MAGS JOCKEY FOR YOUNG GUNS
NEW YORK — These are heady times for new, hotshot fashion designers.
Most of the establishment fashion magazines are ramping up coverage of some of the smallest, most underfinanced houses. And forget about tiny blurbs. We’re talking multipage features.
Consider the stampede to write about rising New York star Miguel Adrover, a designer who is as unlikely to buy a page in a magazine as he is to scrape together enough money for next month’s rent.
There’s a portrait of him in the April issue of Vogue and a one-page profile in the April Interview. W, and possibly Harper’s Bazaar, are expected to weigh in with bigger pieces in their May issues.
Elle magazine is also increasingly turning the spotlight on new faces. This week, top editors were finalizing a shortlist for a major story on young designers for its June issue. The current April issue profiles three young designing women. Next month it will focus on a crop of emerging Latin talents.
“I think it’s good to show the reader that fashion is not just a few big houses,” stressed Elle’s publication director, Gilles Bensimon. “We’re going to do it more because we think it’s important.”
During the recent round of fall 2000 shows in New York, Milan and Paris, many regulars on the circuit remarked informally on the presence of large contingents, and sometimes even the editor in chief, at some rather obscure shows. “We’re definitely on our toes,” remarked one market editor from one of the major magazines.
Vogue, whose April issue also spotlights quirky design teams As Four and United Bamboo, balked at the suggestion that covering emerging talent is anything new, insisting that it’s been part of the magazine’s tradition and a personal passion for editor in chief Anna Wintour. But other magazines are making newcomers a greater priority.
“We are making a very concerted effort,” acknowledged Bazaar editor in chief Katherine Betts, who has made no bones about the fact that she wants to bring a younger feel to the magazine.
She stressed that new talent will be showcased not only in the news or item-driven sections in the front and back of the magazine. “We are planning to make more of a statement in the center of the book,” she said, noting that there are two potentials for May. “We feel very strongly about the group of five designers we’ll be focusing on in the fall preview issue.”
However, Betts stopped short of naming the subjects of several upcoming articles, signaling how competitive the race to find new talent — and report on it first — has become.
Asked if she would demand an exclusive of a new designer, Betts said, “I don’t think that’s really fair.” However, she added, “I think it’s fair to know where else they’re going to be…. It’s nice not to be surprised.”
Would she ever “kill” an article about a new designer if another magazine beat Bazaar to the punch? She said no and stressed that the solution is to “do stories in an original way.”
Sally Singer, fashion news director at Vogue, also downplayed the notion of intensified competition to find and feature new designers.
“I’m not in a race with anyone else. No one has ownership rights on designers,” she said. “If a designer is talented, they’re going to be written about and their work is going to be photographed in every place fashion is covered. It’s all about how you take a picture and what you write as opposed to whether it’s in the May issue or the July issue.”
“There’s much more interest in covering [young designers] in a major way,” noted Bridget Foley, executive editor of W. “It’s not so much a conscious decision. It’s the reality of the fashion landscape right now that some of the youngest, newest designers are creating the most exciting things out there.”
Asked what might be driving big magazines to trumpet lesser-known names, niche style magazines and other observers had a variety of theories.
Riley John-donnell, a creative director and publisher of San Francisco-based Surface magazine, said the big magazines are realizing “their demographic is dying off. They can speak to the aging socialite or speak to a more media-savvy audience.”
Kim Hastreiter, co-editor and co-publisher of Paper, said mainstream magazines are simply reacting to the increased speed with which fashion information is disseminated. “Things go faster from the underground to the mainstream,” she said.
Indeed, with even weekly magazines now increasing their coverage of fashion, the bones of fashion’s biggest horses are being picked clean faster than ever, leaving everyone hungry for some fresh meat.
“It’s extremely competitive for the editors to find something fresh, more than ever,” said Sarah Hailes, co-owner of the hip SoHo fashion store Kirna Zabete. She should know. She and co-owner Beth Shepherd, formerly a fashion editor at New York magazine, see a steady stream of editors in their store hunting for something new to feature.
Elle’s Bensimon detected a bit of irony in the rush to cover new talent in light of recent efforts by a core of American fashion journalists, including those from major magazines, to get European show organizers to compress the fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. New York Times Magazine style editor Amy Spindler is spearheading the effort, as reported.
Bensimon said he won’t sign. “That’s our job, to go to every single show,” he said. “Sure, it costs a lot of money. We are eight going to Europe. But if we didn’t go to every single show, how would we have discovered Martin Margiela years ago?”
Bensimon said Elle was among the first magazines to feature a Margiela design on its cover. “It was not a great-selling cover,” he said, “but it’s something you have to do journalistically.”
Of course, the designers who are the subject of the current feeding frenzy are thrilled about the attention.
“Everybody wants a piece of the new thing,” said Adrover, who was been deluged with media attention since he showed his fall 2000 collection in February. “Everybody wants to be on the edge.”
Adrover confessed he is puzzled by the heightened competition among the big magazines to get to the newsstand first with their big discoveries. He suggested that news belongs to everyone, saying, “If a plane explodes somewhere, everybody reports on the same thing.”
Nicole Noselli, who with Daphne Guitierrez is partners in the hot, three-year-old New York label Bruce, said it’s heartening that magazines have turned their attention to sometimes-struggling fashion houses. “Now it’s not only about big money,” she said. But she questioned whether the media might be a little too eager. “It may be blowing up people too fast,” she said. “People are so quick to jump on something new, from the first collection. You can’t really base a designer on one collection.”
So where does that leave niche magazines like The Face, I-D, Surface and Paper, whose mandate has long been to scout talent in underground places? They said they’ll just dig deeper — and look further afield.
“I’m finding myself definitely looking outside of New York,” Paper’s Hastreiter said. “There’s not as much of a creative underground anymore. Everything’s been gentrified. We’re a bit more nimble than the big guys. If they’re all looking in the same places, I’m going to go look somewhere else.”