There is no greater month than September for fashion magazines. Thick with advertising pages, they kick off a new season of collections, and in a sense, reassert the tone for the vision of the magazine as put forth by the editors. And there is arguably no better real estate for a celebrity or model than the cover of the top fashion magazines. But with the newsstand waning in its influence as reading habits shift from print to digital, there’s the question of whether September covers — or any covers — actually matter as much as they used to.
WWD posed that question to a handful of creative directors and asked them to evaluate the September covers of the leading women’s fashion magazines. At the same time, we took a look at how social media has responded to the covers and how the celebrities have performed in recent issues of rival magazines at retail.
Star: Kendall Jenner
Instagram likes for the cover: 153,002 (as of 8/19/16)
Comments: 2,943 comments that include a mix of praise and disappointment of Vogue’s choice of model. Popular hashtag: “#ripvogue.”
Recent sales: Harper’s Bazaar featured Jenner on its June cover, which sold 116,128 at the newsstand, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. In the second half of last year, Bazaar averaged sales of 110,745.
Richard Kirshenbaum, NSG/SWAT: “It’s not about what I think. Kendall Jenner is about girls her age and she’s one of the biggest stars. She’s relevant. I love the styling. I love the cover. Kendall Jenner really matters to this generation. It’s an interesting choice. It’s a huge cover. They’ve knighted her as the ‘It Girl.’”
Sam Shahid, Shahid & Co.: “Magazines aren’t the trendsetters they used to be…the Vogue reader, they don’t care [about the social following of Jenner]. Regarding the importance of this following…look, everyone knows who Kendall Jenner is…Vogue is sort of behind the impact of it all. They are followers, not leading the conversation.”
Trey Laird, Laird + Partners: “I think Vogue is being savvy. I think it’s stepping up and saying, ‘This is the world we live in’ and it’s saying, ‘How do we make the magazine relevant?’ Kendall is super relevant. It was an elevated fashion shoot. The interview was in-depth and personal, not a gossipy thing. I think that’s the magic of Anna [Wintour] — she’s savvy. She’s not going to b—h about the downfall of culture. She’s creating it. She’s going to do it on her own terms — whether that’s the Met Ball or the September cover. This is the world we live in.”
Charles DeCaro, Laspata/ DeCaro: “Best thing about it was Garren’s haircut on Kendall. I wish it wasn’t photographed on gray. The edit on location was more visually intrusive.”
Peter Arnell, founder of the Arnell Group: “Magazines today are reflecting with great interest and extreme detail the way media has shifted, and they are utilizing September with their covers to acknowledge and to voice the way the social media world has overtaken so much of communication in our society.”
Instagram likes: 17,815
Comments: 737 comments reflecting a mixed bag of emotions that ranged from the simple “beautiful” and the sarcastic “was Snookie unavailable?” to more pointed criticism: “Please stop publicizing them. They’re famous for their ignorance.”
Recent sales: The last time Kim and Kanye were on a cover together was on Vogue’s April 2014 issue, which sold 266,374 copies at retail. That issue was Vogue’s best on the newsstand in 2014, which averaged 214,705 in sales. But the newsstand has slipped since with second-half sales in 2015 averaging 137,975, a 35.7 percent drop.
DeCaro: “PLEASE…not these two again!!!”
Kirshenbaum: “I love the Kim and Kanye cover. It’s really graphic. I love the typography. I love the graphic nature of how they are posed together.”
Shahid: “Kim and Kanye’s cover, it’s contrived, posed, trying very hard to surprise you. I don’t know what it is. Magazines right now don’t have a great positive reaction. Who does Vogue put on the cover? Who does Bazaar put on the cover? [Editors putting Kardashians on their covers] is a cheap shot [for sales]. I’m not very sure the editors believe in what they are doing. If they don’t believe in it, why should we believe in it? There has to be a reason why newsstand sales are so down? Everyone looks at social media…how many followers. I don’t think anyone cares anymore, there’s so much imagery right now. Instagram, Snapchat, it’s going to replace the print. I’m sad about it. “
Anonymous creative director: “Meh. It’s neither commercial like Vogue’s cover nor artistic like the W cover of Rihanna.”
Instagram likes: 23,695
Comments: 224 comments, the majority of which are positive — “Amazing,“ WOW,” and many heart emojis.
Recent sales: RiRi was last on Vogue’s April cover, which sold 131,022 copies. For second half of 2015, Vogue averaged sales of 137,975.
DeCaro: “The most eye-catching of the lot.”
