FRENCH INDIES MAKE WAVES

Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — Is it hard to get respect as an alternative magazine?
Mais non, judging from France’s crop of fashion glossies, which, after toiling for years in the shadows, are now pulling in ads from some of the richest houses and winning kudos from some of the country’s trendiest designers.
Sure, they’re a world away from the hundreds of pages in advertising the establishment books carry, but ad pages at such titles as Spoon, Citizen K and Self Service — all of which are published twice a year — are on the upswing. Self Service carried 41 pages in its spring/summer issue, up from 21 last year. Citizen K has 60 ad pages in its spring/summer issue, versus 30 a year ago, and Spoon carried 34 ad pages in its spring/summer issue, which the publisher said is double from last year. Vogue, on the other hand, carried 552 ad pages through its June/July issue, up 30 percent from a year ago.
Although the alternatives have limited distribution — around 20,000 — and publish less frequently, it’s a sign that established houses see commercial potential in offbeat titles.
“It’s a very important reader for us to reach, because these are people who matter in the fashion world,” said Andrew Black, senior director of global advertising at Donna Karan, which began advertising its DKNY brand in Purple and Self Service last year. “Their image corresponded with how we wanted to position DKNY.”
Other brands, eager to appeal to younger customers, are also reaching out to young titles. Emanuel Ungaro and Kenzo are among major French fashion houses advertising in alternative titles for the first time this fall.
Marc Jacobs said major houses have started investing in marginal fashion titles because they are “fresh and reflect the image houses want to project now.” Vuitton, for example, advertises in Spoon, Citizen K, Purple and Self Service.
Granted, advertising in such titles doesn’t require as big a financial commitment as major titles here like Vogue or Elle, which sell a full-page ad for about $15,000. A similar ad in Paris’s underground magazines, most of which are only published twice a year, runs about $5,000.
The growth of the alternative French mags also reflect a general wind of creation sweeping Paris, which has given the city renewed energy.
“Paris magazines are hot because they reflect the energy of the city right now,” said Armelle Leturq, editor in chief of two-and-a-half-year-old Crash, which has a circulation of 30,000. “Paris is moving and dynamic. The magazines are becoming important because the city is full of creative energy.”
“We have a different creative agenda than more traditional magazines, which reflects the concerns of a younger generation,” said Self Service editor in chief and founder Ezra Petronio. “Our role is to challenge and call into question the accepted perceptions of the fashion system.”
That means giving coverage to relatively unknown designers, reporting on cutting-edge art, music or culture, and photographing fashion in provocative ways. “Sometimes we shoot real people, not models, in our photo shoots,” noted Purple editor in chief Olivier Zahm. “Our form of expression sometimes is untested, and we try to show clothes in real-life situations.”
Most of the founders of these types of magazines acknowledged that the surge in interest from advertisers has not yet meant huge profits. And many admitted they’re barely scraping by. Writers and photographers who contribute to the books are rarely paid. And their founders usually make a living by doing consulting for fashion firms.
For example, Petronio has founded an advertising and consulting firm called Work In Progress. Purple’s consulting firm is called Purple Institute. And the editors of Spoon and Crash also do outside consulting and styling work.
“It’s about doing something that interests us and that we love,” said Zahm at Purple. Nicolas Ghesquiere, the designer at Paris house Balenciaga, said the alternative press serves an important function, which is why the house supports titles like Self Service. “The independent press has the latitude to try things traditional magazines can’t afford to,” he said. “They can be a laboratory for new ideas and they shake up the industry, forcing it to look at fashion from a new perspective.”
Still, some question whether the alternative raison d’etre — subverting the fashion system — is still intact. Not only do they run ads by Chanel and Vuitton, they also feature their clothes in their fashion spreads. And photographers once synonymous with the underground, like Craig McDean, David Sims and Inez Van Lamsweerde, are now employed by the likes of Vogue and Elle. They also shoot advertising campaigns for powerful fashion houses.
Some editors call it a sign of maturity. Others are beginning to question their own legitimacy.
“The underground has disappeared,” said Self Service’s Petronio. “Now all things that once were considered avant-garde are being appropriated by the establishment.”
“Alternative culture has become dominant,” agreed Frederic Chaubin, editor in chief of Citizen K, which is published four times a year. “Fashion houses ultimately aren’t interested in alternative culture, but they have recognized that it is a commercial force.”
Jacobs said the fact that “the underground has become part of the establishment reflects progress. It illustrates that people have become more open and accept different ideas more easily.”
A perfect example are the titles Numero and Jalouse, a new breed of magazine with larger circulations and a higher frequency than most of their alternative cousins, but with one foot in the avant-garde.
“When we created Numero, we wanted to approach innovative ideas from a traditional standpoint,” said Stephan Todd, Numero’s co-editor in chief with Babeth Djian. “The line between the underground and the establishment has become blurred, and we wanted to reflect that development in the magazine.”
Numero, founded in fall 1998 and published 10 times a year, has a circulation of about 40,000.
The two-and-a-half-year-old Jalouse, which recently announced plans to launch a U.S. edition, also noted the shrinking gap between avant-garde and traditional magazine. “We wanted to be smart, but not high-brow,” said the magazine’s editor in chief, Alexandra Senes. “The market has changed, and now we can talk about more marginal subjects and up-and-coming designers. News moves so fast now, especially with the Internet, that people want to know about what’s hot now.”

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