JANUARY is overrated. As far as turning over a new leaf goes, September is much more appropriate. Think of it: leaves, trees. Hence the fashion world’s Keatsian adoration of the calendar’s ninth month. In the spirit of the season, the style cognoscenti, namely those at the helm of the monthly glossies, have revealed the tone, taste and trends for autumn/winter in their hotly-anticipated September issues.
As ad revenues, cover stars and pagination are compared, one publication maintains its mystery — US Vogue. Subject of the eponymous 2009 documentary The September Issue, the style bible is keeping an ace up its bishop’s sleeve (2014’s hot new silhouette) until August 26, revealing its ‘biggest issue ever’ once its rivals have shown their cards.
But why the furore? Is there a reason for this big red circle on the annual fashion calendar? In a word: yes. Traditionally, the September issue provides an executive summary of the new season’s sartorial offerings interpreted through the lens of its magazine editors but equal value belongs to the bottom line as brands reveal their ad campaigns, release spend and vie for coveted inside front cover space.
Given the intense marketplace competition; not to mention the burgeoning influence of online platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest (which have effectively put the kibosh on runway reveals); every effort has to be made to ensure a product which speaks to a demographic; an edit which is expertly tailored and a cover star who compels readers to literally buy into the title.
As the battle for the crown of ‘biggest and best’ continues, the question is whether the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness can remain relevant in a $300-billion global industry; or are readers simply ready to turn the page?
It would appear that print hasn’t quite lost its appeal with prodigious profit margins expected for some of the kingpin international fashion press. So how does the competition stack up?
According to figures reported by Women’s Wear Daily, US Vogue continues to lead the charge with 661 pages (a 30-page increase on 2013) and a 31% year-to-date increase in digital revenue. Sophomore gains belong to US InStyle, which celebrates its 20th anniversary and a 6% gain at 485 pages; while US Elle completes the holy trinity with a 5.2% increase at 465 pages — the largest Hearst magazine ever published.
Impressive wins to say the least. So what strategies are magazines employing to ensure the biggest slice of the market pie?
In a technocratic culture where insta-stars and points-of-view are populist, retaining an authoritative voice is key. With insider style scoops no longer a velvet rope privilege, magazines are converting threats into opportunities to copperfasten their brands. InStyle debuted this month as the first publication to use Snapchat — the ephemeral picture and video messaging platform — to preview its September cover star, teasing behind-the-scenes photos throughout the month with the hashtag #makingseptember. The snaps, taken around the office, were designed to engage more intimately with a younger demographic, if not by traditional subscription methods, then via social referrals and increased traffic.
As Sive O’Brien, fashion editor of Ireland’s IMAGE magazine points out, “It’s fundamental to have a social media presence; it’s added value to the reader, extending the editorial experience, offering behind-the-scenes access to shoots and engaging them, so they feel part of the brand experience. It also plugs new content in the print magazine .... which will in turn, hopefully inspire them to pick up the latest issue.”
Digital measures aside, the front cover remains paramount to piquing public interest and profit margins. Unsurprisingly, it was Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue, who spearheaded the trend of featuring actresses instead of models as cover stars.
“She saw the celebrity thing way ahead of everyone else,” creative director Grace Coddington points out of Wintour in The September Issue; ironic when you consider how a fashion editor turned celebrity is turning celebrities into fashion icons.
The magazine’s British counterpart conversely features model-of-the-moment Cara Delevingne on the front cover — a celebrity in her own right boasting 1.79 million Twitter followers; not to mention a Herculean 6.3 million Instagram fans.
Likewise, Vogue Nippon taps into the glamazon days of the ’80s and ’90s with a back catalogue of fashion’s most iconic faces: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Stephanie Seymour and Nadja Auermann.
What of the Irish publications? Irish Tatler editor Jessie Collins taps into more ‘intriguing’ yet real stars that appeal to Irish women. And she’s clearly hit the mark with a superlative front cover featuring Victoria Smurfit in Max Mara and Christian Dior.
“Victoria has taken a big risk after having three kids in moving to the other side of the world to pursue her dreams. She is strong, yet real and without artifice, so we think that makes for a great subject. People pushing themselves, taking risks and coming through things are always interesting to us,” says Collins.
IMAGE editor Rosie McMeel concurs. “Likeability and positivity are also essential components of any cover. The model must have a likeable quality that readers can connect with instantly. One thing we’ve really noticed is how much readers respond to positivity — not just in terms of the cover image, but the cover lines and the colours we use.”
As the old saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. So what can we expect on our shores this September? “For IMAGE, we have an in-depth behind-the-scenes feature from Brown Thomas fashion director Shelley Corkery on the runway shows; my round-up of the trends to know, a feature on Ireland’s top stylists and their secrets to style,” reveals Sive O’Brien.
PJ Gibbons, editor of Social & Personal, says that apart from the extra pages dedicated to fashion, “We anchor the issue with an exclusive interview with an international celebrity designer. For September 2014 it is Michael Kors whose brand has become phenomenally successful in Ireland.”
As for Irish Tatler? “It’s really your handbook to the season,” explains Collins. “It has more pages of fashion looks, the complete guide to the new beauty and is a culmination of the team’s combing of fashion weeks and talking to the industry insiders about what’s coming up, what’s predicted to be big; plus it’s our take on the trends, interpreted for an Irish audience.”
As for US Vogue, we’ll just have to wait three more days to see what Wintour predicts for winter. The September Issue — it’s a bit like Christmas. You may not expect Santa anymore but you still look forward to that gift on December 25.
Irish editors give the skinny on what you’ll be wearing this season
Trends include slogan sweatshirts, belted overcoats, statement scarves and chunky (but smart) laced boots.
Definitely the retro trend — a 60s and 70s hybrid, which we have championed on our front cover. Knitwear is huge and is something every woman, regardless of shape or age, can invest in. Statement coats and knee and thigh-high boots are big and exactly what the reader wants to know about — the top two investment purchases a girl makes for autumn/winter.
Coats are obviously such a big trend and a perfect one for our climate. The so-called ‘Normcore’ is something we are breaking down for our readers, plus the new embellishment, pop art and 60s.
We are particularly looking at the new print and faux fur stories, as well as the hot new autumn shades such as red, emerald and mauve.
Vogue UK — Cara Delevingne
Elle UK — Kate Upton
Harper’s Bazaar UK — Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
In Style UK — Kate Bosworth
Marie Claire UK — Jessica Alba
Cosmopolitan UK — Megan Fox
Red UK — Kirsten Dunst
Vogue US — out August 26
Elle US — Kristen Stewart
Harper’s Bazaar US — Lady Gaga, Penelope Cruz and Linda Evangelista
In Style US — Julia Roberts
Marie Claire US — Blake Lively
Cosmopolitan US — Lucy Hale
Teen Vogue — Kendall Jenner