Monday, 3 June 2013

Top Magazine Covers

It's the million dollar question, what is the secret behind the success of a magazine cover? Some covers become iconic and represent the spirit of a decade or a particular creative mind while others are simply breathtaking. How can a magazine stand out among many others on the newsstand? 

iconic magazine covers
Iconic: British Vogue May 2003, Interview March 1977, Harper's Bazaar September 1992

"The swift and far-reaching changes associated with the rise of the celebrity style-leader, the spectacular new theatricals of the fashion industry and the ever expanding proliferation of luxury consumables would have counted for little without the publicity engendered by the mass-produced images and texts that accompanied and preceded them" writes Christopher Breward on his book Fashion

Lascivious magazine covers
Lascivious: Numéro September 2002, Love September 2010, Pop Spring-Summer 2005

These words are still valid for today's magazine industry so much so that Anna Wintour, the most renowned and influential editor of our time, described Vogue as much more than a magazine, "it is a superbrand" (quote from In Vogue, The Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Fashion Magazine).  

Surprising magazine covers
Surprising: Love Spring/Summer 2013, Vogue May 15 1941, Spanish Harper's Bazaar April 2013

"We should never underestimate the element of surprise, which plays a crucial role in the taking of cover shoots." Tonne Goodman 

It's fascinating to read about the evolution of 'fashion on the page', how much everything has changed and how magazines have managed to adapt, maintaining their authority and even challenging fashion itself as a benchmark of standards of taste and beauty. Diana Vreeland, the legendary style icon, transformed American Vogue in the 60s with bold and spectacular fashion narratives.

Fun magazine covers
Fun: Life February 18 1926, Vogue April 1968, Harper's Bazaar June/July 2013

"A new dress doesn't get you anywhere; it's the life you're living in the dress, and the sort of life you had lived before, and what you do in it later." Diana Vreeland

Her enthusiasm for life and her view of fashion as the ultimate fantasy were reflected on the magazine pages and today these images continue to be a reference and express the unique characteristics of a particular period in time which continues to inspire current style communicators.

Peace and Love magazine covers
Peace & Love: Love Autumn/Winter 2011, Italian Vogue August 2005, French Vogue November 2010 

In a world where style is blurring and redefining itself through a myriad of images taken on the street and on the red carpet and when so many voices dictate what to wear, it can be difficult for magazines to retain their power, particularly when their connection with retail is more and more intertwined. 

Eye contact magazine covers
Eye contact: Interview April 2012, Vogue May 1975, French Vogue September 2008

But for fashion aficionados nothing beats the glossy pages, from the theatrical viewpoint to the "real woman" approach, today's magazines combine fantasy and reality but this demands a fine balance not easily achieved. When facing a newsstand, many smiling faces look at us but what really catches our attention? 

Headpiece magazine covers
Headpiece: Interview January 1973, Chinese Numéro December 2011, Vogue December 1968

As in a job interview, a decision is taken within seconds even if we're not aware of it. The titles do obviously matter but often the image of the cover reflects the style of content inside the magazine. We may not be able to "judge a book by its cover" but this doesn't apply to magazines, as it is undoubtedly the first contact point with the 'brand'.

Beauty magazine covers
Beauty: Vogue August 1939, Vogue January 1950, Harper's Bazaar June 1940

Going through the most memorable magazine covers of all time, some key elements stand out. A captivating image usually reflects the zeitgeist but in particular cases it can be timeless or even iconic. Surprise can also add to the magic, when we're presented with something unexpected as the amazing "Kate cleans up" Love cover.

Fantasy magazine covers
Fantasy: Vogue November 15 1917, Numéro December 1999_ January 2000, Vogue, April 1918

The fun element is definitely underestimated, this is not about smiling but the expression of a vibrant and joyful energy. Fantasy is also crucial, it's an open space where illustration, technology, extraordinary headpieces and time travel can provoke a strong impression, impossible to define. Eye contact is a common feature on the cover of a magazine, becoming more powerful when expressing a challenging attitude.

Exercise magazine covers
Exercise: Vogue June 1940, Pop Autumn/Winter 2002-03, Vogue October 2002 

The body can also take centre stage on lascivious covers exuding sensuality or exercise focused images, featuring it as a blank canvas for fashion. Nonetheless it's difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes a great cover, it's like alchemy, it results from the fusion of many elements and people working together. We simply recognise it at first glance!

Other related blog posts:  
Power Stylists
Masters of Fashion Illustration
Homage to Diana Vreeland, a Fashion Icon