Sunday, December 5, 2010

Could the Middle East have its own Vogue? Part IV

Establishing a Presence

If Vogue Middle East were to set up an office, would it necessarily need to be located within the region, or could it be a collection of satellite offices? These are questions which will inevitably come up in discussions. To be sure the publishing world has changed dramatically in the last two decades. In a world dominated by the internet and ease of travel, many publications now find both their editorial and writing staff scattered throughout the globe.

One such example is Vogue Turkey, which was launched in March 2010. Thus far, it’s hard to tell what impact, if any, it’s had on the Middle East. Straddling both Europe and the Orient, its identity encompasses many cultures. Despite this, its language poses a challenge for potential readers in Paris or Beirut, who can not simply pick up the publication and read it.

Yet for Condé Nast and other industry insiders, a lot can be learnt from Vogue Turkey over the coming years, which may provide a guide to establishing other publications geared towards the Middle East.

Vogue Turkey’s offices are split between Istanbul (where the Editor in Chief resides) and London, where Mary Fellowes, the London based stylist and fashion editor of Intelligent Life, is the Fashion Director at Vogue Turkey.

When it came time to hire an art director for the publication Condé Nast picked London-based design agency Foxall Associates, which was established in 2006 by brothers Andrew and Iain Foxall. They worked with Condé Nast and Vogue’s Turkish publishers, Dogus Group, to create the “look” of the magazine. Their objective was to capture the “mood of modern Turkey”, and tried to avoid the typical arabesque swirls or motifs in their designs for the magazine. The later, according to the designers, is what “stops Turkey from having its own modern visual identity, so they were out from the beginning.”

The designers split their time between Condé Nast London’s head quarters and the Vogue offices in Istanbul because the resources they needed were simply not there yet. Since Vogue Turkey is a part of Condé Nast Publication, it has access to interchangeable content from many of the international Vogues. That means if the editors so choose to, they can use features from US, British or any other countries Vogues for their own issues.

At the moment it’s too soon to tell whether this strategy will be successful, but for any art director taking over a Middle East edition of Vogue, they will need to strike a balance between projecting a contemporary and modern vision, while reflecting the culture that nurtured it. It’s all fine and well to create a modern sleek look, but unless it is backed by solid content and a firm understanding of the culture one is writing for, something will inevitably get lost in translation.

Another question is the issue of models that would appear on the cover of a Middle East issue of Vogue. The playing field has changed considerably in a post 9-11 world. Although Vogue Turkey’s inaugural issue featured Jessica Stam on its cover, Middle Eastern readers are increasingly looking for faces that reflect their own identity. Part of the challenge will be to create a strong publication in terms of art direction that not only employs talented local photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists, but also models that meet international standards. Elite already counts Moroccan Hind Sahli and the Tunisian Kenza Fourati amongst its roster of stars, and it will take an editor with foresight to use such faces in future issues.

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