Vogue is an icon to the fashion world, a staple for upteen decades, the Mecca toward which all other style magazines bow. But is it starting to look a little, well, long in the tooth? I started reading Vogue in my teens while waiting for my mother at the beauty salon. It documented a world populated by exotic creatures doing entrancing things in faraway places. It had a society column that showed what the rich, so so different from you and me, were doing and who was who in the social whirl. These images showed a millieu just about as far away from eastern Kentucky as you could get and still be on Earth.
Harper's Bazaar always seemed sort of an also-ran. It had the best models, the newest fashion, but it just didn't have the cachet. I never found much to read in Bazaar, whereas Vogue always had top-drawer writers as well as drool-worthy fashion shoots. Even now, the first thing I turn to when I get my latest issue of Vogue is Jeffrey Steingarten's fabulous food column. It's the photography that seems dated.
Have you seen the documentary "The September Issue", which chronicles the production of the fat-as-a-phone-book Vogue issue that contains all that is new and noteworthy for the fall season? It's an eye opener, and hugely entertaining. Some people come off pretty well as the photographers trail them through their days in the office. Grace Coddington, the creative director and possibly the best photo stylist in New York, is particularly personable. An ex-model who moved into publishing, she least looks the part, with her wild frizzy red hair, no-nonsense dress style and forthright demeanor. The film follows her as she sets up and styles memorable and wildly creative photo shoots (and gnashes her teeth as Anna Wintour, the editor in chief, cuts some of her best work from the magazine layout). She works hard and she's real. You like her. But the rest of the Vogue crowd don't come off so well.
Andre Leon Talley is just plain weird, a creature from some label obsessed planet where he really does have go-fers and assistants to do things like peel him a grape and keep his highness from actually interacting with the real world. You see him playing tennis, Hermes towel draped around his neck, and you half expect him to have his assistant hit the ball for him. And Anna Wintour, the doyenne of Vogue who personifies the magazine, is more like a block of ice with impeccible makeup and large sunglasses, a Sphynx in Chanel. She makes proclamations, she bosses people around, and she peruses photos over which the stylists and photographers have sweated blood and casually tosses them out without even a flicker of an expression. You kind of want to smack her. And you really begin to see where the screenwriters got their inspiration for the boss lady in "The Devil Wears Prada".
Nowadays Vogue magazine feels like Ms. Wintour seems in the film - distant and preserved in amber, scarcely breathing and never cracking a smile. Whereas, Bazaar, since an overhaul several years ago, is bright and chipper, new and fun-fun-fun. The restyled editorial pages have imaginative photography, beautiful layouts and elegant but lively typography. The couture clothes are just as otherworldly as those in Vogue, but seem a lot more interesting. I read Vogue, I pore over Bazaar, drinking in the pictures.
Take the October covers, for instance. They both feature au courant actresses. Vogue chose Carrie Mulligan, a pixie faced new star with a prodigious talent. As a cover model, however, she falls a little flat for me. There she stands, square to the camera, in an unfortunate dress that is probably gorgeous in person but way too busy to photograph well. She's not smiling, she's not emoting, she's just staring. Her background is out-of-focus greenery that adds a distracting texture to the shot. And surrounding her picture are the usual cover-clutter of blurbs tailored to catch your eye at the newstand. It's not a bad cover, it's just kind of blah.
Bazaar photographed Drew Barrymore, a woman that has enough sizzle in her personality to light a 100 watt bulb by staring at it. She's posed against a simple background of gold fabric hung in fluid drapes. Her hair is swept away from her face and falls in lush waves down her back. She is dressed in frothy voile with killer gold dangle earrings. And she is giving the camera a look that should have melted the lens. Ah, there's glamour.
Better still, Bazaar does something that all magazines should consider: the newstand and subscriber issues have different covers. If you're a subscriber they know they already have your attention. The subscriber covers are clean and spare, freed of the clutter of typefaces designed to compete for eye-space with the other newstand fodder. It contains hardly any words at all, just a simple statement of the focus of that month's issue "Fabulous at Every Age" (indeed) and that beautiful picture.
Every issue I've received in the past year has contained striking photography, the most jaw dropping of which was the April cover featuring Demi Moore perched atop a twelve foot tall spiral staircase standing in the sand at the beach, a giraffe daintily nibbling from her hand. I looked at it and said, "Well, it's a paste-up job but it's cool." Husband, the expert of all things photographic, pronounced it photoshopped but well done.
And then I was channel surfing one night and came upon a program documenting the photo shoot for this cover, and there was that stairway on the beach at Malibu, Ms. Moore positioned at the top, while a giraffe wrangler (!) coaxed his charge to take the treat she was offering, the whole thing like some fevered heat mirage.
Now THAT's cool. I'm not sure Ms. Wintour and Vogue would have even have had the idea, much less make it real.