The UK born Tina Brown moved to New York as an advisor at Vanity Fair magazine in 1983 and became editor-in-chief January 1984. Her latest book chronicles her time as an expat in 1980’s New York and all that it encompassed. Brown kept a diary which she titled, ‘The Vanity Fair Diaries. 1983-1992’.

During an interview with Andy Cohen on his Sirius radio show ‘Deep and Shallow,’ she talks about the juicy narrative. From the rise of HIV and AIDS and her honoring the impact of the cultural loss, the early years of Donald Trump, Jackie Onassis encounters and how the publishing game has changed today.

This was a time when fashion houses were (and are) influencing style and Studio 54 was still going strong. Andy Warhol was quite something, and the current U.S. President was mouthing off all over the city while building his empire. Brown was holding strong in a man’s world, balancing motherhood, the challenges of autism parenting which was largely unknown at the time and leaving a legacy for the next generation of editors.

The book gives a look inside the world of publishing, Conde Nast and magazines in general.

The ‘Jackie Yo!’ cover

Tina Brown met Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at a dinner party (and several other first ladies during her time as editor). “In person, Jackie has an enormous head and fragile presence.

Watching Jackie up close was mesmerizing. Her face is always slightly out of whack with her expression as if they are two separate entities at work. She has perfected a fascinated stare sitting finishing school upright in a fuchsia Carolina Herrera jacket over a dark sheath. She looks into your face, not your eyes -and not mine I hasten to say.

In fact, "craze" is what I decided about Jackie at the end of the evening. I felt if you cleared the room and left her alone in it she would be in front of a mirror screaming. Her responses are so out of kilter “. Onassis had coyly expressed her disdain for the publication so Brown could hear her.

Onassis graced the cover of Vanity Fair more than once, but it was August 1989 that Brown had her on the cover with the caption, “Jackie, Yo!”.

It was the eve of Jackie’s 60th birthday. Edward Klein, the cover article writer, was an acquaintance of Onassis. In it, he painted a very different picture about the private side of a style icon.

Andy Cohen asked Brown about the repercussions of printing stories that covered people in the public eye, and later running into them face to face at events after the fact - both of which are part of the job. She confesses having an endless supply of charm to get through sticky situations is needed in her line of work.

Donald Trump

New Yorker’s knew Donald Trump’s reputation long before the nation as a whole did. From the book, diary entry dated July 2, 1990, “He’s a seamless tailor sewing, stitching, and cutting.

Marie (Brenner, a writer) has been able to establish such a pattern of him lying, and loud mouthing that it’s incredible he stills prospers and get banks to loan him money.” Trump’s brother said, “Donald was the kid who threw cake at the birthday party. He’s like some monstrous id creation of his father. A cartoon assemblage of the worst characteristics mixed with the particular excesses of the new media age. Later, the revelation that he has a collection of Hitler’s speeches at the office is going to make a lot of news.” 6 months later Donald Trump attended a black tie party where Marie Brenner was in attendance, and he dumped a glass of wine down the back of her neck as payback. He walked away looking back at her with a gloating grin.

American women vs. British women

Brown’s observation when she moved to New York in 1983 for Vanity Fair from London was, “New York women are so much more confident than we are in London. They are ahead of us in what they expect, what they assume and what they aspire to do. They seem so much better on their feet and in meetings. American girl schools I think are much better at teaching girls how to speak in public and how to handle themselves in a public setting.” Brown attended an all girl’s boarding school. At the time she was terrified to speak in public and became mortified when a hostess would tap a glass and go around the table and have each person speak. It took Brown many years, well into her years editing 'The New Yorker,' to become more comfortable speaking in public.

To this day she feels women are taught to value public speaking skills in the US more so than in the UK.


Brown writes about the loss the creative community suffered as the AIDS epidemic spread. A very dear junior editor who she hired at Vanity Fair when he was HIV positive had lost his partner to AIDS. Sadly, just a few months later he died when his own HIV progressed to AIDS. In 1988 the magazine did a spread that featured many of the faces of AIDS as a homage to the cultural loss - it was felt so strongly in the art and fashion communities. Many lost friends including designer Perry Ellis and founder of Studio 54, Steve Rubell. There was a dishonesty in how people were claiming what caused the death of their loved ones because of the stigma associated with AIDS.

Iconic covers and the changing age of the publishing business

The big Vanity Fair cover Tina Brown did in her era was the iconic Demi Moore bare belly pregnancy photo. It took sales of the magazine from $700k to $1.2 million where sales stayed thereafter. Caitlin Jenner’s 2015 cover was another iconic moment, but media has changed. It didn’t sell more copies because of the digital world we’re currently living in. Photographer Annie Leibovitz’s photo of Jenner was all over digital media, and as a result, people weren’t buying the issue.

She added that the digital era has made print publishing a challenge. Being able to monetize iPad versions of magazines the way print does just isn’t possible, yet so writers aren’t able to be paid well, and online magazines don’t generate a substantial income as a whole.

Brown found some frustration in being an editor because in her heart she is a journalist, a writer. She found she would have occasionally preferred to go out and report on stories rather than assign them to someone else. Today, Brown continues to write and left 'The Daily Beast,' which she co-launched in 2008, to launch Tina Brown Media. She currently lives in New York with her husband.

The Vanity Fair Diaries is on sale now.