Fashion through video: a live-action alternative to magazines

The suspicion is growing that the days of the slick-paper fashion periodical are numbered. Some people in media circles go so far as to say that by the end of the 1980s allm magazines, as we know them today, will be archaic. In the realm of fashion the change is under way today, well beyond the experimental stage. Innovative formats that came along with the electronics revolution are already conveying high-style news and trend reports into stores, classrooms, and private homes, via cable televisiona nd videotape cassettes.

The early-bird pioneer in this specialized field is Nicholas H. Charney, a computer-age visionary who drops remarks like "The people at Xerox say the 18 million books in the Library of Congress can be stored on 100 video discs."

Meanwhile, until that time arrives, Mr. Charney thinks we should get ready, beginning now, by welcoming the world of fashion through video. His argument is that the "you are there" immediacy of watching live-action video far surpasses and will rapidly outdate the static experience of looking at traditional print and still pictures.

"Video's the place where movies, TV films, records, radio, and magazines all meet," he says.

Five years ago Mr. Charney had the farsighted idea of forming Videofashion Inc. His company produces what he believes is the magazine of the future: a video cassette that can be played on a home television set with a Betamax or VHS recorder. He publishes his magazines in two separate forms: one is issued monthly; the other is a quarterly.

Besides Mr. Charney's electronic newcomers, the challenge to the printed word and picture is coming from cable TV. Both Elsa Klensch, a former Harper's Bazaar editor, and Edith Locke, who until recently was longtime editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle, are filming successful fashion programs that run in regular time slots on cable television out of New York.

Nick Charney, son of Massachusettes Institute of Technology geophysics professor Jule Charney and himself a graduate of MIT with a PhD in biopsychology from the University of Chicago, launched the magazine Psychology Today in the late 1960s.

"I argued with my father in 1964 that books are dead," he says. "I wanted to do a video magazine before I started Psychology Today." Now, as chairman of his New York company and publisher of its style reportage, he is fulfilling his dream.

"I feel lucky to be born at the time of the new Gutenberg and to see the potential of it," he says. "The effect on our society will be more profound than the automobile or TV. It's the way to be creative in communications."

For the news, Mr. Charney's Videofashion company sends crews at least twice a year to Paris, Milan, and around New York to film all the major designers' openings as the models come down the runways. The firm tapes more than 100 shows a year and conducts numerous interviews with name designers.

Videofashion takes further footage covering a variety of subjects: fitness, investment dressing, men's fashion, and accessories. Staffers also tape talks with top models and other stylish celebrities.

In addition, fashion houses and fashion-oriented businesses such as cosmetics and textile companies often commission the company to film special events.

"We do shoots under two basic forms," Mr. Charney explains. "By contract, sometimes to create a video merchandising film; and as news -- instantaneous video. In both cases we retain the rights to the footage. We can go into video wire-service footage." His company does in fact frequently supply film to networks and local TV stations as needed.

Afterwards, prints of the videotapes reach a number of different markets. Manufacturers use cassettes that show their own fashion collections as a way of exhibiting their lines in their showrooms. Department stores order cassettes as sales training tools, as displays in windows, and as promotional point-of-purchase come-ons for fashion or beauty merchandise.

The video magazines are another operation. They are chiefly byproducts of the film shot on contract or as news. Mr. Charney's people work up a story board and edit their latest footage to produce two types of cassette magazines.

For the trade, clips of the most current tape, supplied with audio background where necessary, are spliced together for the firm's Videofashion Monthly. A 30 -minute world report issued 12 times a year, the periodical is aimed at commercial or educational outlets.

The August issue featured highlights from fall-winter ready-to-wear showings in Europe, plus interviews with such star designers as Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Halston, and Calvin Klein. The theme of the September issue is "Beautiful Hair," and the October cassette is on the latest trends in makeup. Sold in Germany and Japan as well as the United States, the monthly is priced at

For the more than 1.5 million people in America who own a Betamax or VHS, the company produces the longer 90-minute Videofashion Quarterly. This is available through the Time-Life Video Club (Harrisburg, Pa. 17105) or the Videofashion office at 225 East 54th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022, at $29.95 per copy or $99. 95 by yearly subscription.

At the moment, video is an ultramodern way of absorbing style information. Seeing a complete fashion presentation on videotape is the closest thing to watching it live.

However, even more will be happening in automated electronic wonderland soon. In Mr. Charney's view, marketing and development of the new video discs, which have seemingly infinite storage possibilities, will bring about the virtual extinction of print.

"Science has everything a book has and more," says Nick Charney, "but we're only at the beginning."

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