CHEN TO HEAD LUCKY: To save Lucky, you must first kill Lucky. That seems to be the thinking at Condé Nast over what to do about the troublesome shopping magazine.

In the span of five months, the magazine has been remade from top to bottom — it has a new publisher, a redesign and two fewer issues a year, and has shifted its business model “to encompass a multiplatform offering,” though at the moment Lucky continues to be on its existing platforms.

This story first appeared in the June 19, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On Tuesday afternoon, Brandon Holley, the editor in chief for two-and-a-half years, was moved out and replaced by a newcomer to the editor in chief ranks, Eva Chen, a former senior editor at Teen Vogue who was first listed on Lucky’s masthead as a consulting editor in the combined June/July issue that hit newsstands last month.

Chen had already been working on the September issue, and her appointment was effective immediately.

Chen and Holley were not available for comment Tuesday.

“Eva will not be speaking with anyone. You can imagine how busy she is,” a Lucky spokeswoman said. She did not know when Holley’s last day would be.

Holley’s exit is just the latest shake-up to hit the 13-year-old magazine as Condé attempts to revive it after recent years of struggle — advertising pages declined 20 percent in 2012 for a total of 894, and continued to slide through June/July by six percent, according to Media Industry Newsletter. Total circulation also dropped 1.2 percent in the second half of 2012 to 1.1 million, and newsstand sales declined 31 percent, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

In January, Marcy Bloom, the magazine’s publisher for a little more than a year, was replaced by a marketing executive, Gillian Gorman Round. Holley maintained the title of editor in chief, but in a first for Condé, was reassigned to report to Round, instead of Condé chief executive officer Chuck Townsend.

In February, Condé trimmed Lucky’s frequency to 10 issues a year, combining two issues, December/January and June/July, that were typically soft on the newsstand and with advertisers.

In March, Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, was named Condé artistic director. She described her role as a sounding board for the company’s editors, and Holley was one of the first in the building to reach out and ask for Wintour’s expertise.

“It seemed like things were going well,” said a source.

In May, Holley and Round touted a redesign that featured more high-end fashion and photography, including work by Patrick Demarchelier, the Vogue perennial. “The quintessential DNA of Lucky remains the same,” Holley told Ad Age.

But behind the scenes, editorial control of the magazine was slipping from the editor’s hands. Wintour started spending more time at the magazine — several times a week — and was involved in every aspect of production, even attending run-throughs, several sources said. While Holley was nominally in charge, Wintour brought in Chen, whom she had flagged as a rising talent at Teen Vogue, in April as a consultant who would function as her conduit there.

“She was someone who would be a translator for Anna, and represent her vision in the magazine,” a source said. “[Chen] was involved in everything from copy to design.”

Two competing visions for the magazine began to emerge.

Lucky was initially conceived in 2000 as a glorified catalogue with some editorial inside, but after the recession hit and ad pages plummeted, Holley was hired in 2010 and remade it as a casual, relatable alternative to the more high-end magazines, aimed at young women on a budget.

Wintour’s vision was to recast the magazine as more polished and aspirational. Holley fought to preserve the scrappy identity she felt Lucky had, but she was overruled.

“There’s not much room for discussion” when Wintour’s involved, a source said.

The stakes were high for Wintour as well — Lucky was the first project she was tackling as new artistic director, and a failed turnaround might reflect badly on her. Eventually it became clear Holley was not getting with the new program.

“It’s tough when you have two people in charge,” said a source. “You have one person who has her own vision for the magazine she’s built. And you have another person who is 100 percent dedicated to her vision as artistic director.” A Condé spokeswoman disputed the characterization of Wintour’s plans for the magazine. “Wintour has always believed that the fashion content of Lucky should cover a wide range of prices,” she said.

Holley’s dismissal did not come as a surprise, but the mood among the rank and file is uncertain. The news had already been preceded by two years of speculation that Lucky’s print version would be killed and the title would go digital in the manner of Gourmet and Domino. “The attitude on the floor is very wait and see,” a source said.

Chen’s appointment seems like the first step in a transition towards a digital-only version of Lucky. In a statement, Wintour noted Chen’s “foundation in both digital and e-commerce.” Condé executives have in the past said a digital-only edition is not in consideration because it doesn’t make sense financially. A spokeswoman for Condé Nast declined to comment on the company’s plans for Lucky’s print edition.

For Chen, who’s in her 30s, her rise to the top of a nationally distributed fashion magazine caps an extraordinarily fast ascent. In 2002, she was an assistant in the beauty department of Elle, and three years later was an associate stylist. She came to Teen Vogue in 2005 as a beauty and health director, and was hand-picked by editor in chief Amy Astley as an up-and-coming talent. “Amy groomed her,” a source said.

Readers of the magazine will be familiar with Chen’s face as it was plastered on a section under her watch, “Beauty Blogger,” which featured breezy interviews with young starlets like reality TV’s Lauren Conrad.

In May 2011, Chen moved up in the masthead to her highest rank at the magazine, beauty and health director and special projects director, fifth from the top. She held that position for a year and a half, until November 2012, and continued on as a consultant until she was brought in to consult at Lucky, a magazine that was created when she was still an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins.

Chen has accumulated a large following on Twitter — over 46,900 and rising! — and Instagram, both repositories for many selfies, pictures of various new brands of nail polish and cute shoes, and the occasional video posing with a celebrity on a red carpet.

The young Chen is likely the only editor in chief at Condé Nast who has tweeted her enthusiasm for the upcoming Disney show “Girl Meets World.”

Holley, an industry veteran, has been through this song and dance with Condé Nast before. Much as she succeeded founding editor Kim France at Lucky, she replaced Jane Pratt in 2005 at Jane. Holley lasted until Condé decided to kill the magazine two years later.

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