Multiple Readerships

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The above description of how an editor goes about putting together a fashion story has quietly raised the issue of competing forces - both within the fashion world itself (fashion editor, stylist, art director and photographer) and between the interests of readers, on the one hand, and those of a magazine’s advertisers, on the other. The omnipresence of advertising of one sort or another in a fashion magazine has led to considerable academic criticism concerning the relationship between advertising and editorial matter (e.g. McCracken 1993). Such criticism, however, tends not to take account of the delicate balancing act required of magazine editors who cannot afford to take an ‘either-or’ attitude towards their two main audience constituents:

“When it comes to fashion and beauty, we have to cooperate with advertisers subtly. We borrow different clothes for our fashion pages and have to choose our brands very carefully. We try to balance the interests of both readers and advertisers by representing everything. We can’t publish whole product ranges, so we take turns among different products put out by different fashion and beauty companies.”[i]

Although a lot of academic writing has focused on the role of advertising in the construction of women’s and fashion magazines (e.g. Winship 1987: 38-41), the point that I wish to make here is that fashion magazine editors are not just torn between the interests of their readers and those of their advertisers. Rather, they have to address several different constituencies within the fashion world as well.

“What you should realise about an international fashion magazine is that there’s a secret ranking of its contents among those working in the fashion industry. An A Class magazine is one whose fashion stories appeal to and are readily understood by the international fashion village. A B Class magazine is allowed some local content, while C Class magazines are more or less entirely local.
“This means that a fashion magazine’s fashion pages are crucially important. They have to be made abroad for us to get international recognition… But making fashion stories abroad in the way that we do is extremely expensive. I mean, it costs us something like $2.25 to $2.75 million a year[ii] to have 60 stories, ranging from six to twelve pages each, produced. This is an enormous – and in some respects meaningless – sum of money. But what it does do is get international recognition for Vogue Nippon in the fashion village – that is, among photographers, models, makeup artists, PR people, and so on. It’d be easy to lift pages from the American and British editions of Vogue and pay very little for the stories, but then there would be no creation. So far as the fashion village is concerned, it is a magazine’s ability to be creative that counts. And it is the fact that we produce such high quality pages that also attracts advertisers.
“So my aim has been to make Vogue Nippon part of the fashion village. And that means being treated as an insider, not an outsider – which in itself enables us to get quick and immediate access to information and news, because we are seen as an integral part (nakama) of the fashion village.”[iii]

This tripartite, multiple audience property of fashion magazine publishing becomes very clear once one focuses on the contents of a title.[iv] Page after page is devoted to the activities and public appearances of fashion designers (either as individuals or as a group of professionals), fashion houses, models, celebrities, photographers, hair stylists, make-up artists, and magazine staff themselves. In this way, magazines present not just the clothing that they designate as fashion, but the people and institutions that constitute the fashion world, at both local and global levels.
There are important underlying objectives in this structuring of contents. Firstly, since the fashion industry is marked by continuous change, those involved necessarily seek to impose stability on the instability wrought by the incessant quest for new trends. Magazines assist in this task by commenting on, highlighting and publicising fashion designers and their collections to create an overall image of ‘fashion’ itself, its history and development. In particular, they serve to link new trends back to previous seasons in order to create a reasonably harmonic continuity and logic of progression.
Secondly, as part of this process of stabilization, magazines seek to establish connections among the various different constituents of the fashion industry. They thus print regular features on such topics as Le Who’s who de la mode,[v] and Who’s bagged who: fashion houses go on a shopping spree,[vi] in which they show - usually through ‘genealogical’ lines joining a series of portrait photographs - connections between a master and apprentice designer; a film star who is ‘muse’ of the former and recently selected ‘face’ of a fashion house, headed by a man who ‘discovered’ the model who is the apprentice designer’s girlfriend, but who previously dated a musician, whose own daughter is fashion editor in a well-known magazine, and so on and so forth. In this respect, magazines not only make known (at a superficial level) the organization of the fashion world; they also situate that world within neighbouring social worlds of the film, music, publishing, art and entertainment industries. In other words, they make the suppliers of fashion socially relevant to readers who are the industry’s consumers.
At the same time, magazines also feature their own roles as intermediaries in the fashion industry’s value chain, bringing in fashion editors, stylists, photographers, models, make-up artists, hair stylists, and so on - as well as the activities that they carry out as part of their everyday work… and play. A fashion story, for example, will depict backstage scenes from a fashion show (Bigger is Better)[vii] (Figure 3); a fashion shoot (Mode no shuyaku ni henshin shita, sweat)[viii] (Figure 4); or a model at work as a guest fashion editor − arriving at the magazine’s offices, meeting a designer, watching a catwalk collection, and casting a model for an upcoming shoot (Fashion Week)[ix] (Figure 5). In this way, magazines provide an ‘inside’ view of the fashion world as a means of building intimacy with their readers.
Thirdly, as part of this production of social relevance, and precisely because the fashion system has become, like so many other creative industries, a system of names, magazines function to make those names familiar, and the work of those names known, to readers. This often involves blatant name-dropping (as well as inventive interpretations of logical causality). For example:

