By Kate Racovolis
In Melbourne, Australia, where I was born and raised, I would take afternoon walks down my street, lined with elm trees, to the corner store, as a break from my work and studies. Along with a bar of chocolate, a Diet Coke and some chewing gum, I would pick up a couple of magazines to work my way through over the course of a few weeks. I scanned the packed shelves of the “Women’s Interest” section. Cosmopolitan caught my eye, telling me “What Men Want,” and then I would wade through the slew of celebrity weeklies (Britney Spears was making a comeback, or Jennifer Aniston was single again), past the cooking, to the monthly glossy fashion magazines.
I was looking for some respite from my everyday routine; an opportunity to consume fashion through colorful and glamorous text and photo shoots. I was also searching for a good read, perhaps a forecast for next season’s trends, reported and written thoroughly enough so that I wouldn’t just be hearing about the color pink or an interesting silhouette.
I would hold my comfort food in one hand as I reached for Vogue, with Australian model Alice Burdeu decadently dressed in couture on the cover and, inside, a photo spread with a Christian Dior tulle dress, nipped in at the waist with a fitted bodice, that could take me as far away from my routine as possible, short of going to France, where the couturier is housed. Next would be Harper’s Bazaar (also with an Australian model on the cover), in which I might be able to find one or two items of clothing that would be within my limited means. Then Marie Claire, for the articles, which have always had a strong focus on local news relating to women. InStyle, full of red-carpet images and fashion products, made for a quick, effortless read. One day, as I continued to search the store for something that could satisfy me further, I spied a few outdated copies of Elle’s foreign editions, American and the U.K., in the corner.
Then I came upon the Australian Elle, and I was immediately drawn in. From that point on, I made sure to check it out each month.
The Australian edition—one of forty-four versions of Elle circulated in sixty countries—balanced easily digested fashion stories with robust editorial content. The magazine covered a wide range of topics, from a profile of Naomi Klein, “The World’s Most Influential Person Under 30,” on the politics of globalization, to a report on the growing incidence of fatal strokes among young people. These detailed articles were offset by fashion photo shoots, like one that showed casual work-wear in summer-appropriate pastel hues of lilac, blue and pink, and a story on how to work out in order to ready yourself for the miniskirt season. The magazine came across as a lively publication that was aimed at young-to-middle-aged women who care about the way they look, but also about other issues just as much. Elle highlighted key styles and issues, analyzing them in a way that related them to their readers.
Then in early 2002, disaster struck. Elle’s Australian edition was dead. Its publisher, Pacific Magazines, had pulled the plug, and Australia and I were left without an Elle of our own. Until . . .
One day in November of last year, the managing director of ACP Magazines, Phil Scott, announced that the publishing house would be re-launching Elle, in a joint venture with Hearst. You can imagine my excitement. After nine long years, my Elle was coming back. Scott said: “Elle is a magazine brand that is right for our times—for readers and advertisers. It uniquely covers women’s fashion, beauty, health, lifestyle and entertainment from an inspirational and achievable perspective. Its mixed and balanced content is accessible from both a global and local perspective.” This seemed like an ambitious statement to make in November 2011, with the magazine industry facing hard times.
What was Scott’s plan? How did he intend to keep Elle afloat this time? Well, we’ll never know, because Scott stepped down from his role at ACP before he could explain anything. In a vague statement one month after he announced the re-launch, he said, “Now is the right time for me, personally and professionally, to bring to a close my ten years of full-time involvement in the business and a career in journalism spanning nearly thirty-six years in total.”
And since that time, no one else has explained why Elle is now “perfect” and how the magazine’s launch will be executed—or even when. My inquiries to the publishers for more information were answered by voicemail recordings and an eerie silence in the lead-up to the launch, which is now purportedly taking place in 2013.
In light of the hush and the guessing game that Elle’s new publishers have us playing, and because for selfish reasons—I miss it—I want to see Elle return to Australia, I herewith offer, free of charge, my six-point plan for what the new-and-improved Elle should do.
1. Capture the Australian angle of covering fashion, lifestyle and culture.
The Australian angle differs from that in other countries, and it is something that Elle executed particularly well the first time around. While paying due homage to international influence—trends that emerge from Paris, New York and Milan, and names like Calvin Klein, Manolo Blahnik and Yves Saint Laurent—the magazine stayed true to its local roots by frequently putting Australian celebrities like Kylie Minogue and model Sarah Murdoch on its cover, as well as the creations of Australian-based designers like Easton Pearson, Scanlan and Theodore and Elle MacPherson Intimates.
Marina Go, Elle Australia’s former editor-in-chief, wrote her last “letter from the editor” a few months before it closed. She said that under her editorship, keeping the identity of the magazines as authentically Australian as possible was something she was passionate about and pushed for consistently with French publishing company Hachette Filipacchi. For Elle’s eighth-birthday issue, she placed Sarah Murdoch on the cover, wearing a dress made by an iconic Australian designer, Akira Isogawa. The inside features typically pulled international designers together to ensure that the global fashion industry was represented in each edition that Elle produced.
