Amongst a flurry of media interest earlier this year, Edwina McCann was appointed Vogue Australia’s editor-in-chief. (Parent company NewsLifeMedia’s chief executive, Nicole Sheffield, and an upcoming Ruby lunch series guest speaker, delivered the shock news.) It was a move that ended the decade-or-so-long reign of the then incumbent editor-in-chief, Kirstie Clements, and left rival fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar without an editor.
Following a “little gardening leave”, Edwina took up her position in June and has been hard at work putting in place the changes needed to take the Vogue brand into the future.
Edwina is in her Alexandria offices in downtown Sydney.
Alexandria, once the home of tanneries, margarine factories and printing presses, has become somewhat more business park than chemical horror pit. There’s an hour spare before she must race to a meeting with her CEO to discuss strategy and delivery, and, I expect, new fashion directions, including Muppet-like statement shoes and mink covered Birkenstocks.
At the time of the shake-up announcement in May, Edwina had been editing rival prestige fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar for three years, and outselling her Vogue rival. (Kellie Hush, another fashion stalwart, recently took up the Harper’s editorship.)
Prior to Harper’s, Edwina was Fashion Features Director at Grazia. Earlier in her career she spent more than eight years as fashion editor for The Australian. If anyone is on fashion’s pulse, Edwina is. She’s worked with the likes of Karin Upton-Baker, Marion Hume and Alison Veness-McGourty. Her fashion credentials span more than 20 years and she began them at Vogue in late 1992 working on Baz Luhrmann’s guest editorship issue.
“Nancy Pilcher was the editor. Vogue editors have a tendency to stick. I was working as an assistant and my first shoot was with Karin Upton-Baker, the then deputy editor. A few years later I worked with her [Karin] again when she edited Harper’s Bazaar.
“We were photographing all these amazing top Australian business women for a major feature, and had all these clothes from Armani and Chanel for these women to wear. This was at a time in magazines before retouching photos could be done so easily. It meant we had to hem pants properly and be really vigilant about creases and fit. I remember spending most of my time lying on the floor pulling on pant legs to ensure there were no creases or bunches and that the leg-line was sharp and straight.”
Ironing out wrinkles
Onward and upward from there: Edwina is now responsible for ironing out any wrinkles in the Vogue Australia brand across both print and digital platforms.
Ensconced in her office at the end of a long room filled with desks and industrious looking young women tapping on keyboards and surrounded by stuff – press releases, ribbons, invitations, weird desk ‘objects’, shoes, gym gear – she is just finishing up an email and pencilling something into a large A3 size notebook marked ‘journal’ when I am ushered into the room.
Edwina and I worked together on Harper’s Bazaar in the late 1990s. Back then it was a very siloed existence. Fashion and features had little to do with one another, except to wonder at editorial planning meetings what on earth the other did. As for thinking the online world would take-over and irrevocably changing print media and retail: that was like believing in ‘extra-terrestrial first contact’ – possible but so not likely.
“Understanding the big picture,” Edwina says with an expansive gesture, “is what’s important. It’s seamless now. No matter where Vogue is found – in print, online, on the street, in social media – it’s the brand that remains the important issue not the medium through which it is being delivered.
“Online and social media opportunities are endless,” she continues, “but they must be utilised and developed strategically and sympathetically and in line with the brand as a whole. It’s no longer possible or sensible to distinguish between print and online. Vogue is a brand we work on every day in any number of ways.”
The line between art and commerce
The fine line in this, she believes, is ensuring traditional print practices and mediums are funded appropriately but that enough is also sensibly invested in the risky area of developing new mediums, many of which are still in their infancy (or ‘even more foetal’) and so remain untested and untried.
“The printed newsstand magazine model and all that business encompasses remain so important financially and for creative reasons, but the commercial potential of the online and social media space is vast and no one is sure what’s economically viable in there just yet,” Edwina continues. “The best financial decision I’ve made so far is investing in ensuring job titles and descriptions cover the future. By that, I mean, getting everyone to think of our work as driving the Vogue brand. We understand the avenues and paths in which we work now to do that, and we’re prepared for the future because we already have the goal.”
The detail and systems it appears are something you develop as the path becomes more apparent, which is where up-skilling staff has become a priority.
