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Vogue: Across Cultures | Analysis

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Published: Mon, 15 May 2017

ABSTRACT

The popularity of fashion magazines over the past few decades has risen to new heights. Fashion magazines being the Bible that many young women and men live by, it is highly important to understand the role these magazines play in different societies and cultures. The researchers of marketing, consumer behaviour, trend analysis and trend forecasting consider culture or the differences and similarities in them to be an “obvious given”. Culture is most often seen as something that stands in the way of complete globalisation. Theory suggests that differences in target groups and marketing segments can be easily overcome through explicit research. While agreeing to the general thought that culture should be ‘respected’ and ‘treated seriously’, the major driving force of marketing and consumer studies is most often, completely, how to overcome and ‘manage’ culture (Roothart, H. and W.van der Pol, 2002) There has been some research done on the representation of women and feminist ideas in the west but an extensive research needs to be done on the representation of women, men, society and culture through media in an Asian context.

Over the past few years the Asian countries have changed their public policies surrounding media its ownership and contents. Taking advantage of this opportunity many international magazines like Elle, Vogue and Cosmopolitan have launched their local versions in these countries. These local versions have continuously faced accusations and criticism from society be it racism, discrimination or nudity, although their international versions have been highly appreciated, thus indicating that cultural differences need to be explored for the successful launch of any brand.

For this paper the similarities and differences within different cultures would be determined using the covers of a common brand of magazine VOGUE across cultures. This comparison would also help to determine whether culture and/or society play any role in the successful placement of a magazine and whether Vogue has managed to maintain its brand personality by going local.

Chasing a Dream

INTRODUCTION

Beauty is not concrete and may vary from culture to culture changing over time and shift according to location. The concept of beauty is an image which has been created by society to which woman and men have had to subject themselves to be “real”. History confirms that the ideology of beauty or what is accepted as being the right appearance has been created by society and largely propagated by media. For United States of the 1950s Marilyn Monroe was the pinnacle of beauty which soon changed to Twiggy in the 1960s. While porcelain skin is valued in China, scarification of the skin and decorating it with tattoos is considered as a status symbol in Africa and other parts. Thus the physical attributes and ideas attached to beauty vary across cultures.

“Women’s magazine industry is understood as a monolithic meaning producer, circulating magazines that contain messages and signs about the nature of femininity that serve to promote and legitimate dominant interests.” (Anna Gough- Yates) They have been a great source to study the changes in society. Moving from the purely fashion magazine to lifestyle and home to ‘do it yourself’ and ‘New woman’ to ‘woman can work too’ magazines have always reflected revolutions in society and influenced the opinion of women across nations.

Given the increase in trade to Asia and the spread of the beauty industry across nations, it is disappointing that there has hardly been any study on how people are depicted internationally in the fashion magazines. Previous research has established that woman’s magazines can act as agents of socialising, publicizing certain gender stereotypes and certain beauty ideals like size zero and institutionalizing conventions like photographic poses. (Rudman and Verdi, 1993; Griffin, Viswanath, Schwartz, 1994). Yet hardly any research has been done on the differences in representation of women internationally and locally.

GLOBAL MEDIA

Over the past few decades there has been a rapid expansion of the global media in the area of woman’s fashion magazines. Local editions of Elle, Harpers Bazzar and Vogue are now being published in Asia. “Theory holds that increase trade and improved communication are bringing about a mix of cultures and global unity” (Giddens, 1990, Thompson, 1997). The internationalization of a magazine is not a new phenomenon although until quite recently the most popular woman’s magazines have been published locally. Harpers Bazaar, a U.S magazine launched itself in U.K. in 1929 (Anna Gough-Yates, 1993), Elle a European magazine began publishing its first edition in Japan in 1960’s while Vogue a U.S magazine entered the Indian market in the 21st century. However “the establishment of an integrated global media market only began in earnest in the late 1980’s and did not reach its full potential until the 1990’s.” (Herman and Mc Chesney ,1997, p10)

