Earlier this month, The Guardian’s Karen Kay penned an article, entitled, “Does the fashion industry still need Vogue in the age of social media?” The overwhelming consensus: We might not.
"There is no one bible and there is a marked shift in the way we consume fashion,” says Kay. “The evolution of technology and social media has allowed all consumers to have a voice,” per Frances Corner, head of the London College of Fashion. “Magazine publishers simply have to work harder for attention in a competitive market,” according to Bronwyn Cosgrave, former features editor at British Vogue.
Vogue and its Conde Nast counterparts – such as W, Allure, Glamour, and Teen Vogue, among others – appear to be keenly aware of this. Teen Vogue, for instance, has managed to make a very compelling turnaround of sorts, focusing entirely on digital and as noted by Bloomberg, “in an effort to reflect the full range of interests of its core 18 to 24-year-old female readership, the website shifted away from this exclusive focus on lifestyle and celebrity and began working with young journalists who came from hard news backgrounds.”
The result has been astonishing. Between April 2015 and November 2016, traffic to Teen Vogue’s site jumped from 2.5 million monthly unique visitors to 9.4 million.
The teen mag’s older counterparts are not adapting to the changing times quite as well, at least not if we take a handful of recent articles and in Vogue’s case – a very recent cover – into account. Instead of being heralded as an agent for change (think: focusing on hard-news and a wider range of relevant content a la its teen publication), Vogue is courting controversy. To be exact, it is being lambasted as of late for being downright out of touch.
Note: This is hardly a novel concept for a publication that tends to have at least one princess and a huge slew of heiresses on its masthead at any given time. (True story).
Yes, Vogue has long been considered the home of aspirational fashion and lifestyles, but it becomes problematic when that veers into elitism or as one Instagram user called it "poor taste." In March 2015, a photo of what appeared to be a homeless person reading a copy of Vogue appeared on (and was swiftly deleted from) the Instagram account of one of the mag’s style editors, Vogue style editor-at-large Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis, a member of German royalty. The instance, according to many other sites, showed just how "out of touch" the Vogue editor is.
Thereafter, Vogue came under fire when it tapped Hayley Bloomingdale, the then-29-year-old heiress to Bloomingdale's chain of department stores and an editor for Moda Operandi, to pen an article about using Instagram. Entitled, "The Instagram Rules: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Boring," the response to the article was scathing. A few of the most highly contested excerpts:
The bit that told readers with less than 100 followers to "get cooler" or quit ("If you are new and have fewer than 100 followers, then hurry up and get cooler. If you’ve been on there for a while and still don’t have more than 100 followers, then maybe Instagram isn’t for you. You can always try Tumblr or Myspace."); followed by where the article schools the reader on hashtags ("If it’s completely random and clearly not a common hashtag, then you are an idiot."); that part about avoiding selfies ("Any selfie that involves the 'kissy' face is not acceptable. These pictures are not sexy. You look like an idiot."), and it goes on.
Mashable's take on the article summed up the general sentiment of the web: "The heiress makes valiant attempts at witticisms, but ends up coming off as condescending and downright acerbic."
Less than a year later, the magazine published a Milan fashion week wrap-up on its site, which was formatted as a string of comments from some of the publication’s various editors. The article quickly went from being a discussion about the season’s offerings into a takedown of bloggers for being "embarrassing," "sad," or "pathetic" — courtesy of Vogue staffers Sarah Mower, Nicole Phelps, and Alessandra Codinha.
Again, this instance led many to rather vocally shout out Vogue as “out of touch,” especially given that at least some of its editors partake in many of the arguably less-than-ethical antics for which bloggers are known (read: over-the-top street style peacocking, gift accepting, free trip taking, etc.)
Skip forward to last week and the magazine continues to court controversy, albeit this time for failing to adequately understand what gender fluidity – the theme of its cover story starring Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik – means or entails.
One snippet from the article, reads: "I shop in your closet all the time, don't I?" Hadid says. "Yeah, but same," replies Malik. "What was that T-shirt I borrowed the other day?"
Not surprisingly, Vogue readers quickly took to social media to voice their concerns/outrage over the article and call out the magazine for not featuring real people who identify as non-binary or gender-fluid. "Think Vogue is a bit confused on what gender fluidity is! Wearing your gf's T-shirt does not make you gender fluid," one individual noted on Twitter.
A spokeswoman for Vogue responded to the widespread criticism, saying: “The story was intended to highlight the impact the gender-fluid, non-binary communities have had on fashion and culture. We are very sorry the story did not correctly reflect that spirit – we missed the mark. We do look forward to continuing the conversation with greater sensitivity.”
But the backlash against Conde publications did not stop there. Vogue’s sister site, W magazine, tweeted out a story, entitled, “All the famous twins who’ll never live up to Beyonce’s Rumi and Sir Carter,” alongside a photo of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, which was met with criticism on social media, as well.
One Twitter used responded, “Another reason the magazine industry is quickly disappearing. Thirsty for [retweet] and clicks, less focused on good content.” A different Twitter user took issue with the comparison of women, writing: “There is no need to pull other females or other human beings down. I cannot support this.” Still yet, another woman suggested W has lost sight of its core audience, tweeting, “Is W aimed at 8 year olds now?”
If it feels to you as though some of the industry’s most established magazines have taken to repeatedly causing social media fury with their questionable articles and corresponding social media posts for the sake of boosting and/or engaging their readership, you are not alone. It would be naïve to assume that these hell raising articles do not garner clicks, clicks, clicks – the primary goal of any digital based publication.
As for whether this – and non-stop Kardashian/Jenner/Hadid coverage – is a sustainable tactic, it seems unlikely. In Vogue’s defense, some articles do hit home - in a good way - with readers.
For instance, in response to an article slamming Donald Trump for commenting on French First Lady Brigitte Macron’s figure during a recent trip to Paris, one Twitter user commented, “[Thank you] Vogue for posting articles like this. U are a major force for young and older women. Use that position positively – less Kylie more this.”