BY Emily King in Profiles | 01 JAN 03
Featured in
Issue 72

New Faces

M/M's refashioning of Paris Vogue

BY Emily King in Profiles | 01 JAN 03

It only takes a glance at the cover of any recent Paris Vogue to see that something odd is afoot. There's the hair for a start. Veering between the lank and the bushy, it never quite achieves the luxuriant waves that are the norm. All around are quirky touches: idiosyncratic typefaces, hand-drawn motifs and even collage. This may not sound like much, but in the context of fashion magazines Paris Vogue is doing more than bucking a trend; it is attempting to shrug off a genre.

The magazine's current look is the result of an all-round editorial and design rethink. Early in 2001 Paris Vogue came into the hands of a fashion-led triumvirate - Carine Roitfeld (editor), Emmanuelle Alt (fashion editor) and Marie-Amélie Sauvé (fashion consultant) - who a few months later took steps to put M/M, fashion's favourite Paris-based design group, in charge of art direction. M/M instigated a gradual transformation, beginning with structural changes in October 2001 and ending with an all-new typographic system in April 2002. The guiding idea behind the revamp is the redefinition of luxury. This, argues M/M's Mathias Augustinyiak, is a transient quality, determined by the tastes of the moneyed classes. These days those in the money are the youths of the 1980s and 1990s, and with this in mind Paris Vogue takes art directorial elements of first- and second-generation style magazines and adapts them to a grown-up format. Displaying an appetite for the perverse that only fashion can muster, typographic and photographic mores that were once seen as anti-fashion have been reworked as the pillars of an establishment consumer magazine.

Alongside luxury, the other key concepts at Paris Vogue are Frenchness and fashion. There was a sense that both were lost during the previous regime, under American-born editor Joan Juliet Buck and Swiss art director Donald Schneider; current editor Roitfeld is keen to create a publication that relates to the culture and fashion industry of its home town. Burbling 'fashion, fashion, fashion, we love fashion!', she manages to give a style spin on the entire contents of the magazine (Matthew Barney by David Rimanelli in the October 2002 issue: 'really fashion'). Roitfeld's sensibility is generationally and nationally specific. Born of 1990s styling and benefiting from a very French lack of self-censorship, she enjoys taking things to 'the limit of being sick in a chic way'. Spooling elegant yet slightly distasteful tales over hundreds of glossy pages, the 'chic with sick' thread allows the deft co-opting of contemporary cultural life into an all-encompassing fashion story.

The relationship between M/M and Paris Vogue is unusual. Rather than working in-house at Condé Nast's fancy 8th arrondissement headquarters, M/M are employed as graphic consultants and continue to operate from their studio in the more boho 10th. Ten years ago this geographical and cultural distance would have been unbridgeable, but times have changed. Having worked for fashion designers including Yohji Yamamoto, Martine Sitbon and Balenciaga and with artists such as Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster since the mid-1990s, M/M long since closed the gap between France's design, art and fashion industries. The magazine emerges from two addresses, but it speaks with a single voice. Its tone is most evident in the shopping section ('Irrésistibles') and society pages ('L'oeil de Vogue'). Creating a twist on a pair of magazine staples, Paris Vogue arranges eclectic selections of consumer goods and other artefacts (animal jaws, live snakes and the like) on neat white shelves in its opening pages and displays shots of subjects as unlikely as newsreaders and celebrity dogs at its very end.

The foundation of Paris Vogue's redesign is a new typographic system. Using Gerard Unger's Paradox for body copy and the 18th-century Fleischmann for stand-firsts, M/M adopted a rough-edged schoolbook typeface for headlines (a face they named Gulliver after the subject of the book) and employ one of their own existing designs (now called Carine) to title fashion spreads. This last face is a metaphor for the entire Paris Vogue enterprise. Right now Carine looks quirky, but M/M hope through its continued use to establish it as firmly in the reader's eye as the exaggerated Bodoni of Vogue's international logo. As for photography, it is much more business as usual. Roitfeld is working with a team of photographers starring Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Traditionally there has been a lag between fashion's adventurous photography and its conservative graphics. M/M are attempting to close the distance by creating a typography that complements contemporary images.

The most surprising thing about the current Paris Vogue is the apparent will to create a future, rather than return to a lost past. Strange as it may seem for an enterprise ostensibly driven by the here and now, fashion publishing is riven with nostalgia, and where Roitfeld and M/M have attempted to make something quite new, most recent redesigns have been driven by the desire to scrabble back to a mid-20th-century golden age. The most celebrated redesign in fashion memory is Fabien Baron's reworking of Harper's Bazaar in 1992 under the magazine's editor, Liz Tilberis. Using a newly drawn version of the Didot typeface employed to great effect by art director Alexey Brodovitch in the 1940s and 1950s, Baron proclaimed an 'Era of Elegance' that was an unmistakable throwback to the postwar 'New Look'. Baron's redesign was nearly caught short by the arrival of catwalk grunge (Marc Jacobs' 1992 collection for Perry Ellis), but, as it turned out, a little tussle between typographic container and fashion imagery was not a cause for concern and the magazine kept its format until Tilberis' premature death in 1999. Even more backward-looking was the ill-fated relaunch of the British magazine Nova in 2000. Editor Deborah Bee described her publication as a 'magazine reincarnate', and staff were said to be using a coffee-table compilation of 1960s and 1970s originals as a style guide.

As much as either of these magazines, all international Vogues are repositories for nostalgia. (Perhaps it has something to do with the magazine's logo, the thin and fat strokes of which echo the wasp waists and wide skirts of 1950s fashion.) This serves to make the recent events in Paris all the more astonishing. Critics of M/M's design argue that it lacks the gravitas of its predecessors, and even fans suggest that its handmade quality harks back to the illustrated Vogue of the 1930s. It seems that no one is able to view the magazine in an entirely contemporary light. M/M will have to loosen these ties to the past before their Carine typeface can become the 21st century's Bodoni.

Emily King is a London-based writer and curator with a specialism in design.