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers the Asia/Pacific magazine market excluding Japan is projected to grow by 7.2% annually, reaching $20.7 billion by 2010, Advertising is also expected to rise by 5% annually to $8.1 billion in 2010. This means there’s plenty of potential for countries in South Asia, where advertising spending is just about 0.34% of GDP. Until now foreign brands were allowed only 26% ownership when venturing into Asian countries. But in 2005 most of the Asian countries levelled the field for non news publications allowing 100% foreign direct investment. (D. Ruth, 2007, Forbes)

Like all the other global media, magazines use many different strategies to cross borders. But the main reasons for doing so are ‘saturation of home markets and to generate revenue by providing international consumer brands with advertising vehicles that reach into the expanding foreign markets'(Dr. Katherine Frith, 2006,pg4-5). With Condé Nast having to close down Mademoiselle in November 2001 due to competition and flagging sales, markets with rising economic rates like Asia and Middle East have now become a target for westerns producers of beauty and fashion magazines.

HISTORY

A study of fashion and magazine covers over the past 100 years gives us a clear picture of the extent of change media can bring about. From the corsets and 16 inch waists to jersey fabrics to bikinis the amount of woman’s liberation brought about along with the growth of woman’s beauty and fashion magazines is pretty evident.

Magazine publishing surfaced much before the 19th century but up till than due to limited resources and technology publishers did not need illustrated or photographed front covers to sell a magazine. By the end of the century development in technology meant that every publisher could now make use of cover illustrations.

The 20s and 30s saw two or more people on the front covers. Red lips, cigarettes, dapper looking men and understated elegance came into fashion.

During the second world war men disappeared from the cover pages just as they disappeared from everyday lives of woman. Magazines became women’s true friends and the government used them to communicate with the home front. Silk fell from grace and hosiery became scarce. The cover girl emerged, women were pictured wearing aprons holding sheaf of corn.

With the end of the world war magazine publishers stuck to a fixed formula of selling magazines by using colour and arresting cover lines. Christian Dior made a splash and woman’s liberation began.

The 1960’s saw a revolution of self expression, music and ‘models who became as famous as movie stars’. This was the start of a new era for women. The cover of Harper’s Bazaar (1965) with the model Jean Shrimpton wearing a Day-Glo bright pink space helmet and the acid green brand emblem at the top is often seen as an emblem of the 60’s.

Jerseys, pullovers long hair for men and woman were the characteristics of the 70’s. Photographs more than an illustration was often seen as the cover pages while cover lines became bigger, brighter and bolder.

The 1980’s was the decade of Madonna and Michael Jackson with shoulder pads and workout wear which dominating the fashion scene.

( Publication: Vogue Country: United Kingdom Date: 15 April 1980)

This ended individualism in the 1990’s with Grunge, Goth and a sense of anti style with tattooing and body art becoming in vogue. (Publication: Phase Country: United Kingdom, Date: May 1994)

In the 20th century the key to selling magazines was the use of celebrity faces and anorexic models with porcelain skin. Diet plans and Make up tips more than ‘”how to catch a guy and keep him” cover lines make the magazine move. Environment friendly clothes and cosmetics modelled by Julia Roberts and Leonardo di Caprio were the latest trends. (Publication:ElleCountry:Spain Date: August 2002)

Until the 90s, Asian society and fashion has been very traditional with local influences. In 1990 fashion icon Princes Diana wore a Salwar kameez and Asian fashion became a noticeable global trend. The 1990’s also saw the rise of the “Asian -chic”. International pop icons like Janet Jackson promoted the Asian look and gave it an International stage.

“As Asian economies flourished, than crashed and began to recover, Asians of different class, ethnicities and gender faced the decision of whether they should wear Western or Asian clothing.”(L. Ann Marie, J. Carla, 2003). The growth of international magazines in Asia and promotion of the Western beauty ideals confused already puzzled nations, drastically affecting the self esteem of many young men and woman.

A lot has been recorded about the fashion influences, cultural changes and media in the West however there is hardly any record of such changes in the East. Study has proven that there is great difference between the local and international versions of the magazines but there is no record of the influences and effects on society due to these differences.

