Much has been made of the rivalry between The New York Times' T magazine (helmed by former Vogue fashion news/features director, Sally Singer) and The Wall Street Journal's WSJ. (helmed by Domino founding editor, Deborah Needleman), both of which cover the same stylish ground—and vie for the same luxury fashion advertisers.
Lately, they've even been trading the same cover photographers (Terry Richardson and Hedi Slimane) and stylish subjects (more on that later), which is a bit odd for any magazine looking to establish a singular voice and vision, let alone two blatantly competitive titles working within the same rarefied genre.
As a reader and fan of both magazines (full disclosure: I've also contributed to The New York Times' Arts & Leisure, Styles and, yes, T mag), I decided to do a head-to-head comparison of three recent issues to see if one magazine really did trump the other, content-wise (though judging by the most recent issue of T, which is stapled rather than perfect bound, WSJ. seems to be pulling ahead in the ad page arena).
Here's how they stacked up on the editorial front, beginning with the most recent holiday issue, and continuing throughout the week with the men's and women's spring 2012 issues and T vs. WSJ. online.
T - Cover Star: Viggo Mortensen Verdict: Mortensen is gorgeous and I love, love, love photographer Cass Bird's work, but there's nothing more unappealing than an adult in age-inappropriate clothing, and T styled the soulful 53-year-old actor to look like a 15-year-old SoCal skate punk. Ick. Plus, what's festive about grungy plaid and an old knit cap? Nothing, that's what. Two thumbs down. The Issue: Highlights: Great articles by Sarah Mower (on dressing to meet the queen), Daphne Merkin (a glowing Tory Burch profile), Suzy Menkes (on Olivier Theyskens' reinvention at Theory) and Joan Juliet Buck (who reminisces about Christmas in Venice c. 1970). There's also a terrific spread called "The Gifted" (focusing on breakout talents like Charlie Day, Theophilus London and Tyler, the Creator) and a fun piece on man sheds. Low points: Way too many dispiriting features, from "Bad Tidings" (about a narcissistic French guy who survives a tsunami) to "The Graveyard Shift," which follows a group of kids in Gaza who do parkour in a local cemetery, to D.W. Gibson's article profiling the chronically unemployed (happy holidays, reader!) to Will Self blah-blahing about hotels as community centers (which isn't so much dispiriting as it is sleep-inducing). But the worst—by which I mean, most depressing—piece in the issue is an incredibly ill-conceived gift guide called "The Complete Package," which includes page after page of high/low items (Graff canary yellow diamond earrings, a Victorinox Swiss army knife, hunk of tenderloin steak and a Judith Leiber key ring) trussed up in twine, string and wire and shot amid old cardboard boxes and dirty packing crates on a dimly lit set. This is supposed to put one in a cheery holiday shopping mood how, exactly? On the whole, this issue made me feel more upset and melancholy than inspired and uplifted. Way to go, T!
WSJ. - Cover Star: Chanel Iman Verdict: Iman looks beautiful in her pearl cat's mask, glittering diamonds and lavish fur, shot by legendary Swiss fashion photographer (and Pirelli calendar founder) Hans Feurer. Now this says "Happy holidays!" Two thumbs up. The Issue:Highlights: Fascinating piece on the cost of owning and maintaining a British, Downton Abbey-like estate ("Upstairs, Downstairs and In Between"). Smart, insightful profiles of Martha Stewart (by Adrienne Gaffney), Kevin Spacey, Dries Van Noten (by Dana Thomas), Barbara Gladstone, Bruno Frisoni (by Meenal Mistry), Francois and Betty Catroux, and Robert Downey, Jr. and his longtime artist pal, Tobias Keene. On the style front, there's a fun spread on "Winter White" items and another ("The Shining") on metallic gifts, from an 18k gold phone to limited edition Phillippe Starck speakers to Tom Dixon light fixtures. Yes, please! Low points: None to speak of.
In keeping with the FTC rules that compel bloggers to reveal when they receive gifts or freebies from the companies they cover, Ann Taylor has gone a step (or twelve) further than most. Following an e-mail inviting us to attend Ann Taylor's Fall 2011 Editor Preview on Wednesday, March 30th, we received a follow-up email from the Ann Taylor PR Team containing a "Blogger Acknowledgement Form," which we were instructed to fill out and either email back or print and bring with us to the event (which we had already declined due to a prior engagement).
Now, we're all for full disclosure on gifts and freebies, but this vaguely worded release reeks of a double standard—presumably, magazine editors, who routinely receive gifts worth ten to tens of thousands of dollars from designers large and small (having worked as both a print journalist and a blogger, we know whereof we speak)—are not being asked to sign a similar acknowledgement form before being granted access to said event.
