine division, and Boyd was hired to oversee the launch of a new title aimed at African-American women called Suede. Motley said when they discussed a new magazine for a younger African-American readership than the traditional Essence reader, Boyd already knew what it should look like. "This is a person who has a complete and passionate vision for what she wants to do," Motley enthused. "She already had the whole magazine in her head."
Suede, conceived in part as the younger, hipper sister to Essence, was determined to deliver style news to its reader in all its manifestations, from street fashion to haute couture. Boyd summed up her vision for it in Advertising Age interview with Jon Fine. Describing her target audience, she explained "They don't need to be told what to do—they do it anyway. Very expressive, like plumage—'birds of paradise,' I call these girls. Because it's all about color and energy."
Boyd brought some Flare staffers with her, including Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, whom she had regularly used as a photographer. She faced a tough market once the publication was on the newsstands, however. A similar entry, Honey, had already folded thanks to financial troubles. Because of her high profile and successful track record, Boyd's Time Inc. and Essence bosses had considered her the crucial factor in Suede's bid to lure the vital advertising dollars necessary to stay afloat. Though its account executives won some big contracts with cosmetics companies like Clinique and Lancôme, a cautious economic climate meant that Suede's number of ad pages—the bellwether of a magazine's financial health—remained slim despite a well-received September 2004 launch issue.
Boyd put out another issue in 2004, and then geared up for a scheduled nine issues to hit newsstands in 2005. Carr, writing in the New York Times as the New Year loomed, critiqued the new title and termed it "frenetic in a way few fashion publications would dare to be. It can be exhausting to stare at. But sitting on a rack of me-too fashion magazines, it evokes significant exhilaration as well." In February of 2005, however, Essence Communication Partners announced that Suede would be going on hiatus. Reportedly, Boyd knew nothing prior to that day, and learned the news the same day as her 40-member staff. An April 2005 issue would be its last in its original, exuberant incarnation. Her boss, Ed Lewis, the chief executive officer of Essence Communications Partners, expressed his regrets about the decision. "The magazine is smart, exciting and provocative," Lewis said in the official announcement, according to the Globe & Mail. "However, although some of our most talented people have been working on Suede, it has become clear that more time and resources would be needed to further develop this brand."
Boyd was reportedly asked to stay on the job, but journalism-industry experts noted that it was rare for a magazine to come back from the dead, so to speak, and it seemed unlikely that Suede would have a future as defined by her original goals. Just two months earlier, she had reflected in the New York Times interview with Carr that the obstacles were many. "The expectation when it comes to black magazines is that they will be urban and that will be the end of it," she asserted. "There is supposed to be no taste level, no understanding of the runway aspects of fashion. We want to be fun and fashion correct."
Advertising Age, August 30, 2004, p. 17.
Contemporary Canadian Biographies, December 1997.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), February 25, 2005, p. A1.
Maclean's, April 7, 2003, p. 38.
Mediaweek, June 7, 2004, p. 32.
New York Times, December 7, 2004, p. E1.
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