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New Launch Review: Men's Vogue
The newest Condé Nast title gets it mostly right, awkward logo notwithstanding.- September 21, 2005
The "MEN'S" label on the logo of the premiere issue of the new Condé Nast title Men's Vogue floats uncomfortably atop the older, well-established "Vogue" as if some unscrupulous designer forgot to add it and then threw it in at the last minute, selecting the first font upon which the dart landed when hurled at a list of the standard options. The "MEN'S" and the "Vogue" don't quite mesh and one gets the sense that perhaps they shouldn't have been forcibly smashed together in the first place. Actually reading the magazine produces a similar impression: The content appears to be targeting vastly different constituencies and they're awkwardly combined in the hopes that there's enough Venn diagram overlap that it might seem as if they belong together despite the crude juxtaposition.
As with any fashion mag, there's the requisite amount of product-pushing—in this case, high-end Officine Panerai vintage watches ($4,000 - $20,000), even higher-end Vacheron Constantin watches ($1,500,000), Thom Browne suits ($2,290), high-end dermatological procedures (VISIA scans), high-end cars (the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, $170,000) and high-end toiletries (D.R. Harris & Co. Mouth Wash, $25). But Men's Vogue does manage to make high-end consumerism seem high-brow with front-of-the-book commentary that historically contextualizes the products, and creates a bit of narrative around them in the form of short travelogues and personal stories. And instead of featuring Larry Ellison smugly parked on the deck of his yachtzilla (see this month's Vanity Fair—an exercise meant to reinforce the otherness of story's subject and the likely disparity between the reader and the rich guy who actually owns the water-bound monstrosity), the human subjects are well-to-do, but not wholly inaccessible. It's like reading the Robb Report without feeling dirty afterwards. The Hollywood celebrities might not be "just like us," but it's entirely possible that artist John Currin or architect David Adjaye is, even if they have more sophisticated tastes. The extremely price-prohibitive nature of the products pushes the front-of-the-book well beyond the standard aspirational fare of a mass-market consumer magazine and tiptoes into the realm of the faintly ridiculous, but almost convinces the reader that the shopper in the market for both a Vacheron Constantin watch and a Bentley Continental Flying Spur does exist, and in large numbers.
Leaving aside the questionable existence of a Vacheron/Bentley market exceeding the low double digits, the feature well appears to be speaking to an entirely different reader. My two favorite features in the mag, "A Swiss Account: Where Dollars and People Go to Hide" by Dana Vachon (who is, full disclosure, a friend and sometime mediabistro contributor) and a piece on shooting for sport ("A Bloody Good Time") by A.A. Gill, skewer, albeit lightly, precisely the sort of people who are possibly walking around the nearest Bentley showroom as we speak and fretfully checking their Vacheron watches to make sure they're not late for the meeting with David Adjaye. The fashions are mocked as much as they're celebrated. (From Gill's piece: "First and last, tweed is hellishly uncomfortable. English country tweed isn't that soft, languorously draping material you associate with Cary Grant and the Dutchess of Windsor. This stuff is so solid you park it in the closet rather than hang it. The trousers feel as if you've got George Michael's chin between your thighs.") The humor is something you'd find in a traditional men's mag, but rarely if ever in a comparable women's fashion mag, and it's not the ribald beer-and-babes frat boy vibe you get from reading laddie mags. This would seem to indicate that the ideal reader is a bit older and more mature, and that the magazine is less inclined to talk down to him. On the flip side, it could be that the reader merely is a bit more pretentious.
The cover of the Fall issue features a dapper George Clooney reclining in an office chair in what is ostensibly some sort of intended command center, holding a phone in one hand, index finger thoughtfully hovering near his lips and eyes narrowed—the "contemplative" look. "Mere Mortal George Clooney," the coverline reads, "Exposes the Secrets of the CIA—And Almost Dies for It." To invoke a previous comparison, add an exclamation mark and you'd have a Vanity Fair cover story, but Men's Vogue aims to be more reserved. The piece itself is an entertaining read, but a little anticlimactic after the cover line promise of a swashbuckling near death experience. It should be noted, however, that Clooney is really the only Hollywood A-lister in the magazine which helps to ensure that the fashion and lifestyle content isn't overwhelmed by the celebrity wattage.
All in all, the magazine's component parts are well-executed, but the total product lacks overall coherence, thanks in part to the magazine's insistence on catering to a hypothetical fantasy demographic where George Clooney fans also buy $25 mouth wash and then mock their neighbors for doing the same thing. The design isn't terribly unique (shades of Details, but the tenor of the content is pleasantly reminiscent of Esquire in earlier days and evokes a more complex idea of masculinity that doesn't by necessity include Jackass re-runs, women in metallic bikinis and extreme sports. One also wonders if Condé Nast shouldn't have scrapped the idea of branding a men's version of an existing women's title and made Men's Vogue its own unique brand with a unique name and none of the expectations that it would be like the women's version. (Both titles fall under the editorial control of Anna Wintour, incidentally.)
The magazine's weaknesses are all fixable and really a matter of fine tuning. Its continued prospects, all things considered, are positive. That logo, however, needs to go.
Elizabeth Spiers is the editor-in-chief of mediabistro.com.
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