An interesting article in the New York Times posits that Vogue is quickly becoming irrelevant.
Vogue has become stale and predictable, and it has happened in spite of some of the best editors, writers and photographers in the business. And it has happened in spite of a leader [Anna Wintour] who “only cares what readers care about,” according to a long-time staff member.
The article outlines some of the magazine's strengths:
For all the fantasy in Vogue, especially the fairy-tale kind produced by Grace Coddington, the creative director, and Annie Leibovitz, the magazine is actually quite serious. There are things to read, long pieces, from writers with distinct voices: Julia Reed on politics, Jeffrey Steingarten on food, Sarah Mower on the Paris collections.
And unlike many of her rivals, Ms. Wintour, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has largely resisted the pressure to break down content to lists and small bites. Though this faster, drive-thru approach to editorial consumption may be what more people want.
According to a writer at Condé Nast, who requested anonymity because he works at a sister publication, “Anna’s two great talents are that she understands her readers and she speaks with this incredible authority to advertisers.” Indeed, as the writer points out, Condé Nast, having monopolized high-end magazines, has a rather odd relationship with luxury advertisers — which is that these advertisers cannot afford to go somewhere else, bad economy or not. Luxury brands haven’t yet found a formula for success in digital media. Their relationship, then, with Condé Nast creates an “interesting ecology,” as the writer put it. “They keep each other in business.”
Some of Vogue's weaknesses:
Yet, in 2008, Vogue’s ad pages were down 9.6 percent, Mediaweek said, compared with an average 8 percent decline for other fashion magazines. Rivals like Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, which have adopted a pell-mell style that encourages value-for-money nibbling, have fared better. The very qualities that set Vogue apart — consummate fashion judgment, a comfortableness with ideas in the shallow pool of celebrity and weight-loss articles — now seem to be narrowing its view, like an aperture shutting down.
There are too many stories about socialites — or, at any rate, too few such stories that sufficiently demonstrate why we should care about these creatures. What once felt like a jolly skip through Bergdorf now feels like an intravenous feed. To read Vogue in recent years is to wonder about the peculiar fascination for the “villa in Tuscany” story. Ditto staff-member accounts of spa treatments and haircuts.
The article continues:
To ask what works in Vogue is in a sense to ask the same of all fashion magazines. Many do not seem to know how to relate to women in their 20s, except to throw celebrity pictures and clothes at them. Although the median age of its readers has hovered around 34 since Ms. Wintour became editor, in 1988, you don’t feel that the magazine has considered how changes like social networks and Web-based subcultures have influenced women’s ideas about themselves. This lack of awareness is reflected in Vogue’s pages.
The piece concludes with a few reasons why it would be hard to replace Wintour (as rumours late last year suggested), including this strength:
Editors of Ms. Wintour’s generation, like the designers they champion and the photographers they protect, have a depth of knowledge not easily reproduced.
Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.