ETHNIC MAGS TAKE THE STREET-TO-CHIC ROUTE
COVERAGE RUNS THE GAMUT FROM WEARABLE SPORTSWEAR TO HIGH FASHION.
Byline: Deirdre Mendoza
LOS ANGELES — Several of the top-selling publications that cater to ethnic readers have taken a “high-low” approach to fashion by blending designer labels with athletic looks and streetwear, while others have maintained a narrower focus by featuring realistic portrayals of blacks, Latinos and other ethnic groups.
In any case, these magazines, affirmed by the support of major fashion houses and cosmetics labels, are clicking with a multicultural, affluent readership that strives to transcend the confines of racial labels.
“There’s an esthetic dialog going on about fashion,” said Emil Wilbekin, who ascended from the music department of Vibe magazine to become its fashion director last June. “We show Calvin Klein, Gucci and Versace, but we also see kids taking their inspiration from the street, and from different periods in fashion. That’s what real life is about — people wearing sportswear, cheap clothes, expensive clothes, comfortable clothes.”
Vibe’s multicultural audience — which a 1997 study by Mediamark Research Inc. defined as 70 percent black, 30 percent white and 13.9 percent Spanish-speaking — presents an inherent challenge that Wilbekin answers by striking a delicate balance in his fashion pages.
In consecutive issues, layouts have varied from active looks on California skate kids to designer fashion on supermodels.
For inspiration, Wilbekin turns to many sources, including the European collections and New York shows, and travels to West Coast trade shows. But much of what ends up on the pages of Vibe is derived from what’s happening on the streets of New York and from Wilbekin’s interests in music videos, books and movies.
Among Vibe’s advertisers are Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, as well as athletic apparel resources and sportswear companies such as Daryl K. and John Barlett.
“I think my goal is for our readers to be able to flip through the magazine and feel a sense of personality or familiarity,” said Wilbekin. “That makes for a better relationship.”
At The Source, a music and lifestyle magazine that targets a teenaged, predominantly male audience, fashion coverage is heavily influenced by music.
It was founded as a one-sheet in 1988 and now is known as a barometer of what’s cool in hip-hop music, culture and politics.
“The magazine is edited in the voice of the generation,” said Peter Ferraro, advertising director. “In each issue we feature styles and trends, but it’s really our editors forecasting what’s going to be hot. They’re young and they know what’s happening in the clubs, on videos, and what kids are really wearing.”
The average household income of The Source’s readers is $56,000, and while many of its younger readers live with their parents, their disposable income is spent on brands such as Nautica, Gap and Banana Republic, as well as Paul Smith, Agnes B. and Polo.
Ferraro points out that hip-hop has outgrown color lines. He notes that multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola have used it as a marketing tool, while fashion houses such as DKNY, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and Tommy Hilfiger, which are among The Source’s advertisers, are able to build brand loyalty with the magazine’s young audience.
According to Media Industry Newsletter, through November, The Source has run 953 ad pages, up 32.4% from a year ago.
“Much as rock ‘n’ roll was shaping a generation 25 years ago, hip-hop is doing the same today,” said Ferraro. “Be it Latino, black, white, it’s the love of culture that unites hip-hop heads and we’re helping to be their source of information.”
Rodale Press’s lifestyle and fitness book, Heart and Soul, now in its fourth year, has been successful in targeting the African-American woman with positive portrayals of black women and health-related cover stories.
“We try to show African-American shapes, which vary from Anglo women’s, and allow [our readers] to see themselves participating in sports and activities,” said Lonnie Jones, national advertising manager. “We want to be aspirational, but we want to be realistic about showing bodies women can achieve.”
Ad revenues have topped $2.5 million annually, and circulation for the book, which will publish seven issues in 1998, is 300,000, according to Jones.
Fashion coverage is service-oriented and geared to fitness.
Advertising support comes from hair care and beauty products designed for black women and brand cosmetics such as L’Oreal and Revlon.
Essence magazine has been known for providing positive role models to its predominantly black readership, now 7.3 million strong, since it hit the newsstands in 1970.
Susan Taylor, at the helm as editor-in-chief since 1981, said the magazine takes a “cutting-edge, urban-chic” approach to fashion while featuring couture lines and “fashion at a price.”
Essence uses models from agencies, but is also known for casting nonmodels in fashion and beauty editorials.
“We find sisters on the bus, at concerts or walking down the street who really represent that full rainbow of African beauty,” Taylor said.
Coverage steers clear of “trendy, gimmicky fashion,” in favor of multifunctional classic pieces such as a great, affordable blazer or a special item “that has a life beyond this or next season,” Taylor added.
Trailblazer Ebony magazine has defined and redefined the image of black beauty in American culture for more than 50 years. In the Fifties, it launched the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that brought the vision of famed fashion doyenne Eunice W. Johnson to a worldwide audience.
Couture designs, targeted to an upscale reader and highlighted in the Fair, have become a staple of Ebony’s fashion pages.
“We offer a look at the collections as a blueprint,” said Johnson, noting she didn’t expect her readers to rush out and buy things off the runway, but hoped they would find direction.
In response to reader interest, Johnson said Ebony will expand its coverage of fitness, beauty and fashion, noting circulation has hit 12.3 million and yearend ad revenues are expected to reach $350 million.
Breaking ground in the Hispanic market is Latina magazine, a joint venture of Essence Communications and founder Christy Haubegger’s company, Alegre Enterprises Inc.
The year-old Latina has found a niche as a bilingual lifestyle magazine in an explosive market. The magazine champions personal, professional and political matters important to Hispanic women while merrily bashing stereotypes along the way.
Saucy fashion stories, shot in unconventional locations — a Miami cigar factory, New York’s Spanish Harlem — target a savvy consumer unafraid to mix designer labels with activewear and contemporary resources.
The November issue featured resources ranging from Product and Robert Clergerie to Spooky and Tag Rag.
“There’s a sense of style we have that allows us to take risks before the rest of the country,” said Haubegger. “If the urban Latina is doing it now, you know Iowa will be doing it next year.”
For example, she said, her readers were on the pastel nail polish trend way before the rest of the country.
“When retailers wanted skirts to go a little longer, we showed them that you could wear them even shorter,” she added.
Though Haubegger said she needs to educate some of the major advertisers out there who shun “Hispanic advertising,” she can boast that Revlon, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Clinique, Estee Lauder, Toyota, J.C. Penney and Gap are on her team.
“When advertisers tell me they’re not interested in advertising to Hispanics, I ask them if they’re in Miami, New York or Los Angeles,” she said.
As for beauty coverage in Latina, Haubegger said the emphasis has to be on the Hispanic woman’s experience, as it is with all other elements of the book.
“In the same way that I’m more interested in Jon Secada than Michael Bolton, when I see cosmetics presented, I want to see them in a wider range of skin tones,” she said. “When magazines don’t present a positive image of what we look like, I can only assume they don’t think we’re beautiful or they don’t think we exist.”
Reflecting on the fashion direction of Latina, Haubegger said she’s more interested in “turning heads than fitting in.” She believes Hispanic women are coming into their own in this country, noting that by the year 2040, Hispanics are expected to be 40 percent of the U.S. population.
“We’d like to say we’re here to help you navigate a tricky road,” said Haubegger, adding, “I’m talking about succeeding in this country without losing who you are.”