PARIS — “It’s simple fashion. You can see the clothes perfectly.”
Emmanuelle Alt, dressed in a black sweater and the skinniest jeans imaginable, is excitedly showing off fashion layouts from the April issue of French Vogue, her first as editor in chief of the Condé Nast France title. The issue hits newsstands on March 25 and ushers in expanded beauty coverage showcased in the magazine’s well; less-cluttered layouts and typography; a stronger commitment to feature articles; a clutch of new freelance sittings editors, and — lo and behold — less skin.
This story first appeared in the March 18, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I want to show in French Vogue more and more a lot of clothes,” she said.
Flicking through a binder showing off a shoot of Anja Rubik by Hans Feurer, Alt arrived at a page of the model reclining, her blouse open and a nipple in plain sight. “One boob,” she said, holding up a finger and flashing a big smile: “Otherwise, you don’t recognize it’s French Vogue.”
Famous for her reed-thin figure, rock ’n’ roll style and swag of black hair, Alt possesses that same fierce French je ne sais quoi allure that catapulted her predecessor Carine Roitfeld to fame.
But Alt is a more informal, low-key sort: She blushes easily, loves to laugh and maneuvers through fashion weeks with neither fuss nor spectacle. Yet one detects a decisive streak, and Alt is already mapping out her territory.
The April issue, for example, features a long feature about Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, with one black-and-white portrait followed by several pages of pure text. “It’s important to have something to read,” she said.
The May issue, which coincides with the Cannes Film Festival, will have a focus on French cinema, a cultural realm to which Alt plans to devote considerable attention going forward.
Yet Alt, the magazine’s fashion editor for the past 10 years and a career stylist, noted the title’s bread and butter will not change. “I want the Vogue to become very feminine. Women are very interested in fashion and beauty,” she said.
A rotating cast of contributing stylists will pitch in. Among those already lined up are Joe McKenna, Camilla Nickerson and Melanie Ward, the former Helmut Lang collaborator who also succeeded Alt as creative adviser to Christophe Decarnin, designer at Balmain.
“I want to have new people working for the magazine,” Alt said. “I also want to push some young stylists: all the girls who have been trained by French Vogue.”
The magazine is rare in its devotion to fashion models as cover subjects, particularly Daria Werbowy, Kate Moss and Malgosia Bela — a legacy Alt plans to continue.
Alt was quick to uphold French Vogue’s reputation for audacity over its 90 years of publishing — albeit with certain boundaries. “I’m the first one to do a topless picture. I like the freedom of the magazine,” she stressed. That said, she voiced plans to showcase jewelry “in a more classic way,” while hastening to add, “Classic doesn’t mean boring.”
Sources said Roitfeld courted controversy, and riled advertisers, with some recent jewelry shoots, notably from the holiday issue guest edited by Tom Ford, which included naked and wrinkled seniors in amorous scenarios.
Alt steered clear of talk about the Roitfeld era, which ended last December with her stepping down amidst suggestions of a coup d’état.
Alt stressed she arrives at a healthy title with a strong image, readership and advertising support, and without a specific plan to shift its focus or fortunes. French Vogue is the flagship title for Condé Nast France, whose 2010 revenues were up 12 percent, as reported.
“It’s a different point of view, but nobody gave me a mission to change it or make it more commercial,” she stressed.
Alt said her full imprint would be felt with the August issue, as she arrived in the editor in chief slot on Feb. 1 in the midst of the spring-summer 2011 fashion season. She noted the layout would evolve gradually over time. The multiple-font headlines that made reading it a challenge have already made a disappearing act.
Alt seized on an opportunity to work with Feurer, a seasoned photographer famous for shooting with a long lens on the beach, and his Pirelli calendars.
Feurer also provided the striking image to introduce the beauty section on the eco habits of top models: A close-up of a model sticking out her tongue, painted a bright shade of green.
Gisele Bündchen, poured into a white Dolce & Gabbana dress before the lens of Ines van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, is on the cover of the April issue, and portrayed inside in a new way. “A bit grunge,” Alt said, flicking through images of the St. Barth’s shoot, one of which shows Bündchen’s famously long legs — and a sliver of her buttocks. “The inspiration was Agnès Varda’s ‘Vagabond,’” Alt explained, referring to the 1985 film about a woman who wanders through French wine country in winter.
Jumping out from summery shoots of pale fashions is a cinematic black-and-white cowboy-themed shoot by David Sims, which Alt styled.
“I like that there’s one element, like a mistake, in the issue,” she said. “I will try to surprise the reader month after month.”