About the frustration with & the relevance & authority of Vogue, fashion’s magazine of magazines. Part 1
When I started to write this article I was well aware of the huge dimension of my question. What I was not aware of, was the amount of answers I had in my head, of the amount of stuff I had to say about it.
But let me start at the beginning and with a question: When was the last time, you’ve bought, read AND enjoyed a fashion magazine?
Well, I do buy them EVERY NOW AND THEN – with a feeling of buying (reading) time. I RARELY read the magazines – because they are rarely more interesting than my social media feeds. And I HARDLY EVER enjoy them – they actually never inspire me.
And I bet, that you feel at least similar if not the same every now and then.
French ENNUI and FRUSTRATION
The FRENCH VOGUE is the perfect example of my pretty TENSE RELATION to fashion magazines: As a PARISIAN IN MY HEART, I had subscribed the French edition for years after moving back to Vienna. And for years, I loved it. It was like an anchor back to my Paris years – its style was inspiring, surprising and fresh.
But with Emmanuelle Alt arriving as the RÉDACTRICE EN CHEF I noticed a harsh change style-wise. Change might be the initial intention when changing the head of an enterprise, I know. But the style did not really change to the better, the style became an endless repetition of the style & life of its editor in chief. And forgive me, but Alt’s style might be the perfect example of Parisian style, but in my opinion that’s nothing that should be repeated on an every day level. Even Parisian ladies get tired of tiny little black jeans, the perfect little white shirt and kitten heels. Even Parisian ladies need eccentricity every now and then. Not to talk of all the other stylish but bored ladies worldwide looking at French Vogue.
Of course, at this point I have outed myself as a fan girl of Carine Roitfeld, who is also a Parisian lady – of course. But a charismatic one. A provocative and intelligent one. A fashion leader, well aware of the power of culture and image, not only of kitten heels.
From a COLLECTION PIECE to GARBAGE
I stopped my subscription years ago. But I never gave really up on it: Every now and then I bought it and – disappointed of its content – threw it away quickly (something unimaginable before). I also have been trying my luck with other countries’ Vogues, sometimes satisfied sometimes less satisfied. What used to be COLLECTION PIECES for me has actually become TRAVEL SOUVENIRS in the best and GARBAGE in the worst case.
LOGGING OUT and giving it a SERIOUS TRY
This summer I seized the days of our beach vacation in Portugal to log out of social media and take the time to really STUDY VOGUE. The German version was my first station – I read it from the first to the last page. And immediately thought about writing a blog article on the magazine’s relevance, focusing on the September issues. Because: If Vogue is not at its aesthetic and intellectual height with the September issue, it’s never going to be.
How much FACTION is there in VOGUE?
This is my modest question. How much aesthetic and intellectual power is there left in VOGUE? What happened to its once famous authority and influence?
I am going to focus on two aspects: Vogue’s written and its visual content. How relevant are Vogue’s articles to contemporary society? How do its columns and reviews reflect society’s changes as well as how women’s lives change? How relevant are the visual stories to contemporary culture? Do they hit the Zeitgeist?
Because of the numerous possibilities of answering this huge question my article is going to be divided into several parts. This one is going to focus on the intellectual property of Vogue, its articles and texts.
In the search for a STANDPOINT
Going through Vogue, you need to be patient when searching its native content. The editors’ letters begin on page 77 (UK) up to page 186 (US). What do you face in the meantime? Ads, ads, ads.
With some patience Vogue’s content hits you finally – and it in some cases it hits you without specification: The table of content pages (mind the fancy Italian graphic solution!) does not really specify whether its feature is visual or written – which I appreciate when comparing this to contemporary online content aesthetics. The mix of the two is very common nowadays – the former separation into page filling editorials and page filling texts wouldn’t be or look contemporary. Think of online articles – they are filled with images and texts alike, their layouts combining the two freely.
In the quest of a written INSPIRATION
Anyhow let’s try to focus on the features, that are more or less featuring text and written content! Going through four different editions I quickly noticed HARSH DIFFERENCES. I’ll begin with the good but mainstream protagonists: The American and British Vogues focus pretty much on trending topics, like FEMINIST issues, CLIMATE discussions, SOCIAL initiatives and the POLITICAL sides of fashion and its personalities.
A broader PERSPECTIVE
Let’s take a closer look at a beautiful example: The American Vogue features Taylor Swift on its cover for their September issue and therefore presents a big interview and shooting on ten Pages (!). The article focuses on the “endlessly debated pop star” and states her “newly assertive political voice” (“sending pro-LGBTQ signals since at least 2011. Many have been subtle, but none insignificant”) while of course discussing her position as a much criticized public figure and her new album as well. All accompanied by an editorial shooting featuring global fashion brands.
