Fashionista contributor Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt.
Last night, after a long drive from Washington, DC--where I was visiting my friend Robin Givhan--and just prior to the start of the big rain storm, I went shopping for groceries with another friend at Trader Joe’s new mammoth store on 6th Avenue and 21st Street. On the way back, we stopped by Universal News. On the floor and wall near the entrance were the new coveted September issues, each fighting for attention.
Size is what really matters for all magazines. Because the marketing budgets are usually bigger in the fall than in the spring, these September issues indicate not only of the health of any particular publications, but the direction of print media. On the whole, this September is a giant step forward from September '09, when GDP was still in the negatives with no end in sight. Now, it’s hard to call it a recovery, as shoppers are still worried about spending on big items. Many luxury brands still depend on margins from China to supplement deficits elsewhere.
This season, I sense that fashion brands have become fiercely competitive, despite the weak economic outlook. Advertisers are spending again. From the perspective of a small and independent magazine, I can say that glossies, indies, and online publications all are relevant in different ways, which means advertisers need to reach their audience through every avenue.
But back to the glossies. “That’s a lot of looks,” my friend pointed to the Harper’s Bazaar September issue, which boasts 937 New Looks on one of its Jennifer Aniston covers. “True, but fashion is about choices and I think they're trying to convey to readers the breadth of what exists each season,” I told her.
However, I have always wondered how each publication comes up with these numbers. I am sure they're meant to impress readers, particularly those buying magazines from newsstands.
Vogue, Elle and InStyle all touted the total amount of pages their respective issues: "726 pages of Sumptuous Fall Fashion at Every Price" said Vogue, "562 pages of Must Have Dresses, Jackets and Heels," revealed Elle, and "600 pages of Fall Fashion's Best New Trends and How to Wear Them," boasts InStyle.
Harper’s Bazaar has double covers of Jennifer Aniston with one cover says "937 New Looks," Marie Claire's Mary Kate Olsen cover includes "516 New Looks for every Body & Budget," and Glamour has "587 Fall Outfits & Ideas" on its Jennifer Lopez cover.
What standards are used to count the total of looks? “Pages are total for issue—and we are fine that our readers look at the ads for ideas. We know from research that in fashion magazines the ads, particularly in the big fashion issues, are important information givers to the reader; they are quite aware it’s an ad. If you look at the signatures it’s obvious it’s total book size we’re referring to,” Robbie Myers, the Editor-in-Chief of Elle, told me via email as she was out-of-town. “Editorial items are hand counted every issue when we use that number. The 'must have' line is implied... Which is to say the reader is quite aware that there are also many, many other items that are not mentioned—if we mentioned every item there would be hundreds of words on the cover. This is such standard practice among all in our set; I’ve seen it for the 20 years I’ve been in the business.”
I picked up Glamour, Bazaar and Marie Claire to perform a manual recount to see if we can come up to the number of looks on each magazine’s signature. From the cover signature tag line, I have to assume the magazines only count the looks suggested from its editorial pages. Thus, advertising pages do not figure into the counting of looks. Here are the parameters I am using to define a look in the manual recount of Glamour, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar numbers:
Editorial: each model/celebrity shot on full page counts as one look; Hair, makeup and accessories are part of one look unless alternatives suggestions for hair, makeup and/or bags, jewelry are offered; two models one page count as two looks; each runway photo counts as one look; each still life counts as one look; on Table of Conent pages, each item counts as one look if the item is credited; 10 celebrities on one page counts as 10 looks only if the looks are credited; for beauty each suggestion is a look – on one page, six lipsticks items are six looks if the items are credited.
Here’s the result from three separate counts by a three person team.
Glamour: 335; 319: 334 = average = 329. A difference of 258 from the 587 looks the magazine reported, a 44% difference.
Marie Claire: 349; 341; 360 = average = 350. A difference of from the 516 looks the magazine reported, a 32% difference.
Harper’s Bazaar: 698; 676; 705 = average = 693 A difference of 244 from the 937 looks the magazine reported, a 26% difference.
Perhaps our recount may have missed certain items that the magazines counted in their tabulations.
If I recall correctly, the trend for putting the amount of looks on the cover tag lines is about a decade old. In the fall 2001, Bazaar was among the first high fashion magazines to use a number of looks on its cover--the November 2001 issue boasted "440 New Looks." While Vogue occasionally used a very modest count of looks--like "93 sensational looks" in October 2002, Vogue’s September issues normally used the total page count instead of look count. But the gold medal goes to Bazaar where the September 2008 has "1,207 New Looks."
Then again, September 2008 was the last month in the distant memory of a plentiful era.