Every year when September rolls around, the fashion magazines we love most seem to grow in size and hype. Who will have the largest issue? Who will have the coolest cover? Who, essentially, will deliver the best September issue? But lost beneath all of this speculation is the question of why they’re so important in the first place.
I posed the question to one of my favourite fashion experts, New York Times writer Alexandra Jacobs, who explained it thusly: “Even after one outgrows Seventeen and its ilk, a September issue signals ‘back to school.’ Autumn is the time of important cultural happenings, of re-engaging with the outside world and the intellect, after the sanctioned mindlessness and insularity of summer. So I always welcome its commanding thwap in my mailbox. [And] I think September issues have grown more powerful, partly because of the PR boost they got from R.J. Cutler's 2009 documentary, and partly because the internet is so desperate for new fodder, even the dubious suspense of a cover-subject selection.” Touché.
Scroll down for a further explanation of her points and others that are crucial to understanding why September issues have become so important.
As Jacobs mentioned, September signals the end of summertime leisure and evokes a fresh start, with the school year beginning and work revving up again. It also represents the start of a new fashion season after months of warm-weather clothes ruling the scene. Publications are well aware of these things and want to capitalise on their readers’ desire for renewal and transformation at this time of year—bulking up their shopping and style advice content at a time when they know people are most likely to utilise it.
Every September, publications like WWD and Ad Age track and publish the number of ad pages in every fashion magazine as a signal of how well they’re all doing. Why do the ads matter so much? Well, brands and companies pay a lot of money to be placed in these magazines, so they’re only going to shell out the big bucks for those publications they believe to be truly relevant and popular. Because of this, it’s also safe to assume that a magazine running a lot of advertisements is also financially healthy.
Jacobs was right to point out how R.J. Cutler’s Vogue-centered documentary, The September Issue, has affected the hype surrounding these issues. Although fashion industry folk and hobbyists were always aware of September’s power, the popularity of the film brought the notion into mainstream consciousness. By closely following the production of Vogue’s September issue, Cutler introduced viewers to the enormous amount of work and time that goes into September’s book. As a result, it’s taken on an almost mystical quality that has readers yearning to check it out even more.
Due to all of the above, the cover of a magazine’s September issue has now become particularly crucial. As the first thing readers will see, it can make or break their overall perception of the issue (and the likelihood that they’ll buy it). Most magazines strive to either do something very different or to land a cover star who is both enormously popular and selective with his or her press (see Beyoncé, Blake Lively, etc.) Usually planned out six to eight months in advance, considerations include model vs. celebrity, close crop vs. pulled-back shot, location vs. studio shoot and—most importantly—what the star will wear.
Shop some of our favourite books about Vogue, below. Do you have a favourite September issue from years past? Let us know in the comments!