Even at a screening of a documentary series on American fashion, magazines’ loss of influence finds a way into the conversation.
“[Social media feeds] are your own personal magazine,” according to Joe Zee, a former longtime fashion editor, who spoke after a Sunday showing of “American Style,” an upcoming docu-series produced by CNN and the entertainment arm of digital media publisher Vox.
“For print publishing, it’s not that it’s going to go away, it’s that it needs to figure out how to evolve in this new generation, because everyone can find what they need every second of the day, from wherever they are, for free, so how do [magazines] become that other go-to that is also as important or as vital as it was before,” Zee went on, tacitly admitting that fashion publications are not the industry power brokers they used to be.
The swerve to fashion publishing came toward the end of a panel discussion, moderated by former “Project Runway” host Tim Gunn, and including Zee, model Veronica Webb and outgoing Teen Vogue editor Phillip Picardi, which was expected to be more about “American Style.” Since the documentary was essentially a mid-century Fashion 101 course (textile rationing during WWII, gray felt suits, Claire McCardell, the bikini, etc.) it’s little wonder that the conversation grasped for less trodden terrain.
Picardi launched into something of a defense of Vogue’s remaining importance among emerging designers, along with that of his boss Anna Wintour (“She’s still my boss, so I have to say it, to a certain degree, but I really do believe it,” he claimed), but he made sure to note multiple times that he was speaking as someone who is leaving Condé Nast. He will become editor in chief of Out magazine at the start of next year, and maybe because of this, he backed into an increasingly obvious critique of fashion publications.
“Consumers are not so much trusting the fashion publications to be unbiased, because they accept advertising dollars from fashion houses — you go through and can see front of book there’s a five-, six-page advertisement and then, ‘Oops!’ there’s a beautiful three-page spread with [the advertiser’s] new clothes,” Picardi said, touching on fashion magazines’ little-discussed efforts to stay in the good graces of fewer advertisers. “Those things may be coincidence. Most know they’re not just coincidence.”
With a growing consumer awareness, or at least suspicion, that a mainstream fashion magazine’s pages are very far from a meritocracy, Picardi said Instagram, and the coalition of influencers it’s created, naturally became an alternate source of inspiration and trend information.
Webb, the only woman on the panel, admitted that she gets all of her headlines and fashion news through a social media feed, but argued that magazines still have a legitimizing effect for models and reality TV personalities. “We stop thinking of them as a joke or a fluke when they’re on the cover of Elle or Vogue.”
But Zee put an end to the topic after pointing out why an influencer or a reality TV personality makes it onto such a cover.
“They’re on [the cover] because they have 36 million followers, or whatever,” said Zee, who left print media to head to the tech environs of Yahoo but left there after the site was sold to Verizon. “It’s all a cycle that goes back to social media.”
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