The Occasion Was Vogue World, the Brand’s Efforts to Bring Its Magazine Presence to Life

From a Washington Post story by Rachel Tashjian and Valeriya Safronova headlined “It’s a Vogue world after all”:

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Vogue shared news that’s as closely guarded as a state secret: the theme for the Costume Institute’s Met Gala, held on the first Monday in May.

“Sleeping Beauties” will celebrate the ephemerality of fashion and its sensorial pleasures — sound, scent and pure emotion. The reveal kicks off months of anticipation — designers, stylists and celebrities planning ensembles and guest lists, with Vogue’s print and digital dedicating pages teasing the exhibition.

On a mid-September evening in London, about 1,300 people found themselves face-to-face with Vogue boss Anna Wintour, clad in her signature sunglasses, her hand held out for a firm shake in a receiving line alongside Baz Luhrmann, a film director; Edward Enninful, the outgoing editor in chief of British Vogue; and Stephen Daldry, a theater and film director best known for the TV show “The Crown.”

The occasion was Vogue World, the latest innovation in the brand’s efforts to bring its magazine presence to life. The live-streamed — but of course! — half-hour performance at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was something of a celebrity talent show, with several chaotic fashion runways tossed into the mix.

The message seemed to be: If print is dead, well, Vogue will happily hop off the page into the real world, do the dance routine the entertainment-hungry masses demand, and even bring along a coterie of megastars. Amid ongoing questions about Condé Nast’s ability to turn a profit, Vogue’s strategy seems to be: Be Vogue.

Onstage, the acts whizzed by as quickly as videos on TikTok: FKA twigs danced and sang, pausing for a brief but evocative kiss with the model Cara Delevingne; Sienna Miller cracked jokes alongside Damian Lewis; Stormzy climbed on a table to perform before Sophie Okonedo, wearing an Elizabethan-style dress, delivered a monologue from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 2”; Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington strutted to shouts and applause; and Annie Lennox belted out, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” bringing the audience to its feet. Tickets to Vogue World started at 150 pounds, or about $183, and ran as high as 2,500 pounds, or $3,050.

“The thinking behind these events is editorial — it’s the same process that drives stories in digital, print, video and audio,” said Wintour, whose discursive title is now chief content officer, Condé Nast, and global editorial director, Vogue. “It starts with editors talking about what we are obsessed with, how we can capture what’s happening in our world — fashion through the lens of culture, as we like to say around here.”

Vogue’s editors see their role as adapting to what the world demands of fashion, rather than steering its tastes, per se. “What ESPN is to sports, Vogue is to fashion. So what’s good for fashion is good for Vogue,” said Mark Guiducci, Vogue’s creative editorial director, who is the mind behind Vogue World.

Vogue World had the added benefit of celebrity guests, giving attendees a whiff of Met Gala splendor. (Tickets to the Met Gala are by invitation only and begin at $50,000.) Before and after the show was the other “show”: The parade of celebrities — Princess Eugenie, Michaela Coel, Jared Leto, Ncuti Gatwa, among them — who wound through the mazelike red carpet, surrounded by walls covered in roses, and into the lobby, where they preened and smiled and posed for selfies. After the performance, they lingered in the theater. There was Kate Winslet excitedly hugging Victoria Beckham, Simone Ashley and Gemma Chan shyly observing the scene, and Stella McCartney shouting across a table to Carey Mulligan: “Carey! Carey!”

Vogue plans to stage its next edition of Vogue World with an entirely new production in Paris, on June 23, International Olympic Day.

About a month later, at the seventh iteration of Forces of Fashion, a Vogue conference that offers fashion fans the chance to hear celebrities speak on style and upcoming projects, organizers said they had one request from past attendees: more Vogue.

“What we started to hear back from people was, ‘We really want more Vogue,’” said Mark Holgate, Vogue’s fashion news director and the organizer of the event. “‘We want more about the editors. We want to hear more about the process of the magazine and all the different things we do, from social to Runway to online.’ Everybody wanted to know more about Vogue.”

