Joe Zee

Elle's longtime creative director will serve as editor in chief and executive creative officer of Yahoo fashion, as well as editor at large of its beauty site.

ELLE LOOKS FOR ZEE SUCCESSOR: Joe Zee, Elle’s longtime creative director, is heading to Internet giant Yahoo, after weeks of speculation.

Zee, who has worked at the Hearst-owned publication for seven years, has become the magazine’s most visible face and even developed his own television show.

This story first appeared in the April 15, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It’s a big loss,” Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers told WWD. “I’ve worked with Joe for seven years. But it will be a perfect job for him.”

At Yahoo, Zee will serve as editor in chief and executive creative officer of Yahoo fashion, as well as editor at large of its beauty site, which will be helmed by Bobbi Brown. He will remain at Elle until the end of May, before he embarks on his new job, where he’ll split his time between New York and Los Angeles. Zee’s successor at Elle has not been named.

Myers said that since rumors began to circulate over the past few weeks that Zee was in talks with Yahoo, she’s been getting a lot of “interesting” calls.

“Being the creative director at Elle is a great job. It’s really about me finding the right fit,” she said, explaining that it will be difficult to duplicate what Zee brought to the magazine.

“Joe is a singular person. His talents are specific to his background,” Myers offered. “There is nobody else like Joe — we’re never going to find another Joe. You don’t look to hire that exact same person again.”

That said, Elle does have a large void to fill. Currently, the magazine has brought on Heiko Keinath, cofounder of creative agency Buero Swiss, as consulting design director. He’s been working with Elle for about a month. Some have speculated that Alex Gonzalez, whose star is rising at Hearst, will be tapped. Currently, Gonzalez is the artistic director of Marie Claire, as well as the design director of Town & Country.

Others noted that Myers, who prefers to play more of a behind-the-scenes role, would need another big personality to fill Zee’s shoes.

During his time at Elle, Zee has stretched his own brand beyond the magazine’s pages. He is an executive producer and host of Sundance TV’s series “Revealing” and “All on the Line With Joe Zee.” He also sells and designs clothing under the label Styled by Joe  Zee on QVC.

While those projects are ongoing, Zee’s new job will give him the freedom to call the shots.

“I loved my job at Elle and it took a lot for me to leave,” he said, explaining that when he was first approached by Yahoo in early March, during Academy Awards season, he wasn’t convinced.

But Zee sat down with Yahoo president, director and chief executive officer Marissa Mayer and Yahoo chief marketing officer Kathy Savitt to discuss the opportunity, and he soon realized that they were offering him the chance to “speak to a really big audience” and he could do it “in a really chic way.” Yahoo has more than 700 million users a month.

Zee’s new job is a fairly expansive role that will give him the freedom to develop the content not only for the Internet giant’s digital fashion magazine, but also the power to execute events for the site and create
unscripted programming, he told WWD.

“It probably is a little bit of a head scratcher coming out of the world of fashion,” Zee said of the job move. “But I’m sitting with Marissa Mayer and she said, ‘Consider this your playground.'”

The opportunity is part of a broader strategy for Yahoo, which is relaunching its online verticals or magazines on topics such as travel, food, technology, news, entertainment, fashion and beauty.

For Mayer, who grabbed the top job at Yahoo in 2012, the revamp is a way for the company to jump-start its business and relevance in the face of faster-growing rivals such as Google and Facebook. Recent hires include Brown for Beauty, ex-Page Six editor Paula Froelich for Travel, former Vulture editorial director Josh Wolk for Entertainment and New York Times alums David Pogue for Tech and Matt Bai for Yahoo News. Katie Couric also joined Yahoo as global anchor earlier this year.

Zee is the latest major defection from the “traditional media,” but after 25 years working in magazines, the editor was ready to stretch his brand further.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for new media,” he said. “I certainly never shied away from innovation or anything new. I can build a staff, I can build something. I think the great thing is, I will be able to conceive, develop and launch this incredible magazine…and do events and video.”

His reach will extend to beauty as well, where he will contribute to the beauty vertical and work with Brown and her team on coverage.

Despite his enthusiasm, the question remains whether Yahoo will be able to compete against already well-established fashion sites and print magazines. If the past serves as any indication, it won’t be easy. The remodel is essentially a relaunch of Yahoo Shine, the company’s fashion and lifestyle site.

When asked to address the possible bumps in the road for Yahoo, Zee didn’t skip a beat.

“I think the tide has shifted. Good content is king. People will come to you if you create good content. The perfect example of that is Netflix,” he said, pointing to the site’s history as a video rental service. “Today they are winning Emmys.”