The Thrill is Gone: The September “Issue”

The Cover of T Magazine, Photo @ Luis Alberto Rodrigue

There was a time when a sense of excitement and anticipation accompanied the arrival of the September issues. Those days are long gone! I can’t recall when I held on to an American fashion magazine or ripped out pages to keep for reference.

Back in the day, magazine editors like myself were part of a “secret society” of sorts, privy to many things months before the public had access to them. Thanks to the internet and social media, fashion is now available 24/7 to anyone with a computer or, better yet, an iPhone, which conveniently opens and allows you to choose from various apps to get the latest fashion news.

Why wait and pay for a print of Vogue, Bazaar, or Elle when you can head to their Instagram in seconds to get live updates about NYFW and behind-the-scenes information? Nowadays, the entire globe gets to see the same fashion images as the fashion insiders, and at the same time. There are no surprises anymore.

Harper’s Bazaar September 2023 Cover

Perhaps that’s why some publications try to find other ways to “astonish.” Apparently, “T” The New York Times Style Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar believe the advent of fall is the perfect time for a crotch shot; something we see far too much of anyway. Let’s face it; that is not even surprising or shocking anymore. Silly me, I thought fall was a perfect time to highlight the importance of getting dressed!

Coats by Balenciaga and Martine Rose, T Style Magazine,

Of course, the actual way the fall issues “shock” their readers is with the pricing of the clothes, which proves how out of touch with reality fashion is. Not that we need any more proof! A portfolio in The New York Times “T” Magazine August 20th Women’s Fashion Issue titled, “This Fall, Coats Have an Outsize Impact,” focuses on voluminous outerwear in neutral hues and new proportions.

Included were coats by Prada, The Row, Balenciaga, Max Mara, Alaia, Dolce & Gabbana, and Saint Laurent, priced from $4550 – $7090. One coat by Louis Vuitton was so pricey they couldn’t even print the number. Instead, they said, ‘Price upon request.’

There were 29 comments posted by readers, and everyone criticized the unflattering clothes and the ridiculous prices. One person said, “These designer coats are hideous. Instead of spending that much money, give it to a worthy cause.” Another remarked, “Would anyone actually pay these prices for bulky clothes on scowling models who look like they are climbing the walls to start an insurrection?”

Still another: “Really? What is the point of showing $7000 coats? To me, it is in bad taste. Better to show attractive, stylish coats that someone would purchase and wear.”

H&M Fall 2023 Ad Campaign

Indeed, wonderfully designed clothes don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. That’s one reason I always like to do articles on affordable clothes that look great! I’ve been doing it since my early days at Harpers Bazaar.

The definition of ‘great’ is subjective, of course, but every now and then, there’s something that we all agree upon, and then we become inundated by it. What was once exciting quickly becomes dull and commonplace.

Prada Fall 2023 Ad Campaign, Photo: Instagram

Case in point: Prada’s floral embellished white brushed leather kitten heel pumps, white embroidered duchess maxi skirt, and gray crewneck sweater from fall 2023. They are marvelous, but how often have we seen these pieces’ images in ads and editorials since they were first shown in February?

Vogue September 2023 Masthead

There was an article in The New York Times Styles section, written by Steven Kurutz on August 18th “How Many Former Vanity Fair Employees Does It Take to Build a Roof?” After looking at the Vogue September issue, with its overcrowded masthead, (I counted about 158 names; more than a few are mere figureheads) I could rephrase this to read, “How Many Conde Nast Employees Does It Take to Trivialize a September Issue?” Okay. So maybe “Trivialize” is an overstatement but still, do you mean to tell me this is the best these collective talents can come up with for what is traditionally the most important issue of the year?

Harper’s Bazaar September 1955

As they say, “It takes a Village,” but maybe too many chefs spoil the broth. In the 50s and 60s, Vogue and Bazaar churned out veritable works of art with a small skeleton staff by today’s standards. But, I guess that’s how things are now: blown up but not necessarily grander or with more magnificent results. Smoke and mirrors!

Vogue Masthead, September, 1965

Back then, fashion magazine mastheads were pared down and relatively obvious. In fact, they were once so concise that they were placed on the same page as the table of contents! Now you almost need two pages.

On the editorial side, there would be an editor-in-chief, a fashion director, an art director and art editors, fashion and accessories editors, a beauty director and beauty editors, copy, research, and entertainment editors. That sums it up.

Elle and Bazaar’s mastheads are still comparatively straightforward. One sign of the times is the apparent addition of new categories under the ‘digital.’ But in Vogue, there are entire departments that never existed decades before, such as “Strategy,” “Operations,” “Social, Video/Multimedia,” and “Events/Experiences.” There is actually a “Senior Experiences Editor” (whatever that means). “Global” is added to many titles, confirming the editor’s seniority and importance.

Remember when you needed to be a bodybuilder or weight lifter to lug around those big fall blockbusters? At a whopping 916 pages, The September Issue of Vogue in 2012, with Lady Gaga on the cover, was their largest September issue. September 2023 Vogue is a relatively puny 370! Bazaar is just a little behind at 248, and Elle has 222 pages. It’s all about those ads or rather, lack thereof!

Of course, 2007, the most famous Vogue September issue, was immortalized in the 2009 R. J. Cutler documentary “The September Issue.” Cutler’s film practically humanized editor Anna Wintour and turned Grace Coddington and then editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley into overnight sensations. Boy, are those days long past! The “fashion bible?” No more!