Attendees from Florida, Texas, California and a smattering of foreign countries paid between $350 for a student ticket and $6,300 for VIP Plus admission to sit in various conference rooms at the World Trade Center, home to Condé Nast’s corporate offices in New York. (“Whose mad idea was that?” an unusually jocular Wintour joked during her welcome speech, which began promptly at 10 a.m. “I assure you — we start much earlier than 10 a.m. at Vogue,” she said to more laughter.)

They were treated to a day of meta-Vogue — the Meta Gala? — with a sneak peek from Annie Leibovitz of a December issue photo shoot, and lessons from makeup artist Pat McGrath on how to artfully contour. Celebrities and boldfaces who’d had their weddings featured on — an honor in some circles and a frequent source of derision on social media — talked about choosing from among four custom Gucci gowns for their wedding. They watched Evangelista and Marc Jacobs gossip about their group chat, and heard designer Matthieu Blazy talk about a revolutionary faux-crocodile his Bottega Veneta atelier is developing that, like real croc skin, is cool to the touch. In between, they supped on the mediocre offerings of the Condé Nast cafeteria and navigated the building’s byzantine elevator system.

For many, this was like entering paradise.

One session, hosted by longtime Vogue stylist and current global head of Condé’s fashion network Virginia Smith, contributing editor Max Ortega and fashion market and collaborations director Willow Lindley, took place in the infamous Vogue fashion closet. Attendees panned the room with their phones, their mouths agape and eyes wide. One called this “the greatest day of my life. I’m verklempt!” and looked near tears.

It was intimate, you-had-to-be-there stuff, cashing in on the cachet of “Devil Wears Prada”-esque glamour of old-fashioned magazine making. (An interview with Bottega Veneta’s Blazy, by Global Director of Vogue Runway and Vogue Business Nicole Phelps, was more revealing than any of the profiles that have run in recent issues of Vogue.) Magazines, including Vogue, see ever-shrinking ad pages; fashion fans no longer dream of editing stories but garnering followers by putting together a viral girls’-night-out fit on TikTok.

In fact, for attendees, it seemed the goings-on of Vogue are more interesting than designers or trends. “I’ve been collecting Vogue since I was 5,” said Munnyhkkie Moutinho, who traveled from Brazil to attend Forces and wore a vintage Versace suit that she had been eyeing for almost eight months. (Another version is currently listed on 1stDibs for $8,900.) She said that she was much more interested in the designs of the past than today’s runways, but that Vogue is responsible for “moving fashion forward into the future.”

High-priced events have been part of the playbook in publishers’ efforts to adapt to the internet for many years now. Last week, Condé Nast essentially admitted that another strategy, video, has not worked out as planned when CEO Roger Lynch announced in a companywide note that it would cut about 5 percent of its workforce, a decision that will largely affect the company’s in-house video department, Condé Nast Entertainment.

“This year in particular, video has been a volatile area of the industry as audiences move to places like TikTok and YouTube Shorts (up 600 percent over the last two years alone),” Lynch said. “Social video has helped drive overall video audience growth (we expect to exceed 20B video views this year, significantly beating our target); however, these new video formats haven’t found monetization models yet.”

Lynch told the New York Times earlier this year that revenue grew in 2022 but missed its target by less than 1 percent. He told the Wall Street Journal the previous year that Condé Nast turned a profit in 2021 for the first time in years.

CNE had fortified the sausage factory that treats magazine work as intellectual property, which crafted a 2021 Vanity Fair story about the controversial hipster church Hillsong into a Hulu documentary, and Vogue’s 1990s history into a Disney Plus series.

Now, the company’s video business will be embedded into the editorial brands, rather than a stand-alone entity. That makes events such as the Met Gala, Vogue World and Forces even more essential, especially in their potential for short-form video.