The past decade has seen an unprecedented period of growth in Australian fashion. Australian born-and-bred designers—including Sass & Bide, Kit Willow Podgornik, Josh Goot and Toni Maticevski—have recently made their way to New York Fashion Week. The fashion industry in Australia is receiving increased coverage in international media. This trend has been fostered by an abundance of new design talent coming forward with collections that encapsulate Australian style, which combines international influences with diverse, highly personal approaches. That is why Australian fashion can be so interesting: It is not all stilettos and skinny jeans. Australian women are not afraid to be different, and yet they rarely seem to look outrageous. The way I see it, Australian fashion is a hybrid of American and European fashion.
2. Borrow the best ideas from other international editions of Elle, but balance them with Australian authenticity.
One idea for Elle Australia is to draw inspiration from some of the international features, like the “My Life in Books” section in the U.K. Elle that recruits famous designers, singers, actors and the like to select their favorite books to share with Elle readers. This one-page story is, to me, an exemplary feature that combines style and fashion with intelligent literary content. It speaks to “the Elle woman” as an educated person who would like some depth in her magazines.
3. Keep its core Elle identity.
Roberta Myers, the editor-in-chief of the American edition of Elle for a little more than a decade, said: “We are modern fashion. ‘Fashion,’ the word, actually means ‘current.’ We take that word, and make it our core promise to the reader, but we are all about personal style, and we don’t dictate it.” Some fashion magazines take a more authoritative approach, leaving their readers feeling that they are not “in.” We Australians are not a group of women who particularly like to be told how we should look. We like to have access to a source of inspiration and creativity on which to consider in our personal style, but we also value the power to choose what we love and not to be considered unfashionable because we don’t follow the trends that some fashion magazines try to impose as Scripture. Australia is, after all, a country born out of people who came from a wide range of cultures around the world, the foreign influences of which make up a rich and diverse society. As a result, our interest in fashion is inherently international, and the ability to choose is a trait that has value.
Myers said of the editorial side of American Elle, which was also true of the old Australian Elle: “We don’t have a house style, and we don’t put everything through a grinder. We appreciate that women with interesting and strong experiences write about what is going on in their lives, but only if that illustrates a larger issue.” (A similar message is delivered through the writing that appears in the U.K. Elle.) I also hope that Australia will keep its new publication modest, not arrogant, in the way it covers fashion and lifestyles.
4. Covers are king.
The covers of the international Elle magazines are a critical element in differentiating editions and allowing them to take on individual identities while taking care to maintain the Elle brand. For example, the models on the cover of Elle in Asia tend to be dressed more conservatively, with less skin showing, with necklines that don’t plunge too low, in line with regional norms. The U.K. edition, on the other hand, has used many of the same cover stars as the American one, because the two cultures have similar standards. And Italy has had the tendency to strike out on its own with covers, preferring European models and celebrities.
The Australian Elle’s cover should draw attention to the fashion more than the celebrity. For its debut issue, I can see it using a less well-known model, but it could be one of Australia’s current “It” girls, like Stef Bambi, although Miranda Kerr would probably be a more obvious choice since her style is frequently celebrated in fashion magazines and on websites all over the world. Dressing Bambi in one of Chloe’s Spring/Summer 2012 pleated dresses, with a variation of stripes between mint and cream, long and flowing, with two thin straps against a white background and black text, would draw a sound balance between international and Australian fashion interpretations.
5. Keep the fashion balanced.
Ensure that the coverage of new trends in fashion are inclusive of a range of styles and prices. Many women’s magazines cover ultra-high-end fashion, and others cover only less-expensive brands, but few combine the two. In order to be accessible to the widest possible audience, give them some more affordable options. Doing this will tell your readers how well you know them, as well as your fashions and how creative your fashion desk is.
6. Hire from the right places, and then support and promote your team.
Many women’s fashion magazines are defined by their leaders. Editors have become celebrities in their own right. Elle’s success will depend on its leader—not to mention its editorial, art, fashion and beauty teams—and their passion for adding value to the coverage of fashion. Having a forward-thinking editor with extensive experience working in Australian women’s magazines is only one prerequisite. The editor of the Australian Elle should be a woman who lives, eats, breathes and sleeps fashion, and who will hire a like-minded team. I would like to see a staff that does not come from Vogue (see page 7), but perhaps from more niche fashion publications, which always seem to be more creative than the traditional monthlies. Russh is a perfect example of this—a high-end fashion publication that rarely puts out a cover with more than a few headlines (if any) and focuses on a strong photograph of a semi-famous model. Drawing inspiration from magazines that curate fashion in less conventional ways will differentiate Elle Australia from the vast range of women’s magazines that already exist on the continent.
With a growing fashion scene in Australia, both in the media and in terms of fashion design, there is indeed an opportunity for a fashion magazine like Elle to re-emerge successfully. At least it has the support of its publishers (on paper) this time around. Like its previous incarnation, it should keep a local angle, with Australian-based designers and muses, and combine it with international fashion. But it should also dare to be creative and break the rules. Australian women like me are ready for a publication like Elle to make a comeback—bigger and better than before.