For all its pomp and circumstance, September Vogue, notwithstanding its celebration of women over 50, is underwhelming, a missed opportunity on many levels, including the cover. For the record, Harper’s Bazaar, in commemoration of “Instigators, Outliers & Boundary Breakers,” and Elle, starring Zendaya (who can make anything look great!), both give you a bit more fashion to sink your teeth into, in my opinion. But still, they are rather formulaic and commercial.

September 2023 Vogue

Unfortunately, ‘Paper,’ which one could always rely on for something wonderfully and irreverently individualist, is no longer in existence. But getting back to the Vogue cover. In addition to the apparent airbrushing, Christy Turlington’s ‘deer in the headlight’ expression, the horrible shoes (except for Naomi’s chic Manolo Blahniks), and the confusing placement of the models’ legs, it is not an especially compelling or happy looking image.

Ironically, Anna Wintour famously hates all black, which makes her fashion choices even more puzzling.

A few years ago, “The Cut” reported that in a “Go Ask Anna” video, Anna tells someone that the best way to “spice up” an all-black outfit is simply to not wear an all-black outfit. “It seems too gloomy, as if one’s going to a funeral,” explains Wintour. I love black, and black really stood out this season, but regardless, the Vogue cover does look a bit funereal.

In Prada and Vivier, Naomi looked the best in her black ensemble. Still, the dress was a bit sack-like and I think Naomi would have really stunned in something white, gold, or silver. A far better choice for the others would be the outfits seen in the inside portfolio: Linda Evangelista wearing pink sequined Valentino, Christy Turlington in red Prada, and Cindy Crawford in red Marc Jacobs.

Cindy, Linda, Christy, Cindy, photographed by Rafael Pavarotti

What I like about those choices is that they play against type and emphasize modern, not stereotypical, glamour. Better yet, why not put these supermodels in designs by the young generation of design talent like the Peter Dos of the world!

Flair Magazine, 1950

What we need now is a relaunch of Flair, the short-lived, highly influential, magazine founded by Fleur Cowles in 1950. The first magazine to become an art form, Flair was critically lauded for its sharp mix of clothes, literature, art, travel, decor, theater, and humor.

It made publishing history with its combination of eclectic editorial content and lavish production quality and remains highly sought after and highly influential today.

Even though the print magazine industry is a state of turmoil, we could use a magazine like Flair to shake things up and bring some excitement back to an industry that is growing stale.

Latest Comments:

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. This article is so on point. Instead of saving the issue, I quickly read it and then tossed it. So much less for posterity.

  2. Finally I found my source for smart Fashion Journalism, thanks to Marylin. Bravo and Merci! As a 34 year old women nothing bores me more than the same young, ‘perfect’ faces in the Magazins. Channels like Style Like you, Ladies of Madison Avenue or Sciuraglam teach me so much more about smart Dressing, individualism and the Beauty of women. Also great streetstyle photographers like Johnny Cirillo (watchingnewyork) finally show the great Style of women AND men. There is no point in separation great Style has no gender. Thank you for your Work and inspiration! Best regards from Germany

  3. Dua Lupa doing it her way and Kendall Jenner breaking boundaries could not be any more ridiculous and uncompelling ‘hooks’ to invite someone to open a magazine. The march toward mediocrity continues unabated because it’s all about marketing and pay to play. Editors should be scouring the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, the hundreds of hilltowns in Italy, Spain and France searching for young(er), new talent to promote because it is in locations such as these where lies the future of the fashion industry. It’s very sad to say but these magazines have destroyed themselves, just as they have destroyed ‘Fashion’ and have contributed to the madness of celebrity love in our culture. Oh to bring back Mrs. Vreeland, Liz Tilberis, Grace Mirabella, Franca Sozzani ….. Thank you, Marilyn, for your brilliance and courage. <3

  4. Marilyn, you are BRILLIANT! I read and APPRECIATE all that you write! Why didn’t I get to know you 30 years ago when I showed in New York? Fashion, as we know, is of the times. I don’t like what I see as its inspiration today. Pretty pathetic and sad when magazine editors don’t understand design and focus on a woman’s vagina as her worth!

  5. The Naomi, Linda etc. coverage got SO MUCH (over) exposure on TV, internet ad nauseum that by the time I received the actual magazine it veritably anticlimactic.

  6. Yes. Endless crotch shots, ugly clothes, surgically altered, airbrushed, the list is long. And yet, I continue to prefer the pape., Though fewer of them, I still clip pages. Not a fashion Magazine, The New Yorker, must read the magazine, so much easier and satisfying. But, then I’m old school.

  7. Such a timely article about the Anthrological view of how our world is changing at alarming speed. Who even reads magazines anymore? I used to spring for Vogue Elle and HB as soon as I could get my hands on them. I was so often in them! The exhilaration and anticipation the adrenaline high of opening the pages up and spotting my jewelry in editorials. I no longer like the feeling of a heavy book or turning the pages of a magazine since I have completely gone to digital. iPads iPhones and MacBooks have given us a new world of how we read and become intertained. So long you dinosaurs of culture. I have loved you for so long and so deeply, so long September issues, I don’t need you anymore. We are breaking up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.