Italian Vogue Selling Like the New iPhone

U.S. Marketers and Publishers Might Want to Take Note

By Published on .

Carol Watson Carol Watson
"Maybe in our country it is not the best idea. But I don't care. I think it is not my problem if they don't like it -- it's their problem."

That was Italian Vogue editor in chief Franca Sozzani's response to the fear that the July issue would not sell. The only thing that might be bothering her now is not printing enough copies to send to the U.S., considering all the buzz.

Italian Vogue's July issue is dedicated to black models. Coverage included a look at Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Liya Kebede, Jourdan Dunn, Alek Wek and Pat Cleveland. Reports in The New York Times, NBC's "Today" show and the fashion trades added to consumer and industry buzz, creating a demand that newsstand operators I talked to had never seen before for a foreign publication (especially one in a language that most of the the buyers probably couldn't read). Click here for a guided tour of the issue.

Tracking the issue down was a journey in itself. Even in New York City, the few newsstands that carried the issue sold out within hours (one newsstand went through 400 copies). There were waiting lists and prepaid orders. Many of the customers, according to newsstand staffers I talked to, bought all four versions with different covers as keepsakes. At $16 a copy (one newsstand wanted to charge me $20 to prepay for one from his next batch), it was a circulation director's fantasy come true.

Ms. Sozzani said her decision was influenced by a New York protest group as well as Barack Obama's success in the U.S. presidential primaries. According to the Telegraph, the move to create an issue dedicated to black models was "in reaction to recent anger over the reluctance of fashion magazines to feature black models on their covers. Many industry insiders claim black girls are not used because they just 'do not sell.'"

It seems that Italian Vogue proved smart U.S. marketers wrong.

Beverly Smith, a fashion/celebrity/lifestyle expert and former International Fashion Director at Vibe, comments that the issue is a great thing for the models and industry. She says that although there were no ads featuring black models, the models had an opportunity to take advantage of the moment and "make it work!" The glaring lack of ads with black models in the issue illustrates the black-and-white reality of the opportunities for black models in the industry and tells the story better than anything else could. Hopefully, advertisers will see the missed branding and revenue opportunities in ignoring the power of these talented women.

Photographer Steven Meisel said: "I thought, it's ridiculous, this discrimination. It's so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race -- every kind of prejudice. ... I have asked my advertising clients so many times, 'Can we use a black girl?' They say no. Advertisers say black models don't sell."

Jerri DeVard, a former senior VP at Verizon Communications, joined Veronica Webb, who is featured in the issue, on the "Today" show to promote the issue and shared that ad pages were up 30% in the July issue of Italian Vogue. Ms. DeVard, who is credited with holding Verizon's ad agencies accountable for the diversity of talent working on the Verizon account, further comments: "Until advertisers say they want a black woman featured in the ad, it won't happen. The guilty parties are the advertisers. We have to hold the advertisers accountable. Ms. Sozzani can control the editorial, but she cannot dictate the models used by the advertisers."

The upside to this -- aside from a great magazine issue -- is that the publicity and financial success of the July issue throughout the world should be continued proof to U.S. marketers of the buying power and the fierce hunger for great content. No translation necessary.
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