Magazines Pivot Beyond Fashion as Age of Superficiality Ends

LONDON — A lot changed in 2020. As a result, more than ever, fashion publications are taking a stance on political and sociological issues, and are expanding their online coverage to include social unrest, legislative debates, globalization, racial injustice and environmental issues as a new generation of readers is expecting more from the magazines they engage with on a daily basis.

A quick scan of i-D magazine’s website shows that the pioneer of youth culture and fashion for the past four decades now also covers why Uganda’s youth is trying to remove a dictator, offers a deep dive into the life of Ukrainian cam girls and lets Nigerian activist Adetutu OJ Alabi tell the story of what it’s like growing up with facial markings, on top of cheering for Lady Gaga performing at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and getting André Leon Talley talk about Kamala Harris and the Netflix series “Bridgerton.”

Highsnobiety, a daily news site covering streetwear, sneakers, cars, lifestyle and arts with a print presence, is increasingly dipping its toes in a series of coverages that voice support for survivors of Alexander Wang’s alleged sexual misconduct and raised discussions on social media about why is fashion still ignoring its #MeToo movements. It also published lengthy pieces about why domestic abuse is not a “women’s issue,” and why Barbara Kruger’s pro-choice message “Your Body is a Battleground” is poignant for today’s Poland.

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For fashion photographer and founder of Hunger magazine Rankin, covering topics beyond fashion is expected at the publication.

On its website HungerTV, British-Ghanaian artist Tanoa Sasraku explains how she uses flags and moving image to question the meaning of identity, and Ph.D. researcher and founder of the Free Black University Melz Owusu speaks about why instead of decolonizing universities, alternative spaces are needed to allow radical work to really take hold.

Actor Paapa Essiedu on the cover of Hunger magazine, The DIY issue. Courtesy

“We’ve always explored a wide breadth of content pillars and will continue to do so. This approach is reflected in our site traffic, where we see a healthy amount of unique users clicking on a diversity of pieces whether it’s a think-piece, a celebrity interview, or a photographic essay,” Rankin said.

“That future exists right now — you just have to want to see it,” he added: “To see where we are being led. We all have to work hard to change that future by changing the way we engage with the present. The coronavirus outbreak is sweeping the world and creating a mass hysteria most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. It offers a lot of time to self-reflect and to maybe change the way we do things, and what we consume. There’s access to more content than ever before and many publications, both print and digital, are going above and beyond to stretch out the parameters of their editorial offerings.”

Natassa Stamouli, online editor at 1 Granary, told WWD that its readers, who are mostly fashion school students and a growing number of talent scouts and top-level management at fashion houses, are always engaged more with fashion content when placed in the greater context of education, sustainability and political awareness.

“The last year brought a more intense demand for this approach,” she said: “We feel a responsibility to look into what is happening in fashion schools worldwide and question the industry at large. We will continue documenting how creative learning is affected by the pandemic, as well as how emerging designers are coping and surviving as small businesses and most importantly as people.”

Some of the top stories at 1 Granary from last year range from the designers to hire initiative, showcasing graduating students from all over the world, to highlighting the issue of employability in fashion.

The Face magazine put frontline key worker, 20-year-old supermarket assistant Keziah on the cover among others. Courtesy

Since its relaunch in 2019, The Face magazine has also been connecting fashion with broader culture, including music and entertainment, and big issues like politics, the environment, race and inequality. On its website, there are discussions about why plus-size guys should be the next big thing, the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health, and the East Asian films vying to be the Oscar-winning “Parasite” of 2021.

Jason Gonsalves, brand director at The Face, admitted that some people within the industry struggled with that idea, but The Face hasn’t shied away from dealing with the biggest stories and that’s been reflected in where its best-performing pieces’ traffic has come from.

“We ran a series of cover shoots with frontline key workers, from delivery drivers to supermarket workers, weeks before [British] Vogue followed suit and then had an incredible response from audiences,” he added. “We backed up with in-depth stories like covering the teams of innovators who came together to find solutions to the ventilator shortage in hospitals, which we were pleasantly surprised to find was one of our top-performing stories of the year.”

Gonsalves also revealed that its website reached 4 million unique users, generated almost 6 million page views, with a dwell time seven to eight times more than its competitors.

Markus Ebner, founder of the German fashion magazine Achtung Mode, attributed this shift by fashion titles to the end of what he called “the age of superficiality.”

“We have serious problems in the world now and the audience longs for reliable and opinionated media. Classic journalism, classic fashion stories. What we do is a profession you have to train for and the influencer moment has changed that. But the pandemic exposed the no-content momentum of most,” he said.

The cover of a special edition of Achtung, shot in Germany’s Black Forest. Achtung/Coutresy

The magazine relaunched its website last week with an emphasis on music videos and user experience. Graphic designer Anton Loukhnovets, who recently redesigned The New York Times Magazine, is behind the new platform, which has been optimized for fashion storytelling on mobile screens.

On top of fashion stories, Achtung covers Berlin’s music and arts scene, and works with artists from the Live on Earth DJ network, and DJ Gigola, to present their music in the realm of fashion.

The Berlin-based title is also changing its publication date to respond to the new seasonality. It adjusted its release date from September to December, featuring model Maike Inga wearing fall clothes shot by three photographers in the Black Forest in a cold climate. “The forest is a place of longing at the moment. No masks and crowds, fresh air and mythical environments to present the clothes,” Ebner said.

In China, the shift in media coverage is a bit different. There are many regulations around publishing in the market. Publicly discussing political or sensitive issues can result in arrest and jail time. Also, as the country has been growing rapidly for the past 42 years, the majority of the population is looking to improve their quality of life with material goods, instead of questioning the system.

Lily Chou, editor in chief of Chinese independent fashion publication Rouge Fashion Book, sees that people want to learn more about positive energy, and something healing.

“Since the situation is getting better in China, people by nature always try to find a way to be better. So food, travel, music, pets, or just some sweet words, or anything that can make you smile and warm inside can be a good topic,” she said.

The biannual magazine’s most recent issue, “Glimpse,” was based on 2020’s situation while trying to predict what the future could be. Fan Bingbing, Zhou Zhennan, and Komatsu Nana front the cover, representing a glimpse of nostalgia, time travel and reflection, respectively.

Fan Bingbing fronts the cover of Rouge Fashion Book, issue seven. Courtesy

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