IN fashion circles, marie claire publisher/editor Jackie Frank is famous for conducting meetings from her treadmill.
It’s not unusual for the notorious multi-tasker to be found simultaneously approving a fashion shoot and solving an advertising issue while checking mails on her iPhone and pounding “the runway” installed in her office, as former staff can attest to.
But in a new fly-on-the-wall documentary series, marie claire: Under The Cover, the public finally gets the chance to glimpse her in action for themselves.
“I love it!” she hollers in one scene, dressed in an oversized t-shirt and runners, to an art director who dutifully stands to one side of the revolving belt, holding up a page spread for her approval.
Another assistant swarms in to hand over papers to sign off on. “I just need a pen,” she huffs, still thumping away on the machine. “Anyone got a pen?”
It may not be Frank at her most glamorous, though there are certainly other parts in the series that do show her life to be just that. But it is a telling snapshot into the rarified world of women’s magazines, and the woman who has steered Pacific Magazines’ marie claire to the top of the glossy pack.
The eight-part series has taken us backstage at Paris Fashion Week where Frank is seen air-kissing designer Marc Jacobs and to a lavish party in Rose Bay where the well-heeled kick off the magazine’s Red Dress campaign. It has also covered everything from fashion shoots and late night deadlines to the research that goes into creating the hard-hitting features marie claire is famous for.
On the day we meet at the magazine’s newly refurbished Eveleigh office, filming has already wrapped up and the camera crews are nowhere to be seen. Even so, there is still a distinct buzz in the air as I’m politely ushered in and informed that I’ve only got ten minutes to ask my questions as Frank has got back-to-back meetings.
When I enter, Frank is tucked behind her desk, wearing a sleek black sheath dress and minimal makeup. Her famous treadmill is in the corner, but turned off.
“Sure, I had a lot of reservations in terms of how we would come across, whether people would like us or not,” she explains about her decision to sign on to the project. “But I think of marie claire as a brand, and it was just too good of an opportunity in terms of a branding exercise.”
Initially, she says, she felt more like a performing monkey for the cameras, especially given that some of her staff were a little reluctant at first to get in front of the cameras. But that quickly changed.
“In the end, you get into a rhythm and you just do your job. Somebody [that I know] watched it and said to me, ‘It’s funny. It’s exactly the same as having you at our Shabbat table.’ People who know me think I’m not any different.”
It did take a little longer, however, for her to get used to watching herself played back in edits, especially the parts in which she is heard screeching across the office for staff members.
“At first, it’s jarring. Sometimes you go, ‘Oh, God, what did I do?’. But I’m just me. You can’t control how people see you, and I’m not going to be holding back on who I am. Old habits are hard to change. ”
No doubt it was that kind of ballsy and unapologetic approach to things that gave her a head start as she rose through the ranks in the notoriously fickle world of magazines.
She famously started out as a beautician in the 1980s (“I do good wax,” she boasts) before she got her first break working on the social pages in the Melbourne office of Harper’s Bazaar. She later went on to become fashion editor of British Elle and then worked at American Elle and Mademoiselle magazines before launching marie claire in Australia in 1995.
Depending on who you talk to, she has a reputation for being a bit of a taskmaster. But Frank is keen to dispel such perceptions. “People think I’m tough. But I don’t think I’m tough. I cry at the drop of a hat.”
Indeed, she can be seen breaking down in a Parishotel room during Fashion Week in episode two, opening up about the difficulties of juggling motherhood with the demands of such a high-profile career.
“It’s not easy,” says Frank, the mother of Charlie, 13, and Ella, 11. “As a mother, you want to be there for your kids. It’s like you’re juggling a whole lot of balls, and you drop them. I have a very supportive husband, who is able to pick up the slack as well.”
But ultimately, it’s a serious business and it takes a lot of work to stay at the top. This is the message, above all, she wants viewers to take home.
“I think that’s what people may not often understand. They think it’s this glamour world, and you just trail off here and there. But there is serious journalism that goes into our stories. There is a lot of hard work and very skilled people doing their jobs to produce something that looks effortless.”