Grading the Fashion Magazines by Phillip D. Johnson
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Part One: The Women Phillip D. Johnson
I am not a big fan of Christmas. It's grossly overrated and if you are alone, you feel like a loser. The same goes for Thanksgiving Day. I don't like turkey and long-passed family dramas seem overly emphasized when all your distant relatives come to your home with their empty stomachs and their long-held family vendettas and conflicts. Who needs to hear for the millionth time how Cousin Jerry got drunk and threw up all over the wedding gifts at Cousin Susan's wedding? Easter is a yawn. Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Columbus Day? I would rather be alone with the best company I know: myself. On all those holidays, I like to brew myself some coffee, stay in bed reading The New York Times, turning off the phone and having Chinese takeout for dinner.
So what gets me excited, you ask? Magazines. I love magazines. I love the printed word. I love how the pages feel in my hands. I get a thrill from just getting ready to explore the new and fabulous that is within their covers. I am a big believer in print magazines. You can keep your Kindle, your iPad, your iPhone, your iTouch and your magazine apps. I want to feel the real thing. I want to give it an initial read, put it away and be able to come back again while still feeling that sense of excitement and of new things to come. I have been known, in my impatience to wait for my subscriptions, to take the Metro-North train from Connecticut to
Here's my assessment of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly
Grand Central Station, get off the train, buy my magazines at Hudson News– because they are always on the newsstands first in New York City- and get back on the next train going back to Connecticut. It's crazy, I know but it also speaks to my love of reading and of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle and it's better than having a gambling or drug addiction.
I especially love August when the big, fat, juicy September issues are on the newsstand. I prowl the internet and my source websites for advance news or leaks from Conde Nast or Hearst Publications on who's going to be their cover subjects. I keep an eye out for “leaked” photos from photo shoots in the upcoming issues. I get especially teed off during this time because, for some reason, my subscription issues are always late. This year, Harper's Bazaar was on the newsstand for a whole two weeks before I got my issue in the mail. At the time of this article, I am still waiting for my September issue of Esquire. Luckily for me, it has been on the newsstand at my local CVS Pharmacy since the second week of the month. So, was it worth the wait this year? Mostly yes. There were very few disappointments. Everyone did well in bringing their A game. Here's my assessment of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
she talked about her evolution from being a good girl to a good girl gone bad. It's nothing we haven't heard before but she wasn't boring and had a good sense of humor about herself
Page Count: 406 pages Cover Subject: Rhianna wearing Dolce and Gabbana (7 out of 10) That red hair is really working for her Cover Article: She rocked Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, Yves Saint Laurent, Vionnet, Tom Ford and Gucci. In the article, she talked about her evolution from being a good girl to a good girl gone bad. It's nothing we haven't heard before but she wasn't boring and had a good sense of humor about herself. (8) Front of Book: 30 pages of Trends! What I Love This Fall! A short breathless homage to the diminutive Joseph Altuzarra, and yes, Your Fashion Questions Answered by Kim, Khloe and Khourtney Kardashian! It's a mixed bag of essential fashion trend information and outright fluff. The Kardasians, really!? (6 ) Beauty, Health & Hair: 9 out of 10. These sections are required reading for the Glamour reader b cause they
give sound advice on all these fronts while also giving the reader affordable choices they will love. It's a good mix of high and low: OPI Nail Lacquer in I Love DKMS ($7) to Michael Kors' new fall fragrance, Gold ($75). However, I now know way too much about designer vaginas! TMI Back of Book:London Calling (everything British and preppy, 6), The Best stuff of 2011 (10), Fringe Benefits (5 out of 10), Andy Cohen and Christina Hendricks (9, fun pieces that really worked)
9/11 Remembrances: Letters to the Lost (10, enough said)
($50). How great is that? For the emerging Emelda Marcuses out there, there is a very wide selection of shoes and boots for you to choose from. (9.5)
Back of Book: The photo editorial pages in this issue was the best representation of all beautiful women* from late teens to mid-40s out there: Jenell Williams in Escape Artist (8), Demi Lovati in Into the Fire (5), the Gothic beauty of Egle Tvirbutaite in the Color of Night (8.5, Go Kate!) and the stunning Herleth Paul smoldering in this season's most sumptuous furs in Hide and Seek (9.5, Again, the fabulous Kate Lanphear was beyond genius). And then there's Stephanie Seymour. (10) Not every magazine subscribe to the Bennetton Rainbow of colors; and this magazine did. Power to the people.