Toscan du Plantier’s scrupulously arranged closets at the legendary Art Deco Mamounia hotel are testament to her organizational skills, brimful of Vuitton, Lacroix, and Dior shoes. There is also a saleful of sparkling gewgaws by Cartier (for whom she is an ambassador). In short, Toscan du Plantier is the essence of faultlessly groomed Parisian chic.[x]

Fourthly, through strategies of structural stabilization, social relevance creation and naming, magazines also provide readers with an entry into the consumption of the products supplied by the fashion industry. This they do in two main ways. In the first place, they juxtapose products in such a way that consumers learn how to move from low- to high-ticket items (from perfume to dresses, by way of shoes and accessories), as their economic well-being permits. In the second, they endow fashion items - a Chanel dress, a Prada bag, Jimmy Chow shoes, Cartier jewellery - with a symbolic value (or capital) that a consumer may then exchange in an economic transaction. For instance:

Pukka Party Cartier International Polo at Windsor Great Park was one of the most glamorous events of the year. Not only did Cartier command a star-studded guest list, they somehow arranged for the sun to make a brief appearance, too.[xi]

As part of this process of linking (and creating?) supply and demand, fashion magazines make full use of both models and celebrities who perform a triple function. First, they sell the clothes, accessories and makeup that they are shown wearing in fashion photographs (‘Rebecca Romijn-Stamos in an Yves Saint Laurent top and Gucci pants’).[xii] Second, they sell fashion magazines themselves, by appearing on the cover of each title’s every issue (Winship 1987: 9). Third, by locating themselves, or being located in, a fashion context they sell the fashion and entertainment world itself (‘Nicole Kidman in Christian Dior at the Academy Awards’).[xiii]
Models and celebrities function at both top (supply) and bottom (demand) ends of fashion production. On the one hand, they are photographed on designer collection catwalks and at ‘red carpet’ events where they are portrayed as virtually unattainable beauty and glamour role models, living in dream homes, with ideal partners, and so on. On the other, they are portrayed as ordinary people, who wear ordinary clothes in their everyday lives (e.g. Angela Lindvall in her own style),[xiv] and who are subject to the customary pangs of broken love affairs, and despair brought on by drug or alcohol addiction (e.g. Purr! Naomi’s feline fine).[xv]
The importance of the interaction between these different reader constituencies should not be under-estimated. As intimated in the extract from my interview with the editor of Vogue Nippon cited at the beginning of this analysis, fashion magazines address other fashion magazine and industry personnel as part of a strategy of legitimization and incorporation in the ‘fashion village’ that they so busily advertise to their general readers (see Figure 5). In particular, a title on the periphery can in this way build a cache that enables its editor to gain privileged access as an insider, rather than outsider, to the latest technical developments, business information, and social gossip taking place at the very core of the fashion world. It is this combination of information and gossip that can then be relayed, ideally ahead of other magazines, to the general public.


