In times of crisis, we can always rely on fashion for a visual commentary of events. The ‘Hemline Index’ and the ‘Lipstick Effect’ are two theories that closely link fashion with the health of the stock market. When times are good, skirts get shorter. When times are rough, hemlines get longer and people spend more on less expensive luxury items such as lipstick.
Today, as we witness a global pandemic unfold around us, fashion’s glossy monthly magazines had to react quickly to the changing times. With a normal lead time of at least two months, magazines like Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and GQ were left with two options. Either to reshoot their cover and restructure the content or to present the reader with pure escapism.
Vanity Fair Italy made a statement with their April cover showing a lung specialist in a crisp white lab coat as the cover girl. This followed their March digital cover of a public worker disinfecting the streets amid the crisis. Vogue Portugal’s April cover proudly shouts the words ‘Freedom On Hold’ while showing a black and white photo of two models kissing in medical masks. Vogue Italia also launched a COVID-19 friendly design for their April edition with nothing but the colour white gracing the cover.
Italian Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Emanuele Farneti spoke out on Instagram saying that publishing an all-white cover for the first time in history was an essential move because speaking of anything other than the global pandemic “is not the DNA of Vogue Italia.”
He mentioned that Vogue Italia had planned a joint cover with L’Uomo Vogue which had to be shelved and that the colour white was chosen as a sign of respect, rebirth and of hope.
Fashion magazines have a responsibility to be relevant and reflect the culture in which we live. However, it is groundbreaking to witness these multinational institutions tear months and thousands of euros worth of work to shreds; just to be able to reflect the crisis. It is a case of survival of the fittest and those who are quick enough to adapt will be the ones who succeed.
Traditionally, fashion magazines sell a dream life of luxury that is only available to the 1%. Designer dresses share the pages with 100€ face creams and advertisements can cost anything in the region of 50,000€. This excess display of wealth which was once viewed as normal is now being scrutinized in light of the global pandemic.
It begs the question, what is the point of fashion magazines now? When people are dropping like flies, doctors and nurses are sacrificing their lives for others and the majority of the world is in quarantine. What is the point?
It has become common for magazines to sell a fantasy life, full of beautiful dresses and wonderful frivolities. Now, it is time to face reality. It is complicated. A paradigm shift such as this requires agility and quick minds to really break down existing structures and build fashion magazines from the floor up.
Interestingly many publications decided against frantic last-minute changes, deciding instead to run with existing content while publishing a disclaimer via social media. The April edition of Spanish Vogue features Cuban actress, Ana de Armas, British Vogue’s May edition features Rihanna in a durag and British Elle’s April addition adds a springtime charm to newsstands with its blue and yellow cover featuring actress Sophie Turner. Fashion editors are caught in the crosshairs of this global dilemma and with all eyes on them, they are left to set the tone of the next few months. The question is, what will it be?
Following the two-month lead time rule, editors will be adding the finishing touches to the June publications and will be planning ahead for the rest of the summer months. Logistically challenging, these editions created during quarantine and times of social distancing require editors to think outside the box. Perhaps we will see them take Zara’s lead with editorials being shot, selfie-style by the models themselves while at home? Or, perhaps editors will dig into the bank of content that didn’t make the cut for previous editions? A fine balance needs to be struck between offering aspirational content that sells and content that provides social commentary. When sales of print publications have been historically low, any wrong move now could have devastating consequences for the future of a publication.
On April 23rd, American Vogue published an exclusive preview of their June/July ‘Special Edition’ cover via their Instagram account. The cover features a never seen before photo of a red rose on a white background shot by Irving Penn in 1970. Anna Wintour comments in the edition’s editor’s letter “I don’t think I am alone in wishing for a little bit of hope right now” and this sentiment can also be felt through the simple wording of the issue’s cover. “Our Common Thread- A Special Issue – Creativity In The Time of Crisis”. Fashion is stripped of its pretensions and is forced to unite and work collectively to offer inspiration and hope to the world.
It is not just content that will change, advertising budgets are also getting cut, sometimes as much as 50% as luxury fashion brands reallocate budgets in order to survive the pandemic. Luxury brands are being hit hard by a fall in sales and many have stopped manufacturing collections in favour of producing scrubs and medical masks. So with funds down, designers focussed on COVID-19 and no way to reshoot the 2020 campaigns in a socially distant way, a significant impact on magazines will be felt, especially in the September issues.
It will separate the weak from the strong with only the most innovative publications being able to survive. But, the future is bright and life goes on. There will be a real demand for quality reporting, sharp-eyed trend forecasting and streamlined functionality and any publication ticking these boxes will stand strong against competitors. It is likely that magazines will get thinner, prices of subscriptions will rise and perhaps even some publications will fold but if the magazine remains relevant, there should still be a place on the newsstand for it.
The road ahead is not without its bumps. Magazines face a huge upheaval in the next few months however, this change has been long overdue. Consumers are now more eco-minded and socially conscious than ever before. Social distancing has put a stop to jet-set photos shoots, fashion week parties and red carpet events forcing magazines to invent sustainable options. Lots of positive changes will come out of this pandemic, however, it takes a visionary to turn it into a profitable action plan.
So, while the world slowly emerges from quarantine, all eyes will be on fashion editors as they trailblaze into a post-COVID-19 world. It will be comforting to see magazines embracing world events and using fashion to translate a feeling of togetherness and unity. It is an uncertain time but strong, positive messages of hope will guide us through. We are all in this together!