There is one September issue in which white women in Prada and Karlie Kloss don't reign supreme: Redbook. For the first time in the history of the magazine, the biggest issue of the year stars neither a celebrity nor a famous model, but rather six regular women.
"We do a lot of real people throughout the magazine," editor-in-chief Meredith Rollins told me last week at an intimate party celebrating the milestone issue. "It's something we've really focused on since I got the job a year ago and so, Why wouldn’t it extend to the cover?"
These six ladies weren't exactly snatched off the street — they're the winners of the magazine's second annual Redbook Real Women Style Awards. They represent a diverse range of ages (25 to 42), ethnicities, hometowns, and career tracks — from a few in marketing (total coincidence) to 36-year-old St. Louis-based Psyche Southwell, a poverty researcher. A panel of judges including Fashion Police co-host Brad Goreski, makeup guru Mally Roncal (both Roncal and Goreski also contribute to Redbook) and creative director of plus-size brand Eloquii, Jodi Arnold, helped narrow down the 5,000 contestants.
"I worked at Lucky for six years and I was at Harper’s Bazaar and W and I love these fashion magazines," Rollins explained. "Getting the September issues and leafing through them is such a thrill. You don’t look at it and say 'Oh, that's going to be something I'm going to be trying next Tuesday night on date night.' It's meant to be purely inspiring. So to be able to put something out there that is really actionable, it's really useful, but no less inspiring and just as exciting to see, I think is really revolutionary."
While the winners do all maintain style blogs, posting selfies and full-length shots isn't their main gig. "We didn't want to choose anyone who was making money off of being stylish," Rollins told me. "Their income comes from their real jobs and they're totally real people and they have real budgets — like no one is sending them Louboutins in the mail. They're buying everything they're wearing, which was also really important because I wanted it to feel realistic for our reader."
For the cover shoot, market editors interviewed each winner about their personal style and outfit preferences — and called in pieces from showrooms — but each "model" actually styled herself. The brands and pieces used are approachable and accessible, from a $28 scarf print jacket from Forever 21 to a $119 wrap-front printed jumpsuit by Eloquii. (The most expensive item was a $300 pair of thigh-high Dolce Vita black suede boots.)
While the ladies were put to work for the styling portion of the cover shoot, they did enjoy some cover model treatment. "I think the best part of the shoot to be honest was Mark Townsend did everyone’s hair," said 25-year-old New York-based marketer Christine Buzan about the Olsen twins' longtime hairstylist of choice.
But what does using unknowns on a cover mean for the business side of the magazine? The lead-up to a September issue is always a massive undertaking. Typically, titles need to wrangle the biggest cover stars and brainstorm the most scintillating headlines to help publishers with the ad sales push. So in a month filled with Emma Watson (Vogue UK), Taylor Swift (Vanity Fair) and Karlie Kloss (Glamour), six non-famous cover stars is an interesting twist. But in a strategic move, Redbook partnered with Dove. "They’ve been doing real women in their campaign since 2004," noted Rollins. "They had no editorial input at all. They're seeing the women tonight for the first time. It was a purely editorial project."
Rollins would like to continue using real women on the September issue cover next year, as she feels special ownership of the concept. "I know a lot of people focus on street style with street style stars [but] it's a different ball of wax," she said. "This just feels like it's something that nobody else is doing."
That said, she wouldn't be upset if another mag jumped on the real women bandwagon. "I would be as happy as anybody else. I think it's great and I think that readers deserve to see people who look exactly like them."