Still Haute, Less Haughty. The dowager queen of women's magazines gets a makeover from the new editor in chief. THE FACE OF FASHION
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The headlines have become fun and punful, almost like Britain's Tatler (which was remade by Tina Brown, who recently revived Vanity Fair). Wintour built up the back of the magazine with a new section, ``Talking Fashion'' - gossip in the vein of rival John Fairchild's ``W'' and ``Women's Wear Daily.''Skip to next paragraph
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So far, Wintour is on target: Sales for the November issue were up 11.6 percent over last year's issue. Advertisers, analysts, and observers are watching closely. Most are positive about the changes.
``I think the new look is great! What a visual impact!... It was so much more lively than what they've been doing,'' says Ms. Steele, a teacher in the graduate division of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. ``It's much more youthful. More Elle-ish.''
INDEED Vogue now looks younger, like its closest competitor, American Elle. Although Vogue still reigns in circulation and advertising, Elle has moved in quickly after only three years, boasting a circulation of more than 825,000 - nearly two-thirds that of Vogue.
Elle's appeal: a younger look, bold graphics, ethnic variety, and less expensive, more innovative fashions on the editorial pages. Market studies place the Elle reader in a higher income bracket than the Vogue reader (with a median age of 26, to Vogue's 30). Last year Elle surpassed Vogue's long-time rival, Harper's Bazaar.
Elle hit the women's marketplace ``like a lightning rod,'' says Leo Scullin, media director at New York's Young and Rubicam advertising firm. ``It has dared to be different, and dared to deliver a dramatically different product to the marketplace with great success.''
Just as Elle shook a host of women's magazines, so they threaten Vogue. Some competition comes from within the Cond'e Nast stable: cutting-edge Details, revamped Self (which is under new editor Anthea Disney, third editor in three years). Even Glamour (highest circulation) and Mademoiselle are taking on a fresher look.
Hearst's Good Housekeeping is billing itself as `The New Traditionalist,'' reorienting toward the growing ranks of new and working mothers. Sassy and Model are newer entrants. Even Ms. is shedding its feminist image and looking more celebrity.
VOGUE'S circulation has been up and down over the past five years, with a dip in 1986 - the year after Elle moved in. Ad sales have been flat lately. But if it seems obvious that Vogue is competing with Elle, most insiders say there is not a magazine war at all; there are too many magazines for that.
``There's a little bit of a tempest in a teapot here.... It's really not a big deal at all,'' says magazine analyst Neal Vitale, president of McNamee Consulting Co., Inc., in New York, noting that Vogue, like other magazines, is simply ``updating, sort of moving into the '90s.''
``Vogue was in for an evolutionary overhaul,'' says Mr. Scullin, insisting that ``it would be unfair ... to say that they're changing because of Elle.''
Wintour herself insists she is not competing with Elle, but simply making Vogue better. ``It's not so much youthful as it is a change of attitude ... more accessible, more approachable, more friendly.'' The dowager queen of women's magazines has been known more for being haute and haughty.
``Vogue will always be Vogue,'' says Alexander Liberman, editorial director of Cond'e Nast since 1962 after being Vogue's art director since 1941. ``But as fashion changes, there are evolutions ... [this] is really an evolution.''
``How do you compete?'' he asks. You don't. ``You produce the best magazine you know how.''
Meanwhile, Hachette's Elle appears to have felt tremors from the quake across town. According to publisher Peter Diamandis, Elle's creative director, Regis Pagniez, promises to ``completely remake'' his magazine.
Or maybe he's choosing to ignore the competition. On January's Elle cover, the model's eyes are closed.