"Ralph Lauren said to me many years ago that "I don't want to be too hot and I don't want to be too cool, I just want to be part of the conversation, like Nike or Coca-Cola,'" says Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor in chief since 1988. "And that 's very much how I feel about the magazine. Of course we want to show what's new -- designers, actors, politicians, opera singers, whatever's important to our readers -- but at the same time, we have to not frighten the horses, so to speak."
The horses remain safely in the stable, but Vogue is having a pretty hot year all the same. Its ad pages through October increased more than 9% to 2,125, fewer only than Brides and People, according to the Media Industry Newsletter. Monthlies as a whole slipped 1.5% in the same period. Its September issue ran 584 ad pages, far more than any other fashion magazine.
"Despite a tough economic climate, Vogue has showcased impressive growth in ad pages and circulation -- not easily done in today's marketplace," says Robin Steinberg, exec VP-director of publisher investment and activation at MediaVest USA.
Vogue's first-half newsstand sales also leapt 13% while the industry slumped, partly but definitively not wholly because of a great Lady Gaga cover in March, which may have been a little riskier than it looked to readers on the coasts. "There are readers -- we heard from a few of them -- who thought she was not the traditional Vogue cover choice," Ms. Wintour says. "But that 's sort of why we like to do it. We don't always want to be taken for granted."
"When I first came to Vogue and put Madonna on the cover, that was considered maybe not the right move for Vogue at the time," she adds. "You need to be able to, not reinvent yourself, but be confident enough to do those things."
Then there are the spoils of a September 2010 redesign to Vogue.com, which drew 790,000 unique visitors in August, up 124% from 352,000 a year earlier, according to ComScore. Even as the site grows in scale, however, Vogue steers it away from the downdraft depressing ad rates online. "We limit the number of sponsors per year," says Susan Plagemann, who left Hearst's Marie Claire to join Vogue as VP-publisher in January 2010. "We really believe the website is just as much an extraordinary experience as the magazine. It's not a place for our advertisers to trade down in any way, shape or form."
Vogue's influence keeps spreading, too, beyond media proper. Fashion's Night Out, the shopping promotion that Ms. Wintour created in 2009 and proudly labels "not an elite event," had another big September. "When I was driving out to Macy's that first time with Michael Kors on my way to meet the mayor, I just hoped someone would show up," Ms. Wintour says. "Next month all my colleagues, editors in chief, are going to Tokyo to celebrate Fashion's Night Out there. It's taken all kinds of dimensions that I had no idea would happen."