09/17/2012 11:11 am ET

Sitting In on Joanna Coles's First 'Cosmo' Staff Meeting

"I grew up reading "Cosmo,"" declares brand-new "Cosmopolitan" ­editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, one of her peculiar pedicure-exposing boots akimbo on her purple velour couch. She’s from Yorkshire, in the north of England—her father is a teacher, her mother a social worker—and when she speaks she sounds much more arch than the prim American geishaspeak of the magazine’s legendary founder Helen Gurley Brown, who died last month. “When it would come, I would sequester myself and read it for two hours, and then I would fling it across the room and say, ‘Right now, my life is going to begin! I am going to improve in every single area!’ It seemed wildly sophisticated, like this bigger, brighter light would shine in my room.”

Just over a decade ago, Coles had been the New York correspondent for the "Times" of London when she was asked to return home to cover Parliament—a very good job. But the prospect set off a panic—that the places she’d live, the dinner parties she’d attend, the places she’d holiday would become too drearily predictable. So she decided to become a magazine editor, here at "New York" and then at "More," eventually taking over "Marie Claire" in 2006. This September 10, she moved four floors upstairs in the sleek Norman Foster–designed Hearst headquarters to the “big chair” at the disciplined cash cow of factoid-y female empowerment. I meet her the next day, and she’s not even had a chance to read Brown’s 1962 kittenish liberation masterwork, "Sex and the Single Girl," though she has ordered it. “I realized that one of the reasons it’s going to be fun to edit a magazine about sex—sex is free,” she says. “You don’t have to be rich to have good sex. Which, in these times, is good.”

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