Of course, reality -- along with such terms as “celebrity,” “success” and “fashion” -- are slippery concepts, especially with this crowd.
Superficially, of course, the usually high-toned Vogue and Ms. Kardashian, the regularly slut-and-fat-shamed reality and sex-tape star, would seem to be models of anti-synergy. But not so fast with the knee-jerk judgments -- can’t we all just get along and celebrate our differences?
Granted, it’s hard to know where to begin with all the desperation and disingenuousness involved with this cover collaboration. After seven years on the E Network, and with a failing clothing line in Sears, the Kardashians are a dying brand. And as a once-prestigious product and cash cow, Vogue is, like so many other major magazines, just limping along. As such, it’s a blind-leading-the-near-dead situation, and vice versa.
Certainly, editor Anna Wintour seemed sensitive to protecting herself from the widely held notion that in putting the couple on the cover, she had caved to Kanye’s very public manipulations. He had famously said that his fiancee would be a better cover subject than Michelle Obama, because (to loosely reinterpret) the FLOTUS couldn’t create an Instagram selfie with the impact of one of Kim’s. (Since he referred to the photo showing her top-to-bottom oversized orbs slipping out of a skimpy bathing suit to prove to the world that she had lost the baby weight, he was indeed correct.)
In an Editor’s Letter as carefully worded as the Camp David accords, Wintour spoke to any preconceptions. “You may have read that Kanye begged me to put his fiancee on Vogue's cover. He did nothing of the sort," she wrote. "There's barely a strand of the modern media that the Kardashian Wests haven’t been able to master, and for good reason: Kanye is an amazing performer and cultural provocateur, while Kim, through her strength of character, has created a place for herself in the glare of the world’s spotlight, and it takes real guts to do that."
So it’s a fancy way of saying that Kim has the intestines (and one assumes, the private parts) of a superstar. Talk about damning with faint praise.
But let’s get real, or at least a simulacrum of it. The real breakthrough here is not in putting an interracial couple on the cover. (That honor already went to the 2006 cover showing basketball star LeBron James and the model Giselle in an action shot that seemed to refer to King Kong, with LeBron as the big ape and Giselle playing Fay Wray. It was criticized as racist.)
Nor is it a big deal for a woman with “natural curves” to appear. (Yes, Kim’s not a hanger-thin social X-ray, but her famous curves have been surgically improved many, many times) Rather, the revolution was in trotting out #WORLDSMOSTTALKEDABOUTCOUPLE.
To a more digitally savvy audience (to put it mildly), it might seem beyond belief that, eight years after the founding of Twitter, this is the first hashtag to appear on Vogue’s cover.
But it is, and as such, it also caused Annie Leibovitz to open a Blue Birdie account last week and send her first tweet.
So never mind their cover-worthiness or not: Kanye has 10.3 million followers and Kim has 2.3 million. Compare that with Vogue’s 267,849 single-copy month-to-month sales as of the end of 2013 (a decrease of 20% from the previous year), and you start to get some perspective on the colliding cosmos of popular culture.
Not that Twitter pays. But it’s Vogue’s Unified Hashtag Theory of Survival: Kim and Kanye's fans are not Vogue readers, but if even 5% of them buy the issue, that would double the previous month’s newsstand sales.
Desperation breeds strange bedfellows. I get it. Still what surprised me most was the sheer banality of the image. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the portrait shows the K-2 as chaste lovebirds engaged in a heart-shaped faux bridal photo, with Kim in a classic long white gown, Kanye in a tuxedo. (K is for Kiss-Up?!) For a sophisticated publication built on provocation, the image features almost Poconos-based symbols of newlywed bliss.
But then again, the simplicity of the stance, with the logo above, allows for easy parody and memehood. Hundreds of heads have already been photoshopped on top of Kim and her fiance's. (Seth Rogin and James Franco are pretty obvious, but so far my fave is Kermit and Miss Piggy.)
There’s more editorial and photos inside, featuring the Ks and their adorable baby North (sadly, Kim is already following in her momager Kris’ footsteps in the unbridled selling of her progeny). Baby North is the only one in her family who can still furrow her brow. And furrow she does, looking quizzically at the lights and cameras with the innocence of an authentic, outraged human being at such fake and over-the-top proceedings. One of the photos aptly captures a hall of mirrors, showing Kim taking a selfie as she holds the baby and faces a mirror, with Kanye facing them, with the image of Kim and North on his iPad.
In the end, I’m sure that the faux controversy, plus all this attempt at using new media, will result in a very temporary circulation bump for Vogue. And it will certainly help elevate Kim’s image.
Thus, it’s a win-win. So there you go, haters. Although these days, it’s tough to tell the players from the played.
Remember when models appeared on the cover of Vogue? Once they switched to non-model celebrities, it was only a matter of time before someone like Kim would appear.
And since we are reminiscing, when's the last time anyone talked about Vogue as relevant? Is anyone running to the news stand to see what Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Garner look like in an evening gown? No.
I think Anna Wintour made the publishing equivalent of a Hail Mary pass to save her magazine so good for her.