And what, exactly, constitutes "anything of value?" The AT team goes so far as to mention cash and "access to events not generally open to the public" and states that receipt of the above must be disclosed "clearly and conspicuously" on the recipient's blog. Sorry, but as long as we've been covering fashion, we've never been offered nor received cash for covering an event (hel-lo, that's called a payoff and, as amply demonstrated by the Derek Blasberg/YSL/Style.com fiasco, it can rightly cost you your job).
But neither have we ever been asked to calculate the value of "access to events not generally open to the public." Huh? So AT expects bloggers to do what, exactly? Calculate the amount of complimentary hors d'oeuvres and cocktails they quaff at the press preview, assign them a monetary value and include that info in their write-up? That'll make for some scintillating reading. And how to put a price on the special performance by Bebel Gilberto (if her concert tickets normally sell for X and she plays for Y minutes at the event, I listened to Z dollars worth of music)?
Seriously, Ann Taylor? Your clothes have gotten decidedly more chic of late. But this silly acknowledgement form? Not so much.
Ever since we posted our little diatribe about Self magazine's ill-advised ad for the Natrelle breast enhancement "collection" (an ad that has begun appearing in the August issue of other magazines, as well), friends have been sending us links to other dubious - and by dubious we mean idiotic - "fashion" products.
Three of our favorites (because of their sheer stupidity): The new unfortunately named "stain-free" panty collection from OnGossamer, called Luxury Liner - because what woman doesn't want to wear underpants whose name implies her butt is as big as a cruise ship? A little gizmo called Smart Heel, which is designed to protect high heels from getting damaged en route to some fabulously fashionable haute spot. And Kickbars, which are being billed as “diamond bling for your sneakers.” Because God knows, you can’t fit any more diamond bling in your grill.
In the case of Luxury Liner - aside from the incredibly retarded name - is the fact that the idea isn't a bad one ("the black liner will instantly absorb wetness to save your favorite pants and keep stains private"), it's just unnecessary. I mean, not to be impolite, but isn't that what sanitary products are for? And do you really want to buy a panty whose tagline is: "No leaks. No stains. No problems."? Uh, no thanks.
As for the Shoe Condom, oops, I mean Smart Heel, what the heck? What woman is going to spend beaucoup bucks on a pair of Manolos, YSLs or Jimmy Choos and then cover the heel with an ugly plastic do-hickey to protect them from "sidewalk cracks, escalators, curbs, car mats and other abrasive surfaces"? Not I. And not you either, most likely. Just picture how suave and sophisticated you'd look, emerging from a cab or Lincoln Town Car and then having to stop in the entrance of Waverly Inn or the Grammercy Hotel Rooftop bar to remove your rubbers. Nerd alert!
And then there are Kickbars, which make us want to fly out to the company's LA headquarters just to kick the ass of the person who thought it was a good idea to affix 2-plus carats worth of diamonds onto a white gold rectangle and charge upwards of $6,500 for the privilege of wearing what appears to be a bufugly diamond barrette - on your sneakers. I’m sorry, but if you have a spare six grand with which to bejewel your feet, we can think of a hell of a lot better ways to spend it than these cheesy ”accessories.” You could, for instance, donate $1,000 to someone who lost their home to Hurricane Katrina, buy Kevlar vests for four U.S. soldiers (at $900 per) and still have $1,500 left over to get yourself a nice pair of Manolos or a piece of jewelry that doesn't look like it came from the hair care aisle at Rite Aid. Just a suggestion.
Photos courtesy Luxury Liner, Smart Heel and Kickbars
So there we were thumbing through the July issue of SELF magazine (you know, the one that's allegedly all about promoting women's health and good body image, blah blah blah) when we were stopped dead in our thumbtracks by an ad for something called Natrelle.
A coy Angelina Jolie-meets-Kristin Chenoweth lookalike is posed topless, arms crossed over her breasts, beneath a tagline that reads: "You know that feeling when you find the perfect fit. And we're not talking jeans."
Hmmm, an ad for bras, we think. Or maybe swimsuits. But no. A quick glance at the right hand page informs us that they're not talking about underwear or bikinis, but are hawking "The Natrelle Breast Enhancement Collection." Collection?! Why yes, because there's the Silicone or Saline version from which to choose, so you can "Fnd the Fit That's Right for You."
Now, aside from the fact that two don't make a collection but, rather, a pair (oh, the irony), and the fact that Silicone implants were removed from the market for a very long time because of their dangerous - and in some, cases, life-threatening - health complications, there is something deeply unsettling about this ad on many levels.
Not the least of which is, isn’t SELF supposed to be a publication that champions self-acceptance, cup sized be damned? (Not that we oppose a woman getting a boob job if it makes her feel better about herself, it just seems so opposite SELF’s usual message.) And secondly, doesn’t Natrelle imply, well, natural? As in, here are my natural breasts that aren’t filled with man-made foreign materials? Just sayin’...