This essay has applied Becker’s (1982) analysis of art worlds as ‘networks of people cooperating’ to the fashion world, and shown how sensibility, public taste and aesthetic or stylistic discernment in fashion are, as in art, influenced by a long series of intermediaries − designers, fashion editors, stylists, photographers, models, make-up artists, celebrities, connoisseurs, critics, and others who together develop some sort of taste standards and criteria of aesthetic value in relation to the collections offered every season in the fashion capitals of the world.
The argument developed has been as follows. If, as I think Bourdieu (1993: 141) is right in arguing about cultural production in general, the sociology of fashion ‘takes as its object the field of cultural production and, inseparably from this, the relationship between the field of production and the field of consumers’, then we need to consider carefully how that relationship is created and sustained. Reception cannot take place without a special institution which serves that reception and which thus brings about a fruitful dialectic between producer and consumer. In fashion, this institution is the fashion magazine.
As intermediaries between producer and consuming public, fashion magazines exist to teach the lay public why fashion should be important in their lives, what the latest trends may be, who are the names that drive them, and where the clothes themselves may be purchased. In other words, they legitimate fashion and the fashion world in cultural terms (cf. Moulin 1987: 76). They make meaningful connections between things that seem to be essentially independent; they give them social lives by creating an imaginary world about them; they create awareness in participants of the field of fashion in which they work; and they provide historical and aesthetic order in a world whose products, by their very seasonality and potentially chaotic quantity, are likely to go unnoticed (cf. Blumer 1969: 290).[xvi] In this way, a fashion magazine helps form a collective concept of what ‘fashion’ is, although - during the course of its administrations - aesthetically irrelevant forces such as snobbery, elitism, trendiness, and a fear of lagging behind the arbiters of prevailing taste are obvious all along the production-consumption continuum (Hauser 1982: 431).[xvii]
The production and reception of fashion are thus interdependent, both in terms of communication and of the organization of production and consumption. The ‘creative act’ of designing fashion is in a state of constant flux because it is influenced by the attitudes of the buying public and intermediary fashion world. These more or less determine what innovations can and cannot be made. ‘Too sharp and radical a break with what is already in vogue may end up as a massive flop in the marketplace’ (Davis 1995: 126). Designers need mediators and interpreters of one sort or another, therefore, to ensure that their work is properly understood and that this appreciation then translates into sales. In other words, like politics, art, or academia, fashion is marked by a struggle to enlist followers, and one task of fashion magazines is to convert the agnostic. In this way, the reception of fashion is a product of social cooperation among those who form ‘a community of faith’, based on a collective belief - or misrecognition (Bourdieu 1993: 138) - in the power of haute couture and prêt-à-porter. It is this faith that drives the fashion system.
The apostles who spread the word, who portray and interpret designers’ collections each season − giving them a meaning which readers can cling to, removing all the strangeness that accompanies novelty, reconciling what at first glance may be confusing with the already familiar and thereby creating continuity between previous, present and future trends − are those working for the fashion magazines. Their job is not simply to appreciate new stylistic trends (often by setting up a series of oppositions between these and the previous season’s styles [Entwistle 2000: 237]), but to recognize new discoveries, re-evaluations, and reinterpretations of styles that have been misunderstood and/or belong to the past. If designers create the form of fashion items, therefore, fashion magazines create their legend (Hauser 1982: 468). In this process, they fabricate mythical personages out of designers and the fashion houses for which they work, as well as of other members of the fashion world. This leads to a situation where collections may be judged not by their intrinsic worth, but by the names with which they are labelled.[xviii]
At the same time, the public needs fashion magazines since they help their readers distinguish what is ‘good’ from what is ‘inferior’ in the apparent chaos of each season’s collections in New York, London, Milan and Paris. In this way, magazines help transform fashion as an abstract idea and aesthetic discourse into everyday dress (Entwistle 2000: 237). This does not mean, though, that they address a single, unified public. Rather, there is a plurality of publics, each of which brings to bear its own predilections on what magazine editors select as part of their process of legend-making − based on culture, lifestyle, age, and prevailing gender norms.
Aspers (2001) has argued that two distinct types of market operate in tandem in the fashion industry - one aesthetic, the other commercial or economic. This broadly parallels the general distinction made between ‘culture’ and ‘economy’, as well as that between magazine-as-cultural product and magazine-as-commodity, although it brings the market as an institution into sharper economic focus. With this I have no quarrel. What does make me uneasy, though, is Aspers’s use of the term, ‘aesthetic’. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, ‘aesthetic’ tends to suggest an appreciative unity that rarely - if ever - exists in any creative world. Different participants bring to bear different sets of aesthetic - or, to use a less loaded word, appreciative - values at different points in the commodity’s path from production to consumption, primarily because they have different ambitions in mind with regard to the final disposal of that commodity. These competing sets may well exist side by side (as when a fashion photographer thinks carefully about the equipment he is using while simultaneously composing a picture in such a way that it is aesthetically pleasing), but they may also be partially incorporated in the other(s) as required (as when a photographer using digital equipment convinces a client that an offending wisp of hair can be removed from the model’s face at the click of a computer mouse, and thereby perfect the image in the client’s eyes). Every ‘aesthetic’ market, however, is marked by a plurality of competing aesthetics, which need to be accounted for.
Secondly, when applying aesthetic criteria, people almost invariably invoke factors other than the purely aesthetic in their judgements. A respected designer, for instance, will receive rave reviews for his work, simply because he is a respected designer and not because of the clothes he shows (and woe betide the magazine that dares to be lukewarm in its review [Fairchild 1989: 146]). Of this Aspers is himself clearly aware. He notes how photographers build up social capital through skills, conventions and trust, making their work as much to do with people in the photography and related markets as with technical knowledge. The fact that they use agents also enables them to avoid talking about money, and to focus instead on technical and aesthetic issues in their interaction with fashion stylists, hair stylists, make-up artists and so on (Aspers 2000, Chapter 3).
This suggests that the overarching concept of ‘aesthetic’ needs to be broken down into its constituent parts before being reassembled. For instance, a fashion designer views an item of clothing somewhat differently from a photographic-opportunity-conscious film star, on the one hand, and from a sales-conscious buyer, on the other. Whereas the first brings a professional’s technical eye to bear on an item’s ‘aesthetic’ elements (its material, weave, cut, and so on), the second considers the uses to which she can put her dress, the appreciative impact it will have on her admirers, and her enhanced social image as a celebrity when her name is linked with that of a famous designer. Together, these four sets of values constitute a symbolic exchange value. The buyer, on the other hand, looks hard at how best to convert this symbolic exchange into commodity exchange value leading to sales, turnover, and profit.
Previous research over the years (e.g. Moeran 1996, 1997) suggests that there are six different values that different people in the fashion world bring to bear on an item of clothing (Figure 6). Some pride themselves on the unusual uses to which they put things: a tie brought into service as a belt around the waist, or a pair of chopsticks pinning loose hair behind the head. Others are concerned primarily with technical aspects of their work as professionals (lens aperture, film and shutter speed, for the old-fashioned photographer), although they also pride themselves on their aesthetic vision (model’s pose, background lighting, set colour coordination, and so on), and prefer to work with people whom they know and like. Yet others think almost entirely about the social world in which they find themselves, and couldn’t care less how a particular dress is made, or even how much it costs, provided it is made by the ‘right’ designer and looks ‘right’ for them on the ‘right’ occasion. Still others might value the name of a particular designer or fashion house, because it adds kudos to their store, but they view the fashion items coming from that designer as a commodity that must be sold. Thus their appreciation of a dress or suit takes on a rather different nuance from that of the disinterested ‘creative’ professional, since it is closer to an ideal consumer’s taste (which itself, is influenced by all kinds of social, cultural and symbolic factors).
The coexistence of parallel markets in the fashion world, then, is not in question. What to call them is. My suggestion is that we drop the term ‘aesthetic’ in favour of symbolic exchange and that we try to overcome the potential fuzziness of ‘symbolic’ (not to mention ‘cultural’) by focusing on four elements that constitute symbolic exchange: technical, appreciative, social, and use values. These are brought to bear in different combinations and with different emphases by different members of the fashion world, depending on their internal location along the value chain between supply and demand, and on their habitus formed externally in the society in which they live and work.
If we accept this proposal, the next step is to discover whether each of the values constituting symbolic exchange value can be converted into actual sums of money. Is it possible to measure in economic terms the symbolic exchange effect of Nicole Kidman’s wearing Christian Dior at the Academy Awards, or of Vogue Nippon’s shooting all its fashion pages abroad to gain acceptance by the ‘fashion village’? In other words, can people, technical skills, aesthetic appreciation and practical imagination be reduced to a price tag? Is culture ever without one?

