Fall’s Weighty ‘Issues’:

The long awaited September fashion magazines and assorted fall supplements — traditionally the thickest, most plumped up, and heaviest of the year — have all hit the newsstands (or found their way into your mailbox) by now. And with the skinny silhouette being THE look to get (‘think’ Balenciaga, which The New York Times labeled, ‘The Sharpest Silhouette In Town’) regardless of all the hoopla surrounding pumped up volume, it seems the only place one should really be fat (besides ones hair or bank account of course) is within the annals of magazine publishing.

Unsurprisingly I was struck by how commercial, formulaic, and uninspiring most of these fashion editions have become, and how lacking in true eccentric creativity they are (not counting ‘Paper’ which is always wonderfully and irreverently individualistic, and New York Magazine, which has a fresh approach under Harriet Mays). Not to mention the ‘ho hum’ sameness of them all- and I’m not just referring to the ads. (I say ‘unsurprisingly’ because it seems to be more and more the case these days).

That said one publication whose big fall issue was a breath of fresh air, with its refreshingly intelligent approach (that perfect mix of fashion, gossip, cheeky information), was The New York Times Style Magazine, ‘T’- Women’s Fashion Fall 2005, which came out yesterday. Sure, I know it’s The New York Times, which is supposed to be a bit more high- minded in its fashion approach than true fashion magazines, but still….

Even the covers were indicative. Vogue invites you to “Make a Statement” (one of their cover lines), but which statement IS that? The one that announces to the world, “I’m rich enough to buy these clothes, skinny enough to look good in them, or muscled enough to be able to tote around this hefty magazine with 800 whopping pages of fashion”? Or all of the above?

Almost all the magazines are still into using airbrushed actresses rather than models- Vogue picked Sara Jessica Parker once again (Yuk! I’m sorry but I really don’t understand her appeal), Harper’s Bazaar went for Demi Moore (who does look great I have to admit, but then again she is seen in ads EVERYWHERE as the FACE of Versace), ‘W’ got Kirsten Dunst, and Elle featured Jennifer Lopez. But ‘T’ followed a different course, choosing the unique, intelligent, highly individual, though decidedly ‘Plain Jane’ Tilda Swinton.

While within fashion circles, she is considered to be an icon, and known as the muse for Viktor & Rolf, Ms. Swinton is far from a conventional beauty, and she is not a traditionally pretty ‘girlie girl’. But she IS a chameleon who can morph into almost anything she wants to be (a characteristic that was tapped into within the pages of a portfolio featuring the actress, “White Mischief” by Lynn Hirschberg).

The clothing featured on the covers speaks volumes as well. While Vogue, Bazaar, Elle, W, seemingly want to hit you ever the head with the idea of luxury, glamour, FALL FASHION! (exemplified by the use of big time evening dresses and sumptuous fur trimmed coats), ‘T’ went unapologetically restrained and subtle, playing up Tilda’s androgyny while at the same time, tapping into that minimalist ‘Boy Meets Girl’ thing with a black Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket and prim white shirt. Though the photo credits list hair and makeup, let’s just say that the hair and makeup was made to look as though there was none and the effect was refreshingly (if not scarily) real.

And as if to throw things off even more, fashion editor Tina Laakkonen (who styled the cover) accessorized with an item that many other publications and fashion swells have avoided like the plague this season, having decreed them ‘out’, over, kaput, “so last year”: brooches. Well, two one of a kind Fred Leighton diamond brooches were affixed to the collar of Tilda’s jacket, and the confident glaze in Tilda’s eyes seems to say, “I happen to love these pins and I DARE you to tell me they’re out.”

That’s not all; ‘T’ isn’t just eye candy, there’s something to sink your teeth into, and best of all, actually something to read. Instead of copy and features that could almost be described as ‘Fashion for Dummies” or ‘Fashion 101’, and better suited to fashion beginners, ‘T’ enlisted well respected and smart writers (who don’t speak down to the readers) such as Suzy Menkes, Maura Egan, Horacio Silva, Tyler Brule, Josh Patner, Ingrid Sischy, Cathy Horyn (of course), and Lynn Yeager. The resulting pieces had me nodding my head in agreement, chuckling out loud, or providing some entertaining bits of information.

By the way, as if in sharp contrast to Bazaar’s elementary and robotic section on black (“The rules for wearing black”), Josh Patner’s esoteric take on fall’s favorite shade was hardly run of the mill. His column was about the all black clad designer Diane Pernet, hardly a household name. Ditto the all black fashion portfolio, ‘Girl Watching’ (“An inevitable outcome of living in New York where someone is always taller”)photographed by Bruce Gilden which highlighted some of the best new all black citified silhouettes in town and did it with a bit of all too true humor and wit.

While every publication seems obsessed with the high price of fashion these days, (they all write about it and try to photograph great ‘buys’ and finds), ‘T’ reminded us just how ridiculous prices for clothing and accessories have REALLY gotten. In “The Remix – The New Math”, they equated some sobering figures: Hermes cashmere and silk scarf ($921) = one year of unlimited Metro cards ($912); Chanel suit ($ 4,835) = a dental implant at a Park Avenue dentist ($5,000); Valentino dress ($10,700) = one year of health insurance for a family of four ($10, 733). How’s that for bringing you back to reality?

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. thank you for a great analysis of the fashion magazines!! i love to read them all, but I agree with a lot of what you said (magazines talking down to readers; pretenciousness; etc.) well written! hope to read more!!

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