Signature Style: Hearst’s Joanna Coles, the Female Warrior of Media and Fashion

As former editor in chief of Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, Joanna Coles helped to make the titles not just glossy and sexy but also smart and relevant—and expanded the reach of major women’s media brands from newsstand to today’s landscape of desktop, mobile and television. Now as chief content officer at Hearst, Coles is creating new alliances and partnerships with companies similarly disrupting the landscape—Snapchat and Airbnb, for example.

“Now, everybody wants to be in the content business but it’s not a skillset that everybody has or can afford,” Coles says. “I take a lot of meetings with people who want a magazine or digital brand. That is what Hearst excels at.”

A career spent innovating on the frontlines of fashion and publishing—complete with the turmoil often associated with innovation—has influenced her style choices. “I’m generally dressed for a fight,” Coles says. That translates to “streamlined” (a fashion editor-approved word) basics like a leather legging, tuxedo jacket or sleeveless sheath with a strong blazer that present a slightly unisex glamour—with a hint that you could be headed someplace fun after work. To complete her daily armor, stiletto boots or pointed high heels feel almost like the modern, boardroom-appropriate equivalent of spurs.

“I think more of Joan of Arc, a female warrior, than I do a bohemian girl dancing in the field,” Coles says of her style inspirations. “I happen to live opposite a really glorious statue of Joan of Arc in heavy armor aboard a horse with her sword in the air. I identify with that in the media world today; if you’re not riding a horse with your sword pointed forward, you’re going backward.”

It’s also a look that’s camera-ready, and part of Coles’ forward movement includes the recent successful launch of So Cosmo, a reality series on E! that chronicles the personal and professional lives (and outfits!) of staffers at Cosmopolitan. “What we tried to create was something that would be relatable for anybody that’s worked in an office; you recognize the characters and the conflict, and how it gets resolved,” Coles says. The Bold Type, a scripted series inspired by the magazine, debuts in July on Freeform.

As she continues to grow the media landscape at Hearst, Coles is looking for the same sense of unexpected delight as a juror for this year’s Clio Fashion & Beauty Awards. “I’m looking for something to surprise and move me. It’s hard to find that,” she notes. “I was watching a biopharmaceutical ad for something called GoBoldly.com, about the future of science and medicine. It just felt exciting. I’m looking for something with that power—something that doesn’t feel cliché and feels inclusive. When it’s about fashion and beauty, you want it to feel like it appeals to more than one group.” As with stellar personal style, outstanding creative work is all about “expressing yourself and your beliefs in the world,” Coles says.

Entries for the 2017 Clio Fashion & Beauty Awards are now open. The final deadline for submissions is April 14. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit clios.com/fashion-beauty.