It may be the ultimate in old-school publishing and fashion, and the last gasp of the media business as we have known it, but for me the arrival of the September issues of the big fashion magazines is still a thrilling moment. I still feel a jolt of excitement when I see them on the newsstand, as if a bell has just been rung and something wonderful is about to commence. Arriving long before the kids are actually back in school, and well before leather jacket weather, the September issues are one of my favorite harbingers of autumn.
And now they have arrived! So we here at Dandelion Chandelier have spent the last few days curled up in our chairs, with post-it notes and highlighters in hand, to investigate what’s inside of the new issues of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, InStyle, Porter (published by Net-a-Porter), Vanity Fair and New York Magazine’s Style Issue (all of these were the US editions). We also visited their websites a few times, to see who’s advertising there and whether these publications are leveraging their sites in interesting new ways for the fall season.
Here’s what we found, starting with the magazine publishers:
Luxury look-and-feel (how enjoyable is it to hold this book in your hand?):
–Fashion books: in print, there is just no substitute for Vogue. We really like Harper’s Bazaar, too, with its over-sized glossy vibrant pages and smart layout, and Porter is gorgeous, but Vogue is in a class of its own when it comes to heft, quality and design. It still reigns supreme with the most ad pages (the models may be thin, but the book is fat!) and we think it has the most striking cover photo. The incomparable Anna Wintour triumphs again.
–General-interest books: magazines like New York that try to capitalize on the availability of luxury advertising dollars with a print issue devoted to fashion have a tough time competing in print with fashion magazines who have been at this for 50 years. It’s not really a fair fight. These general-interest books don’t always achieve critical mass of advertising from the top luxury brands, and instead have a sprinkling of those brands mixed in with lower-end brands and other disparate product categories that don’t quite cohere. As a result, to the consumer the look-and-feel is thin and insubstantial; editorially, the ads do not disappear and become part of the flow, so the book doesn’t feel as luxurious. Thus, from an advertisers’ perspective, this becomes a brand-wrong environment. So while as a reader I love the fashion editorial in New York, as an advertiser I don’t love it as a place for a luxury brand ad. (Interestingly, on the other hand, New York’s fashion website The Cut looks fantastic, and sports Net-a-Porter ads. Really well done. I’d advertise there).
–Publishers’ online presence: among the fashion books, Harper’s Bazaar is clearly making a big push online this fall. A plethora of house ads in the front of the print issue drive you toward their e-commerce site, ShopBazaar.com, which will be re-launched in September. With Yoox Group’s Net-a-Porter website publishing a print fashion magazine, Porter, and Harper’s Bazaar going more heavily into e-commerce, and Conde Nast reportedly re-working Style.com to become the e-commerce site for all of its print properties, the search for the perfect business model continues.
The luxury publishers weren’t the only ones hard at work on these big September issues – several luxury brands have been equally engaged in getting your attention this fall. As a businessperson, I think it’s important each year to assess which luxury brands are putting real money into advertising in these fall fashion issues, both in print and online. It provides insight into their brand strategies, their appetite to spend on paid media, and even their excitement about their creative team, which are all good things to know. This year there are some clear deep pockets, and some important brands that are missing-in-action (MIA):
Big-Spending Brands. Many would argue that given the state of print publishing these days, the big luxury houses are single-handedly keeping the business alive. So if you still love print, put your hands together for these high rollers:
–Gucci is everywhere, with significant spreads in the opening pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, New York, and the back cover of Vanity Fair; capitalizing on the brand’s momentum is clearly top-of-mind at Kering (the corporate owner of the Gucci brand)
–Ditto, Coach and Kate Spade: the powers that be clearly want to elevate these two aspirational brands into the luxury sphere, and they seem willing and able to pay up for it, with multi-page spreads in almost every book (kudos to Kate Spade; the continuation of their spring campaign feels smart and fresh)
–Among luxury fashion brands, Armani, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Celine, Chanel, Chloe, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, Moncler, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Saint Laurent, Valentino and Versace are all well-represented with new ad campaigns and in many cases multiple-page spreads in several books. Among luxury beauty brands, the Estee Lauder brand and others in the company’s portfolio such as La Mer, Tom Ford Beauty and Clinique are being strongly supported with advertising; Lancôme Paris, YSL Fragrance, Dior Beauty and Chanel Beauty are also quite visible.
–Luxury department stores were surprisingly aggressive advertisers this season, perhaps because foot traffic has been lagging at retail recently: Nordstrom’s has multi-page spreads in several books, and when we visited, the company had road-blocked Vogue.com throughout the site. Saks is promoting its new “Level 4” for designer ready-to-wear at its New York flagship, Bergdorf Goodman is promoting its new main floor accessories department, and Bloomingdale’s has several two-page spreads. MIA: Barney’s (which is a shame because we usually love their ads).
Penny-Pinching Brands. There are numerous reasons why brands or entire product categories pull back on their print and online ad spending, or even go dark, even in the big fall season (e.g., economic pressures, imminent or recent changes in product or management, regional not global focus). Here’s this year’s list:
–The watch and fine jewelry category seems to be largely sitting this round out. While Rolex and Bulgari are prominent, and Tiffany’s has a new cross-platform campaign, Patek Philippe, Cartier and David Yurman have only a sprinkling of ads and many prominent brands are MIA.
–On the fashion front, brands that were MIA or barely noticeable in the crowd include Oscar de la Renta (perhaps because there will soon be a new creative leader?), Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, and Hermes. In beauty, there was no sign of SK-II, Natura Bisse, and Sisley. And there was less than we expected from L’Oréal Paris.
–There were only a handful of menswear ads in these books – presumably they’re keeping their powder dry for the men’s fashion books. I’m fascinated by the direction Brioni is taking with its new creative director and its ad campaign featuring Metallica. That’s a business school case study in the making, one way or another.
–Despite the clamor for luxury experiences over products, there were no prominent airline, hospitality, or travel ads to speak of in any of these books. These brands seem to be sticking to the traditional travel magazines and websites.
–Finally, the tech industry was largely MIA. The one standout was Apple Music’s 6-page spread in Vogue featuring exclusive playlists from designers like Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang. Very clever. Wonder what’s keeping the rest away?
Advertising Content Trends to Watch:
–In terms of the content of the ads, it’s really good to see that diversity in casting is growing at many brands – Dolce & Gabbana features two women of color as the “heroes” of a couple of their executions, as does Prada. Actress Lupita Nyong’o is the lead face of Tiffany’s new campaign (and continues to be a face of Lancôme Paris). A Versace ad features an inter-racial couple and their children, and Saint Laurent has an execution with a black model. This trend is also present in the cover selection for InStyle (Kerry Washington!) and Harper’s Bazaar (Kanye and Kim). Progress is being made.
–Several ads had cats and kittens in them. Is that a thing now? Or just coincidence? Are cats the new dogs? Will Karl Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette be the new face of Fendi? Watch this space for further developments.
Finally, what about the clothes? The shoes, the handbags? I’m not a stylist, so I cannot tell you what to buy. But here’s what’s on my list, for what it’s worth: velvet footwear is everywhere, so I need a pair of velvet boots; ditto, black combat boots; I am loving Prada’s jewelry and belts and Fendi’s strappy flats; Dior and Bottega stood out for me in ready-to-wear. And while I’m not going to be buying one, Chanel’s bowler hats lingered in my memory – can’t wait to see who’s brave enough to rock that look.
Happy autumn, everyone!