Sunday, December 5, 2010

Could the Middle East have its own Vogue?

In a five part series, The Polyglot examines what it will take to set up fashion’s most venerated publication in the region.

In 2007 a publishing company in the United Arab Emirates approached Condé Nast about launching an Arabic version of Vogue. In response, Condé Nast International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse rejected the proposal. In a statement to the Press Gazette, he noted that while there were many potential Vogue readers in the Middle East, "unfortunately they live in the same general region as some of the most militant and violent elements."

In an email leaked to the Emirates Daily at the time, Newhouse went on to explain that "Within the Arab world, or to be more accurate, the Muslim world, there is an element which accepts Western values. There is also a powerful fundamentalist, religious element which rejects Western values."

"This element rejects freedom of expression, equality for women and expression of sexuality, to name three values associated with our publication. Our company has no wish to impose its values on a society which does not fully share them. And we do not wish to provoke a strongly negative, even violent reaction. So I will simply avoid it by never entering the market. And I will sleep better at night," he concluded.

Based on such a statement one would assume that the likelihood of seeing a Middle East edition of Vogue on international newsstands was a mute point. Yet time has an interesting way of healing wounds and changing perceptions.

Recently Condé Nast launched a new division, Condé Nast Restaurants, with the intention of opening its magazine-themed restaurants in the Middle East. “You could look at the restaurants as a first step to producing magazines in the local market," explained Jonathan Newhouse in an interview with The National. Dubai would be one of the first target markets for its Vogue Cafe and GQ Bar.

"We are looking to start magazines in the UAE in the future. Usually GQ, Vogue and Glamour are among the first magazines we bring to a new market. It is a small market, so we'd work with an established (publishing) group," he said. "We'd look for a publisher that has a good reputation. You really need people who know the market," explained Mr. Newhouse, who said it was "too soon to know" whether the titles published out of the UAE would be in English, Arabic or both.

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