Adut Akech photographed by David Luraschi for Vogue US.
Catchy phrases like “you see it first here, then everywhere else”, that stereotype of a PR-turned-editor who ‘discovers’ trends via social media, all that out-dated rush after the next big thing in fashion. Vogue was precisely that for the last couple of years. The main version, the U.S.-based one, gradually slipped from a prestigious title that represented art-oriented fashion photography (like Irving Penn’s captivating spreads or Richard Avedon’s ultimate fantasies) to shallow trend reports and the emergence of mass media celebrities on the covers. Of course, note that Vogue used to be a go-to read for over-privileged, white society ladies. Thankfully it became much more ‘for everyone’ and no longer reserved for the elites. However, with that, its smart reads became a minor, few page ‘necessity’, while deep, moving and simply speaking uncommercial editorials – a rarity. With the pace of globalisation and the edition’s cross-border spread, especially hitting off at the time of the new millennium, Vogue became an advertiser-packed, irrelevant magazine that was desperate to sell its stock. With a celeb wedding covers (the Kimye one comes to my mind first) and other attention-seeking tricks.
Beyoncé by Tyler Mitchell.
But something has changed, especially in the last couple of years. Not the editor-in-chief – Anna’s still there – but the image of Vogue. Maybe Trump’s election made the people working there realise the ‘fashion bible’ can’t be stagnant? And it has to progress? Educate its readers on social matters, make minorities’ problems vocal, represent diversity through models, artists, even the stars it works with? You might not be a mega-fan of Beyoncé’s music, but you must acknowledge that the current September issue is powerful. Especially because the cover was photographed by Tyler Mitchell, a 20-something photographer of colour. After the cover came out, I was asking myself a question – why we all had to wait all that time, until 2018, to see a black photographer create not only a September issue cover, but a Vogue cover for the first time in history? This could happen long, long time ago and become an ordinary thing. Still, I’m so happy history is being made on our eyes – and this really becomes an ordinary thing from now on. But not only this year’s September issue signals Vogue’s transition into a meaningful magazine. Presence of truly talented photographers with their own visions (like Jamie Hawkesworth, David Luraschi and Bibi Cornejo Borthwick) is pleasing, just like the profound selection of cover appearances (Saoirse Ronan in August!), features on incredible individuals (the one on the Nigerian-American artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, who pushed our depictions of black experience with her fictional family sagas, is my recent favourite) and most important, ‘cause it’s Vogue, the take on current fashion industry (you can finally read about the statement-making niche – Marine Serre, Eckhaus Latta or Pyer Moss to name a few – not just the old guard Chanels and Diors).
But you might have already known all that and felt the same feelings while going through the recent issues of Vogue.
What you might not know is that Vogue is changing internationally as well, especially in Europe. Edward Enniful’s ground-breaking appointment as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue and his debut cover (starring Adwoa Aboah) isn’t the news, but still is a memorable event from the beginning of 2018. Vogue also went through major reinvention in Ukraine and Portugal not a long time ago. The Ukrainian version used to be similar to the pretentious Russian edition, until the arrival of Julie Pelipas. This fashion editor totally changed the image of local Vogue with the very non-conforming covers and courageous styling – think Alek Wek in a yellow puffa jacket and sequined, electric blue Balenciaga boots. Or Charlotte Gainsbourg in a statuesque Saint Laurent gown. The focus of the magazine became also much more concerned with Ukrainian designers, just like the off-the-radar names from Russia and Georgia. There’s just one unclear thing about the refreshed Ukrainian Vogue – no one can really find it on the newsstands, and my friend who went to Ukraine lately couldn’t get it even at the Lviv airport. Who knows, maybe the boldness of the last issues is too edgy for the local Vogue readers and that is reflected in the small distribution.
In case of Portugal, a big change occurred as well. Portuguese Vogue completely changed direction this year, parting ways with the former company that was a rather corporate, mainstream enterprise. With Sofia Lucas as the main editor and Branislav Simoncik as photographer-in-charge (he is clearly responsible for the Portuguese editions’s overall look), the magazine is thriving and gets national (and international) recognition. Got my hands on few issues during my Portuguese vacations this spring and summer, and I must admit – it’s superb. That cover with Debra Shaw is a masterpiece, while the photo shoots are divine, sharp, witty. And very far from commercial – it’s visible that the magazine’s leadership isn’t trying hard to sell bags and perfumes, unlike the Vogue edition in Portugal’s closest neighbour – Spain.
Polish Vogue appeared on the scene in March, and the first issue met with a backlash. As a Pole, I know that born-with skepticism we all have here in Poland, so I wasn’t surprised that the wider audience would ‘hate’ that Juergen Teller cover with the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw in the background (starring Anja Rubik and Małgosia Bela, who’s the editor-at-large). Knowing Teller’s body of work, I was obsessed with his contribution: the cover (that was criticised for being ‘too tilted’, ‘unprofessional’ and scratching that post-Communist wound of the country), the leading editorial with Anja (everybody went like ‘why is she posing with potatoes and cabbage?’) and the portfolio of Poland’s most significant personas and artists, from Lech Wałęsa to Monika Brodka (the most common comments I saw on social media on these: ‘I can take the same photos with my phone’. Well…) had me wow-ed. That was all very unprecedented, especially on the Polish fashion market. After the first issue, Polish Vogue decided to go for safer photographers, like Chris Colls, but not only. We had a brilliant cover by Tim Walker, starring Adwoa Aboah. But other than covers, what’s Polish Vogue like inside? Maybe not too jaw-dropping in terms of fashions, but definitely heavy on culture. And eager to move topics other Polish magazines are too ignorant (or scared) to touch. Womanhood, professional life, politics – the features with Adwoa and Christy Turlington (who’s the September cover star) are best proof for that. Aboah spoke about her Gurls Talk initiative and later prepared an entire event in Warsaw; Christy shared her thoughts on Poland’s oppression towards female reproductive rights and mentioned her foundation, Every Mom Counts.
The latest addition to the Vogue family is the Czechoslovakia edition. If you’re wondering, Czech Republic and Slovakia are two separate countries today, but probably the owners thought it’s a right, logistical step. The first issue – September – seems to be brilliant, just looking at the cover and the visuals released on Instagram. Karolina Kurkova, the Czech supermodel, stars as Olga Havlova, the wife of Vaclav Havel (the anti-communist politician, who was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first of Czech Republic). I think it’s exciting to see how that Vogue highlights its local history, tells a story of a powerful woman in a not an overly dramatised homage, and does it so aesthetically well. Also, there are some sneak peeks of Eva Herzigova, surreally photographed by Michal Pudelka – a bright native from Slovakia.
Karolina Kurkova by Branislav Simoncik for Vogue Czechoslovakia.
So, as you can see, Vogue is changing, or rather, growing up. The word ‘Vogue’ stands for something completely else in 2018 than in, let’s say, 2008. It also does develop globally, but through locality – the new members of the family demonstrate that the best. Vogue became daring again, but not stupid. Informative, but not exhausting. And again feels relevant in the its most crucial aspect – FASHION. Who would have ever thought Ukrainian Vogue will become as important and intriguing as the French edition? At times even better, to be honest. Can’t wait to see where Vogue goes in the next couple of years – equally in USA, and in Poland.
Adut Akech photographed by David Luraschi for Vogue US.