Amid the uncertainty of those strategies, Vogue is doubling down on old habits: celebrities, magazine magic and its own mystique. Even Vogue’s print editions seem to be about Vogue: the November issue of British Vogue has the magazine’s office, Vogue House, from which it is in the process of moving, as its cover star. Enninful, whose final issue as editor in chief will be March, is pictured frolicking around the offices alongside Kate Moss, Campbell and Karen Elson — spinning money-saving office-space consolidation into a glamorous fantasy.

Why double down on live events? “Because there’s nothing that replaces that,” said Guiducci. Yes, they live-stream the proceedings. “But in terms of a sense of occasion and energy, there’s nothing that compares. If you shot this on a soundstage and put it out as a video that dropped one day, it just simply would not have the same kind of energy. It just wouldn’t.”

When asked whether the purpose of Vogue World was philanthropy and brand-building, Guiducci insisted, “Vogue doesn’t do things that aren’t profitable.” Holgate, meanwhile, said the barometer for success for Forces is whether the attendees enjoyed themselves.

And they feed the digital content machine that a multiplatform fashion brand requires. “Our tent-pole events are a huge focus for us — not only as cultural moments, but for the content we can create around them,” said Anna-Lisa Yabsley, VP, global head of content strategy. “They act as a set for pre-, during and post-content creation. The content lives across all our platforms, in all different mediums, to create a truly immersive experience for our audience. They want to come along for the ride, and live programming is one of the ways in which they can do that.”

Like the Met Gala — though probably not at the same scale — both Vogue World and Forces provided fodder for pages and pages of content across Vogue’s websites and social media accounts (red carpet looks, live updates, “shop the edits,” street style, behind-the-scenes, backstage, “10 moments you might have missed,” etc.). According to a Vogue spokesperson, the “Vogue World: London” video was viewed 93 million times across all platforms in one week.

(Not every participant seems game to wring maximum likes out of every moment. Emily Ratajkowski, leaning against the wall before a live taping of Vogue’s podcast “The Run-Through” and flashing her expert gaze, was asked by the social team what her “Roman Empire” was. She defiantly refused to play ball.)

Forces may have served to burnish the reputation of Vogue even more than Vogue World. “When people come into One World Trade, there’s a sense you’re entering the huge machine of fashion.” Attendees took photos of one another posing moodily against the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on Jersey City, while members of Vogue 100 — the subscription service that Vogue launched in 2019 that costs up to $100,000 a year — took selfies together on the stage where Wintour had stood moments before.

“My daughter just texted me,” one attendee told another, just before Vogue Runway’s rundown of spring 2024 trends began, “and said, ‘I wish I had your life.’”

Vogue is “a cultural touchstone,” said Holgate. “Chances are, if you’re interested in fashion, love fashion, you also have a relationship with Vogue. Sometimes it’s going to be a loving relationship. Sometimes, [you wish] you were getting more of that or less of this. But ultimately, people see the two as synonymous.”

Holgate said he hoped the day would be a chance for “demystifying the industry and demystifying what goes on, and not making it feel so removed from people.”

But amid a day of movie stars such as AnnaSophia Robb, supermodels such as Evangelista and Paloma Elsesser, and megawatt designers, one person’s star power was unmatched: Wintour. Perhaps the biggest draw of these events is the chance to be in the same room as the person who is, at this point, more famous than most living designers and many of her magazine’s cover stars.

In the moments before Forces began, one attendee mentioned that Collina Strada designer Hillary Taymour’s dog, Powie, could be “an emotional support animal for us all, so that we feel calm when we see Anna.” While some attendees were dressed to the nines in faux-fur stoles and cocktail dresses, most were wearing the Wintourian uniform of long-sleeved floral dress and statement necklace with boots. When Wintour took the stage to welcome the crowd, nearly every arm in the room shot into the air, phone in hand, to capture her speech.

Rachel Tashjian is a fashion writer at The Washington Post.

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