Page Count: 556 pages Cover Subject: Gwyneth Paltrow (Twice!) in Julian MacDonald, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton (8) Cover Article: I like Gwyneth. I liked her on Glee. I liked her on the Grammys and I love GOOP. In this article she displayed an heightened sense of how she is viewed in the world and showed a confidence in herself, her talents and her life that is very powerful. I came away from reading this piece knowing just a little bit more about her in a positive way. And she said it best: If you don't like her, turn the radio station, don't go to the movie, walk away from the computer, change the channel on TV. It no longer matters what you think of her. (10)
Front of Book: Joe Zee hits it out of the park as usual. The pieces on Dries Van Noten, and trend-spotting (Eyes Wide Shut, Seeing Spots, High Art, Strait Laced, Lock and Key) was an all encompassing view of fall trends with unlimited options. I especially like the brass handcuffs bracelet from Louis Vuitton ($2,140) Talk about being an arresting beauty. Their coverage of accessories is awe-inspiring. The Shopping Guide covers graphic sweaters from Chloe ($1,495) to The Limited
sory overload in the best possible way. I loved the pieces on the new Eleanor Lambert book, various art exhibits opening around the world this fall (example, The House of Annie Lennox at London's Victoria and Albert Museum) and the entertaining and insightful pieces on Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Wallace Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, Michelle Bachman and interior designer Muriel Brandolini. (10) Back of Book:Color Story (photographed by Paola Kudacki) was beautiful and I loved the flow and the way the pieces came alive on the model. Upstairs Downstairs (photographed by Karl Lagerfeld) was great work from all involved. Georgia May Jagger (shot by Terry Richardson) as Margaret Thatcher was slightly underwhelming. I fell in love with the bold (and yes, rich) colors in The Season's Riches (shot by Camilla Akrans on the coastline with the sea in the background). However, I could do without seeing Donna Karan New York's dress with fur cuffs and gloves yet again. Lady Gaga interviewed Debbie Harry and it was a meeting of like minds. Articles on Alexander Wang, Jeff Koons, Jane Fonda (loved that Stella McCartney spotted dress on her) and Jean-Paul Goude rounded out the rest of the section. It was a job well done. (10)
Page Count: 515 pages Cover Subject: Lea Michele in a Yves Saint Laurent satin jumpsuit ($5,100) on the newsstand cover, model Karmen Pedaru in Giorgio Armani rhinestone jersey dress ($13,000) and Van Cleef & Arpels necklace (price available upon request – if you have to ask, you can't afford it) on the subscriber cover. (Lea 5, Karmen 9) Seriously, Lea Michele was a huge miss. She's not high fashion and she seemed rather uncomfortable in her stance on the cover and in the photos that accompanied the very short article on her. Miss Pedaru was a much better choice – she looked high fashion and we got it. She wore that Van Cleef & Arpels necklace as if it was a nothing. And that's what high fashion is.
Cover Article: What can I say? I expected caviar and I got chopped liver. She spend most of the article defending her reputation as an over-entitled diva – and came out on the losing of the argument. I came away from the piece not liking her very much. That's sad. Really. (3)
Front of Book:The front of book in Harper's Bazaar is always a pleasure. We saw those Louis Vuitton brass handcuffs again, a gloriously ostentatious Lanvin flower necklace, a page filled with wonderful blush colored handbags, shoes, and jewelry, also pages on lace, tortoise, red, mens'-influenced suiting and gold. It was sen-
9/11 Remembrances: My New Life by Jennifer Gardner Trulson. A story about soul-rending heartache with a happy ending. As all the stories from the ones left behind after 9/11 should be. (10)
She's not high fashion and she seemed rather uncomfortable in her stance on the cover
traordinary and courageous women who are behind the Libyan Revolution showed the depth and strength that women has throughout the world, not just in Libya. As a rule, Vogue generally has a more sophisticated front of book. However, I am sometimes left to wonder who these women are. Shala Monronque? Elizabeth von Thurn und Taxis? Dasha Zhukova? They talk about lace, and they show the trend on Nicole Kidman, Natalia Vodianova and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. Andre Leon Talley reports on Chanel Couture in Paris and it's as if you are there yourself. I long to visit designer Peter Copping's country place in Normandy. It's all about aspirational living with Vogue. If you have $4,010, you too can own Joseph Altuzarra's green military parka. You know, the one that stole the show at Lincoln Center in February. It's one of the must-haves for fall. And let's not forget violinist Charlie Siem. He's absolutely gorgeous, a little bit of rock and roll; and a whole lot of soul. (14)
