How 'Asos' Magazine Gets Cover Stars Like Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence

For a glossy published by an e-commerce site, 'Asos' magazine sure brings the star power.
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Eliza Brooke
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For a glossy published by an e-commerce site, 'Asos' magazine sure brings the star power.
The magazine's most recent cover star, Lily James. Photo: Asos

The magazine's most recent cover star, Lily James. Photo: Asos

Jennifer Lawrence, Blake Lively, Claire Danes, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham. This isn't a list of past Vogue cover stars: It's a lineup of a few of the famous faces that have graced the cover of Asos magazine. For a relatively under-the-radar title published 10 times a year by the British fast fashion site Asos, the magazine sure has managed to bring the star power.

As Editor in Chief Francesca Babb and Associate Editor Marina Crook explain, it was a matter of building on past accomplishments to gradually establish credibility. When Asos magazine launched in 2006, they put the focus on up-and-comers who looked like they were going to take off. Florence Welch and Lady Gaga shot for Asos early in their careers. Lea Michele, who the magazine secured thanks to a pre-existing relationship with her PR team, did a cover just as "Glee" got going.

"From then on, I had something to show people [when pitching covers]," Babb says. "Asos wasn't big in the U.S. at that point." 

Putting Jennifer Lawrence on the cover was another major milestone for the team. That was in 2011, the same year that she earned her first Oscar nomination for "Winter's Bone," and instantly went from relative unknown to America's loud-mouthed sweetheart.

Though the glossy still goes after fresh faces, like current cover girl Lily JamesAsos can now chase celebrities with global name recognition and not have to pitch as hard. Take, for instance Taylor Swift, whose January issue came out just weeks after "1989" dropped. (Swift, for her part, hit every side of the media spectrum in those months, with covers ranging from InStyle to Wonderland.)

At present, the print edition reaches roughly 486,000 people a month, and comes free for UK shoppers who have signed up for Asos Premiere, a £9.95 yearly package that gives them early and exclusive access to sales, unlimited next-day delivery and free returns. Another 120,000 view it on the web each month, though some features are specific to print.

The editors declined to comment on budget or whether the magazine's cover stars get paid for their work, which isn't an unreasonable supposition considering that, like Net-a-Porter's Porter magazine, it's a marketing vehicle for the retailer. A rep for the brand later noted in an email, "With regards to cover stars, we secure our cover stars in the same way any fashion magazine does and we are very proud of the people we secure."

The Asos team does work closely with the rest of the business, though — getting product to shoot, of course, and also taking on projects in other departments, like marketing. And it'll meet with the retail division on a bi-monthly basis to talk through trends in the merchandise, which find their way into editorial. Asos put out a lot of denim this spring, for example, so the latest issue is all about denim.

"We do showcase product and that's very important, but in ideas meetings, it's not driven by product launches," says Crook. "It's more about what's important at this time of year. We work in tandem with the retail team."

It's hard to quantify how much Asos, which does sell advertisements, directly contributes to e-commerce sales, Babb and Crook say. If someone is looking at it online and clicks through to purchase, that's a clear indicator of success, but things get hazier with print. That said, its history of working with "It" girls undeniably helps position the site as a cool, culturally relevant destination. The team tracks press pickup on celebrity and fashion sites, and Instagram is particularly helpful for seeing how readers are responding to the print edition. 

"That's what's nice about making print in a digital age," Babb says. "You know what works."