Angelica Cheung has been editor in chief of Vogue China since the magazine’s launch in 2005. Before that, she was the editorial director of Elle China and editor in chief of Marie Claire in Hong Kong. Today, Vogue China publishes about 400 to 500 pages a month and is considered one of the most successful international editions of the magazine. Cheung said the title has a readership of 1.2 million through a combination of its print, Web site and tablet editions. This September marked Vogue China’s ninth anniversary.
Here, Cheung talks about the Chinese market, shooting covers and the one thing people don’t know about her.
WWD: Can you describe how you decide who to put on the cover and what to feature?
Angelica Cheung: There are loads of creative factors and loads of logistic factors and lots of political factors. Very often, they’re very, very complicated because on one hand, we have Chinese celebrities; on the other hand, we have a lot of international, big photographers and they’re all people in demand who have very little time for everything. To get them at the same time, same place is very hard. We’re based out of Beijing and they’re based in New York usually, and that would involve either the celebrities or the photographers, they fly around the world. So it’s not one day, it’s two, three days.
WWD: Is your readership more conservative? Do you try to push the boundaries during the photo shoots?
A.C.: I think that the Chinese readers are more attracted to what probably the world at large would consider more classic kind of beauty. I would describe it as more classic rather than conservative because they’re very fashionable. They try a lot of things. But, to know what you look good in and what you don’t look good in doesn’t necessarily mean being conservative. But by and large, the Chinese market is more a classic kind of market with a little bit of edge for the young crowd but not an ultraedgy market — not yet. It’s changing a little bit, individualistic styles are starting to appear, which is great, but in general, people still like the beauties like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, rather than alternative types. We need to combine what’s happening around the world in the fashion community — the trends and the way people style and what would look good on a Chinese because certain looks that would work for a blond, pale-skinned model may not work for an Asian.
WWD: Do your readers prefer Caucasian or Asian models?
A.C.: I believe the world is becoming a smaller place. The reason why Vogue China has been successful from Day One is because we mix the Chinese and international side really, really well. I think that’s what China is about today. It’s obviously, well, Chinese, but at the same time, the whole world is coming to China and the Chinese, they’re going everywhere in the world. So this is the magazine that represents today’s mood of the Chinese — which is when China meets the world. So I don’t think you have to have all Chinese models to show you’re Chinese. You don’t have to show all Western supermodels to show you’re international. We have them all. We usually have 70 percent Chinese [models] and 30 percent international [models]. People want to see Gisele, they want to see Kate Moss, Kate Winslet, [the Chinese] watch Hollywood movies.
WWD: How has Vogue China’s support for Chinese designers changed their careers?
A.C.: Many of these designers have become celebrities. Probably, in some cases, people don’t know exactly what they sell, their clothes…but they see the designer everywhere. Now, I’m starting to think, there’s a little bit of an imbalance because on one hand, it’s great to promote them…[but] I feel sometimes, maybe, it’s not really good for them that they become very well-known but their operation remains at a lower level. It’s actually very destructive to a young talent sometimes. In the old days, designers did a lot but they don’t let people know. These days, before they do anything, you know, they promote things out of proportion first and then they try to catch up. I mean, it really depends on the individual designer, how they operate. I’m not saying if it’s wrong or right. But it really depends on their operational side. Some catch up really quickly but there are others who are weak with operations and then they’re caught in between the stardom and the actual execution level. At this stage, I’m trying to think of what is the best way to support them in a real way rather than purely making them more famous.
WWD: Do you think China Fashion Week will ever have the same appeal as other international ones such as Paris or New York Fashion Week?
A.C.: Not yet. I hope it will. For a fashion week to be successful, you need so many elements. You need the organizational side, the resources side….Your homegrown talent has to be at a certain level collectively. Not just one or two [designers]. People come to China to see Chinese designers. People don’t come to China to see somebody else like Vivienne Westwood doing a show here because they see that in Paris already.
WWD: What will it take to get to that point?
A.C.: First of all, you need some big designers to have an international influence, not just in China, but internationally. These [Chinese] designers are still new and they’re influencing quite a small group of consumers still, which didn’t exist until a few years ago, which is a great advancement but it’s not the same as influencing the trends.
But the reality is, it takes a long time [to grow], especially in today’s world. When you have a good idea, instantly, everyone can see your idea. Then it doesn’t become your idea anymore. It’s easy to copy and adopt. To sustain a lead in this world is difficult. In the old days, you know, like Yohji Yamamoto, all these people, had a lot of time to grow their idea because the world did not have social media or digital media to tell the whole world what was happening.
WWD: What do Chinese consumers want?
A.C.: It’s very hard to say “Chinese consumers” in one unity. There’s such a wide range. There are people still saving their money to buy their first designer bag and then you have people, on the other hand, spending millions of yuan every year for couture and high jewelry. There’s a constant battle, struggle [for the] brands in China between maintaining a very high image and expanding to penetrate all corners of this country, which is a big country. You have consumers who still want the logo, still want people to know they have a Louis Vuitton, they have a Gucci, they have a Chanel, to people who are very happy to get a Vega Wang [the Chinese designer, not Vera Wang] coat simply because they like it. [There’s] a new sense of security [amongst consumers] that gives them the confidence to feel that [I] do not need to persuade other people to believe I have money. So I don’t feel embarrassed being caught wearing a no-name Chinese designer and I do not feel I’m acting like a new-money person when I flaunt an Hermès bag.
It proves the opinion that the Chinese are fundamentally not flashy people. They were just going through a period that things were changing so fast, so many things were coming into China, so many things were thrown at them [that] they were overwhelmed. They are really now acting like themselves.
WWD: Do you deal with censors?
A.C.: Everything you publish has to be approved. It’s the law here. We have problems when there’s suspicion of nudity. There was one picture, people thought you could see something, but I thought you couldn’t so we retouched it a little bit, but I’m not for nudity. It’s a fashion magazine. We don’t touch on other topics, it’s all fashion, lifestyle, women’s lives. To be honest, people always ask me this question. We don’t have major problems.
WWD: Have you thought about going into e-commerce?
A.C.: We are not operating e-commerce. We are one of the few editions that’s actually very fully integrated, so I’m the chief of the magazine, the Web site, the video, the TV, apps, everything. We have no plans yet as we speak to get into e-commerce. We’re still, today, we believe in playing our role as a consultant, an adviser to consumers, as an authoritative voice and helping them make a judgment on what they buy rather than actually selling things. As a media company, you have that objective voice, especially Vogue, that readers have come to build trust because you’re objective, as objective as you can be. Once you start selling your own products, it’s a very fine line there, but we’re building, digitally, we have a new discovery channel called Vogue Discovery Channel where we showcase more products, a lot, lot more products, and some of these products come from our own production and some of these products come from working with some Internet, e-commerce companies, but we don’t sell them ourselves. We’re learning from the users and try to detect what [they] want further from Vogue.