[i] Interview, Olivia Wong, Editorial Director, Marie Claire Hong Kong, April 27, 2001.
[ii] ¥250-300 million in local currency.
[iii] Interview, Kazuhiro Saito, Editor-in-Chief, Vogue Nippon, September 21, 2004.
[iv] Painters and sculptors also deal with multiple, more or less distinct, publics (Rosenberg and Fliegel 1970).
[v] Elle France, March 9, 1998.
[vi] Vogue UK, October 2000.
[vii] Elle UK, June 2002.
[viii] Figaro Japon, April 2001.
[ix] Harper’s Bazaar USA, February 2002.
[x] BothVogue USA, March 2005.
[xi] Vogue UK, October 2000.
[xii] Harper’s Bazaar USA, December 2001.
[xiii] Harper’s Bazaar USA, March 1998.
[xiv] Vogue UK, October 2000.
[xv] Marie Claire UK, February 2002.
[xvi] The history of fashion, like fashion criticism, tends towards a doctrine of clothing genres and techniques and in this respect resembles the history of art and art criticism (Hauser 1982: 429).
[xvii] We find here that ‘the dialectics of pretension and distinction that is the basis of the transformations of the field of production reappears in the field of consumption’ (Bourdieu 1993: 135).
[xviii] As Bourdieu (1993: 138) acidly points out: ‘if you’re a fashion journalist, it is not advisable to have a sociological view of the world’.

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