Setting aside the fabulous writing of Ms. Lippert, who, parenthetically, never fails to gesture superb glimpses of the controversial, Kim Kardashian may have the internal fortitude of a superstar, but it's her fraudulent outer gear which troubles me. As for Kanye, the-malevolence-of-a stalker-incarnate-etched-in-plastic-carved-in -soap stone, West, who seems to thirst the spotlight, and no matter the cringe factor of his protrusion into society, he swallows the heap of all things unholy in a single gulp.
To Barbara and David: More proof every day that millions of people don't have enough to do.
That's some great insight and an engrossing read. Thanks for penning it!
Love that Barbara Lippert! Always hilarious, articulate, and adorable! This article was great!
Vogue is consciously uncoupling with its brand and heritage.
The blind leading the near dead pretty much says it all
Kim was famously pimped out by her mother. Kanye is famous for pimping out himself (cause as he likes to tell us again and again, he is the greatest entertainment phenomenon since Jesus raised Lazarus) but they're grownups so you get what you pay for. I am so sorry that little North is already walking the stroll for Kimye. I have been able to ignore (or at least pay little attention to) these two narcissist gold medalists, but I draw the line at child labor. I find it ironic that this controversy falls on the anniversary of The Triangle Shirt Waist fire. Have we learned nothing in 103 years?
it's been all about Anna Wintour and the integrity of the magazine cover etc. in fact i think Barbara has nailed it - controversy = spike in units moved and the mag biz (even Vogue) needs that circulation spike!
I am heartbroken to report that Kim and I are in the process of “conscious uncoupling” This has nothing to do with the Vogue cover, it's the simple fact that her arse is getting so big she occupies the entire bed.
Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
I had SWORN not to even mention this -- not on Facebook, not in conversation with friends, not even by shouting at the television during some of the coverage.
Then, of course, Barbara comes along and fires off THIS which has just got to be "le dernier cri" on the whole topic. (Sorry! Channeling my inner Vogue editor here -- after tossing some French bon mots into this note, I guess the next step is to send an outlandish, extravagant bouquet to Ms. Lippert OR at least meat her for pasta with truffles at Da Silvano...)
But seriously, hers really IS the definitive take on this whole nonsense. Only thing I can add is this: Um... In the last few months, other cover subjects have included Rihanna (oy), Lena Dunham (NO comment), Katy Perry and so on. It's been a LONG time since a Vogue COVER made me swoon. But the content INSIDE still does so on plenty of occasions.
Me? I'm just praying for a TOTAL makeover to the whole magazine someday soon. You know what they need? Who's the NEW Alexander Liberman, hmmm? Because when HE steered the covers? Oh my. This from Vogue itself: "“No man in the Western world held more power over the fashion images men and women saw than Liberman during his tenure." We need more of THAT sense of refined style.
But we also need Barbara's ALWAYS piercing (and usually hilarious as an added bonus) take on things, to boot!
The Wintour of our discontent!
Full disclosure: I wrote for Vogue a long time ago. I found everyone there very nice. I even met Anna-- and she was great!
Great article ! A breath of fresh air.
I've always been vexed why journalists, when writing about magazines, fixate on newsstand sales and completely ignore the circulation source known as "subscriptions". If a reader is a fan of a magazine, why would she buy it at the "retail" price at newsstand when a subscription is a much better deal? (After all, aren't fashionistas always clamoring for bargains?) Vogue may sell only a quarter of a million copies at the newsstand, but it has about 950,000 subscribers. Furthermore, with all of the photos and coverage of the nauseating Kim/Kanye online for free, why bother shelling out $7 for a copy?
Well, since you put it that way...
@Rob-- point well taken. But isn't this stunt cover especially created to boost newsstand sales (and thereby maybe introduce the magazine to a whole new audience?)
After all, few subscribers are not gonna be thrilled with this cover.
But yes, it is mainly a subscription magazine.
I hear ya, Barbara. I just think consumers suffer from sticker shock when it comes to single-copy prices. They'd rather pay four or five dollars at Starbucks than six or seven for a magazine. Newsstand copies act somewhat like OOH advertising. The consumer sees it, and if interested, pulls out his/her smartphone to get the info/pics for free.
I once met Rupert Murdoch... And he was a wanker!!! Didya see he is now America's most eligible bachelor.
Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
Indeed covers drive newsstand and Vogue newsstand is plummeting. Importantly, we continually question the real value of the 950,000 subscriber base when so many subs are purchased for less than a dollar an issue. Newsstand sales remain a barometer of engagement and resonance. With so much free content and more engaging content available across numerous platforms Vogue is facing a crisis of diminishing relevance and has joined the reality carnival. I vote for Sister Wives for the next cover.
Kardashians couldn't help Sears much (with their failed clothing line). Expect Kim and K on kover to have similar result.
Interesting note that Vanity Fair was folded into Vogue for decades before being brought back to life. I just read that in last year's anniversary issue of Vanity Fair which I just got around to reading a year late. Graydon Carter (perp of horrible restaurants) wrote a nice capsule history in the issue. If there's anything I miss about the ad biz, it is not getting comps. Now I subscribe to 120 magazines and therefore each month get 120 offers to either renew or give a gift sub.