Judging by the cover
It's no longer (just) about dressing a pretty face. Fashion magazines are using their covers to talk sustainability and gender equality. And the first issue of the new decade is the perfect place to start
Perhaps, it's a sign of the times, although one with a touch of irony: January is literally having a moment in the limelight, and it makes a lot of sense. "January is an important issue, in the fashion magazine and luxury industry, but also from a psychological point of view. The new year is a palate cleanser of sorts. It is about a fresh start, and establishes a tone for the year," thinks Priya Tanna, editor-in-chief, Vogue India.
The old tenets of the retail format have been rechanneled, from the biannual seasons to a merry-go-round for frequent collection "drops". Cruise collections now hit the stores between November and December—just in time for the January issue, rather than in August—and they now account for a higher revenue simply because these pieces can be worn throughout the year. The shift is part of a larger trend towards "seasonless style".
Elle India, Jan 2020: Mother to three boys and an adopted daughter, and Tokyo Olympic qualifier, Mary Kom is on the cover for being an inspirational female superstar
"Brands, the world over, are focusing on cruise wear because it's a more wearable form of fashion. Simultaneously, the lines between seasons are blurring, getting softer as it were. The way we buy or what we buy now takes a backseat…the important question we are asking is, why we buy?"
Pop singer and activist Katy Perry appears on Vogue India's January cover, dressed in a Sabyasachi Mukherjee upcycled jacket made from leftover fabric scraps, with embroidery created from glass. "The intention was to add colour and vigour to the cover in keeping with Vogue's thrust on sustainability," says Anaita Shroff Adajania, the magazine's fashion director.
Harper’s Bazaar India, Jan-Feb 2020: Kriti Sanon is among the women changemakers the magazine celebrates in an issue marked by “hope and optimism”
In a bid to highlight the environmental impact of grand photoshoots that are the mainstay of fashion magazines, Vogue Italia's January issue features eight illustrated covers carrying the work of various artists depicting real-life models wearing Gucci. In the editor's letter, Emanuele Farneti, editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, broke down the resources that went into the September issue, typically the biggest of the year, featuring original photographs: "One hundred and fifty people involved. About 20 flights and a dozen or so train journeys. Forty cars on standby. Sixty international deliveries. Lights switched on for at least 10 hours nonstop, partly powered by gasoline-fuelled generators. Food waste from the catering services. Plastic to wrap the garments. Electricity to recharge phones, cameras…"
Adajania explains, "Illustrations are an art form on par with photography. Art captures the mood and feeling of the moment, and is respectful of the styling of a look, without actual hair and makeup."
Yoshitaka Amano's illustration of model Lindsey Wixson. The January 2020 issue of Vogue Italia comes wrapped in eight different covers, all featuring a single caption: “No photoshoot production was required in the making of this issue”
There is another shift. September, the most prestigious month in a fashion magazine's calendar, marking the start of a new season is beginning to lose its supremacy. The immediacy of digital tools and social media is gradually altering the landscape. "There has been a waning of the importance of the September issue simply because the rules of fashion are changing. It's not just about clothes anymore, but rather about the culture," feels Nonita Kalra, editor, Harper's Bazaar India.
Kalra's words, fit for a coverline, are an important marker—especially at a moment when Indians are reshaping longstanding cultural aspirations and youth values to better reflect the current makeup of our country. "For us [fashion magazines], it is no longer about the buzzword, but about consistency. At Bazaar, we are thinking about fashion not to drum up a cause but as an escape. Fashion always needs to reflect fun," says Kalra.
Vogue India, January 2020: Pop-star-with-a-purpose Katy Perry photographed in a Sabyasachi Mukherjee jacket made from fabric scraps
But, fashion can also be modern political force. The current developments in Kashmir are already reflecting in collections, for instance. "Instead of attacking them [designers] for tokenism, can we please applaud them?" Kalra says. When the ongoing student protests are at the front and centre of every interaction in the country, it won't be long before we see Indian designers creating collections enthused by socio-political unrest, she says. "There are ways of looking at these protests; either you let it bring you down or let it inspire you."
The January issue is also an opportunity for magazines to rethink their approach to storytelling; to make it relevant even to someone interested in the culture, rather than be a shopping guide that speaks singularly to a fashion-keen audience. It points to a more inclusive approach. "January 2020 is a big issue, and the start of a new decade allows us to set an agenda; [we are] turning covers into editorials moments. Simply placing a model or celeb on the cover is passé," says Che Kurrien, editor-in-chief, GQ India.
Varun Dhawan wears a pleated skirt and a jacquard crewneck, all by Louis Vuitton, on the January cover. "The idea of masculinity is changing, and we want to make that a part of our agenda. Varun is a commercial actor, and when you see him challenge gender rules, it makes the communication stronger," Kurrien explains. "He [Dhawan] is young and gets it. The imagery might not appeal to the Coolie No. 1 audience but it establishes his position as an influencer."
A spirited Mary Kom in Puma sportswear is Elle India's cover star, while Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who played the Olympian boxer in her Bollywood biopic, is invited to write on "what makes Mary Kom so badass". "As a mother [three boys and a just-adopted baby girl], a sportswoman [qualified for the Tokyo Olympics] and as individual—Mary is truly an inspirational superstar. Given the times we are in, we ought to celebrate all types of women who we feel will be a great point of conversation," says Supriya Dravid, editor, Elle India.
Kriti Sanon in Coach and Tissot features on the cover of the January-February bumper issue of Harper's Bazaar India. "We believe women don't like to be told, but be shown, which is why our anniversary issue focuses on changemakers. We asked 13 amazing women, Dutee Chand and Reena Kallat among them, to list their wish for 2020. The ask was universal — they want more. More representation. More authenticity. The loudest voices today are of women. The time is right. And we are taking charge," says Kalra.
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