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Bitch At Us: Courtenay Hall of BELLA New York

The New York media landscape is certainly a crowded one. There are no fewer than two dozen apps, outlets, and magazines that I get my to-dos and trends from.

BELLA New York is definitely on that list. The print and online publication put a woman’s lens to New York life, channeling the mantra that, while this city might be a bit tough and dirty, “beauty is defined by you.” It’s the New York in-the-know guide to beauty, culture, cuisine, and celebrity.

Behind BELLA is Courtenay Hall, the editor in chief and founder. Courtenay started the publication seven years ago by jumping off a solid career in magazine publishing (think Better Homes & Gardens and Metropolitan Décor). She’s also been a New Yorker for more than two decades, so she knows her stuff.

But she’s not just an entrepreneur, she’s also a mother of three; talk about a boss. From the Bella offices in SoHo, Courtenay chatted with me about her media empire, life in New York and, of course, brunch.

How have women and women’s lifestyles in New York changed in the seven years since you started BELLA?

CH: Women in New York, I think, are different than women anywhere else. Women in New York are extremely savvy; they’re on top of what they want to know about. And so, with BELLA, my thought was, let’s put together all of the aspects of what really makes up the New York City lifestyle for women, and pack it all into one amazing issue.

I was reading probably 20 magazines a month so I could get my beauty fix, my fashion fix, my health and wellness fix, my celeb fix. I thought if we could package all of these things and really target the New York woman as to how she wants to look, how she wants to feel inside, celebrity stories that are all very positive, that would be amazing. We also focus on the best things about New York, which is the arts and culture, the people in New York.

Brunch, of course, is where you get together on the weekends with your girlfriends to catch up. How have you seen the brunch scene in New York evolve?

CH: I think brunch, honestly, is like the new drinks. So many of my friends and my BELLA colleagues, that’s what they do on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That’s the new girl time. There are also so many fabulous places in New York to have brunch. It’s really become the new social time for women. I feel like women are really gravitating toward that type of networking, meeting with your girlfriends rather than always doing the after-work drinks.

Where do you brunch?

CH: I actually love brunch, and I tell my husband at least once a month, we have to leave the kids at home and just go to brunch somewhere. One of my favorite places is Friend of a Farmer. It’s so charming there; the food is always amazing. Beauty & Essex—I always have the best time when I go there with my girlfriends. So yeah, not as much as I did back in the day, but I definitely make a point to at least once a month enjoy brunch somewhere. I’m a mimosa girl, for sure.

How do you enrich your life beyond work, family, and brunch?

CH: It’s definitely very hectic at times. Very busy with the three at home, but you know what, I find so much passion in giving back to certain causes. I’m very involved in childhood cancer fundraising. I just think of these little kids who are battling so much … so whatever I can do, whether it’s baking 100 cupcakes for Ronald McDonald House or stuffing goodie bags for a local fundraiser, whatever that looks like, I’ll always make time for that.

What’s also fun about giving back is that I involve my three kids as well. So last Thanksgiving we made 50 hot meals, and we bagged them up and tried to make it nice. We just drove around the city and found people who were down and out and gave them the care package. I feel like just doing that type of thing makes it all worthwhile because I’m so lucky, and I’m so blessed, and with that, my time should be spent giving back as much as I can.

What’s next for BELLA? Do you want to expand it to more cities?

CH: Well, we just launched BELLA Los Angeles in September, so we’re super excited about that. We’re now on both coasts. From there, we’re going to go into Miami, Dallas, and Chicago. BELLA’s tagline is “beauty defined by you,” and I feel like that is really the underlying message of it all. Yeah, you can flip through the pages, and you’ll find amazing beauty products, amazing fashion, but we want people to look through the 160 pages and find something that defines beauty in their life.

I don’t want to dictate beauty and say, “if you’re not wearing this outfit and you’re not wearing this makeup, then you’re not beautiful.” Beauty comes in all forms, so whether it’s going out for an amazing brunch or whether it’s going to the theater or taking a walk in Central Park, whatever it is, then women of New York will find it within the pages of BELLA.


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