Magazine Review: ELLE Magazine Oct 2007

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In the fashion publishing world, the months of October and April for magazines are always considered slack-offs.

After all, the months before (September and March) are almost-always bumper issues devoted to the Spring and Fall collections. Advertisers go into headless-chicken frenzy mode in buying up ad pages, in turn driving up the quality of content.

So when it comes to October and April, magazine editor-in-chiefs tend to shepherd their stable of writers, editors, photographers and stylists with one shut-eye and one hand desperately pinching their pores together so the air won’t shoot out of their deflating balloons.

Still, it is NO excuse for ELLE magazine to be publishing a flawed edition this month.

Just read this sentence in the Beauty Section on Page 302, where the writer quotes a skin doctor about the wonders of ginger as a cosmetic ingredient:

” ‘Ginger is one of the most complicated compounds in nature,’ says XXX. ‘It’s made up of an enormous number of components.’ “

Er, yes, how illuminating. And do you know, Ac.Stet is also his father’s son?
If your intelligence does not feel insulted already, Ac.Stet would indeed be very worried for exactly who ELLE thinks makes up its readership demographic.

And the fashion miracle is that this quote actually passed through production into actual print. Why it is considered deserving of quotation is simply beyond Ac.Stet’s comprehension. And perhaps the writer could have redeemed herself by telling us exactly how many components and why else, is ginger such a complex root.

And take a look at this page:

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And let us enlarge the portion Ac.Stet wants to draw your attention to:

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What – in Queen’s English – does this convoluted sentence mean? ==> “What I Wore speak, memory, of what we had on when we found the courage to break up, act out, and define ourselves through clever sartorial statement.”

Anyway, those above were just to prepare you for what’s to come in the October issue of ELLE.

Since it’s revamp in September, ELLE has given off the impression that it wants to be like VOGUE. But like a half-made flounce dress, it has the shape of things to come, but not enough crinoline to hold up the bustle. As a result it falls flat.

ELLE tries to be too many things at one time, like an eager-beaver boy-scout wanting to display all his medals at once, including those for being able to tie his own shoelaces.

Take a look at the cover, as well as the months before this, and you will have an idea of the mess ELLE has created for herself:

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What is the point of having so MANY coverlines? If they scream out at you for some worthy cause, all fair and good. But for things like “440+ Pages of Shoes, Boots … “? Sweetheart, Ac.Stet just returned from Milan Fashion Week where ELLE Italia comes few pages short of a 1,000 pages. What’s 440+ pages worth screaming about? It’s now pretty standard for fahsion magazines to be over 300-pages, ain’t it?
There is so much clutter, like some festering kudzu, that even the ELLE logo itself is not spared the sanctity of space:

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What. Is. That? Why does the editor feel a need to tell us about some “Total Body Redo” jabbed in-between the masthead logo?

Let’s get into the contents.

The October issue asserts itself as “The Personal Style Issue”, its second attempt, since last year’s.

Wow. Personal Style. Ambitious, aren’t we? Personal style is one of the most salient phenomenons of individual fashion beginning in the late 1990s. It began with the movement of abandoning the top-to-toe in one designer look and catalysed by the dot-com boost to casual-as-formal wear. It simply means, anything goes, as long as it goes with you.

A hefty promise. But never delivered. Instead, ELLE tells its readers, as with previous months, what the runway trends are and what there are in the shops. And then on Page 233 “Personal Style 101”, it proceeds to tell you to dress like, er, models like Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Brooke Shields, Bianca/Jade Jaegger, Jerry Hall, Agyness Deyn, Giselle Bundchen, Daria Werbowy, Cindy, Christy, Naomi, Linda …

Since when is Personal Style about copying trends and imitating celebrities?

Ac.Stet is not one to just bitch and rant without providing alternatives or more plausible solutions. Look, any experienced fashion person will readily tell you that “Personal Style” as a theme is more tricky than it looks in writing. The most recent statistic puts ELLE’s monthly readership at 4.9 million. Can mere 44o+ pages personalize fashion for each of its 4.9 million readers?

So what is Ac.Stet’s suggestion?

Fashion Publishing – especially for mass titles like ELLE – can never be about Personal Style. If it can be, then all the major fashion companies that advertise in magazines will go bust because everybody wants to dress like Annie Hall or Anna Piaggi, i.e. styles that speak-only-to-oneself and never in trend. So? Don’t ever do any magazine issues based on “Personal Style”. It will never work, and you can never make it work to personalize it to each of your reader and worse, it will make the magazine sound incredulous and look stupid.

But of course, Ac.Stet understands the power of hyperbole in fashion publishing. Sure, it sounds yay-yay-Great when you scream “Personal Style”. But when ELLE doesn’t even seem to take much effort outside its tried-and-tired paths of defining fashion as only those things models wear, you cannot help but feel shortchanged. ELLE should take a leaf from VOGUE. When Vogue does personal style issues, it breaks the concepts “Personal” and “Style” down into more comprehendable “Shape” and “Age” themes, which are so much more value-add to its readers. Beyond editorial creativity, that is what we call Readership Respect.