Page Count: 758 (Winner and still Champ. You gotta love all those endless pages of ads!) Cover Subject:Kate Moss in Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton (11) Cover Article: Conducted on the heels of her upcoming wedding, I really like this piece. I liked the insight Hamish Bowles brought to the table. This is yet another fine job on his part. I loved, loved, loved all the photographs taken by Mario Testino. He's a genius behind the camera. What's more adorable than Miss Moss surrounded by her daughter and her little bridesmaids? And in that photos of Miss Moss and James Hince, her new husband, you saw the love they have for each other. The photograph of her with John Galliano was especially significant because, given his recent troubles, she still made him an integral part of her wedding. That's loyalty of the highest degree. And you have to admit, her wedding dress was phenomenal. He hasn't lost his touch one bit. (14) Front of Book: The Letter from the Editor started on page 216. That should tell you everything. I was intrigued and I learned a lot from Rosamond Bernier sharing her life story; Chloe Malle's remembrance of her late father, the esteemed French director, Louis Malle, was quite touching; Janine di Giovanni's article on the ex-
Back of Book: Where do I start? Let's start at the beginning. Jonathan Van Meter's piece on modern day China was brilliant. However, in some of the photos of Karlie Kloss, what happened to her hair? (7.5) With Playing to Type (styled by her Holiness, Grace Coddington and Michael Philouze), we have already a lot of these pieces a million times but Her Holiness gave them a fresh prospective for us to appreciate them. (15) The Jon Huntsman profile left me one major impression: I've never seen just a photogenic family before. Wait a minute, Mitt Romney has an equally photogenic family. (6) I achieved full-blown real estate envy reading about Claude Wasserstein's New York City penthouse apartment with its own rooftop forest. Then I got over it. (8) Glee actors and Fashion Night Out. Yawn. My Generation (starring Natalia Vodianova and actor Sam Riley, shot by Mert & Marcus, and styled by the Goddess, Grace Coddington) had the right amount of mod nostalgia built in. (13) Finally, Jourdan Dunn had a major breakthrough with At Ease, a portfolio showing the softer side of military-inspired designs from Chloe, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Tommy Hilfiger and Dior. Breathtaking. (12)
9/11 Remembrances: A Will to Live, an excerpt from Laura Manning's new book, Unmeasured Strength. You laugh. You cry. It becomes a part of you (10)
she put the violin down and focused on other positive things
Page Count: 324 Pages Cover Subject: Sarah Jessica Parker wearing Bottega Veneta (8) Cover Article: She started by initially stewing in her soup over a gossip item on Page Six of The New York Post. So after getting that out of the way, she put the violin down and focused on other positive things like her family and her soon-to-be released movie, I Don't Know How She Does It. She has her priorities straight: Mother and Wife first and everything else after. It was an informative interview and now I can't wait to see the movie. (8) Front of Book: Marie Claire generally followed the other mags by showing much of the same trends: Polka Dots, Lace, Animal skins (Python anyone?), Blush, Tribal, black and sexy, Emerald City (bottle green Gucci snakeskin shoes, $1,100 and Celine handbag, $1,800), color (red, purple, color is really strong this season). Just so you know coats are really a big deal for fall. They come in parkas (that Joseph Altuzarra coat again), fur, mink and fox chubbies, anoraks, toggle, and trench coats in a mixture of tactile fabrics. Marie Claire is equally as strong in their beauty and accessories coverage. A girl on a budget could learn an awful lot from their beauty and accessories editors in this and every
issue. There's a gold rush in the making and it starts with Micheal Kors' Gold Eau de Parfum ($75) and covers Shisedo's Shimmering Cream in Techno Gold ($26) and Calgon's Ageless Bath Luminous Bath Pearls ($5). You are duly warned. On a more serious note, there's a sobering story of woman in Bangladesh who shares her husband with her mother. It's a tradition that comes with complications for all concerned. Jane Haag's horrifying story of living in fear of a violent stalker will chill the very essence of your soul. (9)
Back of Book: The back of book opened with an homage to Anglomania and the photo layout (starring Yasmina Muratovich, styled by Nina Garcia and shot by Txema Yeste) was slightly off kilter and I am guessing that that was on purpose. (7) Frankie Says Relax and I did. It was wonderful seeing Frankie Raydar again and she just went beyond in her layout photographed by David Roemer. There is something to be said after all for experience. (9) In Fluff Piece (shot again by Txema Yeste) was outstanding on several levels. One, the makeup - cat eyes and a strong cheek- was the most fashion-forward of all the layouts I have seen so far. The model, Wang Xaio, knew how to work with the camera, creating pages that virtually came alive. The fur jacket from Balmain and the red fur cape from Ann Demeulemeester was easily my favorite pieces from the shoot. (9) Objects of Desire was yet another strong portfolio. Black has never looked so sexy and menacing at the sametime. (8) The rest was icing on the cake. All the images were sourced from www.fashiongonerogue.com and the individual magazines' own press kits.
