She wore Azzedine Alaïa (usually black), adored Chanel No. 19 and complemented her short blonde pixie cut with big gold hoop earrings. Sally Brampton, the Launch Editor of British ELLE who passed away yesterday, was what we refer to as a ‘kickass boss’.
Smart, tough and stylish, Sally was also elegantly charming. She was a gentlewoman in the truest sense of the word, an Editor-in-Chief who discovered and nurtured new talent with the same enthusiasm as she nurtured her family and friends.
The magazine she created in 1985 was unlike anything else on the newsstands at the time. It was a breath of fresh air, mixing high street with high end, having a brave and sometimes contrary opinion, questioning the norm and championing new thinkers.
She made it colourful and joyous, which was exactly how she imagined the ELLE reader and how she appeared herself to everyone who worked with her.
Her legacy is a spirited brand that is as relevant today as it was 31 years ago because there are so many ‘Sallys’ out there.
Women who want something new, who aren’t afraid to show their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Intelligent women who want their famous faces to stand for something, whose lives are complicated and whose aspirations are ever changing. Women who love fashion but don’t let it define them. I think of these women every day as I edit ELLE and today, in the shadow of Sally, more so than ever. This alone would have been a wonderful legacy to leave but there was so much more to Sally: her work as an agony aunt for the Daily Mail, her extraordinary memoir on depression, her novels, her columns, her journalism and her teaching as a professor at Central Saint Martins.
ELLE Travel Editor Susan Ward Davies, who worked with Sally on the launch of ELLE, is one of many former colleagues whom I spoke to today that remembers Sally’s inspiring commitment to supporting new talent.
‘Sally was my first boss. She was only 30 when she became the Launch Editor of British ELLE, and was a dynamic and very inspiring leader,’ she says. ‘The ELLE girl was fresh, fun, clever, stylish, innovative, brave, and would take a risk – with fashion and with life. You really wanted to be her. Looking back, the ELLE girl that Sally invented was such an optimistic role model, such an aspirational character and such a free spirit that you could never imagine the person who created her could have been afflicted with depression.
‘It was as if this free spirit she wanted to find or bring out in others, our readers, was the essence of what she could be – her alter ego – when the “cold black night”, as she later described her depression, wasn't threatening. As the Editor, she was the squad leader of those ELLE girls. She said to me once, “I’m not decisive at all – but as an editor you have to pretend to be, so it is better to say ‘I love this' or ‘I want that one’ in an authoritative tone and then change your mind – in a definite, black-and-white way – than to appear to dither.”
Sally was all about nurturing new talent and she gave me, as well as a lot of my colleagues, our first big break. She would really take a risk with us and because of her high standards, I knew everything I did for her had to be the very best.
‘She got such pleasure out of nurturing her staff, her protégées, before she had a child herself. She made me ELLE’s Travel Editor when I had never even written a travel article because she could tell by the way I talked about all the backpacking I had done that I was totally passionate about it.’
Her first PA, Kim Stringer, now Director of PR and Communications for Prada and Miu Miu, says the same: ‘She was very generous in pushing her staff. Even though I was her PA she put me in charge of an ELLE issue, which we did with photographer David Bailey, called Great British Beauties. I had to cold-call all the stars of the day (Naomi Campbell was among them), organise the clothes, co-ordinate the times they all came to his studio. A great learning curve for me!’
And another former colleague Ian Birch remembers her drive and perfectionism. ‘Sally was an extraordinary talent,’ he says. ‘When ELLE launched, its brand values were “sexy, stylish and spirited”. That was Sally to a T. Her trademarked black outfits, gold hoop earrings and elegant hand gestures that also drove home every point. She was an expert at discovering and nurturing new talent. She took me from Smash Hits, which surprised a lot of people, not least of all myself.
‘She was as tough as nails, she had immaculate taste and a wicked sense of humour. But above all, she was generous and loyal.’
As the days pass, I have no doubt the well-deserved tributes will roll in. Today at ELLE we took a moment to remember Sally, leafing through her exciting first-ever issue, noting the diversity of the models in the fashion shoots, the headlines asking challenging questions and the playful spirit bouncing off from every page. And all those smiles.
We listened to Beyoncé’s album Lemonade as we did so. It somehow seemed right. And we mourned the loss of this free-thinking, ground-breaking woman who will always be part of magazine history.