Can The Glossy Mag Be Saved?
There’s no ship sinking faster than the S.S. Glossy Magazine.
Increasingly ad-led issues, a lack of inclusivity and diversity with regard to content and, sometimes, entirely tone-deaf, mark-missing editorial (Gigi and Zayn’s Vogue cover, anyone?) have all amounted to 2017 being the year that the once omnipotent giants of the publishing world are facing a very tangible crisis: no one cares, anymore. #sorrynotsorry.
British Vogue has been at the center of this storm. Following the resignation of Alexandra Shulman, its 25-year-long Editor-in-Chief, there was a collective feeling of anticipation; that the magazine might move on from its traditionally exclusive roots and what had become, many felt, tired content. A spotlight was put on the majority of staff who had been working under Shulman, too. British Vogue has always been known for its masthead full of aristocrats and trustafarians, but were they actually any good? And would the new editor, whomever that might be, keep them?
Short answer: no. Because of course, the title’s newly appointed editor, Edward Enninful, couldn’t be further from any of those women. He got the job because of his resume, not his last name, or that his mother was once a socialite-cum-features-editor-at-large.
No surprise then, that a sea of high-profile ‘resignations’ have followed his arrival at the so-called fashion bible. It’s been rumoured that the new editor is on a mission to excise all “posh girls” from the magazine. So long to Frances Bentley, the title’s 24-year-long managing editor. Adios to Emily Sheffield, deputy editor. Toodlepip Lucinda Chambers, British Vogue’s most prominent creative talent.
It was Lucinda’s departure from Vogue House (London’s Conde Nast offices) that caused the most noise, as the former fashion director laid bare the mechanics of the magazine’s inner workings in a frank and fascinating interview for Vestoj.com. The rantings of a fashionista scorned? Perhaps. But props to her, because she highlighted everything that is wrong with publications like Vogue today.
No stone was left unturned by Chambers in her article: the “chew you up and spit you out,” industry pressures, “crap,” advertising deals, the transparent and shallow nature of who decides who stays on each side of the red velvet rope. She blamed fashion houses for the drug problems of their designers, laid out the perks having a job at Vogue can land you and, most excruciatingly for any Conde Nast executive, the now-defunct relevance of Vogue. “I haven’t read Vogue in years . . . the clothes are just irrelevant for most people — so ridiculously expensive,” she said.
Right on, sister! You hit the nail on the head.
I’m a 24-year-old fashion assistant from London. I’ve been reading Vogue for years. Obviously. Ever since I first picked it up, I wanted in. Every month I would pore over every feature, learn the name and writing style of each feature writer, fawn over the photoshoots and tear out the pages. In fact, one of the wardrobes at my parent’s home is still full of old issues. Mine and Vogue’s has been a love affair to remember, and one I credit for getting me into the job I love today. The idea that the title could ever go out of print horrified me. How could I ever work there if it did?
But that was a decade ago. I wasn’t thinking about whether I could buy the clothes on Vogue’s pages. I didn’t care that I didn’t really relate to most the features that I was reading; I was just so impressed by the women who got to write them.
The point is, I loved Vogue. And now I don’t. In fact, I only skim read it now for work purposes – and I’m not alone. The majority of young journalists I speak to (and plenty of the established ones, too) are not slow to voice their boredom of the magazine’s content. Sienna Miller getting Instagram? That’s not news. Trying to make it so is turning millennials off.
Enninful would do well to take note of this in his new position. Because right now, it’s not something only Vogue is getting wrong. Millennials don’t read any magazines at all. Industry bigwigs come up with all kind of reasons for that: that our generation doesn’t buy anything, that we are only interested in click-bait and have too-short attention spans as a result of swipe culture. The reality is simply that the content of most high-fashion magazines is irrelevant to us.
So, what do we, Gen-Z, want from our editorial?
For a start, lose the attitude. Fashion and those who guard it have thrived (or is it survived?) on the laws of exclusivity and a you-can’t-sit-with-us mentality. Of course, that’s how you sell clothes; you pitch them as a lifestyle, an opportunity to wear your way into an aspirational ideal. Perhaps if you buy Vogue or one of the dresses in it, you can move one step closer to moving behind the red velvet rope, or onto the FROW.
Those laws don’t apply to millennials because we see straight through it. We’re not the most materialistic bunch – in fact, in what auditing and consultancy firm Deloitte is calling the ‘subscription economy,’ Gen-Z consumers are happy to rent items, or sign up to subscription services, like Renttherunway.com, Wearthewalk.co.uk or Birchbox.
Add to that the fact that we’re a generation of oversharers. We spent our formative years reading the personal, relatable writing of bloggers, who editors now fight with for a seat on the FROW (lest we forget Vogue waging war with them last September), and who offered a stark contrast to the high-horse writing of most fashion publications. The result? You’ve got yourself an audience that isn’t interested in being told what not to wear, see and do.
Instead, they want someone on their side, who offers the opportunity to be part of a community. Emily Weiss of Into The Gloss has that concept down pat, as the popularity of her make up brand, Glossier, will attest to. It’s also important to point out that millennials aren’t generally loyal. While our parents might have stuck to reading the same newspapers every week, we are less picky about where our editorial comes from, so long as it’s of a good quality. So, the likes of Vogue can’t rely on their name to sell magazines anymore – nor can its journalists.
Being relatable, though, doesn’t mean that content need be dumbed down. We just want it to reflect what is going on in our world right now. New York Magazine The Cut’s Stella Bugbee framed this perfectly in her recent interview with The Business of Fashion. “There is absolutely no separation, now, between fashion and politics,” she said. It’s no surprise that, under her leadership, the website has grown to develop one of the most engaging and original voices in editorial, and is hugely popular with Gen-Z.
What The Cut also does well is branded content. That’s the other thing wrong with magazines: the pages and pages of ads. Even the promotional advertorials are painfully obvious. There’s no question that print publications rely on these fees to survive, but what the likes of Vogue are missing, is a way of executing branded content with authenticity and flair. Instead of being engaging, they stick out like sore thumbs – and that is the last thing that will have us loosening our purse strings.Equally grating can be the idolising of celebutantes purely based on their youth and beauty (see again, the Gigi and Zayn cover). There is still a marked lack of diversity in fashion and who we see on the pages of magazines. Of course, we love a bit of pop culture – who doesn’t? – but there has to be a balance. Sometimes it feels like fashion forgets how women have changed, and the new expectations we have for ourselves. Further to that, it’s all well and good to put hot young things in price-on-request dresses for the sake of a pretty picture, but what real twenty-something can identify with them? I personally don’t know one, and it can’t mean that [enter couture brand name here] sell any more dresses.
Unfortunately, Enninful’s new line-up of contributing editors at British Vogue doesn’t hold much optimism for positive change. Of course, Grace Coddington, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss have all had long and successful careers. But are they the typical representation of fashion’s Old Guard? Absolutely. It would have been more interesting, say, to throw an influencer in there, or the likes of Margaret Atwood. Or just anyone surprising at all.
No one doubts the struggle long-lead print titles have faced in keeping up with the content – from instant, reactive, 140-character journalism on Twitter, to backstage access at fashion week on Instagram and an insight into any celebrity’s life with a click of the ‘follow’ button – their readers now have access to. Immediacy is key, and with month-long lead times for print publication, can they even offer us anything new?
What they can do, however, is work on the tone, accessibility, relevance and diversity of their content. If glossy magazines are to survive, they need to wake up to their readers; Vogue might have once been what you bought before anything else (so the British version’s catchphrase goes), but soon there may be no reason to buy it at all.