Let's Hear for the Boys
Part Two: Phillip D. Johnson
In the publishing world, women's fashion, health and beauty magazines (as well as general interests magazines, i.e, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, New York Magazine) rules the roost. But the men's magazines market tends to be more splintered. You have your “Laddie” magazine that contain non-nude photography or barebreasted photography in the case of some British "lads' mags", accompanied by articles about women (for men); consumer stories about cars, tools, boys and their toys, foods, alcoholic beverages; or "guy tales" of sexual encounters. Blender, Loaded, Maxim, Barracuda, FHM, Gear, Stuff and King falls under that category. They tend to focus and showcase babes and are known for their “sexiest women alive” lists. Then you have your sports mags (Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine), Tech (Wired), ethnic (Black Enterprise, Assets, Smooth, Bonita Magazine/Latin America), and Health and Fitness (Men's Journal, Men's Health, Men's Fitness, FLEX, Iron Man). The more mainstream category is, of course, the fashion/general interests magazines that appeal to a broader heterosexual male audience and is skewed to towards an extensive men's fashion coverage, exercise and health, grooming, entertainment, sports and major full-length feature articles. In this category, Details, GQ and Esquire are the industry leaders; and they do a pretty good job of fulfilling all those requirements.
Much like Vogue, Elle, etc., the big fall books are highly anticipated and they tend to save some of their best coverage for this issue. This year, the September issues for these magazines were especially excellent. All three were memorable in their way. Of course, some features and articles more so than others. With men's magazines, it's not about page counts (although it helps the bottom line if your issue is loaded with ads, especially today), it's about the contents within that set each magazine apart from its competitor.
Let's Hear for the Boys
to do anything, just about, but with the wherewithal and understanding and life skills of a 45-year-old Supreme Court Judge.” Quite profound. (10)
Front of Book: “GQ Endorses” is all about enticing you with clothes, watches, shoes and accessories you gotta have. But if you are like me, I wish that GQ would also send me the money to buy all this stuff because this section is a must-read front of book feature. I was intrigued with “The Three Labels We're Obsessed With Right Now” piece. After all, you have to keep with the trends and the emerging trend-setters. I've never owned a var-
after reading page 144, I want one. Badly. Their grooming adsity jacket but
vice is on-target as usual; and the travel piece on visiting Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver brought back good memories because I have visited all three cities several times over the years and it was fun to read about the places I have been to and the places I want to visit on my next trip. (8)
Articles of Interests: This issue was chock full of long-form articles that left an indelible impression on me. “Dinner for Schmucks” by Alan Richman is a must-read piece that has reverberated beyond GQ and caught fire on the internet. People are still talking about it. (10) The article on Michael Vick by Will Leitch was memorable only because throughout all he's been through, Mr. Vick still seems to think that he was wronged. (7) As
“I wish that GQ would also send me the money to buy all this stuff” Magazine: GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly) Page Count: 276 pages
Cover Subject: Mark Sanchez, Quarterback for the New York Jets (9) This is one of the best covers from GQ in as many years. It really pops and, do I dare say it, that is one sexy cover. Cover Article: Sometimes a magazine teases you with a big build-up regarding the cover article inside and then let you down with something that is far off the mark. Not this time. The cover was interesting and so was the article inside. Writer J.R. Moehringer managed, in a sly manner, to peel back the onion where Sanchez was concerned and show us a more three-dimensional man. He showed us a man who's still trying to find his way as a football player, a citizen and as a man. You come to understand his fear of screwing up, of being involved in a public scandal, of getting trouble with women. As he so eloquently put it: “You have to be a 24-year old bachelor with the means
the day approaches when “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” is due to come to an end, Chris Heath spoke to dozens of gay servicemen about their lives and their thoughts on the issue. This is a life-changing article. It speaks to my own experience, the strength it takes to live the life and how wrong DADT was all along. Nothing beats living your life as a second class citizen, I guess. It took seventeen years to reach this point and the “Promise land” is well within our sights. One can only hope it gets better going forward. (15)
Back of Book: Project Upgrade Goes to College (8), The Great GQ Pants-off (6), and Boss Tweed starring actor James Marsden (9) constitutes the bulk of the photo-editorial coverage. Nothing here exactly rocked my world but Mr. Marsden is one of my favorite actors from his Ally McBeal days. He was gorgeous then and he's even more gorgeous now.
