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How 2017's Top-Level Editorial Changes Will Affect the Future of Fashion Publishing

"More legacy media companies should take notice and hire young, non-white, non-male or cisgender people at the top."
Elaine Welteroth at the 2017 "Teen Vogue" Summit in Los Angeles. Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Teen Vogue

Elaine Welteroth at the 2017 "Teen Vogue" Summit in Los Angeles. Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Teen Vogue

News that an editor of Graydon Carter's stature would be vacating his post after 25 years at Vanity Fair was guaranteed to send ripples throughout the publishing industry. Ditto that sentiment for word that Robbie Myers would be departing Elle after 17 years, or that Glamour's veteran EIC Cindi Leive would soon report for her final day. But when all three made their impending exits public within a week of one another, as they did this past September, those ripples felt more like a tidal wave. 

Factor in the holes that would soon appear at the top of other mastheads — openings left by Creative Directors Jim Moore of GQ and Nina Garcia of Marie Claire — plus rumors that the days of Vogue's Anna Wintour and Harper's Bazaar's Glenda Bailey are numbered, and the world of fashion and lifestyle media in 2017 might seem to be in a moment of crisis without seasoned leaders guiding the way. But all is not lost, thanks to new guard of young talent that is ready, willing and now able to fill gaps like those and bring legacy titles into the present day — and maybe even the future — by championing new platforms to reach readers and advocating for diverse representation on their pages and screens.

The most obvious, well-publicized precedent for this is, of course, Elaine Welteroth and Phillip Picardi, who successfully reimagined a Teen Vogue that better reflected the wide array of interests relevant to their core readership and disseminated content via the many emerging platforms their audience uses. The duo notably emphasized political discourse that was informative without being condescending, putting the editors and their magazine at the center of a national conversation, while also adopting unorthodox methods, like driving subscriptions to their political newsletter via Instagram Stories.

Teen Vogue had long been beautiful to look at as well as an authoritative gatekeeper of youth-centric fashion, and that remains true. However, the rest of its content often lacked enough substance and unflinching point of view to warrant an appearance from Welteroth and Picardi on The Daily Show, for example. Compared to stories from its past — like a 2010 article that likened securing a gay best friend to copping a must-have Proenza Schouler top — the Teen Vogue output in 2017 is revelatory. Vitally, it worked in ways that top brass at Condé Nast must enjoy beyond street cred and glowing press coverage. This spring, Teen Vogue reported a 176 percent increase in unique visitors to its site year over year.

"It would be great to assume that Condé Nast pivoted Teen Vogue to create this more 'woke' environment," says Caysey Welton, content director at media industry publication Folio. "The reality is, these are businesses, and ultimately, they're trying to increase margins and put out a product that people will buy. In the Teen Vogue situation, their audience is young and digital savvy, and [execs at Condé Nast] see people like Picardi and Welteroth as in touch with that audience."

The hot take that the end of the print iteration of Teen Vogue signaled some kind of failure is largely without merit; as one media reporter who wasn't able to comment on the record put it: "AARP isn't on Snapchat; Teen Vogue doesn't need to be in print."

Laura Brown and Emily Ratajkowsk celebrate the March 2017 issue of "InStyle." Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for "InStyle"

Laura Brown and Emily Ratajkowsk celebrate the March 2017 issue of "InStyle." Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for "InStyle"

Since two young, diverse co-editors aren't a trend, it's worth noting the other editors making strides at their publications, too. She may not receive the same amount of press as her Condé Nast colleagues, but Michelle Lee, at the helm of Allure since 2015, has revamped the title markedly, in this case to reflect a more modern standard of beauty. The outlet no longer uses the term "anti-aging," for example, and featured hijabi model Halima Aden on the July 2017 cover, a rarity in mainstream US media. In fact, along with Teen Vogue, Allure featured more people of color as cover stars than any of the other top 10 American fashion and beauty publications this year. Per AdWeek, Allure has seen a 30 percent bump in its cross-platform audience under Lee's care this year.

Editor Laura Brown has been credited with infusing InStyle with her signature sense of humor, but also with a better informed view of how her readers consume media; as reported by Business of Fashion, views for InStyle video content are up 730 percent from last year. With GQ Style, Will Welch has led a team that has done what has eluded other men's fashion-first publications over the years — RIP Details and Men's Vogue — by creating a style magazine that's leveraged celebrity photo shoots and interviews with Brad Pitt and Aziz Ansari to fight its way into the zeitgeist beyond a niche audience.

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Edward Enninful, now two issues deep as British Vogue's first black male editor, wasn't exactly a new face within fashion media, but his expressed goal to clean house and re-staff with a plethora of bold voices is breathing some life into a title that was reliable, if stagnant. Even Architectural Digest has furtively gotten into the mix, rebranding as AD at the behest of editor Amy Astley and leaning on Alexander Wang, Lily Collins and Marc Jacobs's dog, Neville, for millennial-friendly content. (The title saw a 131 percent increase in mobile viewership this year.)

"A lot of legacy publications have been faltering at evolving their brands and reaching new eyeballs, because they're run by old, white people," says Cale Weissman, a reporter for Fast Company. "The fact that these places are hiring fresher and diverse voices is heartening and smart. More legacy media companies should take notice and hire young, non-white, non-male or cisgender people at the top."

While many in publishing would agree with Weissman, not all legacy media companies have proven willing to make hires outside of the usual suspects — or even their own company directory. Garcia, for example, is switching offices at Hearst Tower to replace Myers at Elle, returning to the publication where she once served as fashion director. GQ opted to promote from within to replace Moore, giving Welch creative director responsibilities in addition to his duties at GQ Style rather than bringing a new voice into the fold.

In addition, youth doesn't always mean progress across the board in the way that it has for Teen Vogue and Allure. Under Brown's stewardship, InStyle has increased subscriptions by 2.85 percent (as of August), but did so while featuring merely two non-white faces on the 12 covers it released this year. Racial diversity on the cover is only one metric for measuring representation in fashion magazines, but it is quite a visible one — and amounts to a 41.7 percent drop in non-white InStyle cover models compared to 2016.

Edward Enninful and Naomi Campbell at the 2017 Met Gala. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Edward Enninful and Naomi Campbell at the 2017 Met Gala. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Richard Prince, a journalist who blogs about diversity in media on his site Journal-isms, agrees that the recent younger hires are significant changes for legacy publications, but maintains that the status quo will likely remain the same without further commitment from top management at publishing houses — not just individual titles given the purview to shake up the composition of their own staff, à la Enninful. "The magazine industry does not have a comparable measuring stick to the American Society of News Editors' annual diversity survey, but it's a safe bet that the magazine industry lags behind newspapers and online outlets," says Prince. "It will continue to be discussed by advocates of diversity until the magazines make sufficient progress."

Still, the discussion is moving. We have yet to see what Vanity Fair will look like under the leadership of Carter's successor, Radhika Jones. But given key differences — namely, that she's roughly 20 years younger than Carter and has a vastly different professional background — the title's evolution will certainly be a hot topic of industry chatter in 2018. 

Both Welton and Weissman agree that we'll likely see more big names depart in the near future, too, although maybe not because they're afraid of being seen as obsolete. "A lot of editors have been doing their job for a while and perhaps see the writing on the wall that things are changing," says Weissman. "But I also don't necessarily think editors are departing because of some fatalistic prophecy down the line."

Young or old, sitting as an editor in chief is a grind. "I can't speak for these editors, but I bet they're just tired," adds Weissman. "Hell...I'm tired."

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