04/15/2012 07:36 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012

Evolve or Die

Fashion magazines had a rough 2011. To make a long story short, all major magazine sales were down with Glamour magazine's sales dropping so much as 17 percent, InStyle down 8 percent, Lucky down 9 percent, Marie Claire down 21 percent, Cosmopolitan down 3 percent, and Elle down 9 percent. Vogue and Allure were the lone rangers whose sales were up and stayed flat, respectively. Overcrowded pages, teenybopper color schemes, vague and out of touch editors, tepid interviews and lackluster covers, fashion magazines' fight as underdogs trying to vie for relevance in the journalism industry was meek at best.

Despite releasing statements full of aggressive action item words such as "revamp," "reboot," "tech-minded," and "brave," what editors failed to include in these statements was anything relating to substance. Words such as 'quality', 'controversy', 'understanding', 'news', and 'content' were lacking, along with some self-awareness. Print journalism, especially fashion publications, has a very precarious future with the emergence of blogging and online content. Re-defining success and becoming profitable once again is going to take more than winning back advertisers.

It seems as though a quality and content overhaul are necessary in order for these zines to thrive and find their home again in our modern day world of media. Fashion magazines encapsulate and regurgitate the issues that the world has with the fashion industry as a whole. Perhaps it is not until these problems relating to eating disorders, racism, sweatshop laborers, unpaid fashion internships, etc. are recognized, resolved, and repaired that these magazines will profitable again.

The issue is not with targeting of the affluent, it's the pretension and delusional reality that they project in order to target them that is sometimes so off-putting to so many readers, especially to some of the subscribers they have lost to online blogs. It is these blogs that have capitalized on the notions of accessibility, inclusivity, and affordability in an economic time period that encourages this. Racial and cultural inclusivity is also abysmal in many of these magazines from the models and actresses featured on the covers to the people covered in articles.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it is articles similar to the one written by Dara Lynn Weiss in Vogue's "Shape" issue entitled, "Weight Watchers." In reporting her struggles to slim down her 'obese' 7-year-old daughter, Weiss comes across as hateful, self-absorbed, impatient, and shallow as she recounts incidents in respects to policing her daughters dieting plan. Weiss made us resent her all the more by describing specific outbursts over Starbucks and a salad nicoise. Vogue seemed to miss the obesity mark by placing a spotlight on a mother projecting her own body image insecurities on to her daughter rather than covering other powerful and exemplary obesity initiatives that are occurring throughout the country. Considering the strategic Wintour-Obama relationship that has blossomed, it is all the more surprising that a more tasteful and less tone-deaf article regarding childhood obesity was not included in this issue or in any fashion magazine body issues in the United States considering what an enormous problem childhood obesity is.

I do not mean to pick on Vogue though, for two Vogue editors in particular have been progressive risk takers in the most recent years, more so than most editors. Anna Wintour has been very active politically with her fundraising efforts for Obama and was instrumental in assembling designers for Obama's "Runway to Win," initiative. Very active in the realm of fighting social issues in the fashion world has been Vogue Italia's Franca Sozzani. Between her spread that critiqued the BP oil spill, her "All Black Everything" issue and her conscientious efforts to bring back "curvy models," Sozzani has been a courageous pioneer in addressing many of the issues that plague the fashion world. These editors have proven that they do have real influence by using fashion to positively influence those outside of the fashion-sphere.

Vogue Italia offers depth and social commentary, a game changer in the world of fashion glossies, a differentiator. Sozzani pushes her limits with every piece she publishes, from encouraging the forgiveness of Galliano, in a famously cutthroat and unforgiving world, to speaking to hundreds of Harvard students honestly and candidly about how to fight anorexia and eating disorders within the industry. We need more of this, more material to disprove those who doubt the depths that fashion can go to. Look around at the fashion entrepreneurs, the writers, painters, sculptors, the designers who have gone green, those who manufacture locally, the bloggers who have created entire businesses and brands, the lawyers turned models, the eating disorders and racial barriers overcome, etc.; it is these people that we need to hear more from and in a visually stimulating way.

Fashion magazines need to dig deeper and harder. Creatively speaking, they are scratching the surface. They currently function as a monarchy, slightly obsolete and out of touch, with a top down trickle approach. Success, circulation and profits, however, are calling for a democratization, a deeper and richer extension of the grassroots movement that is currently occurring in the fashion world online, where glossies can showcase power from the bottom upwards and serve as a system of checks and balances to the industry, pushing designers, houses and each other to progress with each and every issue.

Do not underestimate the reader, there is a reason why Reese Witherspoon's cover happened to be the lowest selling issue (my apologies, Reese). We are awaiting a marriage of progress, innovation, creativity, and clothing; issues with real journalistic adventures, profiles and features. As Cathy Horyn wrote last weekend, "Pretension takes pluck, to quote Alan Bennet, but the levels now feel almost toxic." Give us something to chew on, someone to aspire to, a page to rip out; Or in more simple terms, evolve or die.

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