Front of Book: The “Know & Tell” front of book section of the magazine is chockfull of all the style, cultural, health and grooming news you will ever need and information you never knew needed. I am a closet foodie and read The Shoppers' Guide to the New Food Temples in the world with great interest. (8) Back of Book: Earlier this year, Details revamped the magazine to include more fitness feature stories. While the book’s fashion pages are generally non-starters, The Body is packed with vital news concerning your health, and fitness regiments. The photo-editorial featuring surfers modeling overcoats and jackets (7) was mildly interesting; Getting the Boot gave me footwear options I never knew I needed (8), and I very much enjoyed Street Smart, featuring the best suits of the season (9)
“The Body is packed with vital news concerning your health, and fitness regiments”
“It's almost like a manifestation of God”
Magazine : Details Page Count:208 pages
Cover Subject: Ashton Kutcher, the new star of CBS's Two and a Half Men (7). This cover was somewhat standard fare, nothing earth-shattering here either.
Cover Article: Following up my earlier statement, what was more important here was the feature written by Jonah Weiner. As a general rule, we (as human beings) traffic heavily in stereotypes. Mr. Kutcher, as we discovered, is a lot more than the dimwitted Kelso on That '70s Show. Over the years, he has become a producer (Punk'd), an emerging Master of the Tech Universe, and a socially-conscious citizen. In an insightful Q&A, he spoke about the good and bad aspects to living one's life online. As he said: “You have to learn to negotiate it, or you can choose not to participate. It's almost like a manifestation of God. People used to behave morally because they thought God was always watching—in some ways God today is the collective, and the collective is watching.” He also feels that privacy is only as important as you personally make it, a sound argument if ever there is one. (8)
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9/11 Remembrances: A Thousand Words by Stephen Marche “What Osama Bin Laden Left Behind: The End of Terrorism” is required reading (10); as is Tyler Cabots “The Prisoners of Guantanamo, What We Saw”, an oral history and The Rebuilding Part: The Memorial by Scott Raab. (10) Mr. Raab made a valid point in that while we should remember the dead and the tremendous effects 9/11 has had on our world; it’s time to bury the dead and move on. He advocates for many points, one is that we should stop calling the site “Ground Zero” and two, we should make that area – while still being on the alert- a place where people can walk around free again and not an overly protected area where people feels under seize from the overwhelming presence of the police and other law enforcement bodies.
“the stylists actually gave us looks and pieces that a majority of men would embrace and wear”
Magazine: Esquire Page Count: 94 pages Cover Subject: Ryan Gosling
Cover Article: Mr. Gosling is an actor with a great future ahead of him, and this interview gave you all the reasons you need to get on board the Ryan Gosling train before it leaves the station. (9)
Front of Book: Man at His Best (MaHB) is always an interesting read. Starting with a Q&A with Chelsea Handler (9), following this with a Fall TV Preview (7) Drinking in Cuba, an Update (8) and Sex with Stacey Grenrock Woods (9), all were good reads. Back of Book: Esquire’s Eat Like a Man/How to Cook gave me a new appreciation for people who knows their way around a kitchen. And the recipes are pretty easy to follow. (8) The Q&A with Daniela Ruah was funny, insightful and just plain enjoyable. She’s definitely a woman I love (10). The Bold Look (twenty-one pages of aggressive new styles for fall) was quite three dimensional and the stylists actually gave us looks and pieces that a majority of men would embrace and wear. Nothing was too far out here. (8)