MAGAZINES TODAY

The difference between international magazines and their ‘local’ versions is that the international issues tend to carry a predominance of images for multinational products. (Shaw, 1999). Such magazines are growing in popularity in Asia and this popularity has bought about a change in perspective regarding the depiction of woman and products in local magazines. Griffin, Viswanath, and Schwartz(1994) found in a study comparing images in weekly U.S. news magazines (Time and Life) to weekly Indian magazines (India Today and Illustrated weekly of India), that many of the western advertising principles and poses for women were being conveyed across nations. They confirmed that female models in India were taking on poses that related closely to ‘gender portrayals ‘of the advanced western nations. A recent analysis of magazines international and local in China by Frith, Cheng and Shaw (2004) suggests that Caucasian models are more frequently shown in seductive dresses than Asian models. Feminist critiques like Kates, Shaw and Garlock (1999) would argue that western magazines are cultural institutions that represent women in a problematic and often unacceptable way although attractive female bodies and sexual content have for long been used in the west to attract consumers to a product and generate interest. Comparing this to the representation of woman across cultures with reference to the few studies conducted on the topic; Griffin, Viswanath and Schwartz (1994) concluded that the use of “Sexual pursuit” as a theme was used three times more often in U.S. magazines than in Indian magazines. In conservative Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia only Caucasian women were used in Lingerie advertisements (Frith and Mueller, 2003).

Any magazine wanting to be resonant with its target audience needs to represent the social norms and cultural values of the given society. International magazines like Vogue and Elle although have publishing houses in Asian countries most often train their employees in the west. The result being that the forms of representation and especially that of woman can take on a globalized look. As Kyung-Ja Lee,(2000, pg 86) has rightly said “ for thirty years, media have been taken to task for reproducing and reinforcing stereotyped images of woman. Yet unfair representation of woman in media still prevails worldwide. Sex stereotyping has been so deeply ingrained, even glorified, that the woman themselves have become desensitised to their own inferior portrayal. The prospects appear even gloomier as the globalisation of media progresses”

Previous researchers have noted that the images of models used in magazines have been extensively retouched to represent the ideal of beauty that is unattainable for all but a very few people.(Greer,1999; Gauntlett, 2002). By showing models that are ‘uniformly thin’, flawless and perfectly proportioned the media may contribute towards low self esteem and unhappiness among woman and give rise to problems like eating disorders. In fact media is a large contributor to the global increase in plastic surgery to change physical appearance among young girls.

Finally as global media takes readers away from local publications it is important to study the impact of international beauty ideal on local consumers. With most models used in international magazines being ‘white’ the publications are rarefying the ethnic beauty ideals. In fact the obsession with whitening products may be a result of this overuse of White models in Asian publications. For the Caucasian women the body may represent beauty while for the Asian woman it might be the face. For some Asian countries beauty is the simplicity in a ‘sari’ clad woman while in some parts of Africa it’s a tattoo adorned naked female.

To better understand how beauty and women have been represented internationally as compared to locally and their differences based on society and culture I have considered 3 issue of Vogue magazine across cultures (U.S, India and China) for the period of 6 months from February 2009 to June 2009. The unit of analysis was restricted to the cover pages, containing at least one model.

 

Looking at Vogue magazine over the last twenty years we can easily conclude that the magazines expansion strategy has been very aggressive.

Condé Nast which has a portfolio of 127 magazines in 23 countries believes Vogue to be its cash cow. At present there are a million fashion and beauty magazines such as In Style, Elle and Cosmopolitan circulated around the globe, but in times of crises citizens all over turn to Vogue to confirm the latest fashion news. With readership and subscription levels of about 220,000 a month for the British Vogues, 133,000 a month for the French Vogue and American Vogue, at 1.2 million a month Vogue is the leading magazine in the business of fashion. The Greek, Indian and Chinese Vogues not being as influential are important only to their local countries.

The French and Italian Vogue cater to the edgier end of the market while American and British Vogue embrace fashion in the broader sense owing to their larger readership. (A. Lisa, 2009, Times online)


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