“Magazines,” explains Edwina, “have never really had a news desk culture or that news reporting discipline, where you learn to get down in a short concise way the ‘who, what, where, when and how’ of a situation or story. Now, with posting online and providing content for the site and social media, everyone has to be involved and have basic journalist skills. Those news practices have begun to filter into the printed magazine too, and I notice the headings and lead offs have more immediacy, more information, better providing the reader with the facts they need to orientate themselves in the story.”
The need to supply exclusive online content and the ravenous nature of the medium, require everyone to be on board. Roles, such as art directors, features directors, etc, which traditionally had no direct voice, now do. Everyone has to regularly communicate with the reader – the consumer.
Where to for printed magazines
“Printed magazines,” Edwina believes, “are going to become more like books, collectible pieces. Online is where we’ll go for news, lighter features, to interact with the brand, and, of course, to see and keep up with fashion and what is happening.”
From the site’s Home Page, which has displaced Vogue Forums as the preferred landing page, the Fashion tab is where most consumers go first, indicating Vogue’s role as trend setter and endorser remains paramount.
Edwina quickly discovered that her consumers also wanted to hear about ‘daily life as an editor’. In many people’s minds working in the media is a glamour job. Try and dispel the myth and you’ll hit a brick wall – it’s called being ‘aspirational’ and Edwina has no inclination toward dispelling anything.
Glamour jobs and Supermodels
“It’s why people find the position of editor so hard to give up,” says Edwina. “Fashion, and especially the name Vogue, open doors. I’ve met and spoken with all sorts of people through fashion. Without a brand like Vogue behind me, I would not have met half of them. I know it’s the brand that counts and I am just benefitting, but there’s no denying both the position and the work are fun and exciting. I’m busy in this incredible creative environment. I meet celebrities, hang out with models and designers, speak with Prime Ministers, plan shoots and stories and steer the course of one of the world’s most famous and well-known brands. Experientially it has no rival as a job.”
And what of the effects of the online environment? Are bloggers and social media, with their ability to identify community movements and to react quickly and flexibly to change and new ideas, usurping the place of the traditional magazine and editor? Is Vogue able to say it sets trends or does it establish and endorse what online communities and consumers have or are already acknowledging and identifying.
Edwina’s experience is that Vogue does both – sets and establishes trends – and that to ignore what her online consumers, social media and the internet are telling her is happening will be at her own and the brand’s peril. However, Vogue still has its role as the trendsetter. The runway this past season, she notes, still featured those ex-Eastern-bloc-emaciated-pale-looking model types, but Vogue has turned its gaze to the new Supermodels – “we’re looking back to the Nineties (with a twist) so expect to see the return of the name model, curves, bust, formidable presence and all.
“We’re interested in the style of model Victoria’s Secret [the women’s lingerie and fashion label] features. We want to get away from that super thin look and back to something that says, I eat. In fact, there’s a model coming through who’s moved from swim-suit model to Vogue cover girl; that phenomenon hasn’t happened since Elle MacPherson. We also have a whole group of readers who weren’t even around when Linda [Evangelista], Christy [Turlington], Naomi [Campbell], etc, stalked the runways.”
What to wear
Meat on the bones again, so what can we expect to see for the coming summer party season in fashion?
“Colour and print,” exclaims Edwina.
“I know, editors always say those two things, but colour and lots of really interesting prints are in. Editors don’t like it when designers steer clear of colour in a season. It’s so drab on a cover.”
Edwina also believes more shoppers will be buying colour: “We no longer live in a world where you see pieces in a magazine or the shop window, go in and try it in black because that’s the safe option and you don’t want to waste a lot of money. Shopping online, where the screen is the sales space and people know their size and have an idea about what style suits, you’ll buy it in colour because the price makes the risk reasonable and colour sells.
Tips for the season: Expect to see a lot of colour and print on the streets not just on a few game early adopters. There is no single look in shoes this season. It’s not about a particular toe or heel shape. Instead, it’s about having a statement shoe. It could be fur covered or a sky-high heel in red crocodile, a kitten heel or the perfect flat. The shoe just has to say something about who you are in the particular situation in which you’re wearing it.
For more, visit www.vogue.com.au
Edwina McCann is our guest speaker in December for the Ruby lunch series at ARIA Restaurant. Tickets will be on sale soon.