Gillian de Bono says farewell as editor of How To Spend It

As she steps down as editor, Gillian de Bono reflects on 20 very well-spent years

Image: Chris Burke

There’s never an easy time for an editor to step down from a magazine she has loved to edit – or to leave a company she holds in such high regard as the Financial Times. So there is a bitter sweetness to these last words I write for How To Spend It as its editor.  

Twenty years ago, when I took over the helm, we were a team of five producing 11 issues a year for the European edition of FT Weekend. Our talented team is now 25-strong, and in that intervening period we’ve expanded geographically to Asia and the Americas, introduced mid-month themed editions (with their own catchy titles) and created Friday editions for the newspaper’s weekday readers. We’ve also seen Russian-, German- and Italian-language editions, launched three iterations of our website and two iterations of our app – and won more than 30 industry awards along the way. 

If this sounds like an exhilarating, rollercoaster ride of a job, that’s pretty much how it has felt. And while at times I found it hard to catch my breath, there were many “firsts” to spur me on: the fact that we were the first luxury lifestyle newspaper magazine, the first to have supersized glossy pages and the first to have a global readership; that we were the first (and only) magazine to win all three top British industry awards in a single year; the first (and only) newspaper magazine to have foreign-language editions; and the first (and only) magazine to auction everything pictured on its pages for charity (as we did in 2014 with our 20th-anniversary How To Give It issue, raising £362,000 for Save the Children in the process). And although we now have 34 issues a year, I like to think that every single one retains the calibre and character of a monthly magazine.

So I can say with confidence that, while print may be in decline, How To Spend It is a print product that has enduring value, not only for its content, but as a luxury product in its own right. As one reader recently put it to me: “I love the magazine aesthetically – the dimensions of it, the quality of the paper, the layout, which is absolutely brilliant. Even if it were in Chinese, I would still love it.” Another described it to me more simply as “an art form”. I have even met readers who tell me they have kept every single copy since its 1994 launch. 

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For all this, I have a huge debt to creative director Tomaso Capuano, who created a strong and elegant visual identity for the magazine, and fashion director Damian Foxe, who has been conceptualising and styling our fashion shoots for as long as I have been editor. Damian has brought a very special magic to our fashion pages (and not a small amount of danger: who can forget his underwater shoot in shark-infested waters in the Bahamas, where the model had no breathing apparatus and had to be protected by shark wranglers?). As a photographer, Damian has shown an extraordinary ability to connect with his subjects at a deep emotional level – so much so that John Hurt’s widow asked permission to show the video of Damian’s shoot with John at his memorial service, because not only was it one of John’s favourite things to have worked on, but it truly “captured” him. 

Our contributing editors have also played a major role in defining How To Spend It as best in class, and working closely with them for so long has been one of my greatest joys. Nick Foulkes, our resident watch fancier, cigar aficionado and dandy-about-town, has brought his own special brand of erudition and wit to the magazine, while Jonathan Margolis’s “Technopolis” column has cult status even among technophobes. Vivienne Becker combines an unrivalled knowledge of gems with a poetic eloquence that is rare in her field, and I could always rely on Maria Shollenbarger to secure the most sought-after travel exclusives – and when she’s not commissioning and editing, she writes like a dream. As does Alice Lascelles on all things alcoholic, and Simon de Burton on the most covetable cars and motorbikes. And then there’s our associate editor, the legendary and still brilliant Lucia van der Post, who turned the How To Spend It pages of the Financial Times into cult Saturday reading and then oversaw its migration to glossy stock as its founding editor. 

But perhaps our greatest strength has been to keep a pin-sharp focus on you, our readers – to curate our editorial with your needs and interests firmly in mind. Our mission has always been to bring you the very best news- and trend-led stories and to bring them to you first, and every time a reader has told me that they have learnt something new and relevant and inspiring from our pages, I have taken enormous pride in the trust they place in us. 

I am confident that this will continue under my successor, and I look forward to opening the pages of How To Spend It in the coming months with the fresh eyes of a reader. In the meantime, there’s just one person left to thank: our award-winning illustrator and fellow How To Spend It veteran Chris Burke, for making me look 30 again.

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