Laird: “The Rihanna cover was like the stamp of the queen reimagined. W is so strong when it’s not about the newsstand in a mainstream way…but when it’s about a concept. This is one of the strongest covers they’ve done. Rhianna is so powerful. This cover felt like an idea.”
Shahid: “It is most interesting but I wonder what happens with it [on the newsstand]. All the other major magazines look the same. They all have the same face. They are all smiling looking at you. This cover harkens back to creativity, less coverlines.”
Kirshenbaum: “My favorite cover of all, I think, is W. It doesn’t look like the same-old-same-old. What generally happens is there’s a format to the covers and they tend to be like wallpaper…you walk by. Fashion is fun again. It’s emblematic of that. You have an amazing star and an amazing photographer. It’s incredibly graphic. Everything about it is fantastic.”
Star: Bella Hadid
Instagram likes: 4,306
Comments: Only 31 comments, but they are largely positive, and include kudos on the “throwback” feel of the cover. “I’m actually digging this cover cause it’s a Nineties vibe,” one user said. Another disagreed: “I love Bella but this cover makes me think of Dracula.”
Recent sales: Hadid most recently fronted Elle’s June issue, which sold 66,018 copies. It was a particularly bad seller for Elle, which sold 102,576 copies on average during the second part of last year.
Kirshenbaum: “I think it’s nice…but I think the world we live in is so cluttered. [Aside from W, Vogue and Bazaar], the others are just nice.”
Arnell: “All of these covers are built by the best editors and art directors in the world. There is no question that these covers and these magazines align with and then adapt to pop culture.”
Shahid: “Bella Hadid? They think it might sell because they are the new stars of fashion. How many more Hadids do we need on the cover?”
Anonymous: “I love Bella but I didn’t remember the cover. The story inside [called “American Women Now”] was very strong about the different types of beauty.”
Star: Cara Delevingne
Instagram likes: 13,216
Comments: Of the 96 comments, Elle largely got a thumbs-up rating from fans with the majority congratulating the glossy for its choice of cover star and its styling of the model/actress.
Recent sales: Delevingne fronted W’s June/July cover, which sold 9,121 copies. For the second half of last year, W sold 8,848 copies.
Kirshenbaum: “I think she’s nice. I like all the covers. But I think there are ones that stand out. I’m talking about the ones that are memorable. Kendall Jenner, Rihanna and Kim and Kanye are memorable.”
DeCaro: “Better to have the Eighties remain a distant memory.”
Anonymous: “I like Cara but it felt too commercial.”
Star: Sarah Jessica Parker
Instagram likes: 5,294
Comments: Verdict from the 51 commenters is generally good with many complimenting the cover.
Recent sales: SJP last appeared on Bazaar’s October 2015 cover. That issue sold 96,543 copies on the newsstand, which is below Bazaar’s six month average in 2015 of 110,745 copies sold.
Kirshenbaum: “I think people love her and she’s a fashion icon. It could translate to sales.”
DeCaro: “I love SJP and feel there will always be a place for her in the pantheon of fashion.”
Shahid: “Who really cares about Sarah Jessica Parker? Talk about a throwback. There seems to be some desperation in the print world.”
Star: Kerry Washington
Instagram likes: 4,230
Comments: Generally positive “reviews” from the 61 commenters with several praising Washington’s appearance on the cover.
Recent sales:. Elle put Washington on its April cover, which sold 70,990 on the newsstand. This compared with Elle’s second half average of 102,576 copies sold on the newsstand.
DeCaro: “I already forgot the cover.”
Anonymous: “It could be anything. To me, it’s like, whatever.”
Arnell: “They all looked like more covers. They all looked like they were on the hot topics. I hardly look at magazine covers because I do everything online. The world has changed, therefore the energies they are trying to live up to is the fast bit world.”
The Big Question: Do September covers still matter?
Laird: “Yes, especially in a time when their validity and reach are being questioned. But, I think just step up and do something exciting and idea-driven. Get back to a time when you drove the news, when you created the news rather than, ‘This celebrity is coming out with a project and we shot her in a Dior dress so Dior gets a credit.’ It’s kind of like perpetuating the problem. I don’t think it’s making the industry or a magazine more relevant or more exciting.”
Shahid: “They don’t matter anymore with all this social media going on. They don’t have the impact they used to, and there are too many coverlines. I don’t know what would make them important today. Magazines aren’t the trendsetters they used to be.”
DeCaro: “I want to believe these bibles of fashion are still relevant and resonate with the consumer. Most importantly, will these covers prompt someone not only to buy the magazine, but inspire them to purchase the fashions featured? Let’s face it — there is an associated sense of stability in knowing that a magazine still has the added value of weighing down a stack of papers by an open window.”