Richard B. Stolley, People magazine’s founding managing editor (from 1974-1982) said it first:
Young is better than old. Pretty is better than ugly. Rich is better than poor. Film stars outsell television and music stars. Anything sells better than politics, and nothing sells better than a dead celebrity.
For four decades, Editors have followed this formula, but now, hard data is proving that the winds have shifted. Movie stars are simply no longer the gold standard for selling magazines. Even superstars like Queen Beyoncé are being dethroned by socialites like Kim Kardashian. Reality bites, huh Beyoncé?
A recent article in The New York Times informed that Glamour magazine’s May 2013 issue featuring Lauren Conrad, former reality star of The Hills, was the year’s best-selling issue. American Vogue’s best-selling cover in the first four months of 2013 featured Beyoncé, but incidentally it sold only 340,000 copies to Kardashian’s 500,072 copies of Cosmopolitan magazine. It would appear that after ten years of having movie star celebrities rein the covers of glossies, a notable shift in the celeb world has occurred.
While film stars mourn a bygone era when their personal lives were shrouded in mystery, today’s faces that sell magazine covers are not necessarily the ones that readers believe to be not the most beautiful, or desirable, or successful, or enviable—but rather, #TheMostAccessible.
Television, which the film industry might consider to be akin to “ready-to-wear”, if one were to make a fashion parallel, is showcasing increasingly highly produced series like Mad Men, Homeland, and The Vampire Diaries. These TV stars, who we welcome into our homes on a weekly basis, are also often accessible via Twitter and Instagram.
In today’s “I can do anything, be anyone” world, everyone is crossing over between the fashion, music, film, and television industries. Robert Pattinson is the face of Dior—OK, nothing new there, as Dior always banks on movie stars—but what about Blake Lively being the face of Première perfume by Gucci, and Chanel in 2011? Will Kim Kardashian ever be the face of Balenciaga? Probably not. But then again, who knows? The beauty of fashion is captured by the paradigm that anything is possible.
While the ultimate female star to have on the cover of a magazine remains Angelina Jolie, it is not because she’s an Academy Award winning actress/director. Like the late Elizabeth Taylor, a pioneering fundraiser for Aids research, Jolie stands for something bigger, too, and let’s face it—she also stands for Brad. And who doesn’t warm to the idea of a side helping of potatoes with their steak?
As social media and television continue to act as levelers in the celebrity industry, until the world stops judging a book by its cover, expect Editors to put your favorite stars on the cover. So don’t be surprised if one day Vogue‘s cover model is literally the girl next door.
The question is this: is putting people that the general public deem “approachable” on magazine covers—in order to drive sales—”good” for fashion?
Taking a page out of the Hedi Slimane files, this Editor’s answer is: the end result is less important than the conversation.