Fashion magazines take cover
Collaborations and innovative thought have made India's top glossies get around the lockdown to release digital versions of their April issues. Are fashion magazine priorities about to change?
In a non-COVID 19 year, Nandini Bhalla, editor of Cosmopolitan India, would have been planning the summer fashion issue of the magazine. The exercise starts with drawing up of a wishlist of cover stars who the readers can identify with. Bhalla says 80 per cent of these constitute the millennial generation. This would be followed by reaching out to designers for clothes, meeting with her fashion and features teams, and commissioning pieces to writers.
The priorities have shifted. Bhalla says her days are now planned around Microsoft Teams, Skype calls and editing copies from her residence at Gulmohar Park, Delhi. "We decided to work from home [WFH] a few days before the lockdown. During one of the many cover shoot discussions with the team over Skype, we thought—why not produce a made-from-home April cover created by the covergirl herself?"
Three Bollywood actors were approached with the idea. For Sobhita Dhulipala, it was an instant yes. Cosmopolitan India's April issue is a digital-exclusive and features Dhulipala lounging on her terrace in blue jeans and a plaid shirt. "We discussed a few pointers with her, but after that, she was on her own. She chose her wardrobe, did her makeup and hair, and shot the cover on her terrace with a phone set on timer," says Bhalla. The non-traditional approach that was met with nervous giggles from her team has received a terrific response from fashion peers and the online audience after it released on Instagram on April 6.
Elle India collaborated with Aniruddh Mehta to create a cover that emphasises that we are all in some way connected, and in this together
Fashion mag covers are like Bollywood films; they take an army to make—photographers, stylists, hair and makeup experts, spot boys, courier staff—and offer an escape from everyday mundaneness.
This experience, Bhalla feels, may have compelled magazines to realise that there is more than one way of doing something, and that, "we may not need to take a flight every time a fashion story has to be shot."
With shops closed, photo shoots cancelled, and the printing and distribution chain disrupted, fashion magazine teams are thinking on their feet. "We had to respond quickly in this unprecedented time and launched a digital version of the magazine, that remains true to the essence of the brand, to compliment our online digital and social media content," says Mehernaaz Dhondy, editor, Grazia India. They have swapped the usual celebrity cover for artwork by Mumbai-based visual artist Sameer Kulavoor to complement the theme, six degrees of separation. "Community spirit that used to be about coming together has changed to staying apart. This issue and the cover is meant to be a reminder that we might be alone, but we're in this together," writes Dhondy in an email.
Nandini Bhalla, Mehernaaz Dhondy and Supriya Dravid
April is a special issue for Grazia India. This month marks the magazine's 12th anniversary. "As we turn 12, we're in tune with what our readers are feeling, their thoughts and anxieties as they navigate their own course during a difficult period."
Elle India decided to not carry the cover they had planned for April, and release a digital-only edition. "It wouldn't be right—and it wouldn't be fair on our readers, especially when our world is on the edge of a breakdown," Supriya Dravid, editor of Elle India writes in the editor's note. The magazine asked three artists to create imagery that would reflect the current world view. Franco-German artist, Kera Till, ruminates on social distancing for India, and closer home, Juhi Vishnani and Shiva Nallaperumal of November use typography to explore the idea of dispersion and the contact that results in the spread of the virus. Studio Big Fat's Aniruddh Mehta's visual play of words reflects what we are going through.
Many believe that the reimagining was long overdue. For far too long, digital crusaders have been petitioning the industry to take them seriously, and the pandemic has perhaps pushed the editors to pause and rethink. "Our content goals have long been realigned with digital media and technology—this temporary circumstance only further highlights the relevance of the digital medium," says Dhondy.
In a united show of solidarity, the Indian editions of Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Elle, Condé Nast stablemates Vogue and GQ for April, have all been made available to download free, for anyone registered on the publications' website.
Bhalla says they have seen a 73 per cent spike in unique visitors on the magazine's website. "Content stays king. Print or digital, people will always look for good, reliable and relatable content."
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