Also, let's face it: any review of Vogue is inherently pointless -- and that comes from a guy whose oeuvre basks in its lack of practical utility. Nothing I write is likely to sway anybody's opinion about the magazine. Vogue is a publishing steamroller; get out of its way, or you'll be a bloody heap o' Hermès on the side of the road.
But mostly it's because I can't abide Vogue's subtle, practiced nastiness. The mag's default tonality isn't "you might look good in this Ashley Paige tunic -- give it a try." Rather, it's "if you don't wear the singularly appropriate Balenciaga maillot, you will expose yourself as a woman of limited taste and social cachet, and embarrass yourself every time you journey out to the mailbox." I don't have time for bullies.
Well, I guess I do today. Beyond my I-don't-like-your-attitude-young-lady bleats, I think I've identified the mag's most grievous sin. It has nothing to do with the oft-discussed homogeneity of body images; if impressionable would-be fashionistas feel the need to swear off dairy products after eyeing the cut of a Vogue starlet's jib, it ain't the magazine's fault. No, my main problem with Vogue, or at least the June issue, is that it's boring.
I expected pizzazz and couture and prêt-à-porter and lots of other words that, if a friend used them in casual conversation, would prompt an immediate reassessment of my relationship with him or her. Instead, I was treated to a warm-and-fuzzy visit with a "printmaker" who "clearly has an innate drive to solve problems and a pragmatic openness to learn," a mildly diverting book "extract" (not an "excerpt," as per the editor's note), and lots of chicks with cheekbones that could pop balloons.
None of that is a surprise, really; the surprise is the lifelessness with which Vogue goes about its business nowadays. I wonder why a magazine often hailed as the category leader to end all category leaders would dip into the spa-getaway-guide pool frequented by lesser publishing mortals. I don't see how the vacation must-haves listed by six models add much beyond teensy-print brand names and prices. I lack the fabulousness (fabulosity? fabulicitude?) to understand how splaying a bunch of fancy suitcases in various downbeat settings (on a baggage carousel, in what appears to be an industrial park, etc.) bestows upon them must-have status.
Where the June issue deserves some credit is in its words -- and yes, I realize that praising Vogue for its writing is like praising Architectural Digest for its box scores. The essays, especially a lipstick magnate's spirited recollection of a circa-1977 Jerry Hall and a model-turned-writer's forthright examination of her relationship with her photographer mom, trump what other women's mags, even the "smart" ones, are serving up this month. I'm ashamed to admit that I might have learned something from the piece on packing strategies. And forget the "Look! Natives! Aren't they just darling?" thrust of the Keira Knightley photos from a visit to East Africa; the accompanying text is one part travelogue and one part surprisingly sharp-elbowed profile.
At the same time, Vogue tends to shoot itself in the foot with bizarro pairings of text and image. The worst comes courtesy of the story on airplane anxiety, which soberly surveys a problem faced by many women. So how does Vogue choose to illustrate such a serious piece? With a shot of a model whose stony expression doesn't suggest panic at the thought of a fiery, airborne death so much as mild consternation that the airline screwed up her order of a kosher meal.
It's all too silly, especially given the seriousness and lack of self-awareness with which the Vogue folks ply their trade. I'm not saying that Vogue will be lapped anytime soon, but maybe it's time for the mag to once again start producing like the fashion-'r'-us force of nature it purports to be.
To see how Vogue fares in a face-off with competitor Harper's Bazaar, click here.