DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — This autumn, Condé Nast International will launch a Vogue Arabia edition, with Saudi Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz as its editor-in-chief, marking the publisher’s long awaited move into the Middle Eastern market.
Condé Nast, which has partnered with Dubai-based media company Nervora, will first launch a website in Arabic and English to develop further insight into its audience spanning the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The dual language website will be followed by a print magazine in spring next year.
“It makes sense to start with digital,” Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and chief executive of Condé Nast International told BoF. “In the past, the focus was always to produce the print product first, with the digital product as a secondary play. Now digital is front and centre and at the forefront of any business strategy.”
Launching a website in two languages is a first for the publisher, and will enable Condé Nast to move faster into wider Middle East and North Africa region, where last year the personal luxury goods market grew by 19 percent, reaching €8.1 billion (just over $9 billion), according to a report by Bain and Co.
The decision to finally launch Vogue Arabia is a significant one for Condé Nast, given Newhouse’s controversial comments less than 10 years ago dismissing a proposal to launch a Vogue Middle East because of the region having “an element that rejects Western values of freedom of expression, equality for women and expression of sexuality.”
“The time has come to make it a reality,” said Newhouse, adding that the company had decided to explore the market with its Condé Nast Traveller and Architectural Digest brands, before building the confidence to consider launching a Vogue in the Middle East.
“In the last 10 years, the interest in high fashion brands and products has grown enormously. We at Condé Nast International hear it from our advertisers,” Newhouse said, noting the success of international fashion events and the growing number of luxury shopping outlets in the region such as the Dubai Mall, Rubaiyat Department Store in Riyadh and Abdul Aziz al-Rabban’s Place Vendome Qatar, which will open in 2017.
We recognise the enormous potential of the Arabian market and may invest in the company in the future.
The Vogue Arabia print magazine would be the 22nd edition for Condé Nast, published under an initial license agreement with Dubai-based media company Nervora. The Vogue Arabia headquarters will be based in the city.
“We recognise the enormous potential of the Arabian market and may invest in the company in the future,” said Karina Dobrotvorskaya, president of Condé Nast New Markets and editorial director of brand development.
Nervora, which was founded in 2009, already partners with Condé Nast on its Style.com/Arabia website, which will be replaced and rebranded as Vogue Arabia.
Vogue Arabia’s primary print distribution focus will be Gulf countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, said Nervora founder and chief executive Shashi Menon. But it would also target the wider MENA region where most of the world’s 585 million Arabic speakers live and where emerging fashion markets like Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco are growing in importance.
Although a detailed strategy for the print magazine is yet to be announced, there are also plans to distribute it further abroad in key cities like London, Paris and Milan, where a small but influential number of affluent Arabs have second homes or travel to shop.
“There’s certainly an opportunity to be a unifying voice for such audiences — across any of the mediums on which we’ll be present,” Menon said.
It should be noted that launching a high fashion magazine in the Middle East is a belated step for Condé Nast. In spite of the complex and varied interpretations of modesty in the MENA region and restrictions on publishing in some Gulf markets, some rival Western publishers have firmly established their magazines titles’ presence nearly 10 years ago.
The total circulation of magazines in Middle East and North Africa region is estimated to be more than 30 million, according to a joint report by Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute last year, which included fashion titles like Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Elle Oriental, Marie Claire Arabia and L'Officiel Maroc, which are published by ITP, Hearst International and Editions H.D, Group Marie Claire and Geomedia respectively.
However Condé Nast’s appointment of Abdulaziz, whose intimate understanding of both Western and Eastern cultures, is an important move for Vogue Arabia’s debut.
The cosmopolitan Saudi princess is an authoritative voice on fashion and luxury in the Middle East and acts as a mentor to emerging fashion talents. She is also the co-founder and director of D’NA — an exclusive boutique known for its independent fashion voice in the Middle East and on the international scene.
Highlighting the diversity among the many Arab countries, cultures, races and beliefs will be a key focus for Abdulaziz, who speaks strongly about challenging the misconceptions surrounding the Arab world and women in the region.
“There’s not just one formula to follow when it comes to a fashion publication, and I perceive Vogue Arabia as an opportunity to create innovative editorials that celebrate Arab women in our own way,” she told BoF.
A key focus for Abdulaziz will be managing the various interpretations of modesty throughout the Middle East, a potential minefield for foreign publishers in the region, but one where she feels the magazine will help in breaking stereotypes.
“Perhaps outside of our region there’s an underlying assumption that Middle Eastern women aren’t empowered, when we actually have a long history of accomplishments — though those stories don’t surface often enough. One particular aim we have is that Vogue Arabia will play a role in elevating these stories to the global stage through the medium and lens of fashion and culture,” said Abdulaziz.
“It’s true that our region is conservative by nature, but Arab women are no different than their counterparts around the globe in that we want to feel empowered and look beautiful,” she said.
Supporting the growing talent in the Middle East will also be at the heart of Vogue Arabia, which will see the magazine take responsibility for The Fashion Prize, an annual endowment for fashion and accessory design talents in the Arab world, which will now be relaunched as the DDFC/Vogue Fashion Prize.
“Elevating today's burgeoning Arab talent will lie at the publication's core, as well as surfacing stories that often go underreported. We intend to foster a dialogue between these diverse Arab cultures via a visual aesthetic, interviews, and features that reflect the Arab world's extraordinary and vast potential,” Abdulaziz said.
Abdulaziz will be joined by Daniela Agnelli, who has been appointed Vogue Arabia fashion director and Caterina Minthe, who will join the team as features director. Agnelli has held senior roles at Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper for the past 15 years, and Minthe is currently the managing editor of Style.com/Arabia.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misstated Caterina Minthe's title. This has been corrected.