Op-Ed | We Still Love Magazines

Franceline Prat | Source: The Little Squares

NEW YORK, United States — Anyone who still loves magazines will be enchanted by this quick film portrait of legendary French Vogue editor Franceline Prat; proof positive that great editors are born and not made. Her collaborations with Guy Bourdin, Norman Parkinson, Bill King, Albert Watson and especially Helmut Newton will forever hold their place at the pinnacle of the history of fashion photography.

When she is asked, “who showed you how to do that?” she answers quite honestly, “nobody!” It was her personal style that she brought to every story, including her now famous house on the French Riviera, which served as a backdrop to many classic images, which appeared in French Vogue during the 1970’s. Having survived many an editor-in-chief, she was not only muse to the most difficult and important photographers, but also acted as mentor, teacher and great friend to everyone around her, from Azzedine Alaia to Marie Amélie Sauvé. Here, she talks about the first time she ever worked with Helmut Newton covering the Cannes Film Festival where she found a young unknown actress named Isabelle Hupert.

Listening to these marvelous stories in the digital age, they seem almost fictional. It’s as if, somewhere during the last turn of the century, fashion, while trying to defend and define itself, has become somewhat of a cartoon image of itself. It is hard to imagine that during that time at French Vogue, there weren’t even individual credits given to the many people who contributed to what would become some of the most influential imagery ever created. All great magazines, fashion or otherwise, are the result of great collaborations rather than any individual expression. There have always been star photographers, brilliant art directors, incredible writers, super models, fashion editors and of course, the editors-in-chief, who serve to inspire and guide these teams to express the point of view of the magazine.

So why do we still love magazines? And why hasn’t the rise of digital technology stamped them out already?

It’s not surprising really, if you think of them as the triumph of the group effort whereas the website or the blog is more like the triumph of the individual expression. While becoming part of the community, the online experience still underlines the idea of “this is me” and “this is what I think. ” Sites like Polyvore with its “let’s everyone try and do a layout!” and individual blogs, which are like secret diaries we all get to peek into, have added an amazing new dimension to the industry.

It’s as if the fashion hungry population has become so familiar with our language and imagery through television shows and movies, they have deconstructed and mimicked the making of designer collections, magazines, and even the behavior of the press offices (all three most brilliantly parodied in the series Absolutely Fabulous). The public’s unending fascination with our industry and their ability to now actually participate through reality TV, red carpet reporting and online communities has had wonderful, sometimes silly, yet always amusing effects. Anything that brings a sense of humour to a sometimes humourless industry is a good thing.

So let’s celebrate the great moments in the creation of great magazines, those “paper movies” with a strong point of view. Whether focused on travel, nature, politics, literature, fashion or all of the above, magazines have many advantages over the digital experience. They get to tell stories over space rather than time. They show you what they want to show, leaving intact the allure that has been lost a bit with all of the ‘sharing’ we do now. They have a ‘lean back’ captive audience and have the very fashionable quality of not being forever.

Therefore we cannot let the next generations think our industry is like winning a game show; it’s up to all of us to share our experiences so we don’t lose the ability to make these beautiful moments either on the printed page or anywhere else for that matter. It wasn’t too long ago that most people didn’t even know what a stylist was. Let’s not forget the art of the creative collaboration, the days when photographers would hang out in art departments and argue with graphic designers and the passion wound up all over the page.

Debra Scherer has worked at American Vogue, French Vogue and Italian Vogue, where she is currently a contributing editor. She is co-founder of The Little Squares, where ‘We Still Love Magazines‘ is like a company credo.

What do you think? What is the role of magazines in the digital age?

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11 comments

  1. The role of fashion magazines? To inform and enchant the reader. What I read in the blogs, see on websites has a fleeting nature to it all. I treat magazines as if they were books. Preserving them, taking them out for inspiration. I am in no way part of the industry so I would hope those with influence and power continue to fight for magazines, for the creativity that they encompass. It’s a business, sure. But let’s hope the art triumphs over money.

    Susana from Eugene, OR, United States
  2. Give or take by 2012/2013 and beyond, their survival will be questioned. But in all magazines will not completely die out because, it will always have those that want the feeling and comfort of a magazine in their hands etc.Nothing beats the glossy!

  3. The experience of reading a print magazine and online magazine is completely different. Digital will never compare to sitting down with a good quality magazine and experiencing the quality of the pages in magazines like 032c and Purple Fashion. I rarely read full articles online whereas with a magazine I’ll read some and come back to it again and again and as Susana said, treat it more like a book. I could never read a book on on a tablet, I need to sit down and physically turn pages. Long live the magazine!

