The British fashionista on a mission to make America have more sex… to help them live longer, be happier, and have better hair
Yorkshire-born Joanna Coles is the new editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan – the world's largest women's magazine
12:01 GMT, 23 September 2012
Joanna Coles is perched on an arm of a purple velour sofa in her glass-walled Manhattan office, and talking, without a blush, about sex. ‘I’ve never met anyone who will tell you, “I’m having too much sex”,’ she says. ‘I think we’ve forgotten about the power of sex. That if you have a healthy sex life, you’re likely to live longer, you’re going to be happier, your skin will be better, your hair will be better.
‘Most people would like to have more sex but we’re all working really long hours and everybody is connected to work and social media so there is this tremendous pressure to stay engaged all the time.’
Coles, born and brought up in West Yorkshire in a village outside Leeds, is the newly-appointed editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, the world’s largest women’s magazine and it is one of the most talked-about magazine appointments in America for years.
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The magazine is read by millions in the US and Britain and is published in 64 countries around the world.What it says about sex is hugely influential in shaping the attitudes of a whole generation of young women.
is already a title infamously, almost comically, associated with sex
yet Coles has a mission and it is this: To help women not only have
healthier and happier, but also more active, sex lives as well.
continues: ‘I don’t think sex needs to be fancy, where you have orgasms
that are a symphony of glory and musicians appear at the end of the bed
playing Beethoven’s Fifth, or where you have to be tied up and wearing
the latest Agent Provocateur. I think it’s fine to have 20 or 30 minutes
of kissing and hugging and plain, old sex. Sex is this fantastic
connector and it’s free. It’s a great way to improve communication. The
other thing I’ve realised is that you don’t have to be rich to have
great sex, and that’s a good thing in this economy.’
already an App which she looks up on her iPhone. It’s called
Cosmopolitan Sex Position Of The Day. ‘I’m already in shock about the
365 positions. Obviously I’ve got a lot of learning to do,’ she says
with a poker face. She peers at the diagram on her screen illustrating
what appears to be a particularly gymnastic approach to the act of love
and starts to laugh. ‘Today, it’s Chairway to Heaven,’ she announces.
In her US size 6 Victoria Beckham
dress (a British size 10) and peep-toed Givenchy shoes, Coles at 50,
has, as they say, arrived. With sooty eyelashes, polished complexion and
a crop of expensive blonde hair, she exudes pared-down chic. From her
office on the 38th floor of the Richard Meier-designed glass and steel
skyscraper of Hearst Magazines’ headquarters in midtown, her adopted
city unfolds majestically beyond her windows.
'Today's sex position on our Cosmo App is Chairway to Heaven'
New Cosmo editor-in-chief Joanna Coles
is the view that I came to New York for,’ she declares. ‘It’s taken me a
bit of time to earn this view…it’s amazing, isn’t it’
her desk is a copy of the feminist Naomi Wolf’s infamous new book
Vagina, next to a DVD of the BBC’s political satire The Thick Of It.
is a shelf crammed with photographs of Coles with America’s great and
good including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Angelina Jolie. ‘That’s
my ego wall,’ she laughs. ‘God, it’s going to sound dreadful in Britain
but over here everyone has one. People think it’s strange if you don’t
with presidents and movie stars, Coles, a mother of two and assiduous
networker, has come a long way from her Yorkshire upbringing. Her father
was a teacher and her mother a medical social worker – who both
encouraged her to believe she could do whatever she wanted.
the age of ten, she had her first piece published in the children’s
section of her local newspaper, the Yorkshire Post, for a fee of 2.
went on to graduate from the University of East Anglia with a degree in
English and American literature. Since then she has made a determined
push for the top. From The Spectator she went to the Daily Telegraph and
Four years after arriving in
Manhattan in 1997 as The Guardian’s New York correspondent, she had the
chance to return to London as a parliamentary sketchwriter for another
newspaper. She turned it down. Looking out of her window last week, she
surmises that if she had taken the job she would be, ‘living in Chiswick
right now, still working as a sketchwriter and having a really great
life. But what’s fun about New York is that it’s so much bigger’.
Last year, after improving both
circulation and advertising as editor of Marie Claire, she shrewdly let
it be known she was thinking about her next move. When Kate White,
editor of Cosmo for 14 years, announced that she was stepping down,
Coles was in pole position to replace her.
She now plans to update the fashion coverage and add a campaigning aspect to the magazine.
want Cosmo to be right in the middle of the fight that’s going on in
America about abortion, birth control and women’s health issues. We’re
living in the dark ages in America in terms of women’s access to
contraception,’ she says.
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support is important to young women entering the workplace and Cosmo
has always encouraged women to be ambitious, she adds. ‘I had a great
time in my 20s,’ she remembers. ‘I had a few boyfriends but mainly, like
all my female friends, I was focused on getting my career in the right
place so I wasn’t in any hurry to settle down.
really did live our version of Sex And The City, only in Notting Hill.
It was brunches and trips and shopping and panicking about whether our
bosses thought we were doing a good enough job. I knew I would
eventually have children, I just wanted to feel financially secure
before I did.’ She says she wishes she had not been so sensible and had
taken more risks.
She met her husband Peter Godwin, a writer and human rights activist, when she was 28 and they have two sons – Thomas, 13, and Hugo, ten. The family lives on the Upper West Side of the city in a large apartment where they entertain a glossy mix of actors, media types and politicians. Martin Amis, Alan Rickman, Oliver Platt, Peter Mandelson and Sir John Sawers are all part of what Coles describes as ‘her posse’.
Coles tweets and has taken part in reality TV shows such as Project Runway and Running In Heels. She is also making a film with Wendy Finerman, who produced The Devil Wears Prada. ‘It’s based on an article that appeared in Marie Claire about a man who asked his wife if he could have a threesome for his 40th birthday. She reluctantly agreed as long as she could choose the woman. I think every studio in Hollywood wanted to buy the story.’
Does all this activity leave much time for family ‘I don’t feel guilty about working full-time or suffer maternal guilt. I’m there when my kids wake up in the mornings – unless I’m in Paris or Milan,’ she says. ‘I’m not a helicopter parent by nature and managing family and work is easier when you’re the boss because you control your own schedule.’
She is still getting to know her editorial team but has already scolded them for not going out to enough parties. ‘I want us to fan out like a Cosmo army of sexily clad young women every single evening and bring back intelligence from the social frontlines of Manhattan,’ she says. Coles adds that she used to have ‘a truly dreadful fashion sense’ but has learned over the years how to make the best of herself.
‘Buy everything a size bigger and get it tailored,’ she says. ‘That’s the best dressing tip I can give anyone.’
Her wider family still lives in Yorkshire and Coles has a sort of Brit grittiness that keeps her grounded. ‘One of the first people I heard from when I got the job was Barbara Taylor Bradford,’ she says. ‘She’s in her 80s and sent me the nicest letter saying we should have lunch and do some Yorkshire bonding. I was like – fantastic – break out the Hovis and the Yorkshire teabags!’
Coles may be in charge of the world’s biggest women’s magazine but she still baulks at having her own photograph taken. ‘I like control, I love retouching,’ she says.
Yet she looks directly into the camera. ‘Make me look younger, thinner, richer, blonder!’ she tells the photographer as Manhattan glimmers behind her.