ON THE COVER
On April 8, Vanity Fair had just released their new cover story, featuring a portrait of Sofía Vergara—red dress off the shoulder, white fur wrap, looking, you know, like Sofía Vergara. Jane Sarkin, features editor for the magazine, breathes a sigh of relief during a noon-hour phone conversation. “It’s getting a lot of play because she looks amazing, and it was her first time on our cover,” Sarkin says. “There is a lot of excitement in the press and online. Sofía has a huge social media presence. That is going to be huge for her and for us.” (More huge, two months later VF’s Caitlyn Jenner cover rippled around the globe.) Leading the process on the publication’s striking covers—“the face of the magazine”— has been a key focus for Sarkin in her work at Vanity Fair over the past thirty years.
Do the math. That adds up to some 360 rounds of working to find the right story, the right image, and coordinate everything that needs to be done to create a cover for one of the world’s most beautiful magazines. Sarkin credits a large crew of contributors—designers, hair and make-up artists, and, of course, legendary photographers such as Annie Leibovitz and the late Helmut Newton.
“I’ve been working with the same people, most of them, for more than twenty years,” she says. “We’re like a family here. It has really been an incredible time.”
Stormy weather, cancelled flights, finding out at the last-minute that the gigantic, set-designer-created planet Earth to be featured in a photo with Madonna needs to be transported across the country for a Los Angeles photo shoot, such are a few of the challenges of shooting a Vanity Fair cover. Asked about any misfires, Sarkin laughs and says you tend to forget those. Then adds, “Maybe putting Shia LeBouf in a space suit wasn’t the best idea.”
MIRACLE ON ICE
An English major during her UVM days, Sarkin can trace her interest in the magazine business to a precise and unexpected event. February 22, 1980, the famed “Miracle on Ice” game—the United States Olympic hockey team’s upset victory over the Soviet Union—took place in Lake Placid, New York. Sarkin, a UVM student in Burlington then, recalls being drawn into the excitement and intrigued by how it was captured in the media. Paging through a copy of People, she thought “How do you do this? How do you get involved in this world?”
Sarkin’s first New York magazine job would be an entry-level receptionist gig at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. “In those days, all you did was answer the phone all day— ‘Interview, Interview, Interview, Interview,’” she recalls. She adds an important aside, “and you got to know all of New York.” A photo editor taught her about setting up photo shoots, and Sarkin grew into a magazine jack-of-all-trades. With her skills and her connections within New York’s celebrity A-List, Sarkin would be an important addition to editor Tina Brown’s team as she built the Vanity Fair staff in the mid-1980s.
Though her focus at Vanity Fair has remained steady for three decades, Sarkin has experienced some change in the last few years. She and husband Martin O’Connor, an attorney, have an empty nest at their home in New Jersey, both daughters having gone off to college. “It’s awful. I miss my kids terribly,” she confesses. And Vanity Fair’s publisher, Condé Nast, recently moved the magazine headquarters from Times Square to One World Trade Center.
Then, of course, there are the challenges of keeping a print magazine vital in a rapidly changing media age. “We obviously have to adapt like everyone. We spend a lot of time on our web presence and thinking about how we attract new readers and young readers. But we really are going strong,” Sarkin says. “You just want to keep the magazine really, really successful. You want it to always be part of the conversation when people talk about what they’ve read recently in a magazine.”