  4. I love fashion magazines. Most passions tend to stem from childhood and my first foray into fashion magazines was probably when I was five. My mother always had her clothes made and every few months, precious pattern books and dressmaker’s magazines would emerge from a locked drawer. Parcels of fabric – gifts or impulse buys – would be carefully unwrapped and pondered over. I remember sitting alongside for hours on a Sunday afternoon, absorbed in wonderment. The fashion magazine was to me, and still is, a purveyor of dreams, a conduit between fantasy and reality. As they say, “seeing is believing”. To see ideas printed on paper made them feel real. Magazines to me are like madeleines to Proust. When immersed, I am once more, running my fingers over reams of exotic silk, watching Tailor, the hum of the ceiling fan interspersed with the stop-start whirring of her sewing machine, as she magically transformed cloth into clothing.

    Shuehyen from Ninfield, East Sussex, United Kingdom
  5. Digital is everywhere and it’s transforming our lives. It’s a major part of my life. But it would be a sad day if the great fashion and cultural magazines ever disappear. The great ones are big, heavy, and expensive. But when we take them home and feel the smooth paper, smell the new ink, and study the cool and sometimes unexpected images, what a pleasure that is. I’ve often felt sorry for most people in most cities who never have the chance to even see the great ones. Perhaps online versions will have to suffice for them. But on the web it’s just about looking and sometimes not easily. The physical magazine, however, engages more of the senses. And they last. You can return to them later and rediscover them all over again. Not the same as revisiting a bookmarked site.

  6. I feel its evolution, the magazine will runs its course. It would be interesting to know the sale figures of Vogue over the last few years where bloggers are putting on the pressure. I know the romance of the fashion magazine, a well rehearsed advertising campaign, optimist of the latest whilst flicking pages. Does a teenager really understand this?
    By the click he/she can be viewing next seasons run way. As where our parents where collecting the latest patterns, I don’t think our children will have the growing back issues on top of the wardrobe.

    Daniel Turner from Hitchin, Hertford, United Kingdom
  7. As the founder of an online fashion magazine, currently in avid pursuit to take it into print, I sincerely and passionately hope for fashion and art magazines not to vanish. The reason that our team is taking that step, however, is because we believe that they won’t, and this article and everyone’s comments so far are more than encouraging to us. Thank you for the boost, everyone!

  8. Clearly, online resources abound that reveal every product imaginable and myriad bloggers post their personal style favs. However, the professionals who create works for printed magazines are all selected by other industry professionals and are edited numerous times by other members of the creative team and the editor. They scrutinize every trend, concept and styling to ensure it is targeted to their specific reader. They provide quality fashion editorials (using products currently available from industry leaders) along with information on how to style different pieces. Ask a magazine editor who their reader is and they’ll tell you her age, income, education, what she buys, where she travels and what brands she prefers. I see online as a sourcing medium and print as a style medium.

  9. It can be seen that the importance of magazines has a similar eminence to that of a book. Seemingly, the fact that a book has been published deems it more worthy of acclaim. To put it simply, books take time and effort, and this implies their integrity. Whether this is true or not will be tested in these coming years, as the digital media industry shows now sign of slowing down. Of course this necessitates more creativity, but personally I don’t think this should be a problem for the editors, writers and creative directors of a magazine, more like an opportunity. The print medium now creates an intriguing potential for the creators, as it encourages them to take their ideas to the next level, which in turn will extend the depth of the projects they work on, and ultimately enrich their lives.

    Going beyond the magazine’s content, the tangibility and physicality of print publications converses with one of our primal human needs – that is, it is a fundamental desire for us as humans to express ourselves in a tangible manner. Having my own, existent archive of Vogue magazines makes it much easier to access and envelop myself in the fashion fantasy that Vogue magazine offers. Certainly, from a design student’s perspective, it is interesting to note that in the same way, the expressive manner of drawing enables an open process and free flow of ideas, and is far less restrictive than a computer.

    Moreover, Vogue magazines are iconic beacons of luxury, and the process of buying these magazines is loaded with connotation. There is something comforting about its high colour, glossy format and the smell of the paper. Every month I go to the newsagents, select the Vogue magazine from its place on the shelf and then carry it down the street, a symbol of status for every generation. The status of Vogue is extraordinary, and one that no digital version could ever replace, even in evocative form of an iPad.

  10. I think that magazines are still an inevitable part of fashion. Where would we be without a copy of this moth’s Vogue on our coffee table? Reading a magazine is a beautiful, sense enhancing experience. The perfume samples, the glossiness beneath our fingers, the sound of the pages turning, the bright and colourful images mixed with the original fonts. I feel a thrill through my spine when I open a brand new magazine and I’m only 13!