And of course, we all know why ELLE chose Personal Style as its October theme, don’t we? It’s to coincide with the launch of fashion director Nina “Project Runway” Garcia’s maiden book: The Little Black Book of Style. This forms the crux of her monthly fashion column started Sep 2007, called FashioNina.

Which brings Ac.Stet to his next gripe: Er, so Miss Garcia, what new things about style can you tell us about building personal style? Well, she says, invest in wardrobe staples like a little black dress, white shirt, trench, bag … er, actually, that did not come from Ms. Garcia’s column. Ac.Stet lifted those items straight from TheFashionSpot, or FabricOfOurLives, or hell, any style blog or site, which will tell you more-or-less the same things …

So is Ms. Garcia contributing to the truckloads of fashion how-to books out there, or does she really have anything value-added to say? Ac.Stet. leaves that opinion up to you.

And her book/column is littered by quotes on style by illuminaries like Yves Saint Laurent, Michael Kors (of course, her Proj Runway comrade), Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and so on … but didn’t your grade-school writing coach told you before that the over-use of quotes just mean you don’t have anything original to say for yourself?

It also doesn’t help that Ms. Garcia is not a very interesting writer. She latches onto certain adjectives and adverbs and uses them repeatedly. Like, the little black dress is “mysterious”, the trench coat is “mysterious”. And then she likes to use alot of “alluring” and alot of “chic” .

She also feels [Denim] gives you “instant style”, [Trench] makes you “instantly mysterious”, and [Cashmere] is “instantly luxe” … how Ac.Stet wish Ms. Garcia “instantly” enrols herself into some creative writing class.

Look, Ac.Stet has nothing against Ms Garcia. In fact, methinks she is hugely entertaining on Project Runway talking about design and methinks she has done a great job over the years directing fashion at ELLE. But why give Michelangelo a nail brush so he can paint nails? Why make a person write when she is clearly better at doing something else? Nina, Ac.Stet. feels your pain of added unnecessary responsibilities.

But speaking of bad writing, ELLE has alot of those. But you will notice in all, there is a certain pattern. A pattern that mimicks the visual clutter of the magazine: too-many words squeeze into one sentence such that essence and intelligibility are lost. Let’s see …

On Page 144, “Style Insider” speaks to Dominican designer Miguelina Gambaccini. The writer Alexa Brazilian wrote:

“Gambaccini’s inspiration and muse accentuate her gravitational pull toward tropical hues: the beaches of Las Terrenas in the DR and model and friend Astrid Munoz, whose bronzed beauty is a fitting complement to the Miguelina look.”

Excuse me? Ac.Stet is drowning in the sea of transitions and clauses. Ms. Barzilian does not seemed to be reigned in as she continues to ramble on in another story on designer Sylvie Cachay, chasing the full-stop for 76-words before allowing her readers to breathe:

“Such a specific vision isn’t surprising in a woman who sneaked into the front row of the Chanel couture show the year she was studying fashion design in Paris, started her career as an intern at Marc Jacobs, quickly climbed the ladder at Tommy Hilfiger from assistant designer to head designer of women’s wear, and finally landed the head swimwear designer post at Victoria’s Secret before starting her own line og bathing suits this past summer.” (76 words in 1 sentence!? My, what big lungs you have, Ms. Brazilian.)

Later on, she writes about the designers of Poltock & Walsh:

“Hints of German singer and ’80s icon Klaus Nomi’s structured, color-blocked stage getups can be found in a gray high-waisted swing miniskirt, with triangles of rich raspberry, lemon, and hunter green paired with a crisp, collar-up cottonshirt; a silk fuschia backward bow dress in raw silk.”

That 70-word-sentence aside, Ac.Stet don’t see anything that resembles Klaus Nomi. Unless of course, this is a case of one of those writers wanting to show-off knowledge but applying them in the wrong place.

Moving on.

As an indication of why ELLE fares the way it does, we always look for clues in the masthead. And we may also read the Editor’s Letter, written by its chief, Ms. Roberta Myers. She talks about the most boring of all calendar events: a backyard barbeque, star-studded doubtlessly. And then comes the requisite name-drops: Derek Lam, Arianna Huffington, Rudolph Giuliani, Kate Spade, Dylan Lauren and at least 13 other names …. which really begs the question: Why?

Later she writes of her anxiety about not knowing what to wear to this event and eventually, she ends up with a BLACK Calvin Klein dress. As if to open a trapdoor for herself, she wrote that she does wonder about her choice: Who wears black on a Sunday afternoon in the summer? And as with all trapdoors, her means of a two-prong escape came in the form of her husband – poor man – who has to indulge in Ms Myers’ delusion by coddling to her: “It’s your look.” Your look, she repeats. What could be more personal than that, she smirks.

If having “a look” — by sole virtue of it being personal — is supposed to be beyond reproach, why, Ms. Myers, do you think so many TV makeover programs are so popular?

But okay, let’s take a look at your Look, shall we, ELLE?

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Clutter-clutter-clutter … if this image is used full-size, you wouldn’t even be able to see the numerals 1, 2 and 3.

