Happenings from around Boston College.
Sally Holmes grew up reading Seventeen magazine. Now she’s running Marie Claire.
Sally Holmes ’09 insists her life is not glamorous. And in this pandemic year, that’s slightly more believable. Since taking over as editor-in-chief of the iconic fashion magazine Marie Claire in September, Holmes has spent the majority of her working hours glued to a computer screen in her New York one-bedroom—not exactly a scene out of The Devil Wears Prada.
“What my day-to-day actually looks like is: wake up at 7:30 and sign online,” Holmes said with a laugh.
But who says Zoom and glitz can’t mix? The day we spoke, Holmes had virtual discussions lined up with a fashion house and a beauty brand, both eager for exposure to Marie Claire’s nearly one million print subscribers. A week earlier, she had listened in as drag queen-turned-cultural icon RuPaul remotely interviewed the country music legend Dolly Parton. “My head was an inch from the screen,” Holmes said. “All of my job is fun, for the most part, but that was a very cool, lucky thing that I got to do.”
Although her meeting calendar has filled up in her new role, she still finds time to write. A search for Holmes’s byline is a wild ride, turning up articles on everything from how the British royal family influenced her choice of sunglasses (“Ray-Bans are the perfect mix of sporty and feminine”) to the death of the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“It’s a tragic day for women—and supporters of women—in the United States”). Holmes is as interested in healthcare legislation as she is the latest Chanel collection, and believes the same can be said for most women.
“We’re all 360-degree people,” she said. “There’s an intellectual note in Marie Claire and that’s something we’re really proud of. It’s for a woman who is interested, invested,and looking for fun, informative content.”
The glossy world of magazines is one that Holmes has immersed herself in since adolescence, when she and her friends would read Seventeen aloud and decorate bulletin boards with its torn-out pages. Every month, Holmes devoured her mother’s issue of Vanity Fair, dog-earing stories she found inspiring.
At Boston College, Holmes briefly considered pre-med before pursuing a degree in English and landing high-profile internships at Vanity Fair and Scholastic. After graduating, she interned at New York magazine, ten months that she described as an editorial “boot camp.” She learned how to “write fast, and also well,” penning articles on New Year’s Eve concerts and chocolate-themed holiday gifts. When the internship ended, she was named editor of the magazine’s online homepage.
Holmes then moved to The Cut, an online offshoot of the magazine, before leaving New York to join ELLE.com as an editor. In 2018, she was named digital director at Marie Claire, where she published the magazine’s first digital issue, which featured trans activist Janet Mock on the cover. Then, in September, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Aya Kanai announced she was leaving the magazine. Holmes was chosen to succeed her, and she is now responsible for both Marie Claire’s print and online presences.
Holmes’s promotion came in the middle of a pandemic, of course, which has meant navigating a new position with social (and professional) distance. But the restrictions have also yielded bursts of creativity. With in-person fashion photo shoots deemed unsafe, Holmes’s team instead commissioned illustrations depicting clothing and accessories being worn, a practice Holmes plans to continue indefinitely because “it’s beautiful, and a cool way to work with people we don’t normally work with.”
And while fashion spreads and skin-care routines will always be Marie Claire staples, Holmes feels strongly that, going forward, the magazine’s pages should also feature even more urgent journalism, and highlight activism. For instance, early in the pandemic, Holmes hired a writer to follow a COVID-19 nurse through a harrowing week of twelve-hour shifts at a New Jersey hospital, humanizing the experience of healthcare workers for readers stuck at home. Then in October, Marie Claire hosted a virtual networking event featuring, among others, the actress and activist Gabrielle Union and the Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza. And for the magazine’s winter issue, Holmes assigned a lengthy article profiling eight women involved in the global Black Lives Matter movement.
Holmes said her greatest hope is that the articles and events she helps to create will empower and inspire the next generation of readers, just as Seventeen and Vanity Fair did for her. “There’s just so much magic in magazines,” she said.
Sally Holmes talks about early inspirations.
“At 14, having something arrive at your door every month was like getting a present—it was just the coolest thing.”
“They had the juiciest features, which I loved, even as a preteen.”
“I thought it had such a great voice and basically did what the whole internet is doing now, first.”