Ever in Fashion
Alas, her own dreams of survival did not. After a six-year fight, Tilberis died in Manhattan on April 21 at age 51. Despite the severity of her illness, her death shocked many. "No one in the fashion world thought she was ever going to die—it just wasn't going to happen," says Patrick McCarthy, editor of the magazine W. That conviction was a testament to Tilberis's grace: In an industry known more for backbiting than beneficence, she was famous for radiating warmth. "Liz came from one place, and that was love," says Donna Karan. "She made everyone feel good." Not that the British expat was any pushover: She reportedly banged her share of boardroom tables and once even slugged a security guard for shoving one of her editors at a fashion show. "Liz was the snap, crackle and pop of the fashion world," says Manhattan socialite Blaine Trump.
In her seven-year reign, Tilberis single-handedly revived the once-struggling Harper's Bazaar, introducing a dramatic redesign, increasing circulation by 25 percent and making dozens of strong alliances along the way. "People who only met her once in the course of business feel they were close friends," says her husband of 27 years, Andrew Tilberis, 56, an artist and father to their sons Robert, 17, and Christopher, 14. "That's the kind of effect Liz had."
Though devoted to her family (she rushed back to their Manhattan home to cook dinner most nights), "work was her passion," says Andrew. When cancer treatments—including a bone-marrow transplant in 1995—intervened, she held meetings at her hospital bed. "For Liz, fashion wasn't simply a career," says Bazaar's fashion director Tonne Goodman. "It was part of her life."
And always had been. "I was interested in fashion from the time I got my first doll," Tilberis told PEOPLE last year. Her parents—Thomas Kelly, an eye surgeon, and his wife, Janet, a homemaker—had academic ambitions for the eldest of their three children, but Tilberis opted to study fashion design. After getting kicked out of Leicester Polytechnic in 1965 for entertaining a boy in her room, she briefly attended art college, where she fell in love with Andrew, who was her tutor, then returned to Leicester and completed her design degree.
By the time she and Andrew wed in July 1971, Tilberis was working her way up as a fashion assistant at British Vogue. Childless in her early 30s, she underwent unsuccessful fertility treatments before electing to adopt in '81. (Later she blamed the treatments, which some research has associated with ovarian cancer, for her illness.) In 1987 she was named editor-in-chief of British Vogue, replacing fellow Brit Anna Wintour, now editor of the U.S. edition.
Five years later, Tilberis too was lured across the Atlantic. Taking the helm at Bazaar, she won a reputation for encouraging young designers, taking artistic risks—and maintaining a stiff upper lip. She was still scrutinizing magazine layouts at home a few days before she died. "If I were to ask her, 'How would you like to be remembered?' " says London PR. executive Phyllis Walters, a friend of 27 years, "she would say, 'Don't be silly.' She fought harder than anyone I know."
Natasha Stoynoff and Ward Morehouse III in New York City and Joanna Blonska in London