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Ac.Stet wants to know, what is this god-awful picture doing in a high-fashion magazine like ELLE? Using photo-wires is the domain of budget newszines. Or publications more concerned with breaking news, research content and immediacy, with style being of secondary concern. What is ELLE thinking?

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Clutter-clutter-clutter … Look at this close-up:

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The editorial text is fighting with the actual words on the product label in the picture. What is the reader suppose to read? This is visually confusing and visually uncomfortable.

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Another god-awful photograph used to illustrate a story … Oh my god, if Ac.Stet were Dolce or Gabbana, Ac.Stet would definitely ban ELLE Magazine from ever borrowing the clothes again. The iconic crushed-metal chastity-belted dresses are being used to illustrate cellulite-laden legs. It certainly doesn’t help that this photo is neither flattering, nor ironic in the styles of Terry Richardson or Juergen Teller.

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And this is truly a classic example of contradiction. ELLE says this October issue is devoted to “Personal Style” and so far, this is the only true story that really teaches readers about personal style. The story follows designer Alice Ritter for 21-days, tracking what she wore each day, in a bid to unveil tips on how to dress fashionably for 3 weeks … and what do we get? Pictures of each look that are as small as a Lilliputian, and readers are supposed to learn from these microscopic details? The magazine should at least have packaged a freebie magnifying glass from Swarovski’s optics division with this issue.

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But ELLE is capable of breathable space. Look at these:

A clean example of effective page design. Predictable, yes, but it at least shows how Alice Ritter’s 21-day wardrobe should have been scaled:

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And it is possible to have alot of items in the same page with different colors. The trick is that, no matter how diverse the elements, they must work. Fashion is about underlying systems and ultimate clarity. Look at this page (although Ac.Stet frown at the kiddish expression “Cartoony cool puff pieces”.)

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And finally … ah, tranquility … :

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So you see, ELLE can do clean as well, but just not as often enough as it should. Newly appointed creative director Joe Zee has done a great job of enforcing a clean palette at least, for the fashion photography pages. Ac.Stet is not sure if what he is doing is conscious of trying his best to balance the clutter in other parts of the magazine, but at least somebody is doing it.

But the format of the magazine begets bewilderment. The text heavy sections are claustophobically jam-packed into the first 385-pages, and the remaining 20-odd pages are given the spacious format of fashion spreads and physique-driven editorial. It resembles a half-used tube of toothpaste: all the density at one end, and pittance at the other.

In the same way as clean pictures, ELLE is capable of clear writing too. For instance, Holly Millea’s piece on covergirl Reese Witherspoon is truly an enjoyable read. Ac.Stet calls it a “piece”, because honestly, there isn’t much writing. Reese’ bubbly personality and soundbites pretty much carried the story itself.

But that is how a fashion magazine should be: to let the subject matter speak for itself, whether it is beautiful clothes, beautiful products, beautiful photography or just talented personalities babbling their heads off. Words — especially when they are used to perpetuate the ego — become unnecessary.

For ELLE, this magazine must master the use of space. Its management of page space is inconsistent, sometimes great, many other times off. A huge part of fashion editing lies in creating a visual identity for the magazine. That inturn hugely hinges on finding that X-factor mix of visuals and texts, color and space. If that is not corrected, everything is lost. And yes, that includes your readership.

At some parts of the mag, there are just too many, too many texts … why is there such a drive for the ELLE writers to write so much, especially when the words are either not necessary, or have poor standards of narration? The clutter of words is to a point where it is fighting a bloody battle with the pictures. It gets so bad that they cancel each other out in terms of aesthetic appeal. In other parts, it so severely changes into bare-space fashion photography that the sudden burst of oxygen actually makes it hard to breath, a little like coming up for air after a long bout of near-asphyxiation.

To criticize ELLE is not to wish ill of it. In fact, we all need ELLE. The industry needs ELLE. ELLE is necessary because it counters other heavy-weights like VOGUE, W, GLAMOUR, ALLURE and HARPER’S BAZAAR and so on.

But it needs to convince readers in the new millenium that it does and still does have a unique point of view. To truly come off its 1980s cocoon and be truly of-age in the 2000s, it has to realize that fashion journalism, can never be passed over in place of fluff.

Let’s go, ELLE.

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~ by acrylicstetson on October 9, 2007.

2 Responses to “Magazine Review: ELLE Magazine Oct 2007”

  1. […] Claire wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt“Gambaccini’s inspiration and muse accentuate her gravitational pull toward tropical hues: the beaches of Las Terrenas in the DR and model and friend Astrid Munoz, whose bronzed beauty is a fitting complement to the Miguelina look.” … […]

  2. Interesting piece. I certainly agree with some of your points about page design and clutter. However,

    “What – in Queen’s English – does this convoluted sentence mean? ==> “What I Wore speak, memory, of what we had on when we found the courage to break up, act out, and define ourselves through clever sartorial statement.””

    In regards to this comment, I believe that “What I Wore” is the title, and the text underneath is a caption. It makes perfect sense to me.

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