A single red rose on the cover of Vogue, hospital car-park shoots rather than exotic locations, celebrities captured without makeup, supermodels relegated in favour of nurses and doctors, and amateur selfies usurping professional photography. This summers newsstands and billboards are set to look unlike any other season in the history of fashion.
The logistics of physical distancing and a zeitgeist paralysed by the pandemic are combining to turn fashion upside down. Glossy magazines are scrambling to figure out what faces should be on the covers of the magazines that will hit stands during the crisis – and how to generate new imagery while travel and physical contact is curtailed under lockdown.
The celebrity on the cover of the July issue of Harpers Bazaar has been shot “by someone isolating in a remote location with the celebrity we had already booked”, said the magazines fashion director, Avril Mair. With no fashion editor allowed to visit, clothes were sent direct to the subject at home and styling guided by the magazine team over Zoom.
A fashion story in the same issue was shot by the photographer Erik Madigan Heck at home with his wife, Brianna Killion, as model, without styling, hair or makeup. The theme of the issue is “that great creativity can come out of times of great crisis”, said Mair.
“Everything is different”, said Albert Read, managing director of Conde Nast Britain. “Well see that in the upcoming issues: the editorial production, a tonality and vision that is appropriate to the time.” Its leading title, British Vogue, will focus on supporting healthcare workers in upcoming issues.
Vogues stance was reflected in its decision to cancel an interview for the August issue with the singer M.I.A. in light of her anti-vaccination stance. Last week, the singer posted a screengrab of a message from the magazine which reads: “Considering our August is an issue where were chronicling the struggles of the NHS to cope while a vaccine is tried to be made we dont feel we can have her involved. It just wouldnt be right. All of our issues July-September will be supporting the frontline heathcare workers and we need to be respectful of them and all they are doing until a vaccine exists.
Grazia was quick to transpose into a different key as the crisis unfolded. “Ive always believed that you should be able to look at a Grazia cover and it be obvious what week it hit newsstands,” said the editor, Hattie Brett. “The first week of working from home, it was clear we should focus on NHS workers – so we ripped up all our pre-existing plans and shot four medics for the cover.” Earlier this month, Elle ran a digital portfolio of portraits of women doing essential work in supermarkets, on trains, and in schools and homeless shelters.
“The smart editors will make magazines that reflect this moment,” said Jefferson Hack of Dazed Media. “Fashion with a capital F is on pause right now.” But magazines that have traditionally served their readers escapism and glamour are struggling with how to balance this historic role with the need not to appear out of step with the times.
Tonal challenges are compounded by the logistical issues of producing imagery under social distancing rules. Imran Amed, editor-in-chief of the Business of Fashion, said “editorial and advertising shoots have come to a virtual standstill”. Carol Hayes, who helms an established agency for makeup artists and hairdressers, reports business having “ground to an almost immediate halt”. The June/July cover of American Vogue is an Irving Penn close up of a rose, the magazines first still-life cover in 50 years.
Other workaround strategies include models putting selfie skills honed on Instagram to good use by shooting self-portraits, often on smartphones, and photographers who co-habit with a spouse, partner or adult child model offering ready made at-home creative teams. “The few shoots we are doing at the moment are like none Ive ever worked on,” said Brett. A recent cover shoot with the British TV presenter Laura Jackson was fortuitously made possible because Jacksons husband, Jon Gorrigan, is a photographer. Zaras latest campaign features self-portraits by models including Malgosia Bela wearing clothes delivered directly to them at home.
Domestic in setting and lo-fi in execution, the resulting images may capture something of the spirit of the moment. Johnnie Boden is currently sourcing photographer and model couples to showcase the Boden summer range with the duos managing styling, and hair and makeup. and “the photographs reflect the current climate – out of necessity, more than anything.”
Clare Hornby of the Me+Em womenswear label has enlisted her teenage daughters to model. “The idea came to me as I was trying to juggle work and kids. The sun was out, so I asked them to go and create content.”
Fashion photoshoots are “a hands-on business”, said the photographic agent Anita Grossman. “A stylist will want to adjust the clothes to make them look right.” Makeup artists and hairdressers are in the eye of the industrys economic storm right now, but short term logistics look likely to impact on many. The film-set scale fashion photoshoot – fully staffed with a team including catering, set design, runners and assistants – may never return.
“This is going to be a financial issue as well as a cultural and a logistical one,” said Amed. “Analysts are talking about a 30-40% drop in advertising revenue, and that may be the real long-term driver in slimming down the scale of the shoots. Even if the physical constraints are lifted, the financial ones will be there.”
The Harpers Bazaar celebrity cover for July, shot in isolation, has “a beautiful intimacy which you dont generally achieve with a big team on set”, said Mair.
“High-production shoots are going to look old-fashioned, after this,” predicted Hack. “People will want the dream again, but it will be about poetry, not artifice.”