Similar to this example is the thematic core of British Vogue: FORCES FOR CHANGE. On sixteen pages fifteen boss ladies are presented: Female forces like Laverne Cox (LGBTQIA+ advocate and actor), Great Thunberg (Climate change activist), Jacinda Ardern (prime minister of New Zealand) or Sinead Burke (Diversity advocate and lecturer) and more are profiled with texts focusing on their achievements and beautiful black and white portraits by Peter Lindbergh.
These features are a wonderful examples of how these two Vogue editions have BROADENED THEIR PERSPECTIVES: Their strict fashion and aesthetics focus has evolved and nowadays also encompasses the political and social components of CONTEMPORARY CULTURE and its figures. Their core themes are very RELEVANT to much debated topics – their effort to open up is more than just VISIBLE. It is even REFRESHING.
But: Is it FACTION? I wouldn’t go this far at this point.
One critique only: Can please somebody tell American Vogue to stop the ANTIQUATED TRADITION of dividing the articles in two parts? Women can and do read four pages in a row. They feel fooled when served even more ads instead of the second and third third of an interview or article. Example: The wonderful interview with Tom Ford is presented (in a beautifully layouted manner) on page 506-507 and on the (blank) pages 566-567, just to keep it interesting and serve us more ads sooner.
But let me talk about a wholly different liga: The Italian Vogue. Along with the trending topics mentioned above, the Italian September issue focuses on LANGUAGE, its history and current meanings: WORDS MATTER is the motto of their most important issue of the year. Words like BENVENUTO (Welcome), FAMIGLIA (Family), LIBERTÀ (Freedom), SPERANZA (Hope)and others are titles for short, very subjective texts written by pretty famous players of contemporary culture and society like Jane Goodall, designer Kristina O’Neal, curator and critic Francesco Bonami, etc. . What totally differs from the other editions is the fact, that the Italian texts are mostly autonomous. The texts are either very personal (Trudy Styler o the meaning of the word and culture of WELCOME) or poetic (Angelina Jolie of LIBERTÀ!). The texts are not only talking about something, or only commenting on something. They are AUTONOMOUS works – they also exist for their own sake. Which is very surprising, a little challenging, and highly welcome (at least with me). This is not only a fresh breeze, this is AUTHORITY. It might even be AVANTGARDE. Or as I like to call it: It might be FACTION.
FRENCH but BORING
Last but not least (to be honest: it IS THE LEAST!) I’ll also need to talk about my OBJECT OF RATHER HATE THAN LOVE: The French Vogue.
Well, French Vogue is disastrous. Or it’s not even disastrous, it’s the epitome of BOREDOM. If it was a disaster, it would mean, that their team had something to say or tried to formulate a message. Well, no. The boredom I mentioned at the beginning of this article is just what awaited me and my will to appreciate it when analyzing LE VOGUE FRANCAIS: It seems that in Paris no one cares about anything else than PRAISING a GLORIOUS PAST and PRESENT – and this without any thoughtfulness or added value. Apart from a page glorifying Vogue’s past photographed by Edvard Steichen, the editors have dedicated six pages to fashion’s past 100 years, focusing on the great design trends of the four capital cities of fashion. These short texts could be the ones you can read in cheap fashion coffee table books. They are enumerating fashion’s chapters superficially and therefore producing pure folklore. Their caricature-izing of the past fashions developed in Paris, Milan, London and New York is one thing only: POINTLESS.
And the rest? There are articles on models (“Fran Summers est la top anglaise la plus en vue de l’année!”), a cook (okay…), the Queen (an article not easy to define: something between a boulevard article, an art critique and an obituary), actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“C’est la Londonienne du moment!” – apart from the superficiality of the article itself, here they at least talk about Waller-Bridge’s feminist role).
No currently relevant topic is addressed. Not a word on the currently very interesting times of the fashion industry. No word on its crisis with CREATIVITY, its issues with fast fashion or sustainability. Or the much debated social or political topics of our times. Practically no topic relevant to a young woman or possible target person of the magazine.
The ZEITGEIST? Not worth a mention.
FACTION? Not even the F of it.
The truth is: Not only is this just boring, it is actually scandalous – regarding the fact that the French September issue 2019 is the French Vogue’s 1000 jubilee edition. Yes, it’s their 1000 edition – you’ve read correctly.
No more words are necessary or needed for describing the MISÈRE À LA FRANCAISE.
So how much FACTION is there in the written VOGUE?
Vogue features texts, that are likely to be pretty RELEVANT. Sometimes those texts dare to be AVANTGARDE. And in one specific case, they are POINTLESS. Now you might object: But Vogue is not supposed to be intellectually avantgarde. It’s supposed to visualize fashion avantgarde! And yes, I partly do agree. But does it? Give me some time and I’ll return with my proper answers.
 But what may instantaneously sound like a critique, is not. In fact, I will dedicate the second part of my blog article to that matter – with critical but also praising words. An ad is not bad because of being an ad. It’s only bad if it’s a bad ad.
 I am on the other hand not too sure about how I feel about that mixture culture. It’s for sure easier to digest, but it’s also more distracting your attention and appreciation – from the one or the other.