This summer, Bella New York Magazine’s Hamptons White Party is the place to be.
The annual summer celebration will be hosted on August 8 by “Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills” and “Vanderpump Rules” star Lisa Vanderpump, following in the footsteps of Christie Brinkley and “Orange Is The New Black” star Laura Prepon. The party has helped put Bella New York Magazine on the map, so we called up founder and editor-in-chief Courtenay C. Hall to talk about the magazine, this year’s party and what’s next for Bella.
I wanted to start by talking about how Bella New York got started. I know you’re both the founder and the editor-in-chief and you started the magazine in 2011. Where did the idea come from?
It actually fell out of left field. I worked at national publications for several years. I worked at Better Homes and Gardens and Metropolitan Home and Elle Decor and I was part of the team that launched Rosie O’Donnell’s magazine in 2000. I loved publishing, but when I got married and had three kids, I took a step back for a while.
I felt that the New York City market didn’t have a regional magazine that spoke to me directly as a woman in terms of beauty, fashion, health and wellness. I was buying 20 magazines and reading all of them and I thought, “Maybe I could take my favorite aspects of those magazines and put them into one magazine.” Literally, I was sitting on my living room couch and I was like, “Do you know what? I’m going to do this!” and I decided that I would give it a try, named it Bella, and here we are five years later!
We hear a lot these days about “the death of print journalism” and how everything is moving online. Was it a scary idea to launch a print magazine in this environment?
Every single person said that to me! “You’re crazy, print is dead!” But I think when you are very passionate about print, which I am, that is the only way to go. No matter what, people still buy magazines at newsstands and want to get that leave-behind. It’s been great, and print has actually been doing really well recently. The numbers are up, and I’m hoping they continue to keep going up.
How would you say Bella New York has evolved in the four years since you launched?
Oh my gosh, we’ve evolved in so many ways. We actually started off with a very small print run of 25,000, and we were much more regional and focusing much more on the health and wellness aspect in the local field. I realized that the national content can be paired with the regional content and then you really have the best of both worlds.
I would also say for the first 12 issues, the celebrity interviews were all real and exclusive to us, but we were small so the photo shoots were not by us. But in the past three years, we shoot every celebrity in the whole magazine with original photography. We’ve really grown in that sense. And now the celebrities are tweeting us and Instagramming, they love the magazine, and that’s been a huge help for us.
When was the first Hamptons White Party? Was it part of the magazine from the start?
No, actually the first one was when we did the Christie Brinkley cover in 2013. That happened really suddenly. I actually had someone else booked for the summer cover, but then, to make a long story short, they were acting more diva than Bella, so I thought, “Nobody needs this! Thank you very much!”
I basically took the cover away from them and I was trying to find someone who’s a staple of the Hamptons and New York City in the summer. Christie Brinkley popped into mind and we got that set up and done within two weeks, and when I was there talking to her, I mentioned, “Would you want to host a White Party for us?” She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met, and she was like, “Of course I would!” And that’s how the White Party was born.
It went so well, I didn’t even realize how much people love Christie Brinkley! We did that one, and then last year we did Laura Prepon from “Orange Is The New Black,” she was amazing, and this year we’re doing Lisa Vanderpump.
How did you decide on a White Party instead of just a general summer party?
It’s actually funny, we were sitting in the office and we were talking about what the theme could be. We had all these random ideas, and then one of the people in my office said, “You know what? P. Diddy always has this fabulous White Party and no one ever does it except for him! Let’s do it!”
I was unsure what people would think, but everyone gets so excited for it. Everyone shows up and everyone looks fabulous, and I think that small element makes people a little more excited. It’s themed, it’s fun, and it really gives it a summer feel.
What fashion advice would you give to people who are wary about wearing all white, especially in New York where so many people wear all black, all the time?
I know, it’s shocking everyone’s system! I tell people, “Wear whatever you feel good in.” Some people show up and they’re totally formal and dressed to the nines, and other people come in a really cute white sundress.
The first year, I wore a white dress from one of our sponsors and it cost maybe $80, and last year I wore this beautiful dress that cost probably $5,000. And I felt beautiful in both. It’s less about the label and the price and more about what makes you feel amazing.
Lisa Vanderpump is the host and the cover star. How did that come about?
I love “The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills.” I’m drawn into it, I love the drama, I love the show. We were talking about the summer party and people were throwing around names, and something inside me said, “Honestly, I know that not everyone is a Real Housewives fan, but…”
There was definitely some rolling of the eyes at first, but I knew she’d never been to the Hamptons, she’s so elegant and classy, and she is from the "Hamptons of the West" -- that’s what Beverly Hills is. I know that though people may not admit it, people love her and love her brand. I said, “Guys, I love all the ideas, but it’s Lisa Vanderpump.”
I made a call to one of my friends out there who knows her. He called her, and she agreed. And so far, in terms of sponsorship, this has been our best party ever. The people love her and the brands love her, so it’s a home run.
How was the photo shoot?
It was so amazing. She’s so nice, and her husband Ken is so nice. She’s so low key. Her home is probably the most beautiful home I’ve ever been in. She was so warm and very welcoming. It was shot by John Russo, who shoots for Vogue and Esquire, he shoots for us as well. She loved him and she said that they’re some of the best pictures she’s ever taken.
What can people expect from the party?
It’s a cocktail party, it’s outside, and we have a Bella Beauty Lounge where we have beauty sponsors who come and set it up like a gifting suite where they have beautiful displays showcasing brands. You can be there, you can party and dance, but you can also have your makeup done.
What’s next for Bella? You’re about to hit that five-year landmark!
Next is Bella Los Angeles. We’ve been out there a lot over the past eighteen months. We’re actually being sold out there already on several newsstands in downtown LA. We’ve hosted a few events out there and I’m going to be co-hosting another one at the end of September.
We feel that the LA market has been extremely receptive to us and that it's a whole other market where there’s nothing like Bella out there. Bella really speaks to women about feeling beautiful from the inside as well. It’s not just about looking fabulous, that’s great, but you also have to feel beautiful. LA is definitely an awesome place, I love it there, but I feel like they can benefit a little bit from the message!